Up in the Air star George Clooney has taken to the skies once again for his latest film, Gravity. He talks about wanting to make films he can be proud of and escaping the pressures of Hollywood
The word charisma doesn’t even begin to describe the aura that surrounds George Clooney. He’s the epitome of the debonair playboy – the natural-born movie star, the no-strings celebrity multi-millionaire with the devil-may-care-grin who divides his life between work and his idyllic Italian villa.
Clooney, whose neon smile and magnetic personality rival that of Hollywood’s greatest screen legends, has reached a point in his life where his legacy is the only thing which matters.
His new film, Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, sees Clooney co-starring alongside Sandra Bullock as a pair of astronauts facing doom after their space shuttle is destroyed and they are left drifting in the void. Critics have raved about the film since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival and most industry observers are touting it as a serious Oscar contender.
It is Clooney’s second foray into outer space, having previously produced and starred in the remake of Solaris in 2002. Gravity, however, is a far more engaging picture that demonstrates Clooney’s resolve to make meaningful films. Over the last five years, the 52-year-old actor has earned three best actor Oscar nominations for his bravura performances in The Descendants, Up In The Air, and Michael Clayton, having previously won a best supporting actor Oscar for Syriana.
Clooney recently split from his girlfriend of the past two years, Stacey Keibler. Previously he was involved with Italian TV presenter Elisabetta Canalis. Last year, in a rare observation about his love life, Clooney made the following observation:
Anyone would be lying if they said they didn’t get lonely at times…I have been infinitely more alone in a bad relationship; there’s nothing more isolating.
Gravity is a very unique film. What is your take on it?
It’s a very philosophical and speculative film. It’s about coming to terms with death and conversely with life. The environment of solitude that Alfonso Cuaron has created is something very rare and exceptional and will provoke a lot of discussion. This is one of the most remarkable films I’ve ever worked on and there are some truly game-changing aspects to the cinematography and technology that have gone into the making of it. It’s a very beautiful and elegant work and Sandra Bullock does an incredible job.
There were some physical challenges for both of you, weren’t there?
When I first arrived on the set and was hooked up into the [space] suit, [suspended in air] I wondered how the hell I was going to do it. The hardest part was trying to speak normally while controlling your body so that you are reproducing the slow movement that comes with weightlessness. I didn’t realise it would be that difficult, but it took some time before we were both able to slow down our movements while speaking quickly or at a normal pace. Being suspended in the air and wearing the suit was very uncomfortable and I was glad that Sandra and I could laugh a lot between takes to ease that physical strain.
When you’re not hooked up into space suits, do you still enjoy the good life in Lake Como?
Life doesn’t get much better than that. It’s a place where I can get away, read scripts, do some writing and invite friends over to have a good time. It’s really nice to sit down and have a two-hour lunch, which the Italians do. I realised I had spent probably 15, 20 years standing up and shovelling food down my throat. It’s not about wealth; it’s about taking time and actually enjoying things. All of my friends think of it as their home. They come even when I’m not here (laughs).
What draws you to Italy?
What I love about Italy is being able to feel very free there. The Italians have a great joie de vivre and way of looking at the world. Very little bothers them, except when their local football team loses. So that kind of spirit is incredibly stimulating. As soon as I set foot in Laglio, I feel truly at home and at peace there. No one cares about the film business there. It’s all about food and wine and the beauty of being there. I get to do some work, I get to ride my motorcycle and that still leaves plenty of time for food and drink. Mostly drink.
Why do you think you have been able to remain close to your producing partner Grant Heslov and some of your LA buddies for so long?
You always remember the hard times and the people who stayed with you for the ride. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve stayed close to pretty much the same group of guys I met and hung out with in LA when I first arrived there, basically broke and not having a clue how I was going to make it as an actor. Nearly 30 years later, we still get to hang out and have fun together.
You seem incredibly relaxed and happy. Do you feel that you are one of those lucky few who has exactly the life he wants?
Things are easy when you’ve figured out how to live. You’re able to cut through all the c**p that tends to weigh people down and you just focus on what you want out of life and pursue that. For me, the key to life is knowing what you want and being able to go out and get it. It takes hard work, but once you get to the point where you’re achieving your goals and not wasting time, everything in life becomes much easier.
I’m pretty close to where I want to be. I’m doing the kind of work I want to do and I still have a lot left to accomplish and that keeps driving me. You have to be willing to work hard to create your own sense of freedom and that’s where the real art of living comes in.
You long ago decided to dedicate yourself to the kind of career you can be proud of. Do you feel you have accomplished most of your goals?
(Laughs) I’m not drowning in sorrow. But I also don’t take anything for granted. This is the point in my life where I can get a lot of interesting films made and that window can close very fast if you’re not careful. I feel I understand the process that goes into making films that will stand the test of time and I’m more determined than ever to take advantage of the opportunity I have. I want to be able to leave some sort of legacy and not have any regrets down the road that I didn’t do my best to make interesting films.
Unlike some movie stars, you seem so relaxed and at ease with your rather considerable fame. How do you stay so cool and calm?
Before I arrived in Los Angeles, I was the son of a very famous newsman and my aunt Rosemary had been one of the biggest stars in the music business in her day. So I knew what it meant to be a celebrity and how it could all go away pretty fast. My aunt also taught me how to keep a perspective on everything that happens to you. Rosemary was once one of the most popular singers in America. But I learnt from how her career sank in the 60s (with the advent of rock and roll.) I saw how little it has to do with you. It’s all about luck and being at the right place and the right time.
The problem with famous people in general is that they actually think they’re geniuses. You get famous and you think, ‘Yes, of course I should be famous and I’ve earned it all’. You haven’t, though. You got lucky. I got lucky. I was in a TV show [ER] that got a Thursday night time slot and was a massive hit and we were drawing 40 million viewers each episode. Because of that success, I was able to work in film and eventually get to do the movies I wanted to do…but I’m also the guy who nearly killed Batman for good. So I never take anything for granted.
How has your father’s attitude towards life influenced you?
My dad [veteran journalist Nick Clooney] is an idealist. He believes there’s a right way to live and a right way to run a government. So he has never shied away from speaking his mind on certain issues and being politically outspoken, even if that cost him his job or made his life difficult. I grew up appreciating the meaning of the notion of integrity and I owe that to my father. If you decide to live your life that way, you’re going to be constantly looking for ways to avoid selling your soul. That’s why I’m trying very hard to make films that will leave a mark. I want to be able to sit back in my rocking chair when I’m 80 and be able to talk about some of the films I made and hold my head high.
You have often spoken about not wanting to waste time. Do you approach your work with a sense of urgency?
I’m aware of how brief life is and how you have to mark every day and make it matter — not just the best moments, the award nominations, the opening nights. If my life is all about these satellite moments, what then? They come and they’re gone. I have to live it whole. In the end, it’s all about friendship and loyalty and treating people right.
That’s one of the reasons I always make a point of being as pleasant to people I’m working with as I possibly can and why I will not work with people who treat others badly on a set.
How do you adjust to the constant loss of privacy?
I remember walking through the streets of New York during the first season of ER and people starting to wave or smile as if they knew you personally, or going: ‘Hey, George.’ Your life becomes more complicated when that starts to happen. I try never to complain because no one wants to hear that. I will say, though, that I don’t think many actors from the 1940s or 50s would have survived very long under the kind of scrutiny we get today. But privacy is an issue for everyone now and not just celebrities. With the internet and social media, almost everyone is facing a loss of privacy.
“The Italians have a very infectious spirit and that makes me feel very relaxed and less caught up in the business of being who I am.”
“Brad Pitt and I were staying in a hotel in Italy while we were shooting Ocean’s Twelve. One evening before Brad came back to the hotel, I went out onto his balcony and started waving to the crowd below. When Brad finally arrived, he had to put up with girls screaming: ‘George, George,’ outside his balcony window below, expecting me to come out again.”
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN
“All the President’s Men really is a perfect film. And the reason it’s a perfect film is you start the movie knowing how it ends….and you’re still chewing your fingernails off through the whole movie.”
HIS ANTI-PAPARAZZI EGG-THROWING CATAPULT
“Several years ago I built this egg-catapulting machine which would whip eggs like missiles at the paparazzi when they followed me out on the lake. My friends and I got really good at targeting their boats.”
BEING HELD AT GUNPOINT IN THE DESERT
“I was with my father in the middle of nowhere in Sudan and we were pulled over by a bunch of 13-year-old kids with Kalashnikovs and that’s where it’s dangerous because it’s random violence.”
“When I was 14 and just starting high school, half my face was paralysed for six months. That’s a long time…You do not know when it’s going to end; you do not know if it is going to end. And there’s no treatment.”
“I’m not against marriage as long as it doesn’t apply to me… I like marriage – in the movies.”