The Wiz Of Show Biz

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COURTESY OF WARNER BROTHERS

THE BAR IS CLOSED Clooney, with Gould, Pitt and Cheadle, above, played practical jokes on cast members

Yes, George Clooney is one charming bastard. He ducks your compliments, absorbs your indelicate questions, jabs back with interest in you and never appears tired of the exchange: he is the middleweight champion of charm. His best punch is his wry self-awareness. While Clooney lives in one of those huge houses in the hills of Los Angeles with a giant, swinging electronic door at the foot of his driveway, he says, "I don't want to get into this behind-the-fence world. I'm afraid of getting isolated from society." When asked how he'll make sure that doesn't happen, he pauses thoughtfully and replies, "I have people to do that for me."


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Another effective tactic in his charm arsenal is to disarm with openness. Sitting in a full Nike outfit — black sweat pants, black T shirt and white sneakers — with his arms crossed and legs splayed, he strikes a balance between being tough and being approachable, like the anti-Larry David. Not only does Clooney talk about his money (lots), his dating resume (long), his bombs (Solaris), his critics (Los Angeles Times reviewer Kenneth Turan, who says Clooney throws "everything but the kitchen sink onto the screen"), his embarrassing roles (the giant-nippled Batman), the people he doesn't like (director David O. Russell) and the hubris of having a potbellied pig as a pet (Max, now 300 lbs.), but he also gives reporters his home number (which this reporter should really remove from his cell phone because of the temptation to make prank calls as Robin) and invites them to his house. People who have met him just once have got offers to stay at his villa in Lake Como, Italy. It's exactly how generous you hope you'd be if you were a rich, famous, 43-year-old bachelor. A bachelor so charming that even his ex-girlfriends speak of him without bitterness. Quite a feat, especially when you consider that they are women who narrowly missed out on marrying George Clooney.

False modesty isn't charming, so Clooney readily admits that he's a giant celebrity, only he presents it more as a fact than an accomplishment. "It doesn't matter how much talent and ambition you have. You need a big piece of luck," he says, sitting on the maroon leather couch in his lodge-like living room. "If ER got a Friday-night pickup instead of Thursday, then I don't get to do movies," he says, acknowledging that being part of NBC's "must-see" lineup meant that people actually saw him.

Clooney is never more a movie star than when he's playing everyone's favorite scoundrel, Danny Ocean, the part once owned by Frank Sinatra. In Ocean's Twelve, the sequel to 2001's $183 million-grossing remake of the 1960 caper flick Ocean's Eleven, he is flanked again by Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Carl Reiner, Elliott Gould and Andy Garcia and newcomers Catherine Zeta-Jones and Bruce Willis — and they just make Clooney seem bigger. Even around Pitt, he's still the alpha male. When the Ocean's actors needed to get away from the crowds who waited outside their hotel, Clooney would shout "Hey! It's Brad Pitt!", so that the fans would swarm the star and the others could walk to their cars in peace. "We'd chum the water with him," he says, sitting under a small, framed photo of the Sinatra Rat Pack on a mantel.

Because Clooney thinks of celebrity as something that is happening to him rather than who he is, he's able to exploit the power of fame for creative control. Since forming the production company Section Eight in 2000 with director Steven Soderbergh, with whom he had worked on Out of Sight, Clooney the producer has used Clooney the actor as barter. He did it to get Warner Bros. to make next year's Good Night and Good Luck, a movie about Edward R. Murrow's battle with Joseph McCarthy that CBS, Murrow's old network, had passed on as a TV movie. "It's hard to shoot something in black and white," Clooney says. "If I say I'll be in it for scale and direct it for scale, it helps a lot."

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