Interview: George Clooney "Syriana"
Interview: George Clooney
Posted: Thursday, November 24th 2005 1:16PM
Author: Garth Franklin
Location: New York, NY
Right before Matt Damon came in to talk with the press about his new political drama, "Syriana," written and directed by Stephen Gaghan ("Traffic"), his co-star George Clooney enters the room. The older actor then proceeds to give his friend a hug, and then blatantly gives one of his ass cheeks a good squeeze. The always fun and playful Clooney is everywhere these days and this year has become more than ever known for his politics and his work becoming intertwined.
Such is the case with "Syriana," in which he plays a near-retired CIA agent named Bob Barnes who sets out to assassinate Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig) as an undercover mission. But after a strange set of occurrences, Bob finds himself questioning the work he has done for the CIA his entire life - and becomes the target of much blame by the agency. As he tries to find the reasons for this seeming betrayal, he discovers a much bigger conspiracy involving the United States' relationship with the oil industry. He's already made headlines being very vocal about the 35 pounds he gained for the role and a spinal injury he scored as a result of a fight sequence gone wrong.
Clooney: By the way, Matt Damon has a very nice ass.
Question: Is it true?
Clooney: Well, you know, he's hot. Were you gentle with him? Because it's been a tough week.
Clooney: He didn't get...
Question: Sexiest man alive of the year?
Clooney: He ran a very strong campaign.
Question: What about you?
Clooney: I've surrendered my crown. I felt that in the event that Matthew [McConaughey] can't serve, for any occasion, Brad [Pitt] and I are willing to take up the sash.
Question: Do you have hanging in your house a big photo of the cover that says "Sexiest Man Alive"?
Clooney: It's actually directly over my bed!
Question: Do you get discounts when you're sexiest man of the year?
Clooney: Yeah, you get People Magazine at cost...
Question: So if you get nominated for an Oscar for "Syriana," would it make all the physical strain on this movie worth it?
Clooney: Let's put this one to rest: I've never been there to the Oscars. I don't know anything about them. I really don't. It's not, for me, something that I even understand or look at or talk about. I'm also uncomfortable with the idea of people comparing art. For instance, I look at David Strathairn and I don't know another actor in the world that could have played that part. He did it beautifully. I look at Phillip Seymour Hoffman and I don't know another actor that could have played that part. I don't know how you compare those two guys.
Question: But don't you think it would be a personal victory for you after all those years of struggling?
Clooney: Do you know what the truth is? We then take away the actual victories that I'm having which is that "Good Night, and Good Luck" is making money and is the best reviewed film of the year. We're really excited at the idea that it's part of a broadcast discussion. It ends up on Brian Williams' news and they start talking about issues. It's fun to have Les Moonves, who's a good friend of mine, cornered into answering tougher questions. He's a friend of mine and he enjoys it. I win for that. So I feel like it's been a great time.
Same thing with this film. It's being reviewed very well and we've been having a really enjoyable time in the idea of the debates being raised. To me, that's the issues.
Question: We don't see you hurting your back in the film?
Clooney: They cut it out.
Question: Is it because it's going to become part of some lawsuit.
Clooney: No. What, I'd sue myself? I want to sue me! You know what I'm really angry at? I sold it to Britney Spears. [laughs]. You don't see the full kick over when the desk falls over. But it was my fault. It was during the punch scene and I'm taped to the chair, which was my idea; not my brightest. But it was the right idea and then he pretended to hit me, and he did everything right, and so I threw myself over the side and that's where I cracked the side of my head and tore everything.
Question: Are you feeling healthy?
Clooney: I've been better. But it's a slow process.
Question: Have you had any operations?
Clooney: I've had just two operations. I've done these things called blood patches where they shoot blood into your spine. That's fun.
Question: What did you actually do? What is hurt?
Clooney: I tore my dura which is a cranial spinal fluid leak. Mostly it just hurts. It's not dangerous so much but it doesn't feel good. It makes your head hurt. It doesn't hurt your back at all but your head hurts a lot because your brain thinks, which I've been saying for years. But maybe it's not that active.
Question: Do you have any mobility? Like playing basketball?
Clooney: I play a little basketball which is dumb but I miss it. I can't take it to the rack anymore, which is a little frustrating to me because I have no outside shot, so I have no game anymore. I can still do some things. I can't ride motorcycles which I really like and always done. So that's slowed me down a little.
Question: Matt said that when you were gaining this weight, you were a different person. You were constantly depressed. You weren't grabbing his ass...
Clooney: Well he was lonely. He needed someone to cuddle in Dubais which, you know, doesn't go over so well in the Middle East.
Question: But was it depressing?
Clooney: Yeah, it was depressing. I was having a bad year in real life. A lot of bad things were going on in tough times. It wasn't hard to be depressed. I thought it was a good space to stay in while I was doing this film because the character of Bob feels like he's been deserted and betrayed all along. I wanted to fit into the wallpaper and not be noticed at all. That's what I'm most proud of.
Question: Why did you come up with this idea? To gain 40 pounds?
Clooney: Well it started as I was going to play Bob Baer. Bob had a beard and was heavier. Then, he found out I was playing him and he got in shape. When we decided it wasn't going to be Bob Baer, that it was going to be a different character, we felt as if this guy has to be somebody that isn't instantly recognizable, and I'm instantly recognizable, so we wanted to change it. I'm sort of happy at the idea that people when they first see me in the movie, or when they first see the poster don't even know it's me. To me, that makes me proud.
Question: How did you lose the weight?
Clooney: I did this unique thing called "stop eating." Swell up like a tick was what I did. It's not as easy because I'm physically not able to do so much.
Question: What went through your head when you saw yourself in the mirror?
Clooney: Because there were so many issues going on and I had done it to myself, that didn't bother me at all. I was less comfortable with the idea that I was a jock, and I missed playing basketball and doing the things I really enjoy.
Question: Are you surprised that a major studio is supporting this film financially? It's almost an anti-America movie...
Clooney: I don't think it's an anti-American movie. I think it's a pro-American film. It should be what we make. The whole idea of America was based on descent and raising questions. It's why we left King George. It's your right or duty to question and ask questions. I don't think we provide any answers, we just ask a lot of questions. But was I surprised? I couldn't believe it. It wasn't like, "Hey, great, let's go do this." They didn't jump on board and go "Fantastic!" I've been with them for fifteen years and I was going to grow a beard and gain 35 pounds and go "Great! I'm thrilled!" But I will say this: It went surprisingly smooth for them. I think one of the big surprises for anyone is that you see a film like this coming from a studio. I think that's a good thing. Studios used to make films like "Harold and Maude" and things like that.
Question: Do you have a favorite film of all time?
Clooney: Favorite film of all time? That's a tough one. It's a dual. It's two because they go hand in hand which is "Fail Safe" and "Dr. Strangelove." I think they're brilliant films and they say a lot. They talk about issues of nuclear proliferation and it's also they're so brilliantly made. One of them is hysterically funny and the other is terrifying. I just think they're beautifully made films.
Question: Has there been one this year that has blown you away?
Clooney: I haven't seen everything yet. Of the films I've seen recently, I really liked "Capote." I thought he did a great job with that. I haven't seen "Walk the Line" yet, I hear that's really good.
Question: What did you like about "Capote" in particular?
Clooney: What I liked about it strangely was what we did in "Good Night and Good Luck" which was it wasn't a straight biopic. It's taking a very specific moment in someone's life and talking about that, which I think is an interesting and good way of doing it. I think most people's entire lives aren't all that fascinating. It's usually two years in your life that you've done anything fascinating. So I thought that was good.
Question: Speaking of politics and Hollywood, you were big fans of Trey Parker and Matt Stone and they really poked fun of you and celebrities in general in "Team America." What did you think about that?
Clooney: I'm a big kid. If I'm going to speak about things, or talk about things, or raise issues, or ask questions, or ask that we raise questions before we start a war, and get put on the cover of a magazine and be called a traitor, if that's going to happen - I know it's going to happen. I'm a grown-up. I could sit in my house in Italy and drink wine and have a good time. I can stick my neck out a little bit and get slapped a little bit and I have to take it. The thing about demanding freedom of speech and this is a problem that happens with some actors who have been on the side of the aisle that I'm on, which is you're going to demand the right of freedom of speech, which you should and have every right to, you can't say, "Don't say bad things about me." You have to take your hits. So they're my friends. Remember, I helped get their show on the air. They're friends of mine. They came at me, so fair enough.
Question: Is "South Park" your favorite show?
Clooney: No, no. That's not true. My favorite show is Jon Stewart. He still kills me. He still makes me laugh. He did a bit the other night and he showed the suicide bomber couple that went and blew up the wedding and the lady's bomb didn't go off. And Jon Stewart shows her, of course, in jail and says that she can rest assured that her husband is up in heaven banging 70 virgins. It's just so good and he's so smart.
Question: Now that Matt's engaged, have you given him any advice?
Clooney: Don't you think I should be the one passing him advice? "Matt, here's what you have to do." Because I've been engaged so often. I've given him no advice. We like her, she's a nice girl so that's a good thing.
You know, someone started a story that Brad was getting married at my house. We tried to spread the rumor for a minute. I wanted to get everyone to send helicopters to my house and dress a bunch of kids in tuxedos and have like a kids wedding there. Everyone would climb over and be like, "Get in closer!" But everybody actually figured out it was a made-up story. It was pretty funny.
Question: We hear you're joining "Desperate Housewives"?
Clooney: I'm joining "Desperate Housewives"? Well, you know, if this film flops, I may. I may have to.
Question: For the kids at Nickelodeon, if you could any pet in the world, what would you be?
Clooney: I'd like to be a shi-tzu because I want to hear those kids say "shi-tzu".
Syriana is an oil-based soap opera set against the world of global oil cartels. It is to the oil industry as Traffic was to the drug trade (no surprise, since writer/director Stephen Gaghan wrote the screenplay to Traffic): a sprawling attempt to portray the vast political, business, social, and personal implications of a societal addiction, in this case, oil. A major merger between two of the world’s largest oil companies reveals ethical dilemmas for the lawyer charged with making the deal (Jeffrey Wright), and major global implications beyond the obvious; a CIA operative (George Clooney) discovers the truth about his work, and the people he works for; a young oil broker (Matt Damon) encounters personal tragedy, then partners with an idealistic Gulf prince (Alexander Siddig) attempting to build a new economy for his people, only to find he’s opposed by powers far beyond his control. Meanwhile, disenfranchised Pakistani youths are lured into terrorism by a radical Islamic cleric. And that’s just the start. As in Traffic, in one way or another all of the characters’ fates are tied to each other, whether they realize it or not, though the connections are sometimes tenuous. While Syriana is basically a good film with timely resonance, it can’t quite seem to measure up to Gaghan’s ambitious vision and it very nearly collapses under the weight of its many storylines. Fortunately they are resolved skillfully enough to keep the film from going under in the end. To some viewers, Syriana will seem like an unfocused and over-loaded film that goes, all at once, everywhere and nowhere. Others will find it to be an important work earnestly exploring major issues. In either case, it’s a film that deserves to be taken seriously, and it’s likely to be one that will be talked about for a long time to come.