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THE ENVELOPE

Stepping offstage

George Clooney, who starred in 'The Descendants' and 'The Ides of March' this year, is looking forward to working more behind the camera.

December 22, 2011|John Horn
  • SURPRISE: George Clooney says he feels that it's time for him to work more often behind the camera.
SURPRISE: George Clooney says he feels that it's time for him to work… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

The movie business is predicated on predictability. Studios churn out sequels and remakes, directors rarely stray from their preferred genres and actors gravitate to the same sorts of roles. It's a pattern most everyone in Hollywood understands and accepts -- but apparently not George Clooney, who's wrapping up a career year. And precisely when he couldn't be more admired as an actor, Clooney says he is pulling back from the very job that brought him renown.

At a point in his life when it would be easy to play safe -- he's 51, has a supporting actor Oscar for "Syriana" and can pay the bills with his international TV commercials -- Clooney instead placed two speculative and not insubstantial bets on himself this year. .

Just as people have grown understandably indisposed toward anything political, Clooney directed, produced, co-wrote and starred in the election drama "The Ides of March." Rather than play the candidate any number of people wish he were (Clooney says he's not interested in actually running for office), the actor's "Ides of March" presidential contender is about as honorable as John Edwards. And while starring in an Alexander Payne movie might initially appear risk-free, the film's cuckolded protagonist is not necessarily the type of character Clooney's peers would fight to play, and it proved to be a part Clooney said concerned him no end. "I was terrified from the moment it started," he says. .

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, December 24, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
George Clooney: In the Dec. 22 edition of The Envelope, an article about George Clooney said that the actor's film "Gravity" would open in May. The Alfonso Cuaron-directed film is expected to open Nov. 21, 2012.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, January 03, 2012 Home Edition The Envelope Part S Page 3 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
George Clooney: In the Dec. 22 edition of The Envelope, an article about George Clooney said that the actor's film "Gravity" would open in May. The Alfonso Cuaron-directed film is expected to open Nov. 21, 2012.

Clooney's depiction of Matt King in "The Descendants" is sure to land him in the lead actor race, and the film itself looks destined for a best picture nomination. But like a baseball slugger who decides he'd rather coach than play even as he's batting .300, Clooney says that he'll start taking himself off the acting field, that he's not excited to work in front of the camera and that he'll be far more selective in performing in the years ahead.

Next May's lead role opposite Sandra Bullock in director Alfonso Cuaron's sci-fi thriller "Gravity" could mark the beginning of the progression toward more directing and producing work, even if Clooney (and filmmaking partner Grant Heslov) are developing an array of projects with potentially juicy parts, including their recently announced movie about the Smothers Brothers.

"I'm less and less interested in seeing myself on screen," Clooney says. "I want as an actor to become more economic in terms of the kinds of things and parts I play. As you get older, and you sort of slowly move into that character actor world, there's actually some fun stuff to do. But I don't enjoy seeing myself on screen in certain things anymore." Fortunately, "The Descendants" proved not to be one of those certain things.

As adapted by Payne and screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash from Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel, "The Descendants" places Clooney in the midst of a family in free fall. Matt King's wife, Elizabeth, has suffered an irreversible brain injury, forcing the largely clueless father of two daughters to plot a course not only for his wife's last days but also his children's future.

Clooney has said that a mistake actors often make is imagining the best, rather than the worst, version of a movie they are about to star in; it is in tempering your own optimism, the actor says, that you often make the most informed choices. With "The Descendants," the question Clooney had to answer was, Could you win in playing a loser?

While no one would doubt Payne's stewardship -- his previous three films, "Sideways," "About Schmidt" and "Election," were nominated for a combined eight Academy Awards and won one Oscar -- Clooney said King was not precisely in his wheelhouse, which ultimately was part of its attraction. It's hard to make Clooney look bad, but King bears scant resemblance to the polished-to-perfection Danny Ocean in "Ocean's Eleven" or Ryan Bingham in "Up in the Air." As Clooney himself describes King, he's a schlub, inside and out.

"It was a part that worried me, and I always like parts that worry me, that take me out of my comfort zone," Clooney said. "I've played characters that are flawed and don't know it. I've played characters who have had to come to terms with a lifetime of failure, in 'Michael Clayton,' 'Up in the Air,' films like that, when [the character] thinks he has it together, and he doesn't.

"This was sort of the next step in a way as a character. It's a coming-of-age film, but the person who is coming of age is a 50-year-old guy. There's a much different kind of vulnerability to this character. The characters I've played before were always overachievers, successful. They were good at what they did, and no one beat them. They were these characters who always win the scene, they win the argument. And they're good at it -- until they realize they've given up their soul. This is a character who loses every argument -- he loses to a 17-year-old, he loses to everybody."

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