Ge­orge Clooney on gun laws and the fourth es­tate

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“You know, we’ve sur­vived bad pres­i­dents. We’ve had a lot of them over our life­time.” Ge­orge Clooney

“Can I get you a cof­fee?” Ge­orge Clooney asks first thing on a Satur­day morn­ing in Los An­ge­les.

As he takes off his suit jacket and swings it around the back of a din­ing chair, the ac­tor and di­rec­tor seems keen to show off his barista skills.

“I’m ac­tu­ally a re­ally good cof­fee-maker,” the 56-year-old tells me as he walks over to where the cof­fee ma­chine should be. But there’s no ma­chine in sight – not even a Ne­spresso, the brand he has been pro­mot­ing for sev­eral years with the catch­phrase “What else?”

On see­ing two large black pots filled with in­stant cof­fee, Clooney quickly changes course. “You know what?” he says, laugh­ing. “I’m sorry. I’ve lied to you. I’m not a good cof­fee-maker to­day.”

We move on, caf­feine-free, and Clooney po­litely mo­tions to two chairs in his ho­tel suite with sweep­ing views over Bev­erly Hills and West Hol­ly­wood.

“Let’s sit here, shall we?” he says.

Tanned and wear­ing a white short-sleeved dress shirt and sil­ver-grey pants, Clooney has the im­pec­ca­ble style of a ’50s movie star in the Cary Grant or Gre­gory Peck mould.

But while most stars of his stand­ing are sur­rounded by a gag­gle of pub­li­cists, man­agers and as­sis­tants dur­ing in­ter­views, there is not one to be seen. Per­haps Clooney’s ease comes from his pedi­gree. As the son of a re­spected jour­nal­ist and news an­chor, Nick Clooney, and the nephew of singer and ac­tress Rose­mary Clooney, Ge­orge grew up ob­serv­ing the nu­ances of fame and what it meant to be in the public eye.

From an early age, Clooney says he re­mem­bers his fa­ther and his mother, Nina, em­pha­sis­ing the im­por­tance of man­ners. “In the tri-state area of Ohio, In­di­ana and Ken­tucky, my fa­ther was kind of a big star and I re­mem­ber be­ing watched from the time I can re­mem­ber be­ing alive,” he ex­plains.

“When we’d go out to din­ner peo­ple would watch us eat be­cause Pop was fa­mous. So grow­ing up, I had a re­ally good un­der­stand­ing of the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and how to han­dle fame. I prob­a­bly was the best groomed, in a weird sort of a way, in not stick­ing your fin­ger in your nose or al­ways chew­ing with your mouth closed when I was a kid.

“I grew up around it so I un­der­stood what it was like when some­one would come up breath­lessly when they saw my dad in per­son as op­posed to on their tele­vi­sion and how that made them feel and made them change. It makes you un­der­stand it when some­times peo­ple get that way with me,” he says.

Mov­ing around “quite a lot” be­cause of his fa­ther’s work, the young Clooney knew what it took to be in the lime­light. He wanted in.

Although he started his ca­reer in 1978, his big break came in 1994 when he was cast as pae­di­a­tri­cian Dr Doug Ross in the hit TV show ER. Suc­cess fol­lowed on the big screen with films such as Three Kings, Ocean’s Eleven and Up in the Air.

Be­hind the lens he has also achieved ac­co­lades as a di­rec­tor on such films as Good Night, and Good Luck, The Ides of March and The Mon­u­ments Men.

His lat­est di­rec­to­rial role is Subur­bicon but, un­like in the afore­men­tioned films, he does not make an ap­pear­ance in front of the cam­era.

He’s grate­ful for the change. “It’s em­bar­rass­ing when you have to di­rect your­self,” he says. “If you and I were do­ing a scene to­gether and I, in the mid­dle of it, would say, ‘Cut’, and give you notes, it’s a ter­ri­ble thing. It’s fun to not have to act. Some­times I’ve had to for fi­nan­cial rea­sons … just to help get money for the film. This time around, we didn’t have to do that, so it was such as re­lief.”

In Subur­bicon, which stars his long-time friends Matt Da­mon and Ju­lianne Moore, Clooney throws a spot­light on 1950s Amer­i­cana, but it’s not of the whole­some, white-picket fence va­ri­ety. In­stead, his take deals with racial ten­sions, de­ceit and mur­der.

Clooney also co-wrote the film and says his rea­son for do­ing so was sim­ple. “I wanted to do this film be­cause at the time there was a lot of talk about build­ing walls, scape­goat­ing mi­nori­ties and all those kind of things which we think might be new, which of course aren’t new at all. We see this [racism] ev­ery day so I thought it was per­ti­nent to keep re­mind­ing our­selves that this type of thing is still in play,” he says.

Half­way through film­ing, Don­ald Trump was elected and Clooney says the mood on set shifted, with some cast and crew happy while oth­ers were shocked and dis­mayed.

Ask Clooney’s opin­ion on the cur­rent state of his home­land and he doesn’t skip a beat. “Well, it’s a mess. We’re in a nutty time right now.

“Here’s the thing,” he says, mov­ing a glass of wa­ter on the side ta­ble to his left and shift­ing slightly for­ward. “We’re used to di­vi­sive lan­guage in pol­i­tics. That’s part of who we are,” he says mat­ter-of-factly. “But when you’re start­ing to make the ar­gu­ment about facts, that’s when you get in trou­ble – when facts start to be de­bat­able.”

Clooney, who has a high re­gard for re­spected news and me­dia out­lets, is em­phatic about the truth. “If you beat up on an in­sti­tu­tion like the fourth es­tate, we re­ally have prob­lems,” he says.

“Look, [for­mer pres­i­dent Richard] Nixon did this. I re­mem­ber a mo­ment when he went af­ter a re­porter named Daniel Schorr, who tes­ti­fied in front of the se­nate and said if you try to dis­en­fran­chise the press you can do any­thing. Right now, there’s a real at­tempt to dis­en­fran­chise the press. That was in the early ’70s. It’s the same thing here, where Trump is say­ing these facts aren’t true. That’s the part that can do the most harm.

“I’m the son of a news­man so the idea of that to me is prob­a­bly the great­est piece of dam­age you can do,” he says.

How­ever, Clooney does see one pos­i­tive – he be­lieves qual­ity jour­nal­ism flour­ishes in times such as these. “What we’re see­ing now is great jour­nal­ism is re­ally com­ing back.

“I think they lost a bit of their power for a pe­riod of time,” he says. “We’ve had some is­sues. I wrote [2006 Academy Awards Best Pic­ture nom­i­nee] Good Night, and Good Luck be­cause I felt the press took a pow­der on ques­tion­ing the war, and any­one who ques­tioned it was called a traitor to their coun­try. I felt like, and most of my friends who are re­porters and an­chor­men would say that, they didn’t ask enough of the tough ques­tions.”

Clooney draws par­al­lels be­tween those times and now as he be­lieves it also hap­pened in the lead-up to Trump be­ing elected.

“They went harder at Hil­lary than they went at Trump,” he says. “And if you can turn on the tele­vi­sion and see an empty podium and it says, ‘Trump to speak soon’, it’s a prob­lem. He has too much ac­cess. He’s a fa­mous per­son and a fa­mous per­son can get ac­cess.”

Clooney is also quick to add that Amer­ica has had pres­i­dents in the past who were not be­yond fault.

“You know, we’ve sur­vived bad pres­i­dents. We’ve had a lot of them over our life­time. We’ve had pop­ulist pres­i­dents who were a mess: An­drew Jack­son, [and] An­drew John­son, who we im­peached. We’ve had some bad ones. We sur­vived that. What we worry about more is the de­struc­tion of the in­sti­tu­tions which mat­ter the most, the un­der­pin­nings that get us through all of the elec­tion cy­cles.”

One sub­ject that grabs head­lines right through­out the elec­tion cy­cle is gun con­trol. Clooney, who grew up in Ken­tucky, has firm views on the mat­ter.

“In the last 30 years or so the NRA be­came a sort of po­lit­i­cal arm,” he says. “Be­fore that, it re­ally was just a hunters’ group. The re­al­ity was, the sec­ond amend­ment was not de­signed to do what they are say­ing. Of course it wasn’t. The rea­son the sec­ond amend­ment was de­signed is be­cause we didn’t have an army. We’d got­ten to­gether to fight the Bri­tish and when it was over we dis­banded and we re­served the right to form a mili­tia, which we needed. Hunters and sports­men, that’s all fine, but, I mean, look at all the other mod­ern coun­tries that make it very dif­fi­cult to have a gun. We kill 33,000 peo­ple a year. That’s more than most of the wars.”

Clooney be­lieves the prob­lem is a cul­tural one. “I live in Eng­land three or four months of the year and where the dif­fer­ence be­tween the right and the left re­ally is ex­ag­ger­ated is where re­li­gion is co-opted. That’s a big part of it as well. The dif­fer­ence be­tween – and they would ar­gue with me about this all day long – the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two par­ties in Eng­land is not nearly as far apart be­cause re­li­gion doesn’t play a part in it. That’s where you start see­ing this di­vide.”

Clooney, along with his wife, Amal, and their six-month-old twins, Ella and Alexan­der, spend sev­eral months each year at their Geor­gian manor in the English coun­try­side and at their pic­turesque 18th-cen­tury villa on Italy’s Lake Como. They also have a home in Stu­dio City in Los An­ge­les and Clooney is the first one to ad­mit his life is one of great for­tune.

“Luck has played a huge part in all of this,” he says. “You also have to be avail­able and ready when luck hits. I like the story of the golfer who hit this long putt and this guy says, ‘Lucky putt’, and the golfer said, ‘It’s amaz­ing how the more I prac­tise the luck­ier I get.’ ”

Clooney laughs. “But luck still plays a part in it. I had to be in the right place at the right time, quite a few times in my ca­reer, but I also had to be ready for it and taken some of the chances that you have to take. But I have an aw­ful lot of friends who are very ta­lented who haven’t en­joyed the kind of suc­cess I have, so I have to look at it over­all and think, luck has been a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in my life, for sure.”

Not that it has all been smooth sail­ing for the star and he is the first to ad­mit he’s thank­ful for the times when he hasn’t had the Mi­das touch ei­ther on the sil­ver screen or be­hind the lens.

“It has to be like that,” he says, smil­ing. “For me, my favourites, not just be­cause they were movie stars, but also the peo­ple I ad­mire in real life, are Paul New­man and Gre­gory Peck. I was friends with both of them, very good friends with both of them. Both were true gen­tle­men, both were in­cred­i­bly ta­lented. They did a lot of things so­cially which were very im­por­tant to them and they stood up for a lot of things. But if you look at the tra­jec­tory of their ca­reers, ca­reers don’t just go up in a straight line. They have huge ups and downs. No one wants to look at some­one with a string of hits and a string of right de­ci­sions. You have to make bad de­ci­sions and … you have to make mis­takes.” Tak­ing a sip of wa­ter, he adds: “You only learn from mis­takes. You never learn from suc­cess.”

Look­ing back at his long ca­reer, Clooney says: “To have suc­cess, you have to take chances in life, and when you take chances, some­times, yes, you are go­ing to blow it, and that’s okay. I don’t mind.

“To me, I’ll look at it and yes, at that mo­ment it can be dev­as­tat­ing be­cause you think you did some­thing good and you didn’t. But when it’s all over, you can look back and think, ‘You know what, I did some pretty great

• things in my life.’ ”

DONNA WALKERMITCHELL is an Aus­tralian jour­nal­ist based in Los An­ge­les.

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