Clooney wins votes at the box office
As his hotly tipped political thriller hits the big screen, George Clooney is winning votes and hearts once again.
Watching George Clooney work a room is a lot like observing a charismatic politician at work. At a press gathering in Cancun, Mexico, he enters the lion's den of reporters with a disarmingly warm grin, taking his time to greet everyone.
As befitting the balmy climate, the salt and pepper-haired 50-year-old is wearing cream trousers, a short-sleeved top and looks tanned and healthy despite his self-proclaimed hangover: "I gave some of my soul to the Tequila god last night," he grins.
The man is charm personified. Even the jaded journalists look enraptured and when he shakes their hands, you'd think they'd been blessed by the pope himself.
When we meet, Clooney is about to embark on months of promotion for his latest film, political thriller The Ides Of March, which will take him to New York, Toronto, Paris, Venice and London.
With such a campaign trail ahead of him and with his seemingly natural born diplomacy, you'd assume it couldn't have taken much of a leap for him to play the politician Governor Morris.
"I couldn't even get voted class president," he quips, having found a quiet spot away from the media maelstrom later.
"Though I was president of the Science Club," he adds.
The Ides Of March is a classy drama that focuses on the backroom politics and manipulations of an election campaign.
It's based on Farragut North, a play written by a former intern on the staff of presidential hopeful Howard Dean's 2004 campaign.
"I know it sounds silly but it really isn't a political film. It's a universal tale about power and corruption," says Clooney, who also directed, produced and co-wrote the film.
Rejecting the notion that Hollywood and politics are one and the same, he says: "People love to say LA is like Washington, just with prettier people, but I find them to be very different businesses.
"Hollywood is a little more forgiving because people don't really expect us to be saints," smiles the eternal bachelor who's currently dating former WWE wrestler Stacey Keibler, 32.
Clooney had originally planned to shoot the movie in 2008 but ironically politics came into play and Barack Obama was elected.
"There was such hope and everyone was so happy, it didn't seem the right time to make the movie.
"We needed people to be cynical," says Clooney.
So he and Grant Heslov, with whom he runs the production company Smokehouse Pictures, waited patiently for a year until the inevitable cynicism crept back in.
"Then I looked over at Grant and said, 'I think we can make that movie now'," Clooney says with a laugh.
It says something of Clooney's reputation that he could gather a cast that's received 13 Oscar and 23 Golden Globe nominations between them.
There's Philip Seymour Hoffman as Morris's campaign manager, Paul Giamatti as Hoffman's rival, Marisa Tomei as a reporter for The New York Times and Evan Rachel Wood as the intern whose actions have dramatic repercussions.
How many scene stealing actors did he want to surround himself with?
"Oh, I know, I was sort of p***ed off being in scenes with those guys," he jokes.
And don't get him started on the film's charismatic 30-year-old lead, Ryan Gosling, who plays Morris's press spokesman.
"I don't like that man, Mr. Tall and Handsome, but I'm told he'll grow out of it," says Clooney.
"I was an actor at the same age he is, but I couldn't do any of things he can. I mean, I had a mullet and was in a bad sitcom."
Clooney did indeed spend years trying to make it as an actor before his big break as heartthrob Dr Doug Ross in ER in 1994.
While he admits it's fun to work with younger actors, it does have its drawbacks.
"I'll think I'm hip until I get on set and they're like, 'Stop listening to that music, you're an idiot'," he says.
Born in Kentucky, his mother was a former beauty pageant queen and his father a news anchorman. The young Clooney would often hang around the TV set and later gained an insight into the political world when his father ran for Congress.
"My dad's a really honourable guy and I watched him struggle with the things he was asked to do, like go to fundraisers for things he didn't necessarily want to support," Clooney says, when we catch up again at the London Film Festival.
"I think it'd be very hard not to lose your soul in politics."
That's why he has no intention of forging a path to the White House.
"I have no interest at all, I never have. I have a very good life and if I want to dip my toe into issues that involve politics, I'm happy to do it - and I don't have to compromise myself as a politician would," he says.
On the occasions he's met Obama, Clooney's discussed the situation in Sudan. His interest in drought-stricken Darfur was ignited after he and his father filmed a documentary there in 2006. He's since addressed the United Nations Security Council and in 2007 was honoured with the Peace Summit Award at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates.
"In terms of doing things for others, I've had a lot of luck in my life.
"There were equally good, if not better, actors in acting class than me. Luck is only good if you spread it around," he says.
"I don't think of that as a great thing to do; I think that's what you're supposed to do."
He references luck again when talking about his directing style.
"We [actors] live in a very lucky world and I like to make sure everybody has a good time while we do it," he says.
Directing is where he sees himself focusing his future: "The older you get, the less roles there are to play and I want to be part of this business for a long time."
The Ides Of March marks his fourth directorial feature. His most successful to date was the Oscar-nominated Good Night, And Good Luck in 2005.
"Nobody wanted to see a black and white film about Senator Joseph McCarthy [the story looks at how a broadcast journalist sought to bring him down]. We had to do all kinds of things to get that film made," recalls Clooney.
That's why he isn't going to shy away from using his current influence to make films "that keep pushing the envelope".
"When they give you the keys to the toy box, you want to use it as much as you possibly can until they take them away. And they will, eventually," he says, as the smile fades and he suddenly seems serious - but it's only for a moment.
Asked what lessons there are to be learned from The Ides Of March, and without missing a beat he says: "Don't sleep with the interns," - and there's a final flash of the Clooney grin before he's gone.
EXTRA TIME - THE IDES OF MARCH
:: The title was inspired by the line 'Beware the ides of March' in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, in which the great leader is killed by his best friend and his enemy.
:: Some of the speeches are based on those made by Clooney's father who ran for Congress.
:: As part of their research, Clooney encouraged his actors to watch campaign documentaries on John F Kennedy, Bill Clinton, George Bush and Barack Obama.
:: Shooting took place during late winter in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky (not far from Clooney's hometown of Lexington).
:: More than 23,000 locals responded to an extras casting announcement.
:: The Ides Of March opens in cinemas on Friday, October 28