George Clooney

George Clooney made our 2005 Entertainers of the Year list

Last year, Mel Gibson made a lot of money — and enemies — with a film about his most heartfelt personal beliefs. This year, it was George Clooney’s turn to put his bank account and reputation on the line. With Good Night, and Good Luck and Syriana — which together earned him a trio of Golden Globe nominations — Clooney redefined himself as a man of both passion and principle rather than merely a playboy who likes to stick up casinos with his ring-a-ding-ding pals.

For Good Night, and Good Luck, the critically praised drama about legendary TV newsman Edward R. Murrow and his battle against Red-baiting pit bull Sen. Joseph McCarthy, Clooney not only co-wrote and directed the film, he also put up his home as collateral to get it made, paying himself $1 for his acting duties. With Syriana, the sprawling, controversial broadside against the oil industry in which he plays a burned-out CIA operative, Clooney (who also exec-produced the film) was a little kinder to himself: He got paid $350,000. A good chunk of change, yes. But it’s still several million dollars shy of his usual eight-figure price.

Why did he do it? Passion and principle. And, says Clooney, his parents. Raised in Kentucky, the son of a locally famous TV newsman dad, the young Clooney was taught to speak out for what he thought was right, and against what he thought was wrong. ”Being raised by my parents, you had to be responsible,” he says. ”And worse than that, when it’s really not fun to do it, you have to stand up. Part of your job was to say something when it’s not comfortable.”

Because of Good Night and Syriana‘s lefty politics, Clooney has pretty much guaranteed that he won’t be invited to Bill O’Reilly’s house any time soon. Not that he minds. ”The one thing you get to do when you’re famous is shine a light on something,” he says. ”But if you want to shine a light on something that isn’t so palatable, you should expect to catch s— for it and take it.” And if all the flak gets a bit too much, well, he can always get on the phone with Mel Gibson for a little A-list sympathy.