Sandford-on-Thames, Oxfordshire - save 47%
TalkTalk have created this exclusive biography of George Clooney - we believe it to be the most comprehensive on the web
They said it couldn't be done. They said that TV stardom necessarily disqualified an actor from major cinematic success. Yet, despite being the veteran of no fewer than fifteen TV pilots and seven major TV series, George Clooney would become one of the biggest and the brightest film stars of them. Ocean's Eleven and its subsequent franchise would see him draw together and headline over the likes of Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon and Al Pacino. He'd win an Oscar for his acting in Syriana and be nominated for Michael Clayton, as well as being nominated for directing and writing the screenplay for Goodnight, And Good Luck. His production credits would include comedies, thrillers and politically-charged award winners like Far From Heaven. This TV star was now a genuine Hollywood heavyweight.
George Timothy Clooney was born on the 6th of May, 1961, in Lexington, Kentucky. His mother, Nina, was a former state beauty queen, while his dad, Nick Clooney, was a TV newscaster, actor and talk-show host of great repute around the Cincinnati area. The son of Andrew Joseph Clooney and Frances Marie Guilfoyle, Nick had begun his entertainment career in the army as a DJ then tried his luck in Hollywood, before returning to the mid-West. He'd be a news anchor in Lexington, following in the footsteps of his hero Edward R Murrow, then score his own TV show in Columbus, Ohio in the late Sixties before quickly moving on to a new show in Cincinnati in 1969. This was on WCPO's Channel 9. From here, in the early 1970s, he'd move on to WKRC-TV's Channel 12, also in Cincinnati, both versions of The Nick Clooney Show being morning chat shows. 1974 would see him get national coverage when he hosted the daytime game-show The Money Maze then , when this failed, he returned to his early love of more serious journalism when he became news director and anchor for WKRC.
From the age of 5, young George would potter around his father's sets, joining in where possible, shouting out the temperature during the weather report, generally being charming (some things never change). Nick's audiences loved him. George's aunt, the famous singer Rosemary Clooney, thought he'd make a fine comedian. Once, when he was thirteen, he was at home trying on an Easter Bunny costume for one of his dad's shows. Suddenly, there was an awful rumbling - it was Augusta's first earthquake in 150 years. Poor George; in his cute suit and huge fake feet, he had to leave the building and stand, humiliated, among the neighbours. Throughout his teens he build his role on his dad's show, serving coffee and doughnuts, greeting guests and even warming up the audiences. His father would say that George's voice actually broke when he was trying to impress guest Lynda Day George, the glamorous star of Mission: Impossible.
Outside of TV, Nick would make some 150 personal appearances a year, visiting fairs, schools, businesses, anywhere there was an audience. The whole family - Nina, George and sister Ada - would go and George would learn the importance of entertaining the public at all times, any arguments in the car would have to be immediately forgotten upon arrival. In Ohio, Nick was seen as a cross between Elvis and Johnny Carson and refused to disappoint people. It was a lesson George learned well, eventually becoming a master of the press conference and red carpet.
George attended Kentucky's Augusta High School, but was no academic. Indeed, his father would give him extra book reports as he didn't think the boy was reading enough. War books became a favourite. George was more sporty. Indeed, baseball was his life. A big star at Augusta High, he actually tried out for the Cincinnati Reds, but did not make the cut.
He tried college, at Northern Kentucky University, but didn't like that. He tried following his father into broadcast journalism, but didn't really want to do that either. Then came revelation. George's uncle was the actor Jose Ferrer, and now he came to Kentucky, along with his actor sons Miguel and Rafael, to make a horse-racing movie called And They're Off. Miguel was a particular friend of George's and he got him a minor role. The film was never released, but something in George Clooney was. He'd not seriously considered acting before. Indeed, his only real contact with that world had come very early on, when Raymond Burr came to Kentucky. George had trailed around behind the poor fellow all day, every five minutes grabbing his sleeve and shouting "You're Perry Mason! You're Perry Mason!"
Nick told him he ought to stick with college, have something to fall back on. But George replied that if he had something to fall back on, he'd probably fall back. So, he spent a season picking tobacco for his uncle Jack, then in 1982 took off for LA in his '76 Monte Carlo, with $300 in his pocket. The idea was to stay with his aunt Rosemary while he studied and looked for acting work, but she didn't fancy his chances and didn't really want to help him on his way to disaster. Nevertheless, when she went off on tour she invited George to be her driver.
Other work did not come. This was the time of the Brat Pack and George was just a couple of years too old. He borrowed $200 from new friend Grant Heslov (later his production partner) to have head shots done - still nothing. He became depressed and something of a pain, so Rosemary asked him to leave. Luckily, a friend and fellow-struggling-actor Tom Matthews could put him up - in a walk-in closet. George lived like that for a year, while touting for roles, doing construction work and studying under the renowned Milton Katselas. His first class production secured him an agent. Now the work came - and in the end HOW it came.
Many think that George Clooney was an immediate (and lucky) sensation with his first big part, in ER, then casually stepped into the movies. It didn't happen like that at all. He had to sell insurance door to door, draw caricatures in the mall, and flog lemonade from a stand. He did indeed start in a programme called E/R, but not the successful one. This one began in 1984, with Elliott Gould as divorced Dr Sheinfeld, a physician on call at a tough hospital. Like the later ER, it was set in Chicago, and veered between sit-com and high drama. For a couple of years, George was George Burnett in The Facts Of Life, a long running series about boarding school girls. Then, for a further year, he was Booker Brooks in Roseanne (this was a prime gig but, unable to get laughs, Clooney felt a failure and walked before he could be sacked). In between, there were a few film roles. There was the Scream-like Return To Horror High: Grizzly 2, with Charlie Sheen, which was (unsurprisingly) almost never released: and Return Of The Killer Tomatoes, where those vicious fruit were reanimated by John Astin (formerly Gomez Addams). Now reasonably confident of his toe-hold in Hollywood, Clooney would encourage his dad to return to LA and have another shot at the big-time. This he did, scoring a job on KNBC-TV in 1984. Ever grateful and generous, Clooney would always, but always attempt to encourage and help out his friends and family.
On paper, it doesn't look like much, but Clooney was actually big news in TV. He could get pilots greenlighted, and the money got progressively better. In 1990, he starred as Chic Chesbro in Sunset Beat, a shortlived TV series about LA cops who go undercover as bikers (Clooney LOVES motorbikes). Then came Baby Talk, a series based on Look Who's Talking, which featured sit-com gods Tony Danza and Scott Baio. He played Detective Ryan Walker in Bodies Of Evidence, a series of police mysteries. Then, between 1993 and '94, he was a cop again, as Detective James Falconer in Sisters, a popular series about four sisters in different walks of life, which variously featured Swoosie Kurtz, Julianne Phillips and Ashley Judd. He'd also, he later explained, became properly politicized. In 1992, after the Los Angeles riots, he and his friends had gone down to South Central to help with the clearing up operation. His eyes opened, from now on he wouldn't simply talk a good game but act upon his words, too.
By now, Clooney was already rich. He was earning $40,000 a week, owned a Hollywood home and two cars. For some years, he'd been "the best-paid unknown actor in Hollywood". Trouble was, he couldn't get a film agent to represent him, not even one from his own agency, William Morris. He tried for a part in Thelma And Louise, reading for Ridley Scott five times, but lost out to Brad Pitt. He was gutted, and outraged, couldn't watch the movie for a full year. Then, when he did, he later recalled, "I sat there with my mouth open, saying I would never have thought of doing things the way he did them. Suddenly, I realised how right Ridley Scott was".
This film problem had not been George's only source of trouble. While making Baby Talk, he'd argued continually with the producers and quit in acrimonious circumstances. He believed he'd never be employed again. Beside that, he was splitting from his wife, Talia Balsam. The daughter of actors Martin Balsam and Joyce Van Patten, Talia was a year older than George and was a TV regular in shows like Happy Days, Taxi, Dallas, Magnum PI etc. They'd married in 1989, just after George had split from Kelly Preston (now Mrs Travolta). George claimed he would never marry again and never have children. Nicole Kidman would bet him $10,000 that he'd break this vow by the age of 40. On his 40th birthday, she'd send him a cheque. He'd return it with a note saying "Double or nothing on my 50th".
Now came the big break, though it must have looked like business as usual to George. It was yet another TV series, again called ER. But George answered the call of Warners president Les Moonves and took it on. Unlike the 1984 version, it was a mega-smash and, as heart-throb doctor Doug Ross, George was the sexy centrepiece. Some have snidely asked what Clooney would have been without ER - it's more pertinent to ask what ER would have been without Clooney, with his humour, his timing, his looks and his action-heroics.
Now came the movies. On the set of ER, Steven Spielberg had told Clooney that he'd could be a movie star if he stopped moving his head. He'd soon be proven correct. George had earlier auditioned for Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, performing Michael Madsen's horrifying dance sequence. Now he made the cut, starring alongside Tarantino himself as Seth Gecko in the weird, road-movie-come-vampire-flick From Dusk Till Dawn. Clooney played a baddie for the first time, but he went over well, his haircut in particular proving popular. He'd got himself a “Roman” cut to look especially crazy - but everyone thought he was cute. So he kept it.
George received $250,000 for From Dusk Till Dawn. His next offer was infinitely more exciting, and not simply for the $3 million on offer. What thrilled George more was a note saying "The Peacemaker is the first film from our new studio and I'd love you to do it". The studio was Dreamworks, the writer Steven Spielberg, possibly the only man powerful enough to get George out of a contract to play the Green Hornet, which he did.
First though came a superior rom-com with Michelle Pfeiffer, called One Fine Day. Here Clooney managed to hold his own beside one of the industry's finest actresses, even though they were required to deliver their lines at twice the normal speed. Lots of money was made. Then came The Peacemaker, with Kidman. This was righteously slagged off but, as George later pointed out: "Dreamworks was being reviewed rather than The Peacemaker. It was the first time I'd gotten bad reviews ever in my life. Actually, Batman came out first, so it was like a one-two punch".
Ah, yes, Batman And Robin. George had been asked to take over from Val Kilmer by director Joel Schumacher and had accepted, despite making only $3 million to Arnie's $20 million. The movie wasn't good, mostly for its lack of story, but also because the involvement of both Robin and Batgirl added a thoroughly unnecessary superficiality. George wasn't too hot either. As he'd learned his craft, he'd begun to use a few fail-safe moves, in particular one where he looked down and slowly raised those big doe eyes (Antonio Banderas did something similar). The ladies may have loved it, and Schumacher, legendary for making stars look impossibly good, may have demanded it, but it was wholly inappropriate when George was sitting on butler Albert's death-bed. Worse still, much of the movie was looped - a process that the usually mild-mannered Clooney hates with abandon.
Fortunately, Clooney learned fast that he had to get real. Even more fortunately, though it was slated by everyone, Batman And Robin made money - $230 million worldwide, plus merchandising and video receipts that may well have taken its profits into the billions. Strangely, it was Clooney's next picture, his first real critical success, that lost money. After Batman, he'd looked for a decent script for over a year. He felt he needed one because he didn't believe he could carry a bad film on sheer personality. He also believes, for much the same reason, that he needs high quality co-stars. Very realistic is our George.
So, along came Steven Soderbergh with Out Of Sight, a smart, slick, indie-thriller that paired George, as Jack Foley, with the up-and-coming Jennifer Lopez. Money was lost due to marketing departments not being sure where to place such an unusual film, but those who saw the movie knew that George had arrived. His reputation so enhanced, he moved on to Three Kings, a superb movie about rebellious soldiers looting gold bullion during the Gulf War. George, co-starring with Mark Wahlberg, Ice Cube and Spike Jonze, was instrumental in getting the movie made. Offered $10 million, he gave $5 million back, taking $2.5 million upfront and accepting a further $2.5 million later. He also, he said, personally financed the hugely impressive blowing up of a cow - perhaps the movie's finest moment and one that, due to budgeting constraints, nearly never happened. There were other fireworks onset, too. At one point, tired by a tough schedule and frustrated by director David O. Russell's habit of directing every line of dialogue, he cracked when he saw Russell, frustrated himself, berating some extras. Punches were thrown, Russell later claiming "I wouldn't make another George Clooney movie if they paid me $20 million".
Strange that Clooney should have acted so violently - he's known as one of the nicest and most laid-back of them all. He's also a major practical joker, sometimes spending months in preparation. Once, he found a painting of a fat woman in a skip and had an idea. He took the painting, signed it and packed it away. Then, for about a year, he deliberately kept missing golfing appointments with his friend Richard Kind, his excuse being that he had art classes. He'd take Kind to art shops, discussing paint, making him feel the brushes. Then, on Kind's next birthday, George presented him with the painting of the fat lady. It was the first work he'd done, he claimed, of which he and his art teacher were genuinely proud. Kind was touched and hung the piece up in his front-room. Clooney told all of Kind's other friends to marvel at it when in Kind's house, and they did. How pleased Richard was - till Clooney hit him with the awful truth.
Career-wise, Clooney had done the smart thing. Hugely popular, he'd been nominated for Emmies in 1995 and 1996, and for Golden Globes from 1996-98, and he'd stayed with ER while his cinematic CV grew and strengthened. Now, after Out Of Sight and Three Kings, and with another serious action flick Wolfgang Petersen">- Wolfgang Petersen's The Perfect Storm - on the way, he was ready to move on. Approached by the Coen Brothers with a script they'd written for him, he agreed to star without even reading it, and left ER at last. This was done with little acrimony. For a while, despite being the biggest star on the show, Clooney had been the lowest paid regular, yet he still honoured his contract. He, naturally, thought nothing of it. "It's a scary profession we're in," he said later "when just doing what you're supposed to do is some kind of distinction".
The Coens' film was O Brother Where Art Thou?, a bizarre chain-gang musical based on The Odyssey. George was excellent, having sent the script off to his Uncle Jack to be read out on tape, so George could get that down-home accent just right. It was a big cult hit and Clooney won a Golden Globe, beating off De Niro, Carrey, Cusack and Gibson (some evening, eh?). He was also now a massive international star as The Perfect Storm, a tale of New England sailors struggling to survive an awesome maelstrom (and again co-starring Mark Wahlberg), was his first mega-hit, making well over $300 million worldwide. It certainly helped him get over the pain of The Thin Red Line. This, a war epic by maverick director Terrence Malick, had enjoyed a wildly stellar cast. But Clooney's part of the storyline had been chopped, so he only appeared in the finale. Knowing that this looked like some gross, egomaniacal casting decision - like, "You will put George in this movie or you'll never lunch in this town again!" - he BEGGED Malick to leave him out altogether. It couldn't, sadly, be done.
This horrible memory wasn't the only bad thing in Clooney's life. There was also a law-suit, courtesy of the family of the man he played in The Perfect Storm, Captain Billy Tyne. They said the film-makers did not have permission to use the real names of the people involved in the real-life tragedy. The producers retorted that it was a historical event, therefore the names were fair game. But, countered the family, there were only radio reports to go on. Being as there were no survivors, no one knows what happened on the boat, so the film was essentially a work of fiction. The case went on.
Otherwise, things were looking good. To show the esteem in which he's held in TV-land, Clooney was allowed by Les Moonves, now president of CBS, to put together a live action drama, Fail Safe, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Clooney himself. George, said Moonves, "likes the idea of being a trapeze artist without the net". And it worked.
He's a great guy, and a good guy. Heavily influenced by his father's journalistic sense of justice and habit of campaigning for good causes, Clooney has certainly stood up to be counted. Aside from the fracas on the Three Kings set, he also demanded the reinstatement of (and offered to pay the fines for) three unknown actors expelled from the Screen Actors' Guild for working during the big strike. It wasn't fair, said George, that they should be kicked out when more famous strike-breakers like Tiger Woods, Shaquille O'Neal and Elizabeth Hurley (as in "Elizabeth Scabley, you make me hurl!") were simply fined.
Then there was the fight with Hard Copy, the tabloid TV news show. Clooney was annoyed with the way reporters would resort to aggression, like insulting a star's partner at the airport or in a restaurant, just to get a "newsworthy" reaction from the star, which they could then sell to Hard Copy. He boycotted them, others followed - and, well, George is the one still standing. There was also the case of TV Guide, George publicly taking umbrage with the fact that Eriq La Salle, his co-star in ER, had done three photo-sessions for their front cover, but never actually appeared on it. Was it because he was black?
And, most famously, George was heavily involved in the organisation of America: A Tribute To Heroes. This was a telethon screened just after the attacks of September 11th. Clooney got EVERYONE involved Tom Cruise">- Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Jim Carrey, the lot - raising over $150 million for the families of the dead.
Movie-wise, the best was yet to come. Clooney had been bugging Steven Soderbergh to make another movie with him ever since Out Of Sight. He'd sent him twenty scripts, to each of which Soderbergh had said "No way, dude" ("He's a snob", explained Clooney). Then Clooney came up with the idea of remaking Ocean's Eleven, the old Rat Pack heist hit (coincidentally, most of the Rat Pack had earlier appeared on George's aunt's TV show). Soderbergh liked the idea, they got Brad Pitt on board. Then Soderbergh, having just hit big with Erin Brockovich, sent a copy of the script to his Erin, Julia Roberts. Inside was tucked a $20 bill and a note saying "I hear you get 20 a picture now". Roberts was in, as Tess, the ex-wife of Clooney's Danny Ocean. Next came Matt Damon. All the stars took upfront pay cuts to get the movie made, and it was a big hit, topping the US charts.
In true Clooney fashion, the stars publicised the movie in the nicest possible way - visiting US troops in Turkey. And some great stories came from the shoot. Clooney had constantly booby-trapped his co-stars' rooms, often soaking Pitt with well-placed buckets of water (Remember Thelma And Louise? Well, take THAT you brilliant GIT!). Then there was the gambling. Clooney is a terrible gambler, horribly unlucky, but, on location in Las Vegas, he began playing blackjack, accompanied by Damon. Having lost 25 hands on the trot, he ran out of money and had to borrow $600 from his co-star, money that he lost near-instantly. The next morning, Damon found an envelope shoved under his hotel-room door. It was a cheque for $600 - prompt payment, very Clooney. But, looking closer, he saw that George had filled in the section on the cheque where you can say what the payment is for. If he tried to bank the cheque, the cashier would think he'd been lap-dancing for George. $600-worth! Again, very Clooney.
Of course, Clooney is well known for his way with the ladies, and he's had many high-profile relationships. After Talia Balsam, there were a couple of years, up until 1999, with Celine Balitran, a French model studying the law. Then came Charlize Theron and Kimberly Russell, from whom George split when marriage and kids were mentioned ("He told me flat out it was never going to happen again"). And there was British model and TV presenter Lisa Snowdon, with whom George had an on-off thing, continuing through 2005. In one of the Off periods, he saw Renee Zellweger. That he did not stay with her was proof positive of his inability to commit. There was also actress Krista Allen. Oh, and there WASN'T Julia Roberts, despite reports that Clooney had ruined her relationship with Benjamin Bratt.
After Ocean's Eleven (and a cameo in Spy Kids, directed by his old From Dusk Till Dawn buddy Robert Rodriguez) would come Welcome To Collinwood, a lower budget heist movie produced by Section 8, a company formed by Clooney and Steven Soderbergh and named after the military clause dealing with discharge on the grounds of insanity. Here Luis Guzman would lead a shambolic gang in an attempt to bust into a pawn shop, Clooney playing a wheelchair-bound former safecracker who, for a small fee, teaches them how to pull off the job. It was a chaotic comedy and, quite literally, worlds away from his next project. This was Solaris, a remake of Tarkovsky's haunting 1972 sci-fi classic. Once more directed by Soderbergh, this saw George as a psychiatrist who's called to a space-station circling the planet of the title when the astronauts begin sending back wholly disturbed messages. Solaris, it seems, in order to keep hold of any visitors, recreates people they loved and have lost. Thus Clooney's dead wife, a suicide, turns up in bed beside him, alive once again. But now he must cope with the fact that she is a construct built from his memories of her. Is this real, is it right, is it what he wants? Delving deep into the nature of human relationships, the movie was contemplative, sad and very intelligent, drawing a subdued but genuinely moving performance from its star.
Now a big star and producer, it was logical that Clooney would turn to directing, and this he did with Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind. With its screenplay written by Charlie Kaufman, this was adapted from gameshow host Chuck Barris's notorious autobiography, in which he claimed to have moonlighted as a hitman for the CIA. Starring as Barris would be Sam Rockwell, one of the dodgy robbers in Welcome To Collinwood, with George appearing as the CIA smoothie who recruits him. Clooney would also use his burgeoning influence to entice both Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore onto the picture, working for scale. Brad Pitt and Matt Damon would pop up, too, as contestants on The Dating Game. These were sequences director Clooney, who as a kid had spent so much time backstage on his father's productions, would simulate superbly.
Next up would come more comedy when Clooney reunited with the Coen brothers for Intolerable Cruelty. This saw him as a divorce lawyer famous for drawing up an unbreakable pre-nup agreement, who defeats gold-digger Catherine Zeta-Jones when she goes after her cheating husband's fortune. Knowing the kind of girl she is (and fancying her like crazy), he's intrigued when she then hires him to work out a pre-nup for her next marriage, to bashful Texas oil billionaire Billy Bob Thornton. He marvels at her skill in manipulation, skill that mirrors his own, and plots to win her - a fascinating and hilarious battle of wills between two of the best-looking film stars of modern times.
With so many irons in the fire, Clooney's screen appearances would now be limited. On top of work, there was politics (which would soon spill over into his work). George spoke out against the war in Iraq and, alongside Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon and Ed Norton, featured on an infamous pack of playing cards called The Weasels. Furthermore, 2004 would see him backing John Kerry against George Bush (Clooney had actually bought a villa on Lake Como from Kerry and his rich wife Teresa Heinz) and helping his dad Nick when he campaigned for a Congressional seat, hoping to represent Kentucky. Though George managed to raise over $600,000 from his celebrity buddies, Nick would be beaten by Republican Geoff Davis. 2005 would see George back in organisational mode when he helped put together a telethon to aid victims of the Asian tsunami, which had struck on Boxing Day, 2004. And this he did despite having to publicize his own Ocean's Twelve, and having just undergone an operation to stop fluid leaking out of his spinal column (an injury he'd suffered while filming the forthcoming Syriana).
On the production front, Section 8 was going great guns. Aside from high profile (but always classy and interesting) projects like Far From Heaven, The Jacket and A Scanner Darkly, they'd moved into TV with the acclaimed and very witty series Unscripted, which saw three young actors struggling to make it in Hollywood, Frank Langella tearing it up as a feisty acting coach. But the world knew Clooney best as a film star and Ocean's Twelve, released at the end of 2004, cemented his position as one of the biggest. This time the action would shift to Europe, as the gang have to pull off three daring robberies in order to pay back Andy Garcia, the Vegas casino owner they turned over in the original. All the big boys (and girls) returned to the fray - it was Clooney calling, after all - with the addition of his Intolerable Cruelty co-star Zeta-Jones, who'd earlier starred in Soderbergh's Traffic.
Back on top, Clooney would move on to Syriana, based on Robert Bauer's book See No Evil: The True Story Of A Ground Soldier In The CIA's War On Terrorism. Written and directed by Stephen Gaghan (who'd also written Traffic), this gradually brought together many disparate characters as it explored the shady world of American foreign policy, with its government intrigue, legal battles and dealings in oil and guns. Clooney would play Bauer himself, an operative hunting down terrorists in the Middle East, with Matt Damon (who, following Mark Wahlberg, had seemingly become George's latest protege) as an oil price analyst drawn into the murk.
Following Syriana, Clooney would return to the director's chair with Good Night, And Good Luck which, like Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, would take him back to the TV studios of days long gone. Here, the admirable David Strathairn (who could forget his brilliant turn in Dolores Claiborne?) would play Edward R Murrow, the CBS news anchorman who challenged notorious senator Joseph McCarthy and helped bring about the end of the Communist witch-hunt, and the cruel and unusual punishment of "un-American" activities. Murrow was, of course, also the hero of George's father, Nick. George would play Fred Friendly, Morrow's producer and the movie, co-written by the ever-expanding Clooney, would see him bring his political vision to the screen for the first time.
It could now no longer be argued that Clooney was not a heavyweight film-maker. Syriana would see him win a Golden Globe and an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor, while Good Night would be Oscar nominated as Best Picture, with Clooney himself getting a nod for Best Direction and Best Screenplay. But already he'd moved on. 2006 would bring The Good German, once again directed by Soderbergh, where Clooney would play a journalist returning to Berlin after WW2, partly to cover the Allied summit presided over by Churchill, Truman and Stalin but mostly to seek his wartime love, Cate Blanchett. Her husband is missing and wanted by both the American and Russian secret services and Clooney is further drawn into a mystery and a political morass when the body of an American soldier is washed up on the beach. Following this would come the third installment in the Danny Ocean saga. Here Elliott Gould would find himself diddled out of a share in a new casino by Al Pacino, with Clooney and the gang reuniting to take revenge, employing many fancy tricks, including starting up a giant drill underground to fake an earthquake. Due to the law of diminishing returns, the movie would be a hit, but only make some $300 million worldwide.
Clooney's other film of 2007 would be the corporate drama Michael Clayton, where Tom Wilkinson would play a partner in a law firm hired to defend a company being sued for billions for fatal pollution. Wilkinson, however, suffers a breakdown so Clooney, the firm's fixer, is called in. Divorced, addicted to gambling and in dangerous debt, he needs the pay-off, but he's torn by his friendship with Wilkinson and the clear knowledge that his client is guilty. Under severe pressure, not least from Tilda Swinton as the client's panicked lawyer, he must question his whole moral system. A tremendous performance, it would see Clooney nominated yet again for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar. Interestingly, in both Syriana and Michael Clayton, Clooney's characters both had partners - played by Greta Scacchi and Jennifer Ehle respectively - who would be cut from the films to increase Clooney's dislikeability and peril. He didn't want his characters to be seen to be loved, and he didn't want them to have a happy life to fall back on.
His career was in full swing. He'd even managed to squeeze in a self-deprecating coffee ad where he believed two ladies to be drooling over him when in fact they were simply enjoying their full-bodied drinks. He was no slouch in his private life either. 2006 had seen him finally lose his famous pot-bellied pig Max (at the age of 18) and also the collapse of a plan to build a hotel complex in Las Vegas, which was to have been designed by his friend Brad Pitt. His successful Section Eight production company would be cut back, Clooney instead opening a company called Smoke House with old friend Grant Heslov who'd earlier co-written and co-produced Good Night, And Good Luck (and paid for Clooney's very first mug-shots in LA).. More importantly, he'd involve himself more heavily in international politics. Having visited the disaster zones of Darfur with his father, where 200,000 were dead and 2.5 million displaced, Clooney took it upon himself to act, visiting Egypt and China, addressing the UN Security Council, pleading with the main players to stop the slaughter. At Cannes in 2007, he and Pitt would campaign relentlessly, raising nearly $10 million for the Save Darfur fund. At the World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in Rome, Clooney and his fellow activist and former co-star Don Cheadle would be honoured for their efforts and, come 2008, Clooney would officially be appointed a UN Messenger of Peace.
Darfur was not the only focus of Clooney's extra-curricular activities. Late 2007 would see the beginning of a writers' strike in Hollywood that halted many TV and film productions. Studio bosses were convinced that Clooney was drumming up support for the writers' among his acting peers, asking them not to cross picket lines and thereby potentially wrecking the forthcoming awards shows. Keeping his cool, Clooney would offer to act as mediator between the two parties while also donating to a fund for actors impoverished by the strike. He wouldn't, though, stay cool when in November invasive paparazzi threatened to knock him and new girlfriend Sarah Larson off his Harley. He was now extra-wary of crashes as, back in September, he and Larson had been involved in an accident while riding his motorbike in New Jersey, Clooney suffering a cracked rib and Larson several broken toes.
Back onscreen, 2008 would see Clooney return to the director's chair for Leatherheads, in which he'd also star. This was based in the 1920s, in the early days of professional American football, with Clooney an owner who sees his team and the league itself falling apart. To boost both, he hires college star and war hero John Krasinski, but then ends up fighting his new recruit for control of the team and the affections of Renee Zellweger, a feisty reporter digging into Krasinski's war stories. Next would come a third outing with the Coen Brothers, Burn After Reading, where John Malkovich would play a drunken and sacked CIA veteran who vengefully writes his memoirs and loses them. Clooney would play a straight-laced operative investigating the matter, being shouted at again by Tilda Swinton, as the plot drew him to a gym where Brad Pitt worked. Clooney would say that his character, Harry Pfarrer, was his third Coens' idiot.
2009 would see Clooney indulge his nostalgic side and return to ER, then completing its final season. Typically, Clooney demanded that his appearance would not be publicized, and so there was Doug Ross, back for the fourth last episode, now in Seattle and talking bereaved grandmother Susan Sarandon through her farewells to her dead grandson. There's also a question of organ donation, one of the organs being sent to save Noah Wyle's Dr Carter back at Chicago's ER. Clooney's next movie would be Up In The Air, another darker piece where he'd use his charm to no good purpose. Here he'd be a Termination Facilitator, flying around the country sacking people on behalf of downsizing corporations. Totally displaced, with nowhere really to call his home, he loves his job and dreams of knocking up ten million miles of American Airlines. He's in one convenient occasional relationship with fellow traveller Vera Farmiga, then has to deal with colleague Anna Kendrick and must prove why his job is still necessary. Directed by Jason Reitman, already renowned for Juno and Thank You For Smoking, the film would be both amusing and tough, Clooney perhaps being the only actor alive who could make his Ryan Bingham anything other than utterly detestable. Shot on a low budget, it would be a big hit and would see Clooney nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.
The same year, 2009, would bring The Men Who Stare At Goats, directed by Clooney's pal Grant Heslov, where Ewan McGregor would play a journalist keen to enter the Iraq war-zone. Meeting Clooney, he thinks he's hit upon a super-scoop as George claims to be an ex-member of the New Earth Army, a secret squad of psychic warriors trained to garner military information and even kill their enemies with the power of their minds. Cue several extraordinary flashbacks to Clooney's schooling at the hands of Jeff Bridges, coming on like The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Just as cartoonish, and understandably so, would be the animated The Fabulous Mr Fox, based on the Roald Dahl story and directed by Wes Anderson. Clooney would lend his voice to the titular hero, happily domesticated with wife Meryl Streep then reverting to his old ways and, by stealing chickens, bringing the bloody wrath of local farmers down on the animal community. Now he must use his cunning to beat the farmers and win back the confidence and love of his fellow furry creatures.
2010 would see Clooney back at full speed in the charity arena, as executive producer helping to organise the Hope For Haiti Now telethon, an absurdly star-studded event that raised huge sums following that nation's disastrous earthquake. He'd then appear in another prestigious but low-key picture, The American, based on Martin Booth's novel A Very Private Gentleman. Both a thriller and a character study, this would see Clooney heavily involved in assassinations. Hoping to escape a shadowy world where he has no friends and is never safe, and deciding his next job will be his last, he prepares in a small town in Italy where, perhaps unwisely, he becomes involved with both a local priest and local beauty. Keeping to the Italian theme, in real life he'd now be linked to TV presenter Elisabetta Canalis.
Marriage may not be on the cards, but further success is. Now a film star, producer, writer and active charity fundraiser and politico, George Clooney has forged a massive success. Onscreen, not only has he made the difficult step from TV to film, he's also moved from action star and romantic lead to become something of an auteur. Off-screen, you never, ever hear a bad word said about him (well, maybe from the few who think he's a weasel). Though by his own admission he has seen too many women, taken too many drugs and partied way too hard to ever be President, artistically and politically he has become a force for good in this world. About that, there can be no doubt.