George Clooney's Rules for Living
No one does the fame thing like Clooney. He floats above it even as he uses it to embellish his influence. He understands his place in the pantheon even as he remains hidden from the inquisitive lens. He's the master.
PLUS: MORE EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS OF CLOONEY >>
AND: A LOOK BACK AT CLOONEY'S WHOLE CAREER >>
Byon November 11, 2013
A few months ago, I spent time with Matt Damon while he was on the set of The Monuments Men, and he told a story about Russell Crowe and George Clooney. It involved Clooney reading a poem by Crowe on the night of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards, with uproarious results. It was a great story but not, well, a true one. I told this to Clooney, and he said, Matts a storyteller. Then he said, The truth is that [Crowe] did send me a book of poems to apologize for insulting the shit out of me, which he did. He picked a fight with me. He started it for no reason at all. He put out this thing saying, George Clooney, Harrison Ford, and Robert De Niro are sellouts. And I put out a statement saying, Hes probably right. And Im glad he told us, cause Bob and Harrison and I were also thinking about starting a band, which would also fall under the heading of bad use of celebrity. And thats when he really went off on me. Who the fuck does this guy think he is? Hes a Frank Sinatra wannabe. He really went after me. And so I sent him a note going, Dude, the only people who succeed when two famous people are fighting is People magazine. What the fuck is wrong with you?
But then I had a year. Then I had Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck, and he was gonna see me at the Golden Globes cause he was nominated for Cinderella Man. So he sends me a disc of his music and a thing of his poetry. I think he said, I was all misquoted, and I was like, Yeah, yeah. Whatever. I did take it with me to the BAFTAs, but I didnt win. I might have used it if I had won. I was nominated for four!
He sends a lot of e-mails. But when he is really serious or wants to keep his correspondence confidential, he writes letters. He is picky about the forms of communication he chooses. He handwrites his scripts, because I like paper. He is also prescriptive, as he is in most things. At his villa on Lake Como, he has had, as his houseguests, everyone from Al Gore to Walter Cronkite to Kofi Annan, and still he insists that at dinner, everyone put the phones away. And so there are not a lot of photos of our times there. Because I want us to live them. At his house in Los Angeles, he supported the reelection of President Obama by doing what he says was the biggest fundraiser in Democratic history. Fifteen million dollars, he says, right here. The president came here and there were some people who wanted to meet him. And the president and I are talking to them and theyre holding their smartphone cameras up like this. And Im holding my hand out trying to shake their hand, and theyre like, Smile. And I said to the president, I said, You know, the oddest thing about whats happening right now is that weve stopped living our lives and were just recording them.
As might be expected, he does not like Twitter. More to the point, he does not approve of Twitter, especially for a certain segment of the population. If youre famous, I dontfor the life of meI dont understand why any famous person would ever be on Twitter. Why on Gods green earth would you be on Twitter? Because first of all, the worst thing you can do is make yourself more available, right? Because youre going to be available to everybody. But also Twitter. So one drunken night, you come home and youve had two too many drinks and youre watching TV and somebody pisses you off, and you go Ehhhhh and fight back.
And you go to sleep, and you wake up in the morning and your career is over. Or youre an asshole. Or all the things you might think in the quiet of your drunken evening are suddenly blasted around the entire world before you wake up. I mean, when you see, like, Ashton Kutcher coming out going, you know, Everybody leave Joe Paterno alone, or whatever he said, you just go, Fifteen minutes longer and a thought process and probably you wouldnt have done that.
As a result, the famous people he admires mostthe ones he claims not just as friends but as club members and counterpartsare those who make themselves unavailable. He loves Bill Murray, for instance, and made sure that he was in The Monuments Men. Why? Because you cant get to him. You cant get him on the phone, he wont answer your e-mails. Not that Murray and Clooney strictly abjure the use of electronic communications; indeed, even as Clooney is extolling Murrays talent for remaining out of reach, he produces an iPhone and scrolls to an antic photo of Clooney hamming it up with some sushi chefs. We went out to dinner and Bill went to the bathroom. When he was gone, I found his phone and took pictures, so that when he got home this is what he saw.
Then he finds the photo that Murray sent him a few days earlier, on the occasion of Murrays birthday. Its a photo of Murray standing with a few friends, showing off his birthday cake. Stamped on the cake, in icing, is an image of the smiling face of George Clooney.
Clooney also admires Brad Pitt, for some of the same reasons. For a long time now, Brad has been the biggest movie star in the world, he says. Hes bigger than me, bigger than DiCaprio. And I really admire how he deals with that. Its not easy for him. But he tries to be the most honest version of Brad Pitt that he can be. And he also remains unavailable. Hes still a giant movie star because you cant get to him. That doesnt mean that I dont think of him as incredibly talented and smart and all those things. But you also cant get to him.
This is not to say that Clooney cant get to him. He is well aware of what kind of year Pitt hada year that almost killed him. And so Brad Pitt became one of the people to whom Clooney wrote. I saw him in London when he was doing the World War Z reshoot. I called him up and said, What are you doing? Im doing reshoots. He said, Im doing reshoots. We met up. And I was like, How you holding up? And he took out a knife and stabbed it in the table and we drank a lot of vodka and he just said, This ones going to kill me, man. It was a huge reshoot and Brad was putting it on his shoulders. He picked it up and put it on his shoulders and took it away from all the people who were screwing it up. Carried it over the finish line. Got it made into a film that was well reviewed and made a lot of money. And I just wrote him an e-mail and it said, This one is all on you, brother. Congratulations, because I know this was a killer. You know? You dont want your zombie movie to be the killer, but it was.
Being Clooney, he does not only write to Brad Pitt, however. He also writes as Brad Pitt. A few years ago, he even had some stationery made up with Brad Pitts letterhead. Then he found a book about acting and accents and sent it to Meryl Streep, with an accompanying note. It said, Dear Meryl, this book really helped me with my accent for Troy. I hope it helps you too. He signed it Brad Pitt. Then he sent another letter to Don Cheadle on Pitts stationery. As long as Cheadle has been acting, he has dreamt of playing Miles Davis. So the letter informed Cheadle that Pitts production company had acquired the rights to Daviss life story. The letter said that Pitt wanted him to star in it.
As Charlie Parker.
A few years ago, John Bolton, George Bushs ambassador to the United Nations, asked Clooney to come to New York and address a special session of the Security Council on the subject of Darfur. Clooney was surprised; he was already well-known for his opposition to President Bush in general and his foreign policy in particular. I asked my father, Why would he invite me to do this? And my dad said, Because youre the liberal whos gonna chastise the UN, thats why.
He went, and had no problems with Bolton. It was the other members of the Security Council who were offended by the fact that an actor had been dispatched to address them. Very heavy stuff. Im sitting with Elie Wiesel, and the Chinese ambassadors walked out, and the Russian ambassadors walked out, because they dont want to let an actor speak. And the Qatar ambassador starts off by going, I have to post my protest that we would allow a very fine actor in here to speak. Hes speaking in Arabic, and he just keeps on going: How dare he come in, and who does he think he is? He just goes on and on. And then the British ambassador goes, Well, I have to let Mr. Clooney respond. And believe me, I was very nervous doing this, but I just went, You know, my translation cut out after I heard very fine actor, if youd like to repeat it. And my dad was sitting behind me and kicks me under the table. And I was nervous doing it, but you know, theres that moment where you go, Well, are you gonna do it? And then you go, Well, fuck it.
Did he get a laugh? Huge laugh. He was also able to give his speech and have his say and do what hed been called upon to do. Its funny, but in really stressful moments Im the Zen master. I can do almost anything. In emergencies, when someones hurt . . . Ive been in some really wild situations and been able to go, Okay. And the same thing in doing something live or anything like that. You know, they pull you up onstage and they say, Do this. Ive always found a way to say, I can take a breath and I can do it.
He has recently written another of his letters to the current UN ambassador, Samantha Power, urging her to make the United States a party to the International Criminal Court. But overall, his political engagement has diminished since President Obamas reelection. At his house, he spoke little of politics, more of his political experiences, more still of a letter hed received posthumously from Ted Kennedy and the political curio that had come along with it. Kennedy had written the letter on behalf of an old friend. The friend had recently found the letter and sent it to Clooney, along with JFKs wallet, circa 1946. It was not an empty wallet, either; rather it was a time capsule whose contents Clooney laid out on the coffee table as he read out loud the description of the items. There were ticket stubs to a HarvardYale game Bobby played in, the Saint Christophers medal Kennedy had probably carried in World War II, a postcard from the Statler Hilton, a very scary greeting card signed Mary, and, among very many other things, an empty matchbook from the Chowder Bowl, Palm Beach, which has lipstick blotted on it and Im sure an interesting story behind it.
It is the one gift appropriate for the man who has everything: an artifact pulled from the back pocket of a man who had, for a time, even more. Nick Clooney ran unsuccessfully for Congress; his son has always denied having any political ambitions. But Jack Kennedys wallet might as well be a piece of the True Cross for a guy who has abstained from the fame of politics to master, more than anyone, the politics of fame.
He and Noah Wyle shared a lot of things, at the start. They shared a breakbeing cast on a show that became as popular as ER. They shared the advantage of being the charismatic characters on a show anchored dutifully by Anthony Edwards. They shared an interest in liberal causes. They even wound up sharing an assistant, Angel. She worked for Wyle for two years; now she works for Clooney, and she knows better than anyone what made them, in the end, so different.
It wasnt just the coursethe outcomeof their careers. It wasnt just the fact that Wyle never really made it to the movies and Clooney never looked back once he left television. It wasnt even that Wyle didnt get lucky and Clooney did.
It was that Clooney became a guy gracious enough to ascribe all that came to him as a matter of luckwhile holding an ingrained conviction that nothing is ever
It was a hard, hard job, ER. We were working sixteen-hour days, five days a week. We were learning Latin, you know, to do the show. But you knew that you were never going to get a second chance to introduce yourself to a wide audience. And I was thirty-three. I wasnt the young one there; I was the oldest one there. So I knew this was my opportunity. I think all the actors were given a bit of an opportunity that summer on a film. I think every one of them was given an opportunity. And I think most of them were so exhausted from the work that they wanted their summer off.
In fairness, they were also doing a lot. I had the smallest part in the show. And when [Robert Rodriguezs] Dusk till Dawn came around . . . well, it was a great part for me, because it was a complete departure. And that movie changed everything for me, temperaturewise. It made it so I was going to be allowed to do some films, you know?
It was one of the choices that Clooney made and Wyle didnt. But it wasnt the most important choice. The most important choice was the choice not to do somethingthe choice not to make a choice that Wyle eventually did.
George made a conscious decision not to have a family, because he was hungry, Angel says. Also, Noah was young and could take things for granted. George never did. George paid cash for all his houses, because he thinks that will protect him if it all goes away. Look, Grant Heslov is his writing and producing partner now. But he also is the guy who, when they were first starting out together, lent George a hundred dollars so that George could have his publicity stills made. That kind of thing still really matters to George.
Then she tells a story about working for George Clooney. When she first started working for him, he bought her a truck. Last year, he asked how it was running. Angel said fine. She liked the truckand the thing she especially liked about it was that it had so many dings in it she didnt have to worry about it. A couple of days later, she walked out of her bosss house and her truck was gone. A new one gleamed in the driveway.
Hey, wheres the Tesla? I said when I was leaving his house. I was just giving him shit; I didnt know if he had a Tesla or not, and was trying to see if even George Clooney was susceptible to Hollywood cliché.
I had a Tesla. I was one of the first cats with a Tesla. I think I was, like, number five on the list. But Im telling you, Ive been on the side of the road a while in that thing. And I said to them, Look, guys, why am I always stuck on the side of the fucking road? Make it work, one way or another.
We take the Lexus to the new office he and Heslov have rented for Smokehouse Pictures, another old Hollywood house with another full bar and another wall where there hangs another precious artifact, in this case the robe that once belonged to the wrestler Gorgeous George. Hes never been to the new office before, though, and he doesnt know where hes going. He wont use his smartphone for directions; instead he keeps referencing the directions he printed out from a computer, because, you know, he likes paper. He drives along. He talks about Dean and Sammy and does a passable impersonation of Dean. Then he sees a billboard for the movie Gravity, which is opening that week. Its his movie; and its his billboard, with his own helmeted and visored face stamped enormously upon it. As it happens, the billboard stands on the corner where he has to make his turn. Oh, he says, they should have just said, Go to the poster of you and make a right.
Its not even a smile that crosses his face. Its a kind of awareness that doubles as a smile, or a wink. He signals. Then he makes a left.
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