Well-liked in a cut-throat industry, George Clooney has managed to keep his film career
afloat despite never really reeling in the big payday or box-office reward with any of his
offerings such as One Fine Day, The Peacemaker, From Dusk Till Dawn, Batman & Robin,
Out of Sight and Three Kings. Sure, those last two were acknowledged by most critics as
the best movies nobody saw, but how does that help the former TV heartthrob when heís
suddenly captain of a ship that cost Warner Bros. US$125 million?
Youíve said yourself that none of your movies have ever been bona fide hits. What
kind of pressure do you feel on this one?
The truth is every time I do something, they say, Ďoh he hasnít had a hití
but the filmís always managed to make some money so they let me keep working and
thatís been a good thing. Iíve been lucky enough to be able to make good films
so if youíre in that position, then you donít really have anything to complain
about career-wise. In a way there has been some good in the fact that none of them were
really blockbusters because I wasnít pigeonholed into one type. Out of Sight was
probably the best film Iíve done and because nobody saw it, it didnít make me a
romantic lead. So part of the thing that was actually scary about The Perfect Storm was,
like Batman & Robin, there is a demand for it to make money. Itís a big budget
summer movie that doesnít have a very Hollywood ending and the action doesnít
even get going for a while, so itís sort of a risk for the studio and does put a lot
of pressure on everyone involved. But if it wasnít a risk, I donít think it
would be necessarily a smart move for me to do it.
People will be surprised just how dangerous it is to be a fisherman. What was your
approach to the role?
I read the book and that was really the first indication I had of what their life was
like. I always thought fishermen were just guys who went out and stuck a pole in the water
and went fishing. I knew a little bit about long-line fishing but nothing about the
dangers because I grew up in a town where they had riverboat captains and stuff and nobody
really gets killed too often on the Ohio River. So the first thing I had to do, of course,
was understand what it is these guys do and why they do it and most of that is
understanding the economics of it. This is a town that makes its living fishing so the
dangers are just part of the accepted lifestyle and that is what was interesting about
these guys; they were not necessarily brave and certainly not foolish but just trying to
make a living.
You can get nauseous just watching this movie. What was it like for you filming the
Mark Wahlberg heaved like a mad man! Iíve never seen anything like it. He threw up
for five hours while we were doing this scene where he and I are fighting up in the wheel
house. He managed to get his side of the conversation out before he started really
throwing up but we were doing scenes where he was throwing up not between takes, but
between lines! He would go, Ďyou promised weíd get some fishí Waaaagh. And
then there are actually takes from my side where you see me and you see Mark come in and
you see him say something and then youíll see me go (he pulls a face as though
heís disgusted by observing his co-star puking) and then I come back in and finish
the scene. We were crying watching the dailies!
But you avoided telling us whether or not you got sick!
I went sailing about 12 years ago and threw up the whole way so I thought for sure
Iíd get sick. I gave the crew and cast such a hard time. Gail Katz, our producer,
threw up on the way out the first time and she was the first of many so I gave them all
such a hard time from the very beginning that I knew if I threw up I was dead. They gave
us clear plastic barf bags, which is insane, so everyone would pass the used ones in front
of me trying to get me to throw up. At one time I got a little nauseous when I was down
below because thatís where it gets you and it smells pretty much like rotten fish
down there, but it never got me and I was pretty happy. I would have thrown myself in the
ocean before I let them see me throwing up!
How do you choose your roles?
There isnít any great master plan. After Batman & Robin I decided I was only
going to focus on projects that I wanted to do, or a better way of phrasing it is
'projects that I would go see'. As an actor I know there are a lot of ways I can screw up
a movie but if you at least start with a good script, thatís the most important
thing, and then you try working with good directors and good actors and hope for the best.
Out of Sight was my first try at that and it was very successful for me as an actor
regardless of box-office. Then, since Three Kings and Perfect Storm and my next Coen
Brothers film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? itís been much easier for me because
itís easy to be in a film where the writing is good and the director is good and the
cast is good. Itís harder to be in bad films. Harder to act in them, harder to come
here and sit down and hear us both try and find different things to talk about other than
how bad the film is.
So money really isnít important to you?
No. I have money and Iím in a great position. I was going to do a film in between now
and doing my next film, Oceans Eleven, and it was for a lot of money, the biggest payday I
would ever make, but the part started falling apart for me.
So youíre not doing Unfaithful, for director Adrian Lyne?
No. It was a really good film with a wonderful director but when you start rewriting
scripts to accommodate a movie star, things can go wrong. I wrote the director a letter
saying ĎIím going to bow out.í I also said, Ďlook, this is a lot of
money that I wonít ever recoup because I wonít be able to fit another film into
this time slot so clearly I feel strongly about the problems with me in this roleí.
Could you tell us a bit more about Oceans Eleven?
Steven Soderberg is directing it and weíre producing it together. It stars Brad Pitt,
Julia Roberts, Mark Wahlberg, Luke and Owen Wilson, Don Cheadle, myself and I think Billy
Murray is also going to do it. Iím not playing Frank Sinatra and nobody is playing
Sammy Davis Jr. or anything. (lol) Itís the story of Danny Ocean getting those three
bandits together and robbing those casinos. Itís a film you can actually remake
because as much as I really loved the idea of the film because I loved all those Rat Pack
guys, it was not a very well-made film so itís the type of film you can do for the
fun of it. Itís The Sting, thatís what it is.
But how did you come up with such a cast without making the budget impossible?
We all took a chunk of percentage off the back-end. A real percentage and not the
percentages you hear about in most films where you never see any money. We gave those real
percentages of the gross to each of the actors and then paid them a much smaller fee. In
fact considerably smaller Ė like a tenth of the money that Julia and Brad and I make.
When Julia was working with Steven Soderberg on Erin Brockovich, he was in post-production
when we sent her a script through him and I took a $20 bill and put it in the script and
said, ĎI hear you get 20 a film nowí. So she did it!
Besides getting married and having babies, what scares you the most in life?
How did you know? (he laughs, as if we hadnít heard he was recently named People
magazineís No. 1 Most Eligible Bachelor in a list of 100 and that both former
co-stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Nicole Kidman had lost big-money bets that he would have a
child by now). I suppose the biggest fear would be waking up 65-years-old and going,
ĎI should have taken some chancesí. Everybody wants to make some sort of mark in
life, to have some little notch where you can show that you were actually here for a
period of time no matter what it is. My grandfather worked on a bridge near my old home
and I drive by that when I go home and think, Ďmy grandfather helped build this and
it still existsí. So thatís the only thing Iím afraid of. Other than that,
you really canít operate from fear or you wonít do anything.
So I guess Perfect Storm didnít give you much opportunity to do anything romantic?
You can get thrown in jail if you do anything romantic with a swordfish and anybody
catches you! (lol) But youíre out on that boat for about a month and a swordfish
starts looking like Rita Hayworth after a while. Actually if you look at the nose on that
thing, probably more like Barbra Streisand!
(July 6, 2000)