One of EW's Valedictorians looks back on his successes with ''Michael Clayton'' and ''Ocean's 13,'' bringing attention to Darfur at Cannes, and motorcycle accident fallout

By Dave Karger
Updated November 25, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST
MJ Kim/Getty Images


If not for one unlucky September afternoon on the streets of New Jersey, 2007 would have been just perfect for George Clooney. In the first calendar year after his Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor in Syriana, he headlined the well-received blockbuster Ocean’s Thirteen, turned in one of the most forceful performances of his career in the legal drama Michael Clayton (which he also exec-produced), and even popped up doing humanitarian work in the documentary Darfur Now. And the guy still had time to direct the football romance Leatherheads (due in April), take a role as an assassin in the Coen brothers’ upcoming comedy Burn After Reading, and, of course, crash his motorcycle.

With or without a fractured rib, Clooney has forever been the definition of class. ”It’s always nice to see someone coming into their own and assuming it very graciously,” says Tilda Swinton, Clooney’s costar in both Clayton and Burn After Reading. ”He has a very developed sense of service. And who knows what he’s going to do with it.” Indeed, no other Hollywood star more deftly balanced box office viability with personal responsibility this year. Calling from Washington, D.C., the evening before wrapping Burn, the 46-year-old discussed the highs (and low) of the past 12 months.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you expect Michael Clayton to earn such strong reviews?
GEORGE CLOONEY: It’s a funny thing, because you have a movie that you’ve sat on for a year because you’re trying to find a release date. And a lot of times, things start to get that smell of that ”There’s something wrong with it and that’s why it hasn’t come out” kind of thing. So I was concerned with that. But the films that were supposed to be the critical darlings were falling by the wayside, and it ended up working out really well for us.

You deferred your salary in favor of profit participation. Now that Michael Clayton has grossed over $35 million, when will you start getting paid?
Probably right about now, I guess. We’re already way out of the hole in terms of cost of the film. It cost 20 [million] to do, which is dirt cheap for a movie of that caliber. So we’re all in good shape. If you make a film like The Good German and it’s critically thumped, [the] box office is destroyed. That makes it very hard to make another challenging film. So this one now being successful both critically and financially means we get to make another one of these.

You’re a decent bet for a Best Actor nomination for Clayton. Do you think it’s one of your best performances?
My job was to serve the material, and I think I did that as best I can do. I don’t really know how to do it any better. If you look at the films that I’ve been at my best in — Out of Sight or Three Kings or O Brother, those are good films. So I survive best around good material.

NEXT PAGE: Is the door open or closed on doing an Ocean’s Fourteen?

After all the negative response to Ocean’s Twelve, do you feel like you evened the score with Thirteen?
I feel like we got the movie back. I thought Twelve missed in some ways. You get to a point where you go, ”Well, now, do we really want all these guys to just get richer?” It started to feel like wealthy guys looking to get wealthier, which correlated into people’s opinions of the actors as well. And I think people didn’t dig it as much. Thirteen made sense because it was a revenge picture.

So is the door open or closed on doing an Ocean’s Fourteen?
Absolutely, without question, closed. The only person who tries to keep it open is Jerry [Weintraub], because he’s the consummate producer.

You and your Ocean’s cohorts — Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, and Weintraub — also started a nonprofit, Not on Our Watch, this year.
What happened was, Jerry said, ”We’re going to the Cannes Film Festival.” And I said, ”Well, that’s a dumb thing, to take a second sequel to the Cannes Film Festival. That just screams ‘Get your ass kicked by a lot of people.”’ Then I was like, You know what? If we’re going to go and get our ass kicked, then at least there’s going to be a million cameras around and a million people around, and Europe isn’t talking about Darfur nearly as much as the United States is. So let’s make it worth our while. Let’s make all those cameras do something. Now we’re actually becoming a legitimate, real, ongoing charity as opposed to this one-time big hit. Like, we have the worst Internet page you’ve ever seen in your life. But Brad, Matt, and Don aren’t the guys who just show up at charities. These guys really put their money where their mouth is and go to work. Brad goes down to New Orleans and designs houses, and Matt and Don go into Africa. I’m very proud to be amongst that group.

So was your motorcycle accident the one big bummer for you this year?
That was a drag. This is hysterical: In one of the scenes [of Burn After Reading] I’ve got this triangular-shaped pillow that’s supposedly a ”marital aid” of some sort, and my character leaves home with it. And the [paparazzi] got a picture of me with it. And then [the papers] said ever since my motorcycle accident I’ve had to use this marital aid! Tomorrow I have to do a scene out on the Mall in Washington where I have to stand up on a chair and cry really loudly like a 6-year-old. I’m sure that’ll be all over the papers too.