George Clooney: A conversation about coolness, happiness and his role as a father

George Clooney is one of Hollywood's biggest stars - not only because of his Oscar-winning films as an actor and producer, but also because he has a mixture of coolness, self-irony and intelligence that is rare in this industry. Today he celebrates his 61st birthday. We talked to him for rampstyle #25.
Text Rüdiger Sturm
Photo Sam Jones / Trunk Archive

These are complicated times we are living in right now, and as a Hollywood star you don’t necessarily lead the simplest existence yourself. How have you spent the last two years – apart from making films?
The same, simple way as most people. At least if you have small children. Cleaning and washing dishes and doing six loads of laundry every day, as long as our Saint Bernard wasn’t chasing me around the kitchen. I changed diapers, too, of course. Not mine, but my children’s. Though the day will come when I will have to wear them again myself. When my kids grow out of them, it’ll be my turn.

How do you manage not to take yourself too seriously despite all the praise that you certainly receive?
In the world I grew up in, in Cincinnati, Ohio, my father was an anchorman and television host and my aunt Rosemary was a singer and actress. I saw how little it has to do with you. It’s all about luck. The problem with famous people is that they actually think they are geniuses. You get famous and you tell yourself, “Of course I should be famous. And I earned it all!” But you didn’t. You just got lucky.

Does that mean that your own success was just a matter of luck?
When I landed my role in ER, we initially got a call saying the show had been picked up for Friday night. And I thought: “Okay, we’ll struggle. Ten million people will see us, so we can fight for the ratings and maybe we’ll last a couple of years.” But then they switched us to Thursday night. I got lucky. And the minute I heard that, I said to my friends: “I got a seven-year TV career.” And ultimately that’s how I got to do the movies I want to do.

"The problem with famous people is that they actually think they are geniuses. You get famous and you tell yourself, “Of course I should be famous. And I earned it all!” But you didn’t. You just got lucky."

George Clooney

And what if luck hadn’t been on your side?
If that hadn’t happened, I’d be making a TV show or a movie – or not. Like I said, it’s luck. And you have to try to capitalize on it, be available for it. Once you understand that everything you are doing is literally based on stars aligning, then you don’t really take it all for granted. And you can enjoy it. That came to me later in life. I saw my aunt becoming un-famous. It was not that she became less of a singer along the way. It had nothing to do with her. I am at that point in my life and in my career where very few things rattle me. I’ve seen it my whole life. It doesn’t bother me.

Is that also the reason why everything seems so effortless and laid-back with you?
Just look at what I do for a living. It always bothers me when actors talk about how difficult their life is – acting in particular is basically not growing up. You decide not to play by the rules and to have some fun. It’s a lot of work, you have thirteen- or fourteen-hour days, but in general we should be happy that we can earn our living doing what we do. I also direct, and there you have more responsibility, but it’s still a lot of fun. I once cut tobacco for a living – now that was work! People don’t want to hear you talk about how hard your life is if you’re a movie director. You should just direct and make it seem like it’s easy.

"I once cut tobacco for a living – now that was work!"

George Clooney

What about the paparazzi? Don’t they make life difficult for you?
There is a line you have to decide about what’s fair to cross. I’m the son of a newsman, so I have different thoughts on this than most other actors. My feeling is that anything that begins to step into restricting freedom of the press or the First Amendment, that I worry about, even though it would help make my life better. I think if you just made people follow the traffic laws, it would solve a great deal of the problems. But at the same time, you can have a lot of fun with these people.

Can you give us an example?
There was this rumor several years ago that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were getting married at my house at Lake Como. This was in February and my home in Italy is not a warm place in February. It’s cold and raining. Anyway, I got a call from a friend in Italy who told me hundreds of reporters had descended on the house because they’d heard that rumor. So I phoned up and ordered fifteen high-top wedding tables and had them set up in the yard. They went nuts – the next day there were helicopters flying over. They must have spent millions to get the choppers up there! It’s just so much fun to pull one over on these guys!

On the other hand, you have also been confronted with some of the harsher realities in this world through your social work.
I have undertaken quite dangerous trips for my humanitarian missions. To Chad, for example, or the Congo. We found ourselves in some pretty hairy spots. In South Sudan, we were stopped a few times by child soldiers armed with Kalashnikovs. They let us out and took what they wanted from our car. Life in these places isn’t worth much. I have been to ten of the worst places you have ever seen in your life, and I have met warlords that can make your day very miserable, if they want to.

Didn’t they know that you’re a Hollywood star?
I guess they didn’t watch the right shows on TV.

"So I phoned up and ordered fifteen high-top wedding tables and had them set up in the yard. They went nuts – the next day there were helicopters flying over. They must have spent millions to get the choppers up there! It’s just so much fun to pull one over on these guys!"

George Clooney

What goes through your head in situations like that, when you’re an inch from possible death?
Things like: I have a nice house in Italy . . . What was I thinking? Why am I here?

And what were you thinking?
I want to try and participate in the human condition and not just enjoy the best parts. With a certain status, you can go to where cameras don’t normally go. You can go places nobody is paying attention to. Of course, you can also donate your money to a good cause. Though you can’t really change policies. All you can do is suggest (…)

→ Read the entire interview with George Clooney in the new rampstyle #25


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