Having The Moment: George Clooney
"Who's got an injured hand, two exposed fingers, and three great movies all playing at Toronto? This guy!"
Earlier tonight, as I was on a shuttle bus back from a party that took place in some strange northern corner of the outskirts of Toronto, I saw this tweet appear on my Twitter feed:
@scottfeinberg When my buddy asked Clooney for a pic, the actor said "No way buddy" and brushed by him... and my buddy loved him even more for it lol
I laughed, because that sort of all-accepting love for Clooney is in great abundance right now. Everywhere you go in Toronto, people at the fest are smitten with Clooney, and it's only going to get more pronounced after tomorrow night's public screening debut of "Up In The Air." He's here as an actor/producer for "The Men Who Stare At Goats," as a producer on "The Informant!," and as a good old-fashioned movie star with "Up In The Air," a movie that demolishes any idea of who George Clooney is off-screen in a way that seems to have affected the actor in real life as well.
George Clooney, no doubt, is Having The Moment.
[more after the jump]
When a star... and not just an indie actor or a recognizable face, but a full-blown no-contest Movie Star... shows up at any festival, they throw the gravity all out of whack. And in this particular case, Clooney's doing it at two festivals back to back, showing up at Venice and here, while his film "Up In The Air" actually played at Telluride, meaning that's three festivals in short order where people have been buzzing about him and his work.
But having him present is totally different than just playing a film he's in, and today, I was given a ticket to attend the gala premiere of "The Men Who Stare At Goats," playing at the Roy Thompson Hall. I walked over this afternoon, dressed like a grown-up for once. I love that jeans and t-shirt are acceptable work clothes for me every single day of my life except the days where I wear shorts, but every now and then, I actually put on a blazer and a shirt with buttons on it, and this was one of those occasions. The theater was lovely, and I didn't realize that's where the first big conversation between Magneto and Professor X in the first "X-Men" was shot, but as soon as I walked in, it was obvious. I sat in the upper balcony during the film, and it was actually a pretty great seat. I'll have my full review of the movie soon, but suffice it to say I liked it a lot.
This is on top of my reaction to seeing "Up In The Air" earlier in the day. I walked in hoping for something solid and entertaining and smart. What I got was something much harder to define, something wonderful, and it worked as an emotional A-bomb on me. Again, I'll be writing up a real review later in the weekend, but I can tell you that much of the last half hour had me in quiet tears. It's the kind of film where once you find yourself affected, it never really lets up. There's a cumulative weight to the film, and at the end of it, I sat for a moment, acutely aware that I was surrounded by members of the press, not sure if anyone else was having the same degree of response, and I got acutely embarrassed. I headed for the door, hoping to slip out quickly, and as I emerged from the screening room, I ran into Tamar, one of the great publicists from the Paramount team who I deal with. She greeted me warmly and asked me what I thought. I looked at her, trying to figure out how to articulate it, and I'm not sure what she saw in my eyes, but she said, "Oh... stop. You're going to make me cry."
And that was it. Standing there in front of her, I just sort of lost it. I mumbled something at her about it being a very special film, and needing to talk to my family, and I pretty much bolted for the door. It took me the whole walk back up University to gather myself. That's how hard the film punched me in the solar plexus. I really can't believe I did that, but it was out of my hands. It was still bouncing around in me, like a bullet that just wouldn't lose momentum.
So by the end of the second film in today's double-feature, I was feeling pretty much amazed by Clooney all over again, amazed at how many times in his career he's made choices that seemed crazy or risky and how consistently they've paid off in really lovely, intelligent movies that seem built to last. And as I walked out of the Roy Thompson, I met Greg Ellwood, HitFix's editor-and-poobah-and-awards-blogger, the two of us having agreed to go to that post-gala party.
The party was thrown at a house that was obviously underwritten by Vitamin Water, since there were bottles and logos everywhere. I am not really a party person in this particular world... I'm just too uncomfortable. It's pretty rare that I attend any festival parties at all, and I really only went tonight because Greg knows Toronto better than I do, and he suggested it. Walking in, we went past some live goats in cages wearing t-shirts that read "What are you staring at?" As I was walking around the rapidly-filling house, I ran into my friend Borys Kit of The Hollywood Reporter. Great guy who I see a lot in town, and it's always nice to see a familiar face at something like this.
We talked for a few minutes, were joined by friends of his, talked with them for a few, and then I went looking for Greg. I wanted to find out if he would be taking the first shuttle back to downtown Toronto with me. When I was looking for him, I saw Jeff Bridges sitting on a couch, in the main room but sort of barricaded a bit by volunteers. He was holding forth with a pair of lovely ladies, so I figured I would just let The Dude abide. No need to interrupt him. I love Bridges. I could make a top ten list of my favorite films of his and not exhaust the full depth of how much I love his work. But even so... he was pretty clearly not interested in being worked, or in working th eparty. He was there to relax for a little while and just toast the successful screening we'd all just come from. Fair enough.
I kept walking, and as I finally realized where Greg was, I walked right past Clooney standing with Overture's Chris McGurk and a few other men. I only realized it as I passed them, though. One of those "Oh, hey, wasn't that George Clooney?" type things. I talked with Greg for a few, and I saw that, again, there was a publicist type hovering to make sure people didn't really bother George, and he was deep enough in his conversation that there didn't really seem to be an opening to approach him for a quick "Congratulations."
As I went looking for a drink that wasn't loaded with vodka or white rum, no easy feat at this event, I walked up the steps right where Clooney was standing, and he looked right at me. That famous smile flashed and he put out his bandaged hand. "Hey, how are you?"
I was surprised, but I shook his hand, trying to be careful with it. "Uh, doing well, thanks. I'm not sure you'll remember, but..."
"Oh, of course. Ain't It Cool." Back in 1999, Harry and I visited the set of "Fail Safe," George's live-television production of the classic Cold War story, and we spent an afternoon with him. Later, I ended up becoming friends with someone close to him, and we sort of tagentially had that mutual friend for a while. Sure enough, that's the name he mentioned next, and then he said, "It's Drew, right?"
Color me impressed. I told him how surprised I was that he was able to pull the name up like that, and he asked me about what I've been up to since the last time I saw him. I was struck by two things as we small-talked at first. One, he actually seemed to be asking, not just being polite, and that is rare from anyone at a party like this, much less the guy everyone in the room is staring at while trying to look like they aren't. Two, I could sense that the people who had been working to form the subtle roadblock around Clooney were agitated by my having somehow breached that perimeter.
We started talking about "Up In The Air," and I just confessed my full reaction, including the unexpected flood of tears after the film had already ended, and he seemed delighted to hear it. He gushed about Jason Reitman, both as a filmmaker and as a person, and he told me that he felt like his public persona made him the only actor who could properly play the part, an observation that is very knowing on Clooney's part. He knows how people see him. He knows he's thought of as the Permanent Bachelor, the ultimate guy's guy. And to some extent, he's cultivated that image. But he said as he read the script for "Up In The Air" the first time, there were lines that his character says that he had actually said in his personal life. That hit him hard, and he realized that this was a chance to "look in the mirror," so to speak, make a movie that acknowledges that what looks cute at 30 might not look as cute at 50, and that you can be Warren Beatty (as an example) at 20 or even 40, but at 60, you just can't pull it off. It's not charming anymore. It's just sort of sad. Knowing that, he felt like making this film would tackle these ideas head on, and that him playing it would lend the film an extra edge of friction, because audiences would be wondering how much of this is him.
He told me about how Paramount originally cut their own trailer for the film, selling it as a broad mainstream comedy, and how Jason Reitman had to finally step in and cut his own trailer, which finally went online last week, originally premiering exclusively on /Film:
I didn't watch the trailer before the film, on purpose, since I knew I'd be seeing it very soon. Now that I have seen it, it's obvious that is a trailer cut by the filmmaker. It's all tone without giving you anything that would ruin the experience. And it's accurate. That is the movie that I fell in love with today, absolutely. It was a good call by Reitman to cut that one, and a perfect execution.
We talked about "The Informant!" for a while, about how amazing that Marvin Hamlisch score was, about how discouraged Steven Soderbergh got after the implosion of "Moneyball" this summer. I know it's strange to say, but I'm really encouraged as a filmmaker when I hear that Soderbergh has days when he wants to quit Hollywood, or when he's afraid that Hollywood is going to quit him. This is Steven Soderbergh, for god's sake. This guy is inarguably one of our most interesting commercial filmmakers working, even when a film doesn't work. He's nimble, almost never doing the same thing twice in a row, and to hear that he really does feel like it's impossible for him to make the film he wants to make... well, I don't feel so bad suddenly. It's hard out there right now, and I find myself getting discouraged by financing woes on a couple of different projects. But if it's so rough out there that Soderbergh is up against it, then what should I expect? I really can't complain at that point. This is just the market we all find ourselves working in these days.
To his enormous credit, Clooney appears to have figured the system out, and he's working it something fierce right now. He talked about some of the projects he's developing, some of which he's writing himself, some of which he's hired writers for, and whatever else you want to say about him, this guy is a fully-engaged filmmaker, constantly pushing himself creatively in some way. And there's not a sequel or a remake or a comic book in there anywhere. "Hey, look, sometimes you make a 'Solaris' or a 'Good German,' and people kick the shit out of it, and you just have to say, 'Okay, fine.' And other times, you make 'Michael Clayton' or 'Good Night and Good Luck.' And that lets you keep going. I read that my star is waning because something only made $60 million, but if the whole film only cost $12 million, that seems like a hit to me." As long as he sticks to that model, there's no reason he can't keep making films forever, and on his terms, in his way.
He talked about how much the response to "Goats" at Venice and here in Toronto has meant to him, and to Grant Heslov, his business and creative partner. "Remember, Grant's the guy who gave me $100 to get my headshots made when I first showed up in Los Angeles." That's how long they've been friends, and Richard Kind, another of their longtime buddies, is here in Toronto this week with the new Coen Bros. movies, "A Serious Man." They're Having The Moment together, and it seems like that's the only way Clooney would have it.
Several times, people walked up and tried to step into the conversation, but Clooney wasn't really having it. He was on a roll now, and when we were joined by Nicole, the head of his company's development, he told me about a script he's been working on a for a while now, a film about the Presidency and what it means, and how they were close to a shooting draft until Obama ended up winning the office. "That changed everything," Clooney said. "But I think we've solved it now. I just wrote a new draft that I really like." He gushed about young screenwriters he likes and asks if I've read their work.
I noticed several people now staring at me, wondering who the hell I was and why I'd been monopolizing Clooney for the last quarter-hour, and as Clooney turned to talk to someone else in his group for a moment, I turned to Grant Heslov, who had just walked up, and talked to him about how "Goats" works as farce precisely because it's played so straight. Heslov seemed dazed but happy as we spoke.
When Clooney rejoined us, he asked me about leaving Ain't It Cool, and I told him about HitFix and the different work I've been doing here. And as we started to drift back into other subjects, I realized that it was getting close to 10:00, and I needed to get going to I could make my midnight movie. I wished them both a good night, and as I walked away, one woman looked directly at me and said, "Who are you?"
Honestly, thanks to the random hand of fate and a mutual friend years ago, for the better part of half-an-hour, I was the one Having The Moment. Every now and then, even in the midst of an event as planned and regimented and designed to prevent any sort of spontaneous accident, you end up having an encounter that isn't totally managed, controlled, timed. You end up reconnecting with someone, recognizing in them a love of film as powerful as your own, and for that ten or fifteen or twenty minutes, that film is a special language the two of you share, and it doesn't matter that he's a giant movie star or that you're an entertainment writer and critic. You end up having an unmanaged, unplanned, spontaneous accident. And you're reminded why you first thought someone was an exciting filmmaker.
That's the moment I felt like I had tonight, at that party. George Clooney's going to have a huge fall, and as long as he continues to follow the same voice that's led him in these creative choices, he's going to have a huge future, even if he eventually decides to get out from in front of the camera.
I've got to get up early for press, but I'll have more on all these films as well as others like "Anti-Christ," "Daybreakers," and a new White Stripes documentary.
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