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Leatherheads - George Clooney interview

George Clooney directs Leatherheads

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GEORGE Clooney talks about directing and starring in screwball romantic comedy Leatherheads, which films he was trying to emulate and the physical aspects of the shoot.

He also considers the secrets behind his appeal to women and gets serious about the issue of Darfur and what he and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown discussed during their meeting while he was in London…

Q. The Leatherheads script has been around for years. Why did you choose to direct and star in it now?
George Clooney: Well, after Goodnight, And Good Luck and Syriana and some of those films every film that I was sent to direct was an issue driven film, which at some point the issues start to become bigger than the films you’re doing and you really don’t want to do that if you want to direct. So I wanted to do a comedy. And this was one. If you’re going to do a romantic comedy it was about housing it in something that we haven’t seen before. The reason I avoid romantic comedies in general is because we sort of know how everything ends all the way down. So, it’s about where you put it, is it worth the journey? I wanted to put it in something that would be fun. I’m a big fan of the old screwball comedies and I thought that without really trying to mimic it, because we couldn’t really do it that same way, it felt like this was a good time to do something different. You also want to keep playing with things and keep trying different things and figure out what you’re good at and what you’re not.

Q. It also means that you could dust it down yourself and polish it yourself?
George Clooney: Yes. I spent two summers ago in Italy, which is a good place to do that. It’s where we did Goodnight, and Good Luck the year before, and spent the summer working on it with Renée [Zellweger] in mind to play the part. It makes it easy to write when you have somebody particularly as talented as Renée in mind for it. So, that was part of the fun.

Q. What types of films did you look at to get the style of the banter?
George Clooney: We looked at His Girl Friday. I tell you a great film… I was watching this [Frank] Capra documentary and he talked about the greatest screwball romantic comedy he’d ever seen was The More The Merrier, which I didn’t know and felt like a moron because when you see it you realise it was nominated for five Academy Awards. It was Joel McCrae and Jean Arthur and it was so beautifully done, and so quick and smart. The trick was to be able to try and do that without it sounding… You couldn’t take Rosalind Russell and do that performance now. She’s brilliant in His Girl Friday but if Renée was in there doing it [mimics her voice] it just won’t play. So, it’s finding that heightened level and it’s hard to find actors that don’t feel contemporary when you put them in a period piece. It’s a strange thing and I have that problem sometimes because we slur or we say ‘y’know’ a lot and we try to explain things too much. But Renée has this incredible ability to be able to walk into a period piece like that and just be impeccable. But we looked at a lot of films. We ripped off The Philadelphia Story of course!

Q. Your character in Leatherheads is very sensitive about his age and there are a lot of jokes at his expense. Is that something that resonates with you personally?
George Clooney: [mimics being an old man and shouting random things out, while laughing] I don’t worry about it because, you know, the option is death! So, getting older is not something that you’re not much concerned with. I kept putting those old man jokes in because it was a project that I was looking to do 10 years earlier, when I would have been about the right age to be too old to be playing football. So, I did keep putting in old man jokes. But I find that the best thing with those things, especially with directing, is to have other options so that you’re not just relying on what people will think about you in front of the camera.

Q. As both director and star, how physical were the football scenes?
George Clooney: There’s this awful moment when you’re 46 and you get hit and it hurts. So, you get up and say: “OK, that’s good, we got it.” And you go to the monitor and you’re looking at it and as a director you know you’ve got to do it again. But as me, I was like: “I think we got it!” But then Grant [Heslov], the producer, is sitting there and going: “Back out, get out there and shoot it again.” I’m like “shit”! The first day, you’re running 100 yard dashes back and forth and you do it for a couple of days and realise there’s 65 more days of it [laughs]. And you don’t want your director to be covered in mud.

Q. Is it true that you tried out for the Cincinnati Reds and are you a fan of American Football and the way the game has moved on since the time you depict in the film?
George Clooney: Well, I did have two trials for the Cincinnati Reds. I only lacked talent. All the rest of it I had. The uniform I had down. We didn’t have a football team at my high school, it was a very small school. But we played sand block football and it sort of reminded me of this kind of football. Listen, I’m a football fan, I like the game. But I also really like… right now what just finished in America last night is, I think, one of the most fun time in sport – the final four of the college basketball. What’s fun about it is, although it is commercial, is that it’s kids playing for a team and for spirit and that kind of thing. It’s so much more exciting than when it gets to be very big pay. I think that’s sort of the fun of it and that’s why I can relate to that kind of thing.

Q. Is there any sport that you find incomprehensible?
George Clooney: Cricket… I think that’s probably what baseball is to you guys. The rules are just different enough that you can’t quite figure them out. I remember shooting a movie in Montreal and the first day I turned on the TV it was curling on every channel. At first I was like: “What the hell? My God, have something more on!” And then by like the third month they couldn’t get me out of the hotel room. I was like: “Hang on! That’s proper technique, they’ve got a different shoe…” I guess you can figure them out when you spend a little time there.

Q. It seems to me that you’ve shown greater variety in your three films as director to date than some directs manage in a lifetime. Is that by design?
George Clooney: It’s not necessarily by design. It’s really and truly trying to do different things. The terror is that you get stuck with people thinking you’re only allowed to do one thing, and so the trick to me is I’m interested in a lot of different genres and a lot of different kinds of filmmaking. Sometimes I do it well and sometimes I don’t, but I enjoy the process and I’m sort of on this constant… there’s something really exciting about being in this position where you can say “I want to go and make this film and people will make it.” You know, it doesn’t last very long in your career, you don’t get that to last very long, so while you have all the toys you want to be able to play with them all before they make you put them in the box and go back to the SAG retirement home.

Q. When you’re producing, writing, polishing and directing who says no to you in terms of the process?
George Clooney: Grant Heslov, the producer. He and I co-wrote Goodnight, And Good Luck. He’s been one of my oldest friends. If he was 19, I was 21 when we were in acting class and he was doing an episode of Joanie Loves Chachi and he loaned me $100 for headshots, which I still use by the way. So Grant’s one of those guys that can look at you and be objective. He’s going to direct a film this Fall that I’m going to be in. He’s really smart and really talented.

Q. I gather you visited our Prime Minister in Downing Street earlier today. Was there any progress from today’s meeting? What do you make of the sort of lack of progress from the international community on Darfur? And where do we go from here?
George Clooney: First of all, there hasn’t been much going on as you know because it’s a very complicated issue. It’s very hard to get in. We’re not going to invade a Muslim country to solve its problems – we’ve done that before to not great success. So, what it really comes down to in many ways is finding ways to apply pressure. It’s also getting the rebel groups together. It’s been one of the biggest issues. We had a great meeting today and two things happened with the Prime Minister [Gordon Brown] that I thought were amazing.

One of the things we’ve been very concerned about are helicopters. It’s a big thing. You’ve got 13,000 UNIMID forces, which is the UN Force that used to be the African Union mostly, that are allowed to be in right now. There’s 26,000 but right now there’s only 13,000 allowed to be in. Those groups can’t get anywhere. They sit in small pockets and they’re not able to protect anyone. So, you need helicopters just to get them to places to protect the different camps. It’s been impossible to get the funding. Ethiopia offered a couple of helicopters, which is sort of embarrassing when none of the other countries did, because you obviously can’t use British pilots for these helicopters. So, the first thing was we need helicopters, first and foremost. He had a wonderful suggestion and has been almost immediately following through on it of setting up a fund, which we will put together, that the British government and hopefully the French – who we started talking to this afternoon – will begin to put funding together to lease or buy these helicopters in order to create sort of an air of some security for the guys. He was amazingly helpful in that.

He also suggested that London be a place for the rebel leaders to meet. We had a conversation already today with [Abdel Rahim] Kalil, who is one of the three or four main rebel leaders, who has not really been part of the peace agreements before, but he agreed today to come to London or wherever to do it. I think we have a chance, even though he hasn’t ever shown up. It’s all very technical but the bottom line is that we have a chance now of trying to resurrect this idea of getting the rebel groups together, having them have an agreement on what’s going on, because there’s a lot of violence going on among the rebel groups as well, and then being able to go to the Sudanese government as one solid unit and say: “Let’s now try talking again about negotiating peace.” It’s all long and complicated but it was great steos today and really encouraging.

Q. Finally, you’re clearly the type of man that women love to be around. What is it about you that women love?
George Clooney: [Looks perplexed but laughs] What’s not to like? How much time do we have? I think it’s really hair. I have good hair I just bought. Hair, mostly.

Read our review of Leatherheads