A short note...I have been trying to use this reoccurring series to highlight actors who are typically more under the radar rather than huge Hollywood stars. I decided though that George Clooney was worth the exception...
I often see George Clooney compared to Cary Grant and Gary Cooper. While I think both of these comparisons have a lot of merit, I often think of him more as our Warren Beatty. A man of impeccable taste, intelligence and drive who acts, produces, directs and is politically passioned. Whatever comparison you'd like to make is fine, George Clooney is our great star right now and has in the past several years become one of our great actors.
Clooney was born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1961. I'm from Kentucky as well and I went to school in Lexington and lived there for many years. Along with Johnny Depp, Clooney has become Kentucky's proudest modern cinematic son. His fascinating career in front of and behind the camera, plus his tireless humanitarian activities make me feel extremely proud to be from the same area where he is from.
George spent his childhood in and around radio and television studios, and watched his popular father Nick Clooney deliver many a broadcast over the years. Initially wanting to follow in his father's footsteps George changed him mind as a teenager after becoming interested first in baseball and then finally in acting.
His early career from the early eighties to the early nineties is striking for just how un-notable it is. Appearances on television series like FACTS OF LIFE didn't lead anywhere, nor did early film work like GRIZZLY 2 (1984) and RETURN TO HORROR HIGH (1987). After over ten years in the business, the most notable entries on Clooney's resume were probably RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES (1988) and some early nineties appearances on ROSANNE.
All that would change when Clooney was given the role of a Doctor Doug Ross on a Michael Crichton created series about a Chicago hospital in 1994. E.R. was an instant smash, and, for the time he was on it, was one of the great shows of the nineties. I remember clearly seeing the early episodes of it and being immediately blown away by the handsome Clooney. He seemed too big for the show already, and the amount of charm, warmth and wit he seemed to easily exude was infectious.
After becoming a sudden sensation on E.R. Clooney set his eyes back on the big screen and signed on for the unforgettable role of Seth Gecko in the Quentin Tarantino scripted and Robert Rodriguez directed FROM DUSK TILL DAWN in 1996.
FROM DUSK TILL DAWN remains my favorite Robert Rodriguez film. An inventive marriage between Sam Peckinpah and Lucio Fulci, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is one of the most enduring works of the nineties and much of the credit for that goes to Clooney's unbelievably cool and menacing performance.
After the surprising lackluster performance of FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, Clooney continued on in a series of films that were typically well beneath his considerable talents. ONE FINE DAY (1996) was mainly notable for pairing him with Michelle Pfeiffer (and it's actually not a bad little throwaway film) but the less said about 1997's BATMAN AND ROBIN the better. Schumacher's work remains one of the most wince inducing comic book adaptations ever filmed. THE PEACEMAKER (1997) was an improvement though and Clooney had great chemistry with co-star Nicole Kidman, even though the film didn't do as well as expected. With a series of disappointments under his belt, Clooney's next role would prove pivotal as the one that would redirect his career to the heights it is at today.
George's work as the bank robbing ex-con Jack Foley in Steven Soderbergh's OUT OF SIGHT is one of my all time favorites. His performance had a great effect when I first saw it ten years ago, and it continues to resonate with me. As Jack Foley, Clooney immediately became one of my favorite actors, and the film established him as one of the most interesting stars of his generation.
OUT OF SIGHT turned everything around for George and great roles in Terrence Malick's THE THIN RED LINE (1998) and David O. Russell's THREE KINGS (1999) followed. His behind the scenes problems with Russell are unfortunate as they have taken attention away from his powerful turn as Major. Gates in Russell's savage anti-war picture.
His award nominated turn in O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU (his first film with the iconic Coen Brothers) followed THREE KINGS but it was ironically one of his lesser films (THE PERFECT STORM (2000) that would prove his first box office smash.
Clooney re teamed with Soderbergh for the major popular and critical hit OCEAN'S ELEVEN in 2001 and the two have become one of the most prominent teams in moder Hollywood. After the odd WELCOME TO COLLINWOOD, the two would triumph with their second remake together, 2002's SOLARIS.
SOLARIS was met with a surprising amount of critical and popular disdain when it was first released, but I think the film is a classic. I predict it will undergo a major renaissance within the next decade or so.
After the disappointing SOLARIS reception, Clooney released his first film as a director, 2002's CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND. Based on the life of possibly deranged Chuck Barris, Clooney's film is a smart debut film that immediately gave a sign that his best work in the future might indeed take place behind the cameras.
Clooney and his first film as a director gathered many awards and accolades, as would his follow up directorial work, the brave and brilliant GOOD NIGHT AND GOOD LUCK (2005).
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK is a near major work centering on Edward R. Murrow and the shameful political scare tactics of Joseph McCarthy in the fifties. Clooney's film is an audacious and controlled piece of film making shot in black and white that uses actual footage of McCarthy that some (unaware of its authenticity) claimed was over the top. Fronted by a great performance by David Strathairn and confident direction, Clooney and his film would both receive well deserved Oscar nominations.
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK had been proceeded by acting roles in the Coen Brothers INTOLERABLE CRUELTY (2003) (one of their more disappointing productions) and OCEAN'S TWELVE (2004)(which is my favorite of the trilogy).
George would win the Oscar for the charged SYRIANA in 2005 and would score another major box office hit with the newest OCEAN'S chapter. This year's MICHAEL CLAYTON has afforded him the best reviews of his career yet, and another Oscar nomination is surely just around the corner for him.
The prolific Clooney is currently working on another film with The Coen Brothers, BURN AFTER READING, and is directing his newest film, the 1920's baseball themed LEATHERHEADS. I have no doubt that his work in both will be marked by the class and intelligence that he seems to bring to every project he touches these days.
I decided to include George Clooney in this series not only because he is a great actor and director. I have a lot of respect for the guy as a human being, and I am proud to congratulate him for just winning an important Peace Summit Award for his tireless humanitarian and charitable activities involving the Darfur crisis. He shares the award with fellow activist and actor Don Cheadle, and an article can be read on it here.
His full acceptance speech can be read here, and his official site can be seen here.
For those interested, here is a link and information on Clooney's award winning A JOURNEY TO DARFUR.