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George Clooney embodies one of Hollywood's most formidable renaissance men. As a remarkably intelligent and capable actor, and a director of surprising skill and intuition, Clooney has almost completely exempted himself from criticism. In light of these qualities, the thespian's formidable charm and devastating physical appeal seem, astonishingly, to be almost incidental.
As the son of broadcast journalist Nick Clooney and the nephew of chanteuse Rosemary Clooney, George Clooney entered the world with show business coursing through his veins. Born May 6, 1961 in Lexington, Kentucky, the future E.R. headliner appeared at the tender age of five on his father's Cincinnati talk program, The Nick Clooney Show. This spot represented an anomaly, however, and George remained off-camera until his post-adolescent years. In lieu of acting, Clooney acquired and honed a sharp interest in sports - particularly baseball - and sought a career as a major leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds. When ousted from the tryout roster, Clooney launched himself as an onscreen presence, seemingly without effort. He first auditioned for (and landed) a string of television commercials, then signed with Warner Brothers Entertainment as a supporting player. It took time for Clooney's recognition to build, and a series of permanent roles on short-lived sitcoms and brief roles on hit series dramas ensued. The failed efforts included a characterization as Ace, a neophyte physician on the prime-time series E/R - not the blockbuster NBC drama, but the first E/R - a 1984 CBS sitcom with Elliott Gould and Marcia Strassman. This period also included third billing in the disastrous sitcom Baby Talk - a kind of unofficial TV spinoff of Look Who's Talking rightly voted in a 1991 Electronic Media poll as the worst series of that year. Clooney's single-episode contributions to hit programs included work on such series as The Golden Girls, Riptide, Crazy Like a Fox, Street Hawk and Hunter.
These assignments understandably attracted little attention because of their transience. But die-hard television enthusiasts (particularly Gen-X viewers) will recall Clooney's participation as a semi-permanent character on at least three series: first, he played George Burnett (c. 1985-6), the genial carpenter who helps rebuild Edna Garrett's gourmet food shop into a neo-malt shop following a tragic fire, on the sitcom The Facts of Life. Next, he turned up as Booker Books (c. 1988-89), a lusty foreman with sexual designs on Jackie Harris (Laurie Metcalf), in first season of the blue-collar sitcom Roseanne; and finally, he portrayed Detective James Falconer (c. 1993-4), who married Sela Ward's Teddy Reed in mid-plane crash but was murdered by a drug dealer not long after, in the Saturday night soaper Sisters (alongside Swoosie Kurtz, Julianne Phillips and Ashley Judd).
Second-billing on the NBC medical drama E.R., of course, represented Clooney's breakthrough to superstardom. When that program shot up to 1 in prime time ratings, Clooney carried it (much more, in fact, than a first-billed Anthony Edwards) - his inborn appeal to women and his onscreen grace and charm massive contributing factors. This appeal increased as his character - initially something of a callous womanizer - matured with the show, eventually evolving into a kind and thoroughly decent, if somewhat hotheaded, human being.
Until E.R., Clooney landed only occasional roles in feature films (he debuted cinematically with a small role in the 1986 flick Combat High) and starred in a couple of low-budget videos. Following the E.R. triumph, however, he was suddenly deluged by scripts and movie offers. For his first big-budget project, he opted to play an acid-mouthed, rifle-wielding antihero (one of the Gecko Brothers, alongside Quentin Tarantino) in the Robert Rodriguez-directed, Tarantino-scripted horror comedy From Dusk Till Dawn (1995). Not long after, Clooney shifted gears altogether, co-headlining (with Michelle Pfeiffer) the light-as-a-feather (and eminently forgettable) romcom One Fine Day (1996).
Clooney maintained a busy project slate in 1997, appearing in three A-list features. In the most hyped, Batman & Robin, he replaced Val Kilmer as the mysterious Dark Knight. Though the film is widely considered the worst of the series, Clooney did receive some praise for bringing an extra sensitivity to his interpretation of Batman. He drew concomitant acclaim the following year, with roles in two wildly divergent films: action-laced crime comedy Out of Sight, as a suave bank robber amorously involved with U.S. Marshall Jennifer Lopez, and Terrence Malick's adaptation of -The Thin Red Line. Out of Sight represented a massive watershed moment for Clooney: the first of his numerous collaborations with director Steven Soderbergh.
In 1999 -- following his much-talked-about departure from E.R. - Clooney continued to work on a number of high-profile projects, first lending his voice to the animated South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut and then starring alongside Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube as an American soldier reclaiming Kuwaiti treasure from Saddam Hussein in David O. Russell's Three Kings. Clooney won a 2000 Golden Globe for his portrayal of a pomade-obsessed escaped convict in the Coen brothers, -Odyssey update O Brother Where Art Thou? It was around this time that Clooney, now an established actor equally as comfortable on the big screen as the small, began to branch out as the Executive Producer of such made-for-TV efforts as Killroy (1999) and Fail Safe (2000). Soon producing such features as Rock Star (2001) and Insomnia (2002), Clooney next re-teamed with Soderbergh for a modern take on a classic Rat Pack /comedy with Ocean's Eleven (2001). After the dynamic film duo stuck together for yet another remake, the deep-space psychological science-fiction drama Solaris (2002), busy Clooney both produced and appeared in Welcome to Collinwood and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind later the same year.
Confessions marked Clooney's behind-the-camera debut, and one of the most promising actor-turned-director outings in memory. Adapted by Charlie Kaufman from Gong Show host Chuck Barris's memoir (who claimed rather dubiously in the text that he had led a double life, for years, as a CIA assassin - and then described his exploits), the picture exhibited Clooney's triple fascinations with politics, media and celebrity; critics did not respond to it with unanimous enthusiasm (and it suffered from occasional self-indulgences), but it did earn a substantial number of enthusiastic reviews for exemplary craftsmanship and a remarkable lead performance by Sam Rockwell, as Barris.
In 2003, Clooney starred alongside Catherine Zeta-Jones in the Cohen Brothers movie Intolerable Cruelty. The film was a sleeper hit and a great showcase for Clooney's abilities as a screen comic. He moved on to team up with Zeta-Jones again, along with almost the entire case of Ocean's Eleven, for the sequel, Oceans Twelve, which earned mixed critical reviews, but (like its predecessor) grossed dollar one at the box office.
By 2005, Clooney achieved his piece-de-resistance by writing, directing, and acting a sophomore outing: the tense period drama Good Night, and Good Luck.. Shot in black-and-white by ace cinematographer Robert Elswit, the picture followed the epic decision of 1950's television journalist Edward R. Murrow (played by David Strathairn) to confront Senator Joseph McCarthy about his Communist witch hunt. The picture (arguably one of the finest of 2005) drew raves from every critic in America and received a much-deserved nomination for Best Picture, and a Best Director nod for Clooney (though the film lost to Crash on the first count and Clooney lost to Ang Lee, for Brokeback Mountain, on the second).
With Good Night, and Good Luck. still generating buzz, Clooney appeared in the harshly explicit and openly critical Syriana. He took the lead in this political thriller about the oil industry, directed by Stephen Gaghan of Traffic and heralded by critics as a disturbingly real look at a hopelessly flawed and corrupt system. Never one to rest for very long, Clooney then joined the cast of The Good German.
As scripted by former Washington Post movie critic Paul Attanasio, and directed by Steven Soderbergh, German unfolds in post-WWII Berlin, where Clooney plays a war correspondent who helps an ex-lover, Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett) search for her missing husband - a man sought by both the U.S. and Russian armies. The period thriller took its stateside bow in December 2006 to favorable (if not spectacular) critical response but terrible box office, merely grossing a little under 6 million worldwide. Nevertheless, it perpetuated Clooney's long-standing working relationship with Soderbergh in the process.
Indeed, the following year, Soderbergh and Clooney partnered up a sixth time with the third installment in the Ocean's saga, Ocean's Thirteen. That go-round upped the ante on celebrity talent by tossing in Al Pacino (as a casino owner with the wonderful name Willie Banks) and seductive Ellen Barkin (as love interest Abigail Sponder), the new leading lady in Julia Roberts's stead. The studio reportedly did much to keep the story of the film sealed prior to its summer 2007 opening.
Lest it seem, however, that Clooney was leaning too heavily on elephantine Hollywood extravaganzas (via his involvement in the Ocean's series), he continued to appear in smaller, more individualized projects - and, at about the same time, took a sharp turn away from his onscreen good guy typecasting. The foremost examples included Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton (as a shady fixer who works for a mammoth Manhattan legal firm, beneath the aegis of a demigod attorney played by Sydney Pollack), and the Joe Carnahan crime drama White Jazz (2008), as a corrupt LAPD police lieutenant during a massive crackdown on department corruption.
Meanwhile, Clooney continued to maintain and cultivate his reputation as one of the most electrifying (and classiest) directors in contemporary Hollywood. 2008 brought one of the most anticipated events of the actor-turned-filmmaker's career, with the release of a project that Universal had shepherded through development for almost a decade. Leatherheads, a period romance set against the backdrop of professional football's first gestations in the 1920s, originally emerged as a drama to be directed by Jonathan Mostow and star Jon Favreau, then evolved into a romantic comedy to be helmed by Steven Soderbergh and star Clooney. When this fell through, Clooney took the project on his own shoulders, rewrote the script, and opted to star and direct. He plays Jimmy "Dodge" Connolly, an affable but scabrous football hero who saves the sport for eons by pooling a group of down-and-out players, and guiding their evolution from shabby ne'er-do-wells into national celebrities - thus creating the embryonic NFL. Renee Zellweger plays the film's romantic interest, Lexi Booking ace reporter determined to dig up dirt on the coach, but who winds up as the third side of a romantic triangle including both himself and Carter Rutherford (The Office's John Krasinski).
In Clooney's second directorial outing that same year, the much different Belmont Boys (for producer Jerry Weintraub), seemed to retrace the footsteps of the Ocean's series (not to mention The Longshot) in its tale of a bunch of weathered ex-cons who gather to pull off a racetrack heist that they abandoned three decades earlier.
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