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By George - the sky's the limit

For most people, George Clooney can do no wrong. The guy's a sweetie, always there with a smile, a handshake, a comforting wisecrack. And he's got the sort of looks that can send most women into a tizzy at 1,000 paces. From the screen. There are those nonetheless who feel that George Clooney can do wrong. They're called investors.

Recent outings, such as Leatherheads, The Good German and The Men Who Stare At Goats may look good on paper (all-star casts, smart scripts, cool directors), but each lost a truckload of money. Even when Clooney gets some Oscar heat for what he likes to call his "small, smart movies", a box-office bonanza rarely follows. The likes of Syriana and Michael Clayton ended up more admired than adored. And that meant poor box-office.

"These are risky movies to make," nods Clooney, "but they're generally worth the risk. We don't spend hundreds of millions of dollars making the likes of Clayton or Goats, so, they don't have to hit the No1 spot to make that money back. That said, some of them have done spectacularly bad. And, in quite a few cases, I really should have known better . . ."


Indeed. Having been in this business called show for quite some years now, George Clooney has had plenty of experience when it comes to both the highs and the lows.

His initial flirt with fame came early, landing the role of Ace in 1984 on a short-lived TV sitcom, E/R (not to be confused with the medical drama, ER), three years later he had a recurring role on the smash sitcom Roseanne and played the lead in the non-smash B-movie, The Return Of The Killer Tomatoes.

During these wilderness years, Clooney was, by his own admission, adrift. When fame finally arrived in 1994, thanks to the role of Dr Doug Ross on ER, Clooney was as happy as a pot-bellied pig living in a millionaire's mansion. And then Clooney kinda blew it. By making mainstream movies -- such as The Peacemaker and the disastrous Batman & Robin -- that he didn't actually believe in. Or like. Back to square one.

"It's pretty unsettling, when you look at a movie you've just spent over a year working on, and you don't actually like it," says Clooney now. "You can't even find a kernel of good intentions to hold on to. It's just a big, wanna-be blockbuster with no heart, no head, and no purpose other than to make a lot of money.

"I knew then that if I didn't start making movies that I felt some real connection to, I was doomed. I'd either end up failing miserably, and having nothing to show for it. Or worse, I'd end up being successful, and have to keep smiling about films that I detested."

And so it was that George Clooney embraced the indie route, hitting a home run of sorts with the first release made under his strict new rules and regulations, 1998's Out Of Sight. Over the ensuing years, the Ocean's franchise -- kickstarted by 2001's sleek remake -- kept Clooney with a trio of blockbusters to fall back on.

With Danny Ocean in retirement since 2007, Clooney has begun to feel ever so slightly vulnerable. Not that he's made Forbes Top 10 of the Most Overpaid Stars. Will Ferrell hit the No1 spot, the recent Land Of The Lost flop making him Tinseltown's most unsound investment.

Thank heavens for Up In The Air then, a $25m movie that's already taken $50m in the US. And with awards season blowing plenty of kisses Clooney's way right now, that number should keep on rising.

"The reception for this film has definitely been rewarding," nods Clooney. "And something of a relief. It's always a risk, when you make any kind of movie that doesn't play by strict Hollywood screenwriting rules, and so, when you do step outside those boundaries, and people respond, it restores your faith in pushing the boat out there a little."

In Up In The Air, Clooney plays high-flying employment hitman Ryan Bingham, living most of his life in airport lounges as he moves from business to business to help with their downsizing. Lumbered with a stiff young recruit, and confronted with a one-night-stand that turns into a long-distance relationship, Ryan begins to question his lonely life in eternal limbo. All the while, he's chasing that millionth air mile that will grant him the ultimate membership card. Think Lost In Transportation. Led by De Niro's Neil McCauley from Heat. Without the killing. Or the karaoke.

"I just loved this guy from the start," says Clooney, "largely because he reckons he's got it all figured out, when, obviously, he hasn't. The really important part of life has passed him by because he's been blinded by this chase."


Hmm, the still-single 48-year-old George Clooney must have related to that, right?

"Oh, absolutely," he smiles. "Here I am, this high-flier, always moving on to the next movie, when I should really just settle down and have a bunch of kids, right? I'm a firm believer in family, but I also enjoy this life that I have. I'm not shutting myself off from emotional attachment, if that's what you're asking."

Perish the thought. Besides, Clooney is too busy with his political work to settle down, the most prominent example of which is the campaigning charity Not On Our Watch he's formed with the likes of Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle. Their main focus right now is the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.

"Believe me, being the son of a news anchorman, I know that celebrities preaching about the wrongs of this world is not everyone's idea of a smart move, but I'm willing to take that hit if it means that we do actually reach some of the right people here."

Clooney knows he's got to walk that fine line between entertainment and education.

"There's no point in preaching, to anyone," he finishes, "but you can whisper a little crucial information into people's ears amongst all those sweet nothings. That usually works for me . . ."

Up In The Air hits Irish cinemas January 15