George Clooney is a gambler. The Oscar winning actor, director and producer hasn’t been paid upfront for a film since 2000. These days, he makes the films he wants to make and bets his paycheque that they’ll make a profit.
“The last time I got paid full freight was The Perfect Storm, when I had no back end [payment],” Clooney told Deadline Hollywood in August 2013.
“From then on, I’ve taken a minor partial upfront payment and gambled … on all my movies. Some have under-performed, but they have never been designed for huge grosses. I’ve gambled and invested as much as a studio; if they’re making a film for $US15 million and I put my $US7.5 million in the pot, we’re all investors who are staked in its performance. I’m comfortable with that.”
Clooney comes from the mould where he’s an Adonis, Greek God figure but you think you could still have a beer with him…
Given Clooney’s worth is estimated at $US200 million, he should be very comfortable indeed. It’s this choosiness and commitment to his roles, films and causes that make him such a force in Hollywood. That, and the fact there’s something a bit old fashioned about him. It isn’t unusual for Clooney to be mentioned in the same breath as legendary screen icons such as Gregory Peck, Harrison Ford or Robert Redford.
In short, Clooney is the kind of film star Hollywood has forgotten how to make — the modern epitome of male, old school screen glamour. Lee Zachariah (Melbourne film critic, Hell Is For Hyphenates podcaster and one half of ABC TV’s The Bazura Project) thinks this retro quality is key to Clooney’s appeal.
“He has old fashioned charms about him,” Zachariah says. “He’s best known for Oceans 11, which is a Rat Pack remake and he makes films like Good Night and Good Luck — nearly all of his films are set in the past.”
The fact that Clooney got his break on a TV drama and survived the transition to film probably helps. Two decades on, there’s a lingering sense of the underdog. Clooney is the charismatic everyman made good, who we’re happy to forgive for the odd, Batman-shaped misstep.
“Someone like Jimmy Stewart or Tom Hanks have that everyman quality,” Zachariah says. “But they’re so relatable, they don’t feel like movie stars where you look at them. Clooney comes from the mould where he’s an Adonis, Greek God figure but you think you could still have a beer with him.”
This trusting appeal has led some to suggest Clooney could prove just as influential on the world stage as a soundstage. The release of his 2011 polemic The Ides of March prompted a flurry of conjecture that the actor would be a good fit for the White House. Alas, Clooney was quick to pour cold water on such speculation.
Still, political agitation is part of his heritage. The Clooneys have been called the “Kennedys of Kentucky” and the star’s liberal leanings are evident in every event he attends and every cause he supports. His family tradition has naturally segued into his films, with acting, directing and producing roles in a number of highly politicised productions.
In promoting The Monuments Men (another period piece), Clooney used press events to call for the return of European art treasures such as the Mona Lisa to the nation that created them. Indeed, a minor international incident occurred when London mayor and live-action Muppet, Boris Johnson, took issue with Clooney suggesting the Parthenon Marbles be sent home to Greece. Johnson compared Clooney to Hitler but, like a true gentleman and diplomat, the actor refused to rise to the bait.
“I’d chalk it up to a little too much hyperbole washed down with a few whiskeys,” Clooney said, before gently putting the politician straight on the difference between “real facts” and “imagined history”.
He isn’t always so diplomatic regarding his peers, however. In an Esquire interview last year, Clooney revealed an ongoing stoush with Russell Crowe and bagged Leonardo DiCaprio for his ego-boosting entourage.
“[Meeting Leo] made me think of how important it is to have someone in your life to tell you what’s what. I’m not sure if Leo has someone like that,” Clooney said.
It’s a telling remark, perhaps revealing more about Clooney than DiCaprio. Clooney may have a reputation as an eternal bachelor and playboy — living the high life in his Lake Como pad — but there’s a sense that he is conscious of doing things properly, like a last paragon of gentlemanly conduct in an ungentlemanly world. As Zachariah puts it, he has class.
“He gives off the air of having an idea of how you should behave. He’s the jetsetter, living the life Cary Grant’s character lived in To Catch A Thief.”
Which isn’t to say Clooney is above drunken misbehaviour. During a recent appearance on The Graham Norton Show, Matt Damon and Bill Murray seemed to find much mirth in the suggestion Clooney wasn’t a drinker. Murray confessed he and Clooney had engaged in drunken wheelchair racing at the 2003 Venice Film Festival, trying to dump well-dressed women in the swimming pool. “Nobody died,” Murray insisted.
Somehow, these misdemeanours only add to Clooney’s Rat Pack charms. The final secret to Clooney’s appeal, Zachariah says, is he knows when to stop playing the gentleman.
“You get the feeling Clooney loves dismantling his image.”
Five George Clooney roles more people must see.
1. The Men Who Stare At Goats. This anarchic adaptation of Jon Ronson’s equally anarchic book makes full use of Clooney’s ridiculous charisma, while stressing the ridiculous.
2. The American. An understated thriller sees Clooney grant humanity to a world-weary, mysterious protagonist.
3. Solaris. Cerebral science fiction from James Cameron. A sentence you won’t see again.
4. From Dusk ’Til Dawn. A messy horror film, in more than one sense. The first real inkling Clooney would make a great leading man on the big screen.
5. One Fine Day. This was Clooney’s big break post ER. He plays a roguish father who charms the pants, so to speak, off Michelle Pfeiffer. This is a film that has, surprisingly, aged well.