Clooney is currently riding high. His latest film, The Descendants, won the Best Drama award at the Golden Globes at the weekend and he took a best-actor award. If it were not for the surprise success of The Artist, he and his film would be favourites to win an Oscar next month . His role in The Descendants is not a typical movie-star character. Clooney shows his age (50) in an emotional, bittersweet drama portraying a husband and father who takes off with his two daughters to track down his comatose wife’s lover. The character is somewhat helpless and vulnerable – what Clooney calls “a schlub” – with untidy hair and decidedly unstylish clothes.
Q: You seem to choose a very strange type of roles?
GC: I just have to share getting older with everybody in the world on screen and it’s a little trickier, but I’m OK with it. I felt this was a good place to talk about fears and loss in your life and Alexander Payne was the perfect director to do it with. In this film I got to rediscover what it was like to not be confident.
Q: All the movies you have directed so far have been…really good, but do you see yourself improving as a director and as an actor?
GC: You hope you’re getting better, you never know, you know? You’ll…you guys will be able to tell me. My feeling is I think of myself much more as a director in terms of film…filmmaking you know? I like acting a lot and it’s an exciting thing to do but directing is a lot more creative and I like it a lot more in general.
Q: Does one have to practice being self-responsible when they get to sit in the star chair?
GC: I think one has to practice being a knuckle-head. You know I don’t know…I think you always have to play by your own rules. I grew up in a family that really believed those were the things that were important in life; the things that you stood for, you know?...and that you look out for people who can’t look out for themselves and that’s how…you should be judged on those sort of things. So I’ve always felt like…it was nothing new, the Darfur thing or any of these things….nothing new. I’ve done those things my whole life it just happens, now you’re famous so that they…they’re seen more.
Q: Don’t you have to act in a way that protects you?
GC: You have to be careful not to do dumb things. It’s why I’m a huge fan and supporter and friend and have been, of Barack Obama, for a long period of time. But, I didn’t go out on the road and campaign for him for a number of reasons. One, I don’t think it particularly helps a candidate. I think in fact it can hurt a candidate. But the other thing is, if I do something stupid along the way…and undoubtedly I will with the availability of information now…you know, there’s a million cameras everywhere you go all the time. There’s no room for slipping up. And everyone is going to slip up now; there’s no way not to. You don’t want to have that in any way harm the candidate or the issue so you have to be more careful about what you do.
Q: Who taught you to believe in yourself?
GC: I don’t know that anyone has ever taught you to believe in yourself because, I think constantly you’re questioning yourself. If you’re fully believing in yourself then I think you’re in a terrible position. But, I also know, you know my mom and dad are really great role models. My family, all my friends are. They are all really great, smart people. I remember when the L.A. riots hit and I think I was at my sister’s at the time or something and it was sort of a big deal. I talked to my dad about it and he said, ‘What are you going to do about that?’ And I hadn’t thought about it. And I was sitting with Richard Kind and Richard goes. ‘Let’s get out of town let’s go to Palm Springs or something.’ And I said, ‘You know what Rich? We gotta do something.’ and so we went down the first day of the curfew when it was really bad, and we went down to Crenshaw and Vernon and we were handing out buckets and getting food and sweeping up. And I remember looking at my friends thinking all of these guys…it was dangerous down there then. We were the few white people down there at the time and I was so proud of my friends, you know?...because I thought, ‘God what a great group of people who actually really cared about their community and were always involved and they weren’t famous. They just did it.’ So I think it’s not about me as much as the people I happen to be lucky enough to be family or friend of.
Q: Given your roles lately, you’ve been compared with Cary Grant. Is it an honor or a burden to be tagged like that?
GC: You know cause, as you well know all this stuff is cyclical. When people are nice to it’s cyclical. You know, they’ll be that period of time where you’ll do a couple of films that they don’t like and you’ll be the last of the last movie stars you know what I mean? [Laughs]. They are all very complimentary and they’ve been very nice so take it with a grain of salt for what it’s worth and try to do the best you can. You know I really think…there are big differences, you know…Cary Grant was infinitely better at what he did than I’ve ever been. Cary didn’t direct, or write…so were sort of actually very different characters in that way. I think it probably comes around because there is…there aren’t that many forty five year old leading men in film right now. There are a few, but there aren’t as many as there used to be and I think that…it’s for a lack of…I think they are looking around to try to find those. There is an awful lot of them in television actually. There is a lot of good thirty five year old leading men where I think, ‘They’ll be able to carry movies soon.’
Q: When did you first discover movies like Miracle of Morgan’s Creek…etc?
GC: That’s a good question. I grew up…my father was a big movie nut…I grew you know, we didn’t go to the movies as much in Kentucy you know…movies were always on TV. So I’d watch movies constantly, certainly on Saturday’s and Sundays and in the afternoons when I came home from school. So I became familiar although I didn’t know the names of Howard Hawks or Preston Sturges...I became familiar with the Late Eve, or with His Girl Friday or with Philadelphia Story certainly. A film that George Steven’s directed – Stevens had sort of two careers. He did romantic comedies before the war and then he did A Place in the Sun…films like that afterward. But he did a film called The More the Merrier that I really loved and I went back and sort of used that as a model. I thought of Rene when I was writing these scenes for her…I thought of her as sort of Jean Arthur and I thought I could be kind of a Joel McKray(sp?) more of that kind of like…if Andy Rooney were younger; everything ends on a down note. But it didn’t lose the energy and I thought he was sort of a unique talent so, I like stealing from those kind of guys.
Q: How good of shape are you in?
GC: For a 48 year old? I'm in good shape. I play basketball twice a week still, and I work out every day. I'm in as good of shape as I've been in in awhile, actually.
Q: You didn't get your eyes done?
GC: Wasn't that funny? Usually you go, 'There is no irony in print.' But on film or videotape you can certainly make a joke. That was on camera. She said, "Would you ever do plastic surgery?" And I was like, 'I got my eyes. What do you think?' And then suddenly it was in an Italian magazine, "George Clooney got his eyes done." Oh man. That one sort of hurt, but it's amazing how quickly things explode. This week alone I woke up with my Blackberry on fire at 7am that overnight it was written that I was engaged. I was like, 'Wow, I just found out I was engaged.' And then literally the next morning the phones are going ape shit and I wake up and I look at it and it was, 'I'm going back on "ER".' And it's already done. It's come out and printed and in 175 articles. Wow, it happened before you even got a chance to answer.
Q: Do you have a Clooney alert?
GC: No, but my assistant does, when they are bad ones. She has a thing. I don't know what it is, but whatever the Google thing is, I have it for anything connected to Africa and in particular the Sudan, so I know, so you can keep up with what's going on because it was all changing so rapidly. That's the one I needed to…
Q: Have you had your dream role yet?
GC: I've had a few dream roles, quite a few, actually. I've had some really lucky parts over the years, but there are still some more. I'm not quitting yet.
Q: Do you fight for your dreams, personally, too?
GC: I am. I believe in it. I think it would be really a waste of a life if you don't. But I have a lot of interests. So it depends on what you are fighting for and when. I have certainly a lot of interests in other things and the world besides film. And I have passions in all of those.
Q: And what is your next ambition?
GC: I want to dance more than anything. (laughs) I want to jazz dance. I think the next thing I'll probably do, I'm finishing writing a screenplay right now, that hopefully I'll be able to direct next year. It's writing right now. Now that the writers strike is over we can all get to work. I want to learn to speak Spanish
Q: Why do you want to learn Spanish?
GC: Because is a good thing to speak another language. I know some Italian and I would love to learn Spanish, is a very useful language in Los Angeles.
Q: Any word that you know in Spanish?
GQ: No, gracias (se rie)
Q: What do you want to accomplish using your fame?
GC: You can't really achieve anything. Your job when you are famous is to go where cameras don't normally go. If you are getting a lot of attention and you say, "Let's all go over here where there is no attention." You can't really change policies, obviously. All you can do is try to suggest some ideas or some solutions and hope you are representing it correctly because you've got to really be informed on a situation or you can really harm it. People can really try to disenfranchise you along the way.