Clooney in the Mountains

George Clooney at Telluride

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”.

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Glenn and Albert

Glenn Close at Telluride

In what is undoubtedly her most unusual role, Glenn Close is getting significant critical attention and numerous award nominations, including for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She discussed the long process of creating the part on film at the Telluride Film Festival.

In “Albert Nobbs”, Close gives a masterful portrayal of a woman for years living as a man in Victorian-era Ireland and working as a butler in a hotel. Men in that time had far more employment options. Close’s transformative makep was also Oscar-nominated. Close has been attracted to the character since she first portrayed Albert Nobbs in an Off-Broadway production in 1982 for which she received an Obie Award.                                                                               

Glenn as Albert

In 2001,Close, who had become writer and producer on the project, had a draft of the script with which she was satisfied and began to scout locations. Shooting was delayed due to funding. Financing the offbeat film was difficult and Close said it did not get off the ground until Orlando Bloom (“Lord of the Rings”) had agreed to be in the cast. He left the film for the birth of his child. Close had found the location in Dublin of the hotel where Albert works ten years before actual shooting began.

Unlike the flamboyant lawyer Close portrays in “Damages” on TV, the furtive Albert Nobbs stays in the background. Close described her character as “an invisible person in an invisible position”.  Close is remarkable in subtly showing Albert’s fear in being exposed and the conflicting emotions she tries to hide.

Close said the most difficult part of portraying Albert was on “how to act repressed…how much to show on the face”, adding that was “why I wanted the challenge”.  Glenn Close said Albert was “like a clown” with slightly too-large pants and shoes, reminiscent of tramp clown Emmett Kelly who was “so sad and funny at same time.” Close said that “the power of the film is Albert’s innocence” in her naïve reactions others, particularly toward a young maid (Mia Wasikowska, “Jane Eyre”).

The screenplay, co-written by Close, has several well-written characters portrayed by a strong ensemble, including Brendan Gleeson (“Harry Pottter”) as a doctor, Pauline Collins (“Upstairs, Downstairs”) as Albert’s devious employer, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (“Match Point”) as an aristocrat hiding his own secrets.  

Janet McTeer (another Oscar nominee from the film) stands out as Hubert, another woman living as a man, but more spirited that Albert and comfortable in her identity. In a memorable scene, Albert and Hubert, in long dresses and bonnets, happily run at the seashore. Albert has an ecstatic smile, for once out of disguise, but still not quite fitting in.             

Glenn Close and Janet McTeer

Glenn Close at Telluride