"I insist," the man says.
"I insist more."
He proceeds, baffled.
According to Guinzburg, Pfeiffer's producing partner of five years, the actress' choice to play Mel was telling. "I think everyone who read the script related to Mel on some level, even if they didn't have children. It's everywoman, and I think for Michelle to play everywoman is great for her because she usually plays a more rarefied kind of character. In a funny way, getting into real extreme characters like she's done in the past is almost easier than playing closer to yourself. This is a braver choice to make."
Though the two lead actors have significantly different personalities and ways of working--Pfeiffer is internal and somewhat shy while Clooney is physical and gregarious--they worked well together on- and off-camera.
For Clooney, working with Pfeiffer was a constant acting lesson. "She would take seemingly straightforward scenes and take them to a completely different level," Clooney says, recalling one on-screen argument they have in which she unexpectedly welled up with tears and added an unscripted element of fragility to the scene. "I'm thinking, 'Uh-oh, I'm getting my hat handed to me here.' You kind of have to step up a little bit and pay attention when you work with someone like Michelle or else you can easily get left behind."
Hoffman says that wasn't the case. "George is very flexible because of his TV background," he says of Clooney's collaborative tendencies. But at the same time, the actor was used to ignoring directors, for the most part.
"It's true, he knows more about Doug Ross than the directors who come in. He's probably used to doing more work on his own. That's the nature of episodic TV," Hoffman says. "Everything was fine when he realized I understood Jack in the same way he did. George makes eccentric choices and is great when he has a strong objective to play. He has his own rhythm as an actor. I came to like that. There was something real simple about it, and I think it stems from TV."
And though the two actors spent time together rehearsing and filming, Clooney and Pfeiffer spent no time together outside the set. "I never saw him," says Pfeiffer, despite New York gossip columnists' claims the two were spotted having romantic dinners (in fact, at the time she was in L.A., where she lives with her husband, writer-producer David E. Kelley). "I loved working with George. He was charming and funny and he humanized the character, but we never even had lunch together. He'd go off to play basketball and I'd go off and be a mom."
Those now-famous basketball games involving Hoffman, Clooney and crew members were serious if not competitive. During one intense and sweaty game, a grip elbowed Clooney in the eye, rupturing his eye socket and leaving a swollen, purple mess.
"Put your finger here--feel this, isn't that awful?" says Clooney, now somewhat amused by the injury, as he takes a visitor's finger and traces the bony area under his eyebrow that was broken two months earlier and has strapped him with a left eye that tracks more slowly than the right. "Luckily I had six days off before going back on the movie. My eye was swollen shut, and I still have to put makeup on it to cover the purple. I was still shooting 'ER' at the time, and I had to hold a baby in front of my eye until the swelling went down."
On another difficult day, the cast and crew waited under a tent in Central Park to film the movie's crucial soccer game scene while it poured for two days straight. "I had this really bad allergic reaction to whatever fertilizer they just laid down on that grass, so I couldn't breathe," Clooney recalls. "And we were in this tent with 75 6-year-olds, which is truly a nightmare under any circumstance."
But the nightmares didn't end there. While on location at Fifth Avenue's Elizabeth Arden salon, the production found itself in the middle of the Israeli Day parade. The cast and crew voted on whether to proceed on schedule (they did), despite numerous bomb threats to the political procession. And while filming on the Upper West Side, disgruntled residents, fed up with "The Mirror Has Two Faces," "The First Wives Club" and an array of other movies shooting in New York this spring, occasionally called the Fire Department so sirens would interrupt filming.
The film wrapped on schedule in May, but the filmmakers aren't saying how the movie ends. "Mel is a complete mess in the last scene from her day," says Simon, the screenwriter. "She is wearing sweats and has chop suey all over her clothes. Jack is there, chasing her around the apartment in a cat-and-mouse game, trying to kiss her."
In Simon's draft, the exhausted couple fall asleep on the couch before the smooch. But who knows? "They may have snuck it in," confides Simon. "I think they shot it both ways."