George Clooney took part in a wide-ranging interview this week for the Bafta Life In Pictures series, in which he discussed topics including streaming, what makes a movie star and his career decisions.
While discussing a new level of inclusivity aided by the streaming boom, Clooney — who has just made Netflix movie The Midnight Sky — touched on the current challenges facing the cinema sector: “I know there’s this panic about cinemas because they’re not being looked after by our governments, which is a huge industry issue. We subsidize oil companies, we could subsidize the movie theaters for a period of time. I’m not worried about us being back, cinema will always exist, we’re all going to be back together, you still have to go out some time right?”
He continued: “But here’s what streaming services have done: they’ve democratized and opened up so many different avenues of storytelling for young, interesting storytellers. […] Now between the streaming services there’s thousands and thousands of acting jobs and directing jobs and producing jobs. The world is open and the world is in need of content. So, I’m really excited as I see this blossom, in the idea that we’re going to be getting more and more and more of this opening up. I completely understand the question and I think we’re going in the right direction. I hope, look I’ve been wrong before about this but I think we’re going in the right direction.”
U.S. Senate and House leaders last year announced an agreement on a massive Covid-19 relief package that includes specific aid to struggling independent movie theaters and live entertainment venues. The package allocates $15B for theaters and other cultural institutions, but it is targeted at small and medium-sized theaters and venues with 500 employees or less, and to those that lost at least 25% in revenue.
Clooney, one of Hollywood’s world’s most recognizable faces, was also asked to discuss what it is that makes a ‘movie star’, a term that perhaps isn’t as clearly defined today as it was in the last century.
“I don’t know,” the actor and director said. “I can’t comment on that because I can’t comment on how people perceive or how I am perceived by people. I can comment on movie stars in general. I know a few of them and I’ve known some big ones. I was really good friends with Gregory Peck, he was a big one. Newman, there’s some other ones I’m friends with who are movie stars, proper movie stars. Brad Pitt’s a movie star, Julia Roberts is a movie star.”
He continued: “I suppose the only thing—I can’t remember who it was, a government official once said, you know I can’t give you the definition of porn but I know it when I see it. It’s sort of that way with those stars, there’s not one specific thing, there’s something intangible about them that I see, that is impossible to describe it’s just… You watch Gary Cooper who is an interesting actor and Bogart and actors like that and you go ‘why are those guys movie stars? He doesn’t look like Cary Grant,’ but you couldn’t take your eyes off him. Same thing with Spencer Tracey, you couldn’t take your eye off that guy….Sandy Bullock’s a movie star, and I worked with her and I’ve known her since she wasn’t a movie star when we were both young actors and even then there was something about Sandy that you just knew she was going to be a hit.”
The wide-ranging interview covered most of Clooney’s career, including successful collaborations with the Coen Brothers, Steven Soderbergh and others. The actor claimed that not having had a major movie franchise success helped him to have a varied career on the big screen and avoid being type-cast.
“I was lucky in a weird way that as an actor I never got massively successful in anything, you know, in a funny way. I never was—I did an action film like Peacemaker and it wasn’t a hit, if it had been Die Hard, which it wasn’t, then that’s who I would have been. I would have been the action guy. I did One Fine Day, if I’d done romantic comedies and any were a massive hit, I would have been the romantic comedy guy, and then I couldn’t have done drama and the other way I couldn’t have done comedy. Because they weren’t, and if you go through my career a lot of the things weren’t home runs at all, it’s allowed me to do and try other things. I’m allowed to do a comedy or a drama, so I can do something as whacky as O Brother Where Art Thou and something as straight as Michael Clayton.”
One of his missteps was the widely panned Batman & Robin movie, Clooney admitted. It was a learning experience, the A-lister said.
“I’d gotten killed for doing Batman & Robin and I understood for the first time — because quite honestly when I got Batman & Robin I was just an actor getting an acting job and I was excited to play Batman — what I realized after that was that I was going to be held responsible for the movie itself not just my performance or what I was doing. So I knew I needed to focus on better scripts, the script was the most important thing. You can’t make a good film out of a bad script, it’s impossible. You can make a bad film out of a good script.”