AFI Life Achieve­ment

Star takes a hand in pro­duc­ing, di­rect­ing, phi­lan­thropy and high-skilled pranks

Variety - - Contents - By MALINA SAVAL

In­ter­na­tional su­per­star Ge­orge Clooney is hon­ored for his lengthy ca­reer in TV, film and phi­lan­thropy.

In 1994 a lit­tle show called “ER” pre­miered on NBC. Cre­ated by pro­lific science-fic­tion writer Michael Crich­ton, the se­ries was a med­i­cal drama, some­what in the tra­di­tion of “St. Else­where,” and fo­cused on the pri­vate lives and bur­geon­ing ca­reers of emer­gency room doc­tors in Chicago’s County Gen­eral Hospi­tal. Among the cast mem­bers were An­thony Ed­wards, of “Top Gun” fame, up-and- com­ers Julianna Margulies and Noah Wyle, and Ge­orge Clooney, a rel­a­tively un­known ac­tor from Ken­tucky with a smat­ter­ing of TV cred­its to his name, in­clud­ing re­cur­ring roles on “Roseanne,” the short-lived CBS com­edy “E/R” (dif­fer­ent show, El­liott Gould starred) and “The Facts of Life,” on which Clooney played the epony­mous “Ge­orge,” a charis­matic handy­man with winged hair who even­tu­ally quits his job to go on tour with pop star Cin­na­mon (played by ’90s singer Stacey Q).

“ER” be­came a gi­ant hit, win­ning nu­mer­ous Emmy awards, with Clooney its res­i­dent heart­throb. If you were in col­lege at the time, you’d re­mem­ber the scores of premed and bio stu­dents rush­ing home from class to watch Clooney’s char­ac­ter, reck­less pe­di­atric fel­low Doug Ross, save chil­dren’s lives, con­stantly put his li­cense to prac­tice in jeop­ardy and nav­i­gate his tu­mul­tuous on-and- off again ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship with Margulies’ char­ac­ter, nurse Carol Hath­away. “ER” had it all: drama, heart- break and enough med­i­cal crises to fill the Di­ag­nos­tic and Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­ual of Men­tal Dis­or­ders.

Five years into the se­ries, by the time he left “ER” to pur­sue film full time, Clooney was an in­ter­na­tional movie star. And on June 7 Clooney will be feted with the 46th AFI Life Achieve­ment Award at Hol­ly­wood’s Dolby The­atre.

Clooney has played the iconic caped cru­sader in Joel Schu­macher’s “Bat­man & Robin,” a se­duc­tive bank rob­ber in Steven Soder­bergh’s “Out of Sight” and an Amer­i­can sol­dier in Terrence Mal­ick’s Os­car-nom­i­nated World War II drama “The Thin Red Line.” Post” ER,” his ca­reer as­cended with fiery speed. Clooney be­came not just a lead­ing man, but also di­rec­tor, pro­ducer and screen­writer.

Clooney’s first Os­car would come for his sup­port­ing role in Stephen Gaghan’s 2005 oil in­dus­try thriller “Syr­i­ana.” That same year, he was nom­i­nated for di­rec­tor and orig­i­nal screen­play, with co-screen­writer Grant Heslov, for “Good Night, and Good Luck,” a bi­o­graph­i­cal drama about jour­nal­ist Ed­ward R. Mur­row’s fight to take down Sen. Joseph Mccarthy dur­ing the anti- com­mu­nism frenzy of the early 1950s.

Clooney won his sec­ond Os­car for pro­duc­ing the 2012 Iran hostage cri­sis saga “Argo,” an award he shared with pro­duc­ing part­ner Heslov and pro­ducer-star Ben Af­fleck, who also di­rected the film. There were other lead ac­tor Os­car nom­i­na­tions along the way, for “Michael Clay­ton,” “Up in the Air” and “The De­scen­dants,” roles that fur­ther ear­marked Clooney as an ac­tor with a gift for play­ing a height­ened ver­sion of him­self, or at least, that self we imag­ined him to be: sen­si­tive, ro­man­tic, ev­erso-slightly tragic. He played char­ac­ters who longed for love, but were un­able to com­mit, char­ac­ters that used ra­zor sharp hu­mor to sup­plant their sear­ing emo­tional pain. In Soder­bergh’s 2002 sci-fi fan­tasy “So­laris,” Clooney’s char­ac­ter, a psy­chi­a­trist sent to in­ves­ti­gate the crew of a re­search sta­tion cir­cling outer space, spends the en­tire movie pin­ing away for Natascha Mcel­hone, who plays a star­tling like­ness to his wife who com­mit­ted sui­cide on planet Earth. Clooney was beau­ti­ful, lonely, hurt. Women wanted to save him; men wanted to be him.

In real life, Clooney was a hard­core bach­e­lor with a string of girl­friends who came and went. For nearly 20 years, his sole heir was Max, a 300-pound Viet­namese pot-bel­lied pig. Their re­la­tion­ship was a Hol­ly­wood love story in its own right, spark­ing mag­a­zine stories and photo spreads.

In Ian Parker’s 2008 pro­file of Clooney in the New Yorker, sub­ti­tled “The ef­fort be­hind Ge­orge Clooney’s ef­fort­less charm,” Parker wrote, “Clooney’s ap­peal is less sleek and sub­merged — he is the fel­low at the end of the bar, who, on a scale run­ning from James Ste­wart to Jack Nicholson, has found an en­vi­able mid­point of cour­te­ous rogu­ish­ness.”

Comic ac­tor Richard Kind, one of Clooney’s oldest and clos­est friends, re­calls at­tend­ing with Clooney a late 1980s pro­duc­tion of Joe Or­ton’s stage play “Loot,” both of them mar­vel­ling at the per­for- mance of Joseph Ma­her, who played Tr­us­cott of the Yard. “It brought down the house,” says Kind. “Ge­orge and I both turned to one an­other and said, ‘I want to be that kind of ac­tor.’ ”

Clooney, says Kind, be­came just that sort of ac­tor.

“When he does the straight roles he’s like Henry Fonda or James Ste­wart, ac­tors who seem like they’re al­ways play­ing them­selves, and yet they are very slyly, un­der­stat­edly play­ing some­one else,” says Kind. “But he is also able to go crazy. If you take a look at ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ or ‘Three Kings,’ he can go to those bound­aries and push them quite a lot.”

It’s this win­ning com­bi­na­tion of “cour­te­ous rogu­ish­ness” and “ef­fort­less charm,” not to men­tion an un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to hu­man­i­tar­ian causes and left-wing pol­i­tics, that’s made Clooney a nat­u­ral in the phil­an­thropic realm as well. Along with his “Ocean’s Eleven” co-stars Don Chea­dle, Matt Da­mon and Brad Pitt, and pro­ducer Jerry Wein­traub, Clooney founded Not on Our Watch, an or­ga­ni­za­tion whose mis­sion is to stop geno­cide in Su­dan. In 2008, then Sec­re­tary- Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon ap­pointed Clooney as a U.N. Mes­sen­ger of Peace. Since then, Clooney’s hu­man­i­tar­ian ef­forts have ex­panded to in­clude rais­ing funds for vic­tims of the 2010 Haiti earth­quake; sur­vivors of the Ar­me­nian geno­cide; and the March for Our Lives cam­paign, founded af­ter the Stone­man Dou­glas High School mas­sacre on Feb. 14.

In 2014, Clooney un­der­took his most un­ex­pected role (for his fans, any­way) as hus­band, mar­ry­ing Bri­tish-le­banese hu­mans-right at­tor­ney Amal Ala­mud­din.

The proud­est achieve­ment of Clooney’s life: “The day Ge­orge con­vinced Amal to marry him,” says Nick Clooney, vet­eran jour­nal­ist and an­chor­man and Ge­orge’s father.

In 2017, the cou­ple wel­comed twins, Ella and Alexander. At age 57, Ge­orge Clooney is a first-time dad.

“He gets a kick out of them much more than I would have thought he would,” says Kind. “They make him laugh and he laughs with them and at them.”

The most sur­pris­ing fact about Ge­orge Clooney, says Heslov, who first met Clooney in an act­ing class in 1982, is “just how nor­mal he is.

“The thing about him that might seem ab­nor­mal is that he’s ex­tremely nor­mal,” says Heslov, who co-founded Smoke­house Pic­tures with Clooney in 2006. “He’s just a gen­er­ally good and nice guy — that’s re­ally who he is. He does his own dishes.”

Clooney and Heslov are in Italy shoot­ing the six­part minis­eries “Catch-22,” an adap­ta­tion of Joseph Heller’s satir­i­cal wartime clas­sic. They are both act­ing, di­rect­ing and ex­ec­u­tive pro­duc­ing the project, which also stars Christo-

The thing about him that might seem ab­nor­mal is that he’s ex­tremely nor­mal. He’s just a gen­er­ally good and nice guy — that’s re­ally who he is.”

Grant Heslov

pher Ab­bott as lead pro­tag­o­nist, Cpt. John Yos­sar­ian.

“We only write when we’re to­gether. We don’t like long dis­tance,” says Heslov of their cre­ative process. “We have a desk, I do the ac­tual writ­ing. Some­times we act the scenes out. Ge­orge uses a notepad and I use the com­puter be­cause he doesn’t love the com­puter, that’s not his thing. We write fast, we don’t mess around. We start at 9 in the morn­ing and we work un­til 5 or 6 in the af­ter­noon. We have a lit­tle lunch, but we re­ally do work pretty hard.” He adds, laugh­ing, “We’re to­gether too much.”

As much as Clooney has cul­ti­vated a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing mag­nan­i­mous and char­i­ta­ble and so­phis­ti­cated — Kind re­mem­bers an­other night at the the­ater when they went to see “The Vagina Mono­logues,” and Clooney “tipped the park­ing lot at­ten­dant $100” — he’s also renowned amongst friends as a mas­ter of prac­ti­cal jokes.

“Ge­orge is an ex­cep­tional, smart and very se­ri­ous, gen­er­ous per­son who does many great things,

but he also makes time to plan and ex­e­cute ter­ri­ble pranks on his loved ones,” says Jimmy Kim­mel, who’s col­lab­o­rated with Clooney on myr­iad up­roar­i­ous latenight skits. A re­cent gag: Clooney, on “Jimmy Kim­mel Live!’ to pro­mote “Subur­bicon,” promised to in­tro­duce his new­born twins, only for “manny” Matt Da­mon, with whom Kim­mel has had a long­stand­ing pub­lic (and very much faux) feud, to crash the in­ter­view, wheel­ing in a dou­ble-stroller with rolled-up pink and blue blan­kets. And no babies.

“Noth­ing de­lights [Ge­orge] more than iden­ti­fy­ing a vul­ner­a­bil­ity and strik­ing when an at­tack is un­ex­pected,” says Kim­mel. “I’ve seen Ge­orge re­duce him­self to tears retelling his years of tor­ment. The amount of time and en­ergy he spends on this kind of thing is lit­er­ally in­cred­i­ble. He some­how man­ages to be both the best and worst friend a per­son could have, and that is a di­chotomy I love.”

That’s the con­sum­mate Clooney, says Kim­mel: he’s an Os­car-win­ning movie star-slash-film­maker whose pro­cliv­ity for pranks and good hu­mor is out­ranked only by his de­sire to do good in the world and make the peo­ple around him feel bet­ter about them­selves.

“Ge­orge was my first- ever guest on Jan. 26, 2003,” says Kim­mel. “It was my first show and we were on live af­ter the Su­per Bowl, with many mil­lions of peo­ple watch­ing. I was as ner­vous as I’d ever been and ter­ri­bly un­pre­pared to host a talk show. Af­ter a shaky start, Ge­orge, who I did not know and who was much too big a star to be there, showed up and calmed me down with shot glasses, vodka and movie-star magic. He gave our show and its bum­bling host in­stant cred­i­bil­ity just by show­ing up, and was so charm­ing and funny. It did not mat­ter that I was not. Ge­orge is al­ways great, but that de­but likely would have been a dis­as­ter with­out him.”

Clooney, says dad Nick, has al­ways been a “per­former,” and will evolve as such no mat­ter what role he next undertakes.

“Ge­orge was at home in front of the cam­era from his ear­li­est days vis­it­ing a TV stu­dio,” he says. “I had no idea he would reach the heights he has at­tained. Most of us reach a plateau in our ca­reers, a comfort level. Ge­orge never has. He keeps learn­ing, grow­ing.”

Well Suited

Ge­orge Clooney will re­ceive the AFI Life Achieve­ment Award in honor of his work be­fore and be­hind the cam­era.

Star Sta­tus

Ge­orge and Amal Clooney, wed since 2014, stepped out at the 2018 Met­ro­pol­i­tan Mu­seum of Art’s Cos­tume In­sti­tute ben­e­fit.

Be My Guest

Ge­orge Clooney, ap­pear­ing on “Jimmy Kim­mel Live!” in 2016, gave the late-night host a key as­sist on his first night.

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