Interview: George Clooney

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Despite delivering numerous critically-acclaimed performances over the years in such movies as The Perfect Storm, Intolerable Cruelty and O Brother, Where Art Thou, George Clooney has never landed an Academy Award nomination. All that is likely to change soon, since he currently has a couple of pictures which are generating considerable Oscar buzz.

First, he wrote, directed and appeared in Good Night, and Good Luck, a McCarthy Era docudrama which chronicled the efforts of journalist Edward R. Murrow to question the Communist witch hunt of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Now, he’s starring as a CIA agent in Syriana, a timely political potboiler about the oil, corruption and greed in the Gulf region.

Clooney deliberately gained 30 pounds for the role, but was left with such excruciating pain after being injured on the set during the filming of a fight scene. He then underwent back surgery, which left him plagued by such severe headaches, that he had to return to the hospital for spinal cap surgery when it was discovered that fluids were leaking from his spine. Vim, trim and back in form in time for the Awards season, the silver-haired heartthrob says that while he has no regrets, he won’t add weight to play a character again.

BSN: First, let me ask, how’s your health?
GC: I’m feeling much better, thanks.

BSN: Your back’s okay?
GC: Yeah, it’s getting there. It’s a slower process than I had hoped, but yeah.

BSN: No more excruciating pain?
GC: Oh no, nothing like that. The surgery took care of most of that issue. I’m fine.

BSN: Can you watch Syriana without thinking that you had to gain 30 pounds for this film and all the rest that you went through?
GC: It’s funny… my character blends into the story so well, that I don’t really even watch it as if it’s me. I don’t even remember shooting the scenes. So, it just sort of stands on its own.

BSN: Why was it necessary for you to gain all that weight for the role?
GC: Just to blend in. You can’t be instantly recognizable, and expect to play a CIA Agent, in general. And especially, for this one, because Bob [his character, Bob Barnes] seems to be a little beaten by the game. So, I thought it was important to be a little beaten.

BSN: How did you get a politically timely film like this made?
GC: I’ve had a long relationship with Warner Brothers. I’ve been there for about 15 years. I’m friends with them. No studio is going to jump to make this film. I think you’d agree that the idea that the studio’s releasing a film like this is pretty amazing, actually. Were they thrilled with the idea of doing it? Probably not, in the beginning. But we fought for it, and they said, ‘Fair enough,’ as long as Matt [co-star Matt Damon] and I would take no money and keep the price way down.

BSN: So, you must have felt very strongly about this project.
GC: Oh, sure. And I also felt strongly enough about Good Night, and Good Luck that I mortgaged my house for it.

BSN: Why so?
GC: I want to make movies I can be proud of. It’s not about making money. These aren’t necessarily going to be big moneymakers.

BSN: Why don’t more actors use their leverage in this fashion?
GC: Matt does. I think a lot of people do it once they get to a position where they feel sort of comfortable. I was an activist when I was 13 years-old. I grew up in an era when people took stands, the Vietnam War Movement, the Civil Rights Movement and the Women’s Rights Movement. A part of our lives was always challenging power, and I still think that’s important to do. That’s what Syriana does and what Good Night, and Good Luck did.

BSN: What type of cultural impact do you expect this film to make?
GC: I don’t know that a film or a television show can truly have that type of impact anymore. But, what it can do is have people walking out of the theater talking and debating. To me, that’s a great thing, and for that, I’m proud.

BSN: What would you like to hear people discussing?
GC: The main theme for me is, if we are going to go to war against an idea, which is “terrorism,� instead of against a state, then we have to understand that idea, and understand how it is transferred into bombers and people blowing themselves up. And rather than just forcing the idea that they’re just evildoers, we need to understand how they do such horrible things, and that there might possibly be places along the line where might be able to intercede and do things differently.

BSN: Did you learn anything while filming on location in the Middle East?
GC: Spending time over there, I was very surprised to see how much we’re disliked in certain places. I have a place in Italy, so I’ve seen anti-American sentiment, but I was surprised at how strong it is in Muslim communities. It’s one thing to know it, but it’s another thing entirely to be standing on a roof surrounded by a thousand people who really, really don’t like Americans.

BSN: Were you ever confronted or concerned about your safety?
GC: No, it’s a very different culture than that, but they were very angry about some of the things that we’ve done lately.

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