In 2005, between his Oscar-nominated directing turn with “Good Night, and Good Luck” and his Oscar-winning performance in “Syriana,” George Clooney became known as a political-movie guy.
“On the heels of `Good Night, and Good Luck,’ I was getting offered a lot of political films to direct, and I wanted to do something more fun,” Clooney said on the red carpet at last week’s Maysville premiere of that “something more fun.”
George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Root
(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 4 Apr 2008 (General release); UK theatrical: 11 Apr 2008 (General release); 2008)
Clooney’s new film, “Leatherheads,” draws more on the Lexington, Ky., native’s resume as a film fan and former jock, using witty repartee and some stock film gags to present a romantic triangle set in the early days of the National Football League.
The film features Clooney as Dodge Connelly, an aging pro football player in 1925, trying to get a sputtering football league on track. He sees his big chance in Carter Rutherford (played by “The Office” star John Krasinski), a college star famous for his gridiron prowess and his heroism in World War I.
But that heroism story could be a bunch of bunk, and ace Chicago Tribune reporter Lexie Littleton is assigned to use her charm to build Rutherford up and then knock him down.
Renee Zellweger, also an Oscar-winning actor, like Clooney, plays Littleton, and apparently the Clooney sense of humor rubbed off on her.
Asked on the red carpet what Clooney was like as a director, Zellweger said, “I don’t know. He never showed up for work, but I hear that he’s a pretty nice guy when he does.”
Then she got serious.
“He’s actually tremendously impressive as a director,” Zellweger said. “I knew he’d make a good film. I’m a huge fan of the choices that he makes. Nothing that he’s done in his other films has been predictable. He takes chances, and he does everything with such class. He doesn’t compromise in the quality of the films that he’s making. In this early, early stage of his career behind the camera, for him to be that accomplished is great.”
“Leatherheads” is only Clooney’s third directoral effort. The first was “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” in 2002, a film about game-show host Chuck Barris’ claims that he was a CIA hit man. Then there was “Good Night,” about legendary TV newsman Edward R. Murrow, a film that was inspired by Clooney’s dad, Nick Clooney, a Murrow admirer and a onetime TV newsman.
“He has a really balanced process at work, on the set, which is not something you expect from someone so new at the game,” Zellweger said. “There’s a lot of responsibility and so much going on all at the same time. He managed that seamlessly, and finished the days ahead of schedule. I don’t think there was anything that he missed, never mind that he’s getting knocked in the head by a bunch of 20-year-olds all day long, and then editing all night long.”
Clooney, who played basketball in high school, got out on the field to play the football scenes, lining up with numerous actors half his age.
“I got smacked around,” he said. “You know, I’m 45, so it hurt. But it was fun, it was a lot of fun. It was like being an 8-year-old again. ... Though I have to say, it was about 15 degrees a few of those days in the mud. We felt like Fudgesicles out there.”
Part of the fun for Clooney was trying to make a movie that felt old-fashioned. That meant drawing on years of experience as a movie fan to create some scenes, including a classic barroom brawl and one in which Zellweger and Clooney elude some Keystone-like cops after a speakeasy raid.
“I was ripping off every old filmmaker ever,” Clooney said. “I was stealing from George Stevens and Preston Sturges and Howard Hawks, and all the guys I grew up watching as a kid.”
Clooney’s next directing turn, reportedly, is “Suburbicon,” from a script by his frequent collaborators Joel and Ethan Coen. There’s little word on what the film is about, but knowing the Coens, it will probably be another change of pace for Clooney.
And that’s something he doesn’t mind.
Reflecting on being seen as the political guy, Clooney said, “You don’t want to get stuck doing one thing.”