The annual Telluride Film Festival is held during Labor Day week-end in the small former mining town in Colorado where Butch Cassidy robbed his first bank. This year, George Clooney, who received one of the Festival’s three Tributes, drew large crowds and attention. Clooney fit comfortably into the laid-back Western atmosphere. He didn’t have an entourage and obligingly posed for photos. He deflected attention from himself to his colleagues.
Clooney’s Oscar-nominated “The Descendants” had the first public showings at the Festival. He plays Matt King who considers himself the “backup parent” of his 17 and 10 year-old daughters. His wife is seriously injured in a boating accident and Matt must reconnect with his daughters. When his older daughter tells him that her mother was unfaithful, they begin a search for her lover. Matt is also the sole trustee to determine if a large tract of family land, acquired when an ancestor married into the Hawaiian royal family, will be sold.
Director Alexander Payne (“Sideways”) who co-wrote the exceptional screenplay expertly combines humor with the moving family drama. Payne is Oscar-nominated for both Best Director and Screenplay. Clooney received the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama and is Oscar-nominated for his strong performance. The film is nominated for Best Picture.
After the first showing of their film, Clooney and Payne had an easygoing rapport. They first met when Clooney was turned down for a part in Payne’s “Sideways”, a decision Payne said he still stands by. “I do too” added Clooney. But Payne said Clooney was the “first and only choice” for “Descendants” which was edited in Clooney’s Italian home.
When asked how he summoned the intense emotion for a climactic scene set in his character’s wife’s hospital scene, Clooney joked that Payne reminded him that “he didn’t cast me in ‘Sideways’”.
At his Tribute when asked how he chooses projects, Clooney replied “I just look for screenplays that would like to see the movie…the experimenting at times of the kind of movies I’d like to see, and be lucky enough to be allowed to do them. I’ve been very lucky the last 20 years or so of my career…That’s not modesty, it’s luck. Luck plays a huge part in an actor’s career.”
His father Nick Clooney did a live variety show on TV. At a young age, and with a high voice, he dressed as a leprechaun on a St. Patrick’s Day broadcast. Another time, he wore an Easter Bunny outfit.
Asked if he had much early experience with moviemaking in Hollywood through his aunt, singer Rosemary Clooney, George said he visited once, but that there wasn’t enough money for regular trips.
Before acting, he worked at cutting tobacco. His cousin Miguel, son of his aunt Rosemary and Jose Ferrer, got him a job as a movie extra.
He wore a mullet in a TV sitcom “E/R” before another TV “ER” brought him fame. Roseanne was “crazy fun” when he worked on her sitcom. She once asked “why don’t you take me out behind and make me stink?”
Clooney said “success is fleeting, appreciate when things go well, and make the set fun.”
He knew he had reached success on “ER” when walking in Manhattan, someone yelled “Hey George”.
With his experience of being subject of countless photos, Clooney offered the amusing fact that since “Everyone has camera on their phone, there have been a lot less UFO sightings.”
He joked about being “still upset over ‘Thelma and Louise’”, losing the part that went to his “Oceans” co-star Brad Pitt. He said he “couldn’t watch it for a couple of years.” He described Pitt’s performance as “really good, I’d have probably f***ed it up.”
Clooney described the atmosphere on the set with the Coen brothers; his films directed by them include “O Brother, Where Art Thou” and “Burn After Reading”. He said the brothers “laugh out loud between takes like seagulls mating” and that they make “consistently good work”. If one brother makes a suggestion Clooney didn’t like he said he’d tell him “That’s not what your brother said.”
He considers his latest film “Ides of March”, in which he co-stars, co-wrote and directs, as a “morality piece”, about being “willing to trade to succeed” and though set during a presidential primary, “not about politics, a thriller”. When he first wanted to make the film in 2007, “everyone was so hopeful” about Barack Obama, it was a “bad time” for the cynical subject to attract an audience. He said “It took about a year with the health care debate…Bad news for the country, but got the movie made.”
He believes the “older you get, the less you like acting. Directing is more fun…Acting is one of the paints, the director is the painter.”
At the party for “The Descendants” after his tribute, Clooney casually chatted, hanging out by the bar. When I congratulated him on the range and emotional depth of his performance, he again turned his attention to his collaborators, saying it was easy with “good direction and writing”.