Most things have changed in George Clooney’s life since he and wife Amal welcomed twins in July. But as his latest directorial effort Suburbicon screens in the UAE, some rituals remain eerily familiar.
“I just have to clean the barf off of my tux,” says Clooney. “It used to be my barf but now it’s the twins’ barf. So it all works out.”
It’s a new chapter for Clooney, but one with some old moves. Suburbicon marries two twin passions of his: farce (Burn After Reading, O Brother Where Art Thou) and socially conscious filmmaking (Good Night and Good Luck, Ides of March).
But despite the comic trailers, it leans a little more to the latter. Clooney believes the film, which peers into the dark racial tensions of 1950s suburbia, is deeply relevant to modern-day America. It bristles, he hopes, with the spirit of Howard Beale, the truth-telling Network newsman who yelled, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.”
“I screened it for my good friend Norman Lear. When it was over, he looked over and said, ‘This is the angriest film I’ve ever seen,’” says Clooney. “It’s a pretty angry film. There’s a lot of anger out there. I think that’s reflected in the film.
“The main idea of the film was to pick some fights and I always like picking fights.”
That makes Suburbicon potentially one of the more combustible films of the fall movie season. It boasts a starry cast (Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac) and comes from an unproduced, decades-old script by Joel and Ethan Coen about rampant suburban paranoia and fear-mongering after a home invasion.
For Clooney and his writing-producing partner Grant Heslov, the Coens’ characters were perfect for plans of their own to dramatise 1950s Levittown, Pennsylvania when a black family moves in. It’s a tale, they believe, that mirrors today’s political landscape.
“I found it interesting to talk about building walls and scapegoating minorities,” says Clooney. “I think that’s always an interesting topic but particularly when I was hearing these conversations on the campaign trail. I thought: It’s always good to look back and remember that nothing really is new and every time we’re shocked, we forget that we’ve had this behaviour time and time and time again.
Suburbicon follows Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) in the aftermath of a terrifying break-in at his suburban home, which results in the suspicious death of his wife.
As the investigation into the tragedy deepens, Gardner and his wife’s twin sister Maggie (Julianne Moore) find themselves in a situation quickly escalating beyond their control.
During media interactions, lead star Damon spoke about his role, saying: “This was probably the darkest role I’ve ever had a chance to play, which is very liberating.”
Clooney feels that while there are “people much better qualified to tell the story of African-Americans in mid-20th century suburbia,” he wanted to use the story of the Mayers family — based on a real black family that moved into the all-white suburb of Levittown in 1957 — to shine a light on the absurdity of racism.
In numerous scenes, the white inhabitants of the town say that while they do not want African-Americans to be oppressed, they do not want black families in their neighbourhood.
“The pinnacle of white privilege is my character driving around the neighbourhood on a bicycle covered in blood murdering people and nobody’s looking at him because they’re all focused on the Mayers family and blaming them for all their problems,” Damon reveals.
Suburbicon is Clooney’s sixth film as director and his first since 2014’s The Monuments Men. Filmmaking remains his focus, at least professionally speaking.
“I’m in an interesting place in my life. I’m acting almost never — for a lot of reasons, mostly because I don’t have any great interest in it and haven’t read anything (good enough),” said Clooney. “If somebody showed up with ‘The Verdict,’ I’d jump but it’s not all that often you get Michael Clayton kind of scripts. And if you’re not going to get those, there’s no real point at this point in my career.”
“They still let me do what I want to do,” Clooney adds. “As long as that’s the case, then I’m going to keep doing it. For me, you’ve got to keep pushing the envelope until they take everything away — which they eventually do with everybody.”
As one of Hollywood’s most famous celebrities, Clooney is not afraid to use his platform to speak up on issues close to him, but do not expect the actor to enter the political arena anytime soon.
“I’ve always been around and involved in politics and believe that we all have to participate one way or another. But no, I’m not going to get into it,” Clooney explains.
“I don’t have to answer to any one person. I don’t have to make compromises, I can point the finger at whomever I think needs to be pointed out,” he added.
In the midst of his liberal activism, Clooney admits his life has also changed drastically in the past few months since the birth of his children.
“Suddenly, you’re responsible for other people, which is terrifying,” he chuckled before heaping credit on his wife. “She’s like an Olympic athlete,” he says. “She’s doing so beautifully.
“Right now my job is changing diapers and walking them around a little bit,” says Clooney. “I really didn’t think at 56 that I would be the parent of twins. Don’t make plans. You always have to just enjoy the ride.”