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Home    Review Archives    Posters    Interview Archives    History of Cranky

by Chuck Schwartz

Continuing his career path of not doing the same thing twice actor George Clooney portrays a fugitive from a chain gang who, with two compatriots chained to this ankles, seeks to retrieve a buried fortune before a hydroelectric project covers the burial site with a lake. Welcome to depression era Mississippi and the decidedly bluegrass comedy O Brother Where Art thou?, brought to you courtesy the Coen Brothers, Joel and Ethan. With half a dozen of us crowded around a conference table in a posh New York hotel, Clooney strolled in with an attitude implying long years of friendship with everyone in the room. Incredibly funny and a straight shooter, Clooney made us feel like we should be popping open a beer and watching "the game". That may be part of the difference between a "movie star" and a "television star," as Clooney explains below. It may just be his down home on the farm Kentucky upbringing. His dad was a broadcast journalist. His aunt Rosemary is a superstar singer to jazz aficianadoes and popsters of a certain generation. George's O Brother character, Ulysses Everett McGill (the film is sort of based on Homer's "The Odyssey") himself cuts a bluegrass record for a quick ten bucks pay. McGill is a fast talker with a fixation on his hair and looks taken from a can of hair goop. We thought he looked like George Raft and start this StarTalk in the 1930s . . .

CrankyCritic: Which 30s movie star did you Ulysses after?
George Clooney: Well I modeled him after the Dapper Dan can. [laughter] I did.
CrankyCritic: Was there actually a Dapper Dan?
George Clooney: No. The prop guy had made this can but it wasn't a picture of me. It was this guy who had a pencil mustache and slicked back hair and looked very dapper. When I got to the set the first day, we were trying to figure out what I should look like. I got the tin and went over to Joel and Ethan and I said "I think, ahem, Ulysses Everett McGill wants to look like that Dapper Dan." And they laughed [Clooney imitates the laughter. It sounds like honking geese.] So I cut a pencil mustache and slicked my hair back and from that point on we were Dapper Dan.

CrankyCritic: Was there any trepidation about bluegrass singing you had to do ?
George Clooney: No. None. Of course they looped me [Dan Tyminski does the singing] so what the hell.
CrankyCritic: You're a good lip synch'er
George Clooney: I'm a great lip synch'er, thank you. Me. Milli Vanilli. All the big ones. [laughter] The funniest thing is -- everybody's been making jokes about it but it was really an embarrassing moment 'cuz I really worked hard on it. I practiced and practiced and practiced and recorded some songs and sent it to them and they went "Yeah. Yeah. This'll be good." but I think in the back of their heads, [music supervisor] T-Bone [Burnette] and Joel and Ethan always knew that I wasn't going to cut it. So we went into the recording studio in Jackson, Mississippi and I did a couple of takes inside this booth and the first time I looked up and I couldn't get any eye contact from anybody [laughter]. Then I went in and listened to the playback and realized I was nowhere near what that song needed to be. So I said "OK" and before I finished saying "OK" they'd brought Dan into the back room and stuck him in the glass booth and had him singing. In a way it helped because I was very familiar with the material. It was easier to do a passionate lip synch to it.
CrankyCritic: What happened to the tapes?
George Clooney: Well, believe it or not, I am smart about one thing which is... [laughter] I said this'll all end up on the Internet. So I said you are going to get rid of that, dude? And he said "Yeah." and I said "No, I mean you're going to get rid of that." I stood there and he got rid of it. When we shot the scene I was singing into a microphone. [When you synch you] had to really sing and that's even worse 'cuz you've got the sound blasting in your ear. So then I had to go up to the sound guys and go "Now you're getting rid of that, right?" [laughter] I was like Rosemary Woods, erasing tapes everywhere.
CrankyCritic: Did you talk to your aunt at all about this?
George Clooney: No, she would be pretty humiliated with the skipping a generation voice problems.

After five years on e.r. Clooney began his move into movies with Steven Soderbergh's adaptation of Elmore Leonard's Out of Sight. Soderbergh and Clooney have since gone into a working partnership, next pairing for the A-list remake of Oceans 11, with Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, all of whom "were worried about their next job. So we thought we'd help them out..." Also coming from their company is Rock Star with Mark Wahlberg and Welcome to Collingwood by the Russo Brothers of Cleveland. We know nothing more about the latter save that Clooney is very excited about it. . .

George Clooney: We're doing it for seven million bucks. It's a little film but it's just terrific. Steven and I are producing it. They're directing it. They're great, interesting young writers. We're just trying to help get some stuff made because it's really a little stale out there right now. It was kind of a bad year. I guess you guys think so, too. [laughter]

CrankyCritic: I ask everyone I meet if there was a point in their career where you experienced that moment of clarity where you knew this is what you wanted to do for your lifetime...
George Clooney: I've had moments of clarity, or sobriety I guess we'd call it in my family [laughter] but not necessarily based on the roles. After doing Batman and Robin and then having Out Of Sight come out and seeing it and going "OK, that's a really good film done well and that means if I surround myself with a good script and a good director and good actors then I'm protected and I can do better." It's certainly easier to hold your own than trying to carry things based on your own personality, whatever. There was some clarity in that but moreso it was about career decisions and understanding that actors usually work from a place of fear, in general, about never getting hired again. They still sort of believe that if someone says "You're never working in this town again" that that could really happen.
CrankyCritic: Could it?
George Clooney: There isn't a club anymore. For every guy that would blackball you there are fifty that would hire you. I remember having a big fight with a guy named Ed Weinberg on the set of a sitcom called Baby Talk, which was my big break. Connie Selleca was on it and I remember having a big fight with Ed because he was a rat and he was doing rotten things and treating people mean. I called up my agent and said "What happens if I walk?" and he said "You'll be sued." It continued on, this bad treatment of everybody else and I thought "you know what? It's worth it" and I thought I would survive and I walked. Weinberg said you'll never work in this town again and threatened to sue me. Columbia threatened to sue me. ABC threatened to sue me. But it was the right thing to do. It was the first time, as an actor, that I got to be a man, which isn't always easy to do. Cuz a lot of times as an actor you have to go "this crap I'll eat. And you have to draw a line in the sand. Most of the time you're forced to move or adjust that line. What I realized was if you draw a line in the sand and you actually stand by it, in general, your career won't end based on one move or one decision. It's incredibly freeing. Suddenly it meant I could do what I wanted to do. Suddenly it made it much easier for me to try and do different projects and try to do different things that I thought were the right thing to do. It was certainly a moment of clarity for me.

CrankyCritic: Now that you're a staple on People Magazine covers and you were Sexiest Man Alive...
George Clooney: Well I'm the former sexiest man alive! Harrison Ford and I are over at this retirement home with Mel Gibson and Denzel Washington and we're just sitting around drinking.
CrankyCritic: Just a bunch of anonymous guys at a bar.
George Clooney: Yeah. But what took the anonymity away was what gave me a career, which was e.r. It's an incredibly different kind of fame that I think people don't understand because it's not like being Jack Nicholson or Brad Pitt. Brad is a movie star. When you're a movie star people pay nine bucks to come to see you and you're sixty feet high and they've made an evening of it. When you're famous from a television show, arguably the most successful show ever (if you want to talk about 40 share in 1995 nothing's ever done that on a regular basis. 35 million people a week talking about you) you're in their homes and they watch in their underwear and you are part of their lives. I got off a plane with Mel Gibson not long ago. People point at Mel and whisper "mel gibson!" but then they see me and it's like GEORGE! And they grab you. In a much different way you're part of them. It's an interesting dynamic that gets better with time because you get further away from the show and people are more forgiving of you finishing and leaving.
CrankyCritic: So you won't go back for a guest spot?
George Clooney: Well, I went back. That was good and sneaky wasn't it?
CrankyCritic: And it successfully wrapped your character in the show
George Clooney: Yeah.
CrankyCritic: So, do you now sit back as a guy in his underwear and tune in to see what happens to Mark Green this week?
George Clooney: Well, I haven't really watched it. I'm sort of sentimental about the whole thing although this year I've watched a couple of episodes 'cuz Jack Ormond is now the sole executive producer of the show. Jack was this young writer who had a really good take on the show -- when we first started doing the show we would do fifty patients a show and no sympathy and kill kids and nobody cried and did their job, which was what was extraordinary about it. At the same time Chicago Hope was sort of doing the "nobody's dying in that room!" and we weren't doing that. And then we became sort of that. I've seen the show a couple of times this year and I think it's back to what it was when we first started. I've really enjoyed it.

CrankyCritic: Let's talk South Park . . .
George Clooney: [big laugh] I was really proud to be in that movie. Those guys, you know, when they first started they were sending these tapes around called The Spirit of Christmas. I'm sure you guys know it. I made 200 copies and sent 'em to all my friends and people at the networks. Matt and Trey are friends of mine so it's really fun to have been in on the ground floor with that. They don't make me one of the targets of their show 'cuz I was Sparky the Gay Dog. Those are fun things to do and fun things to be involved with and I love 'em. That show kills me. Those guys just slay me. Adult cartoons I guess.
CrankyCritic: So what else slays you? What is your dream of the ultimate movie that you haven't made yet?
George Clooney: I don't know 'cuz I only read 'em. I don't write 'em. So I don't really have the concept of "here's the film I want to do". There's a script that Steven and I are going to make, called Leatherheads that we were greenlit to do a couple of years ago and then Universal got into some trouble and pulled the plug on us. But Steven had Erin Brockovich and I had Perfect Storm since then so we're getting it made. The game changed.
CrankyCritic: What is it about?
George Clooney: It's 1930s beginnings of football. It's a Howard Hawks comedy. It really is real rapid fire. Steven did a brilliant rewrite on it. Scott Frank is working on it as well. Steven is going to direct it and we're about a year and a strike away from doing it. We'll see. But that's a film we'll definitely make. It's a film I'm really excited to make.

CrankyCritic: You're happy with your career now?
George Clooney: I'm happy where I'm going. I like what I'm doing. When I do TV I'm going to do I'm going to try to do some more live projects 'cuz I like 'em and because I think it's an interesting medium that doesn't get enough credit or looked at enough. And I'm going to try to focus on films that I think will be fun to do and that I'd like to be 75 year old and go "hey I got to do those!"

The Cranky Critic® is a Registered Trademark of, and his website is  Copyright © 1995-2016 by, Chuck Schwartz. All Rights Reserved. Articles and interviews by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All Rights Reserved. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of and ©, ®, ™ their respective studios. Used by permission. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award™(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
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