George Clooney’s La Dolce Vita
The word “charismatic” doesn’t even begin to describe the aura that surrounds George Clooney. He’s the epitome of the debonair playboy. The natural-born movie star. The no-strings celebrity millionaire, who divides his life between his work and his idyllic retreat in Italy. The Kentucky-born gentleman, from relatively modest beginnings, epitomizes la dolce vita as though it were meant for him. Four months a year he resides in Italy, in his six-house compound in Lake Como’s Laglio district, and the remainder in a Los Angeles mansion he bought in 1995, formerly owned by Stevie Nicks. “I don’t worry about anything, really, except my work,” Clooney says. “I’ve been determined to leave a legacy of good work behind me and I’m completely dedicated to that goal. It’s the one thing I stress over. When it comes to my private life, I’m having a blast. I get to do exactly what I like. If I wanted, I could just get on my motorcycle and ride it forever.”
Resisting that temptation, Clooney remains prolific in the film industry. In a smooth stroll through the flashbulbs he has transitioned from being simply a heartthrob actor, to being a respected writer and director. When we spoke with him, he’d been seen most recently in Gravity, along with Sandra Bullock, and was gearing up for the release of The Monuments Men, an adaptation of the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel. Clooney co-wrote, directed and stars in the very ambitious project. We asked him about his work in the movies, his valued legacy and his life in Italy that seems to leak from the set of a James Bond film.
Q: What draws you to Italy?
GC: What I love about Italy is being able to feel very free there. The Italians have a great joie de vivre and way of looking at the world. Very little bothers them except when their local football team loses. So that kind of spirit is incredibly stimulating. As soon as I set foot in Laglio, I feel truly at home and at peace there … And no one cares about the film business there. It’s all about food and wine and the beauty of being there. I get to do some work, I get to ride my motorcycle, and that still leaves plenty of time for food and drink. Mostly drink.
Q: Do you still enjoy taking cross-country motorbike trips across Italy?
GC: It’s one of my greatest pleasures in life. I love being able to stop in small towns and enjoy drinks with the locals. The Italians have a very infectious spirit and that makes me feel very relaxed and less caught up in the business of being who I am. That’s a big part of what draws me back to Italy. I just appreciate the way Italians enjoy life. We should all learn the beauty of four-hour meals [Smiles.]
Q: You’re famous for the practical jokes you play on friends and co-stars. What’s one of your best pranks?
GC: I can’t discuss the really nasty pranks. But I love pulling practical jokes on Brad Pitt. Several years back, Brad and I were staying at a hotel in Italy while we were shooting Ocean’s Twelve. One evening, before Brad came back to the hotel, I went out onto his balcony and started waving to the crowd below. Pretty soon there were two or three hundred screaming girls outside and I kept waving and blowing kisses. When Brad finally arrived, he had to put up with listening to the girls screaming, “George, George” outside his balcony window below, expecting me to come out again. Also, whenever Brad is staying with me in Italy I always tell the paparazzi where he’s planning to be during the day. I just give out his itinerary in advance — it saves everyone a lot of trouble!
Q: You seem incredibly relaxed and happy. Do you feel that you’re one of those lucky few who has exactly the life he wants?
GC: Things are easy when you’ve figured out how to live. You’re able to cut through all the crap that tends to weigh people down and you just focus on what you want out of life and pursue that. For me, the key to life is knowing what you want and being able to go out and get it. It takes hard work, but once you get to the point where you’re achieving your goals and not wasting time, everything in life becomes much easier. I’m pretty close to where I want to be. I’m doing the kind of work I want to do and I still have a lot I have left to accomplish and that keeps driving me. You have to be willing to work hard to create your own sense of freedom and that’s where the real art of living comes in.
Q: How has your father’s attitude toward life influenced you?
GC: My dad [veteran journalist Nick Clooney] is an idealist. He believes that there’s a right way to live and a right way to run a government. So he has never shied away from speaking his mind on certain issues and being politically outspoken even if that cost him his job or made his life difficult. So I grew up appreciating the meaning of the notion of integrity and I owe that to my father. If you decide to live your life that way, you’re going to be constantly looking for ways to avoid selling your soul. That’s why I’m trying very hard to make films that will leave a mark. I want to be able to sit back in my rocking chair when I’m 80 and be able to talk about some of the films I made and hold my head high.
Q: Unlike some movie stars, you seem so at ease with your rather considerable fame. How do you stay so cool and calm?
GC: Before I ever arrived in Los Angeles, I was the son of a very famous newsman and my Aunt Rosemary had been one of the biggest stars in the music business in her day. So I knew what it meant to be a celebrity and how it could all go away pretty fast. My Aunt Rosemary also taught me how to keep a perspective on everything that happens to you. Rosemary was once one of the most popular singers in America. But I learned from how her career sank in the ’60s [with the advent of rock ’n’ roll.] I saw how little it has to do with you. It’s all about luck and being at the right place at the right time. The problem with famous people in general is that they actually think they’re geniuses. You get famous and you think, “Yes, of course I should be famous and I’ve earned it all.” You haven’t, though. You got lucky. I got lucky. I was in a TV show (ER) that got a Thursday night time slot at 10 p.m., and it was a massive hit and we were drawing 40 million viewers each episode. Because of that success, I was able to work in film and eventually get to do the movies I wanted to do … But remember, I’m also the guy who nearly killed Batman for good. So I never take anything for granted.
Q: Would you be willing to sacrifice your life for a work of art like the men in The Monuments Men were willing to do?
GC: That’s a good question. It depends on whose painting [Laughs.] But … the real root of the story is not just about art, it’s about culture. There was a process going on to steal or destroy entire countries’ culture, and that comes down to a very different thing. That comes down to trying to preserve, trying to not allow that to happen, trying to keep that alive in terms of serving your country But I don’t know if I would lay down my life for a Picasso [Laughs.]
Q: What do you say about the never-ending gay rumours?
CG: I think it’s funny, but the last thing you’ll ever see me do is jump up and down, saying, “These are lies!” That would be unfair and unkind to my good friends in the gay community. I’m not going to let anyone make it seem like being gay is a bad thing. My private life is private, and I’m very happy in it. Who does it hurt if someone thinks I’m gay?
Lake Como. I love it there. The local people treat me very well and as one of their own. It’s all about food and wine and women and the beauty of being there.
Motorbikes. I enjoy going on motorcycle trips and stopping in small towns and enjoying drinks with the locals. My friends and I all love riding motorcycles and we go on tours together. We made it all the way to the German Alps.
Aging. I love my grey hair and wrinkles. I love the fact that my face has more of an edge and more character than it did when I was in my 20s and 30s. No Botox for me.
The gym. There are people who go to a gym and burn off what they want to in 30 minutes — fine for them. Frenetic gym activity isn’t for me.
Batman & Robin (1997). It was a really bad film — a great lesson in humility. I learned two things: never make a vanity blockbuster and never, ever appear in a rubber suit with nipples!
Security men. I loathe having minders when I go to premieres and black-tie ceremonies.
Learning Italian. My Italian still sucks. It’s not only the grammar I need to work on, but the pronunciation. The Italians still think I’m inventing my own strange dialect.