In the Zoom era, the room behind you can really tell a story, and so it goes with George Clooney. On a recent video call to talk about his new Netflix movie, ‘The Midnight Sky’, Clooney gestured to the living room shelves behind him, which had been hastily stocked with books and drinks.
“This is all I got left, man!” Clooney said with the mock frustration of a father ceding the kingdom to his children. “They took the office, and they made it a playroom, then they took the bar, and they made it a nursery.”
Clooney has spent the past several months quarantining in Los Angeles with his lawyer wife, Amal, and their 3-year-old twins, Ella and Alexander, while also putting the finishing touches on ‘The Midnight Sky’, which he directed and stars in. In that sci-fi drama, Clooney plays a scientist struggling to warn space-faring astronauts that Earth has been ravaged by an unspecified catastrophe.
In the time since Clooney finished shooting the film earlier this year, our Earth hasn’t been doing so hot, either. In a wide-ranging interview, we spoke about the pandemic, Hollywood’s new streaming era and the outgoing president, whom Clooney used to encounter in New York back when “he was just a dog chasing girls.”
These are edited excerpts from our conversation.
It’s been 4 1/2 years since you last starred in a movie, and a lot has changed when it comes to streaming services: Your film is coming out on Netflix and Warner Bros. just moved its entire theatrical slate for 2021 to HBO Max. What do you make of a move like that?
It feels like a decision from AT&T [Warner Bros.’ parent company], which is not a film company. I mean, I was at Warner Bros. for 20 years and under contract with them — it was a real star-friendly studio. It feels like all they’re trying to do is get HBO Max going, because you’re not going to recoup on movies like ‘Dune’ that are designed to make a billion. I always figured the windows were going to get tighter as we moved forward, but this is a little crazy. But I think it’s going to be fine. I really do.
You do? Convince me.
People want to get out of their house — I got twins, man! And it’s still a great way to ask somebody out. Comedies are great in cinemas; scary movies are great in cinemas. So I don’t see it completely going away.
With box office out of the equation, and a streaming service that doesn’t necessarily report viewership numbers, how will you decide if ‘The Midnight Sky’ is a success?
You’re right; that is a big difference. Maybe it’s good; I’ve had a lot of flops. Look, I’ll be 60 this year, and I get to be on a set with people I adore and work in a profession that I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to do. So I guess that’s sort of the victory in the whole thing. I didn’t have it for the early part of my life — I did jobs I hated and lived for the weekend.
Your character in ‘The Midnight Sky’ is focused on his career to the exclusion of love and family. Was that ever you?
Yeah, but I hadn’t found the person that filled everything up for me, that would have made me fully in love. I dated a lot of really terrific women, but Amal showed up, and suddenly it was like, “Well, this is different on every level for me.” I don’t think I was actively saying, “I’m just going to work on my career and I’m not going to have a wife.” That was the story that got told about me, but it wasn’t really the reality.
You recently told GQ “It’s boring to just be an actor,” but surely, every director in Hollywood would love to work with you. Can’t you still find projects that excite you?
You can, but the rules have changed for me. I had a run there with three films in a row that were ‘Out of Sight’, ‘Three Kings’ and ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’. If any of those screenplays came to me with a part that I could play, I’d do it, but those screenplays are rare. I’m not bored with acting; I’m more concerned with the idea that I know for a fact how careers go, because I’ve seen it: My Aunt Rosemary was a big singer, and then she wasn’t. Things change; I know that. I have no interest in quitting, but you have to reassess what it is you’re going to be good at.
Have you considered working with some newer directors, instead of established ones?
I’ve seen some films where I go, “Oh, that’s really interesting, smart filmmaking,” but you also have to get to know directors a little bit. I have to know that they love what they do and they aren’t [jerks].
Joel Schumacher passed away earlier this year. He directed you in “Batman & Robin.” What’s the best story you can tell about him from that set?
There are a lot of them, oh my God. I have to think if there’s any I could actually tell, because they’re filthy!
What’s a story that’s printable?
Joel would use a megaphone to direct, and he would always go, “OK, George, remember: Your parents are dead, you have nothing to live for, “ The movie wasn’t very good, but who cares? He was a dear, sweet guy, and I think he had a very good life in general.
There’s a moment in ‘The Midnight Sky’ where your character puts a mask on a little girl and says, “Never take it off, no matter what.” I would imagine that line plays very differently now than you meant it to.
The idea that we politicise things like this is crazy. Had [Donald] Trump come out at the very beginning and said, “We’re all going to wear masks because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s going to save a lot of lives,” the whole country would have gotten behind him, and he would have been re-elected. But he thought it would affect his economy, so he chose to say it didn’t exist. And now we’re going to have 350,000 people dead.
Biden has said that once Trump is out of the picture, he will be able to reach across the aisle and find Republicans who are willing to cooperate with him. Do you agree?
No, not about that. The world is different now. I mean, Ted Cruz, think about what a yutz this guy is! I don’t care what your political view is: If a guy said that my wife was ugly and my father killed Kennedy, there is no way in the world you could have me come out and say, “I’ll defend you.”
Every single one of these guys have aspirations for bigger things — Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mike Pence, all of them. They think people will travel with them because, “I’ve stuck with you, Don,” but the truth is, they won’t. They stay with Donald because Donald, for all of his immense problems as a human being, is a charismatic carnival barker.
There are people who suggest that Democrats should play that game, too, by running candidates like you or Oprah Winfrey.
That’d be fun, wouldn’t it? Gee, what a great way to spend the last third of my life, trying to make deals with people that have no intention of making deals.
Maybe it’s not so outrageous. You and [Barack] Obama are both at Netflix now, after all.
See, he’s come to his senses. He’s just learned what’s important. [Laughter]
Don’t miss it!
‘The Midnight Sky’ is streaming on Netflix