George Clooney arrived in Hollywood in the early ‘80s when the group of young actors known as the Brat Pack was on the rise. He read for the same parts as Judd Nelson and some of the others, but they were always hired instead.
Then, in 1990, Clooney was almost cast as the hunky cowboy in “Thelma & Louise.” When Brad Pitt got the role, which would make him a star, “I was pretty upset,” Clooney admits. “I was always very frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t get in on films and couldn’t get in on the game.”
But he’s become philosophical about this period when he says the best film he did was “Return of the Killer Tomatoes”; the timing just wasn’t right. Now that he has starring roles in “One Fine Day,” which opened a week ago, the forthcoming “Batman and Robin” (he’s the caped crusader) and “The Peacemaker,” the first film from the DreamWorks studio, his time seems to have come.
“I have an advantage now that I’m 35 and look 35 and I’m gray, because there are leading-man roles that weren’t necessarily available to me (back) then,” Clooney says. His extremely short dark hair - like an Army recruit’s, only cut much better - looks to be only slightly graying. Everything else is black: sport coat, T-shirt, slacks and shoes.
Another advantage to starting in movies late: If it doesn’t go anywhere, he can always fall back on his top-rated TV series, “ER.” Unlike David Caruso, who walked out on “NYPD Blue” when Hollywood beckoned, Clooney says, “I have two more years after this year on my ‘ER’ contract, which I will honor because that’s the deal I made.”
Michael Hoffman and Lynda Obst, “One Fine Day’s” director and producer, had hardly seen Clooney on “ER.” Obst admits they were “movie snobs” with the usual Hollywood bias against TV actors. But when Tom Cruise, Harrison Ford and Kevin Costner all passed on “One Fine Day,” reportedly because they thought Michelle Pfeiffer would steal the spotlight, Clooney’s name came up as a possible co-star.
“George never got grand on us,” Obst recalls about the early negotiations. “He was willing to jump through as many hoops (as it took) to make us as sure as we could be. He had to meet with me. He had to meet with Michelle. He had to meet with Michael. That involved three separate meetings. He won’t have to do that again.”
Hoffman was concerned about “certain acting tics” Clooney seems to have picked up on “ER” and other TV series, including “Roseanne” and “The Facts of Life.” “George is always looking down, and he defeats cameramen. They have to keep lowering the lens. When I asked George about it, he said, ‘People don’t look at each other all the time.’ I said, ‘Well, they don’t look down at the floor, either.”’
Clooney does manage to maintain eye contact with Pfeiffer in “One Fine Day.” They play single parents in New York - he’s a newspaper columnist, she’s an architect - who meet cute when their kids literally miss the boat for a field trip. They have to figure out what to do with them all day while she tries to sell a developer on her design for a building and he attempts to clean up corruption in city hall. There’s a lot of banter, inspired, according to the filmmakers, by Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movies.
In those films, however, there was never any problem figuring out which one of them was better looking. Clooney’s startlingly good looks become a running joke in “One Fine Day.” He’s addressed as “Mr. Cute Face,” and Pfeiffer’s mother swoons at the first sight of him.
Clooney sometimes gets that look that says, “I’m hot and I know it.” He has it on the cover of this month’s Vanity Fair. But he also works at making people feel comfortable around him, and he doesn’t expect special treatment. When he sees that his tea has gotten cold, he drinks it anyway.
He’s known for playing pranks on his colleagues - faking a sneeze with a spray bottle of Evian on the “ER” set or pretending to throw up between scenes of “One Fine Day,” to the great amusement of the child actors.
“George was like the uncle who gets your kids all riled up and then he leaves,” says Pfeiffer, who, with two children of her own, knew how to calm the youngsters down. Watching Clooney with them made her conclude that he has a love-hate relationship with children, but that once he gets started, he’ll have 10. Pfeiffer dismisses his proclamations on TV talk shows that family life isn’t for him.
“I think he’s all talk,” she says. “You know he has this new girlfriend (Celine Balidran), and they’re pretty hot for each other. Does she want children? He didn’t say.”
Clooney hoots when this is repeated to him. “Michelle drinks a lot, you know,” he jokes. After playing a father in “One Fine Day” and a pediatrician on “ER,” “I will never have children,” Clooney says. “I’m going to get a vasectomy tomorrow.”
Despite his joking, he seems to have given this subject considerable thought. “I just feel that if you’re going to have children, it has to be because in your head you’re saying, ‘I have to have children.’ It’s a responsibility for the rest of your life. … I don’t have any driving need to have children.”
Nor, he says, does he have any desire to marry again. Clooney was married for three years to stage actress Talia Balsam. The 1992 divorce ended up costing him $80,000 in lawyers’ fees and a lot of aggravation - he got a bleeding ulcer in the middle of it.
He claims to have no idea whether Balidran shares his views on marriage and children: “We don’t really talk about it.” Doesn’t she ever ask? “No. That’s probably why we’re together.”
The two met when he went to Paris for a week on a break from filming “The Peacemaker” in Slovakia. At a party at a chateau, he was introduced to Balidran, a lithe blond Frenchwoman who looks somewhat like Carolyn Bessette Kennedy. They went out in Paris where, as Clooney puts it, “I’m not all that famous,” and she gave up law school and moved to Los Angeles to be with him, not realizing how big a star he was.
It was more for Balidran’s sake than his own, Clooney says, that he staged his protest against aggressive video photographers who stalk stars and sell footage to “Hard Copy,” a Paramount show. By refusing to appear on “Entertainment Tonight,” another Paramount show, he got the company to stop using film obtained this way. Numerous entertainers joined his protest.
Although Clooney manages to see Balidran every night that’s the extent of his social life. He has been working seven days a week, filming both “Batman” and “ER.”
He thinks it’s easier to take over as Batman than it was for Val Kilmer to replace the original movie caped crusader, Michael Keaton. “We’ve established that I’m quite easily replaced. The only trepidation is that you don’t want to screw up something that has been successful three other times.”
It’s not insecurity or ego that’s pushing him, he says, but a sense that he should take advantage of all the opportunities suddenly being offered. “I’ve always approached this as a business, and for me this would be like not buying real estate at the best time to buy. I’m going to get a shot at films now, and we’ll see if anybody really wants to see me in the movies. I’m not sure if they do.”
Growing up in a show-business family, he learned early how fleeting fame can be. His aunt, Rosemary Clooney, was a famous pop singer in the ‘50s with 15 gold records. But when rock ‘n’ roll came in, her career took a nosedive, and she wound up in a psychiatric ward, addicted to tranquilizers. She has since returned to singing, made a second career in commercials and even had a guest spot on “ER.”
His father, Nick Clooney, was a talk-show host and newscaster in Kentucky and Ohio. The family’s fortunes would rise and fall at the whim of the local TV stations; when his father was out of a job, they would pack up and leave.
His bleeding ulcer hasn’t returned, but Clooney admits to having “a lot of anxiety.”
“It’s not about flopping. I wouldn’t have moved from Kentucky to Los Angeles to be an actor if I was worried about flopping. It’s that I’m doing so many things. I’m just trying to keep it all in my head. I’ll get a little crack at movies and then something will happen and it will so easily go away. The most important thing is to know that this is going to happen and enjoy the ride.”
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.