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George Clooney: A Hollywood treasure?

George Clooney in Syriana

Feature by Jack Foley

OSCAR-winning actor George Clooney has emerged as one of the most impressive filmmakers working in Hollywood today. A respected and popular actor, the former ER star is also a very talented director, producer and screenwriter.

His immense talents have been properly recognised in 2006 with a number of awards. Aside from his Oscar, he has already won the Golden Globe for best supporting actor (for Syriana) and accrued a personal haul of four Bafta nominations for his work on Goodnight, And Good Luck and Syriana.

The best supporting actor prize was an appropriate reward for a star who appears to have it all – good looks, intelligence and the ability to entertain across the spectrum of cinema viewers.

Yet Clooney has had to wait to achieve such status. He only really broke through as an actor following his acclaimed performance as Dr Doug Ross in the long-running television series, ER, with which he spent four seasons. He was 33 at the time.

Prior to that, he appeared in several terrible films despite having grown accustomed to the trappings of fame and celebrity from an early age.

He is the son of former television presenter, Nick Clooney, and nephew of the singer, Rosemary Clooney, who appeared in several early episodes of ER with him.

Ironically, it was Rosemary’s son, and George’s cousin Miguel Ferrer, who helped to secure his first role and prompted the journalism graduate to pack up his bags and head for Tinseltown.

Having arrived in Hollywood, Clooney then lived in a friend’s closet and spent the next decade at the bottom of the Hollywood food chain, taking roles in forgettable films such as Return to Horror High and Return of the Killer Tomatoes! Eagle-eyed viewers may also see him in Murder She Wrote re-runs.

Then came ER in 1994, when the actor was 33. Doug Ross immediately became a heartthrob for his rebellious antics and womanising ways. The programme, which he remained loyal to throughout the period of his contract, provided the springboard for his career today.

His small screen following led to high-profile roles in Hollywood blockbusters such as Batman & Robin, The Peacemaker (alongside Nicole Kidman) and One Fine Day (alongside Michelle Pfeiffer).

Unfortunately, none of those films boded particularly well for the future. Batman & Robin, especially, was generally considered to be the worst film in the lucrative franchise and effectively called a halt to the films until 2005, when Christopher Nolan re-imagined it.

Both The Peacemaker and One Fine Day were also largely written off by critics who viewed his performances as mere extensions of his Dr Ross persona.

Thank goodness, then, for Steven Soderbergh, who realised his potential and cast him alongside Jennifer Lopez in his acclaimed thriller, Out of Sight.

The film is frequently cited as the beginning of a new era for Clooney, and is regularly in top 10 lists of key movie moments (most notably because of the chemistry he and Lopez shared).

Equally impressive roles followed in David O Russell’s offbeat Gulf war drama, Three Kings, and the critically-acclaimed Coen brothers’ comedy, O Brother Where ‘Art Thou, which provided Clooney his first Golden Globe award and displayed a nice line in self-depracating humour.

He was then able to hit the A-list with his follow-up, The Perfect Storm, a blockbuster that did strike a chord with audiences.

Ever ambitious, Clooney wasn’t content to ‘slum’ it in the mainstream and used his friendship with Soderbergh to help him evolve into a key player in the movie industry.

In 1999, the pair set up the production company Section Eight and bank-rolled some of the best mainstream films of recent years, including Insomnia.

They also made the hugely successful Ocean’s Eleven, a remake of the Rat Pack film, that brought together one of the starriest casts of modern times (including Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Andy Garcia and Matt Damon).

The success of the film – and its equally glamorous sequel, Ocean’s 12 – helped the duo to bankroll more indepedent-style films that carried important messages, such as Solaris and Syriana.

Clooney also tried his hand at directing in 2003, with the acclaimed Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, starring Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore. Despite being hailed as a fine piece of work, and attracting awards, the film didn’t ignite at the box office, prompting the filmmaker to insist that making movies was ‘not about an opening weekend’.

He subsequently continued to take risks, describing himself as ‘a hybrid’ who was able to succeed in both worlds.

“I hope that selling out on Ocean’s Eleven is not such a bad deal. The trade-off is, I get to go make something uncommercial that will probably lose money,” he commented.

The results are clear for all to see. Goodnight, and Good Luck, his second film as director, is nothing short of a masterpiece. Shot in black and white (a bold move in itself) and starring David Strathairn, it follows the fortunes of Edward R Murrow during the early days of broadcast journalism in 1950s America and his legendary battle against the McCarthy Committee.

Clooney co-stars, directs, produces and wrote the screenplay – though in a selfless move has since removed himself from being credited as a producer, so as not to claim undue credit for the efforts of Grand Heslov in getting the film made.

At the same time, Clooney also took a supporting role in another political film, Syriana, which focuses on the murky world of US foreign policy and the oil industry.

He put on weight, grew a beard and injured his back badly while filming, but has since attracted some of the best reviews of his career and a Golden Globe award to boot.

Both films are intended as a way of raising a debate about current civil liberties in the US. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly, he is quoted as saying: “Is it confusing? Sure. It’s a grown-up movie. People go, ‘nobody understands some of the things you’re talking about’. But I say: “Well, we had the same question on ER. No one knew what a supraventricular tachyarrhythmia was. But they got the overall sense of what was going on.”

But then Clooney has seldom been one to shy away from politics and is a vocal critic of President Bush. Although true to form, his points are frequently made in the right way and are designed to provoke intelligent thought and discussion.

With projects including another Steven Sodebergh collaboration, The Good German, on the way, the future only looks healthy for this exceptional talent…

Clooney’s award roll of honour

Directors Guild of America – 1 nomination

Golden Globes – 3 nominations (including supporting actor for Syriana)

Independent Spirit Awards – 1 nomination (best director)

Screen Actors Guild – 2 nominations

Writers Guild of America – 2 nominations

Key films

The Peacemaker (1997)

Out of Sight (1998)

Three Kings (1999)

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

The Perfect Storm (2000)

Ocean’s Eleven (2001)

Solaris (2002)

Welcome To Collinwood (2002)

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

Ocean’s Twelve (2004)

Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)

Syriana (2005)