Unannounced, George Clooney slips into a room full of publicists and reporters armed with recorders, notebooks and laptops to capture his every word. He naturally works the room with jokes and greetings, giving off a genial, laid-back vibe. At one point, he asks a coughing reporter, “You need some water? ’K, just checking.”
Clooney directs and stars as a football captain in his new movie, Leatherheads, a 1920s period piece about pro football’s rise and a teammate’s scandal. As co-stars Renee Zellweger and John Krasinski attest, George is a guy who handles himself with professional aplomb, but he’s also down for a good laugh and some wicked practical jokes.
Q: How does George Clooney, the director, work with George Clooney, the A-list movie star?
Clooney: It’s tricky because there’s an enormous amount of narcissism that comes into play. You are really, truly breaking the trust between actors, in particular when you’re in the lead. Not a lot of actors tell each other what to do. You have to go to each of the actors and say, “Listen, this is going to be awkward.” As an actor, it’s easy because I know specifically, precisely, what I need in the scene. So I’ve cut out one step as the director having to explain it. I wouldn’t by design do a film that I would play the lead in, ever again.
Q: Actors who direct usually say they didn’t expect it to be so difficult, so as they go on, they either take themselves out of the film, or they do less acting. But here, in your third film, you’ve actually increased your presence.
Clooney: Yes. The next one’s a one-man show. [Laughs] The truth is, I did it because this was a part that, for a long, long, long time, I’ve wanted to play. And I thought I was the right guy to play it. I’m 46. If I don’t do it now, I’m done.
I [knew I] was going to direct it and I was also going to play the lead. What I hadn’t really paid attention to was that I was also going to play football. And it hurt! The first day I got hit, it was some 21-year-old who had knocked me on my ass and I was like, OK, I’m in trouble because I’ve got four more months of this.
Q: There’s a whole sequence of playing football in the mud. Did nature provide the mud? And how difficult was it?
Clooney: We shipped in tons and tons of mud. We had to do mud testing to find the right mud that would stick to you. You have to wallow around in it. The first day it was 70 degrees and we all just jumped in the mud. But the next day it was 20 degrees, and we were like Fudgesicles out there. It was three to four days of truly miserable shooting. It took us a week to do that whole sequence. It was trickier than anything I’d ever done before.
Q: You’re famous for your practical jokes – anything on this set?
Clooney: We had finished shooting that mud sequence. [The football team] was supposed to be released about two days earlier. I went to them and said, “Listen, we gotta do a pick-up shot for the mud sequence. We didn’t get a close-up of you guys all covered in mud.” So I got a big tub of mud and had all of them lying in it, rolled them around, and covered them in the stuff. The whole crew was in on it—everybody. They were shooting the whole thing. It’ll be on the DVD. They’re wallowing around in mud and I make them rehearse. Finally I say, “You know...we don’t really need this shot.” [Laughs] You just see them going, oh my God. It was freezing cold and they’re covered in mud. It was pretty great actually. It was worth paying them the extra days to keep them there.
Q: What was it like rolling around in the mud with John Krasinki?
Clooney: It was hot, is what it was. [Laughs] Johnny is first of all, incredibly funny. He’s really composed for a 27-year-old. It looks more fun than it is—the idea of rolling around in mud. But if I was going to roll around in mud, John Krasinski’s the guy.
Q: Speaking of rolling around—why weren’t you in the Jimmy Kimmel and Ben Affleck video?
Clooney: You know, they asked me to. I was working, but I would have liked to have been in that because I do love Jimmy Kimmel. And I have been with Ben Affleck. And I will say, on the record, he is a bobcat in the sack! [Laughs]
Q: What was your reaction to Tilda Swinton’s Oscar speech about your rubber Batsuit from Batman?
Clooney: Oh it was funny. I don’t like Tilda either. [Laughs] Tilda always cracks me up, and I will get her back for the Batsuit line somewhere along the line.
Q: In the next Coen brothers movie you play…an idiot?
Clooney: I’ve leaped heads and shoulders over the other idiots I’ve played. I’m playing this character Harry Pfarrer in Burn After Reading. This is my trilogy of idiots with the Coen brothers. The only thing that makes me feel good is that I think Brad [Pitt]is an even bigger idiot than I am in it.
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