The "Ocean's Eleven" star proves he's head of the Hollywood class.

After a particularly difficult shooting day last spring on the upcoming comedy Welcome to Collinwood, producer George Clooney was encouraging his employees—including stars Sam Rockwell and Isaiah Washington—to get sufficiently sloshed. ”We were out drinking till late, late, late and he was running around the bar, making sure everybody was having a good time,” recalls Washington. ”We were all hurting the next morning…[but Clooney] had a two-minute monologue to film and he nailed it, didn’t flub one word. There’s no one that could say anything bad about my man George.”

With the exception of Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, the rest of Hollywood seems to be joining in the toast: Clooney, 40, has emerged as Tinseltown’s BMOC, a guy who uses his growing clout to support projects and causes he believes in. Just this year, the star cajoled the megawatt cast of Ocean’s Eleven (including Julia Roberts, Brad Pitt, and Matt Damon) to sign on for less than their usual lofty fees; gathered the likes of Jack Nicholson and Goldie Hawn to fill the celebrity phone bank during the Sept. 21 telethon America: A Tribute to Heroes; and lined up A-listers Roberts, Drew Barrymore, and Being John Malkovich scribe Charlie Kaufman for his directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. All while managing to maintain a rep as sparkling as Danny Ocean’s wedding ring.

Like his latest cinematic alter ego, Clooney seems to be playing a role in Hollywood that hasn’t been filled since the Rat Pack days: that of an old-fashioned power player who cuts through industry red tape and gets things done, all with a wink and a smile. ”More people should follow in his suit… instead of [playing] the political games that are so unnecessary,” says Mimi Leder, who directed him on ER and in The Peacemaker. (Clooney declined to comment for this story.) ”He doesn’t seem to be in charge, but gets in charge [by] functioning as a member of the group,” adds Ocean‘s costar Carl Reiner. Of course, Clooney—who dropped his $12 million asking price and convinced other actors to follow—also produced Ocean’s Eleven with cowriter-director Steven Soderbergh under the pair’s Section Eight shingle. (He later gave the cast personalized mountain bikes in gratitude.) ”You always feel that you’re doing it for the group,” Reiner says. ”He’s a benign despot.”

Some might disagree with the word benign. Clooney—son of veteran Cincinnati newsman Nick Clooney and nephew of singer Rosemary Clooney—has been known to tick people off. Angered by the distribution of the September 11th Fund money, O’Reilly has accused him and other celebrity ”weasels” of misleading donors and then failing to police the charity, a claim that Clooney has denied. Clooney’s strongly worded letter in October to the Screen Actors Guild, chastising the union for expelling three members who had crossed the picket lines during last year’s six-month strike against commercial producers, also drew ire. According to a SAG spokeswoman, Clooney can’t possibly have all the facts of the case, since disciplinary proceedings are confidential.