Toronto–There are a lot of standup comics who make the jump to acting, but at a Toronto International Film Festival news conference for his latest flick, it appeared George Clooney harbours reverse ambitions.
As Clooney took the podium to field questions about Michael Clayton, he introduced himself as Brad Pitt. When asked how director Tony Gilroy got horses to stand still during a scene in the movie, Clooney replied: "It involved a staple gun." Which of his films made him cry? "The premiere of Batman & Robin. I cried. That one got me. There were a couple of moments in [The] Peacemaker that got me too. The beginning and the end." What did he bring to his character in this movie? "Well, we're the same height, Michael Clayton and I. The same hair."
A query about Sarah Larson (a Fear Factor winner and his recent constant companion, according to the tabloids) was answered with a smile and "Good for you; good question. Next question." After the laughs, he continued: "When have I ever answered a personal question in my life? Enjoy yourself; have a nice day."
After a reporter asked which scene in the film "touched him the most", Clooney answered: "The love scene with Tilda [Swinton]. It was so, so good. The rehearsals, though–she'd knock on my trailer, 'George, let's rehearse the love scene again.'"
Swinton (The Deep End), who was seated next to him at the conference, laughed. She has no love scene with Clooney in Michael Clayton, a legal thriller that opens Friday (October 5). First-time director and long-time screenwriter Gilroy (he wrote all three Bourne scripts) deals in his film with the ethics of defending the type of evil business Goliath that Erin Brockovich brought down. Clooney plays a legal "fixer" for a New York corporate law firm who discovers his conscience when his company's attorney, played by Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom), suffers a breakdown and turns whistle blower. Swinton plays the corporation's lead in-house attorney.
Gilroy said he doesn't see his film as political. "It seems to me it's a moral film, not an ideological film," he said. "It'll be interesting to see how it's perceived if people try to box us in. Do you think they will?" Clooney chimed in: "Then you just start saying it's a political film. And if they laugh, it's a comedy. But seriously, folks”¦ You could take these characters and this story and you could put it into a medical drama, or you could put it into a government drama. The truth is, this is about flawed individuals, one of whom sort of comes to the realization that he's looking for redemption, which is always sort of interesting."
Although Clooney never met with an actual legal fixer–as Gilroy noted, it's not a role that corporations are keen on advertising–he was inspired by the research for the film. "There were actual interoffice memos literally saying, from one department to the other, 'If you recall this, it's going to cost you $300 million, or if you don't, it'll kill 300 people a year and the class-action suit will cost $300,000,'" Clooney said. "Those were real documents that were passed around, and those documents, to me, they informed how I would play the part."
Clooney also got serious with a question that was a perfect setup for a zinger. Asked about the challenges of his public persona blurring with his roles in a celebrity-obsessed culture, he quipped: "I'm celebrity-obsessed." But then he suggested that actors today–even actors as famous as he is–may have more options than the original Hollywood stars.
"If you think about movie stars–which don't really exist anymore, they sort of stopped with the advent of television, really, but movie stars: Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, [Humphrey] Bogart–they really basically played themselves in all those movies. We knew them as that. There was Laurence Olivier, who played a lot of characters, but we didn't take to him as much as you took to Spencer Tracy or Clark Gable or Cary Grant or Gregory Peck. They basically played that same thing. So in a way, we're able to break out from that a little bit more.
"The unfortunate thing is, I think, you're demystified, because they know more about your life because there are so many outlets. But in a way you're sort of set free, because there's an awful lot of celebrities out there sucking up the celebrity air that aren't really doing anything. There are a bunch of them who haven't really done anything and are famous, and it sort of creates a vacuum in a way."
Challenged to name names, he answered: "Brad Pitt."