Originally created 09/16/97

Moving from shadows to spotlight

LOS ANGELES - George Clooney seems unaffected by his simultaneous burst of fame in both film and television, but that's to be expected. His aunt is singer Rosemary Clooney, with whom he lived in Beverly Hills during his hungry days. His father is Nick Clooney, a TV personality and newscaster.

Both Rosemary and Nick have experienced ups and downs in their show business careers, and George appears to have profited from their counsel.

He recently talked about his ascent to superstardom in an interview.

Mr. Clooney is helpful with journalists (he was one himself) although publicly outraged by celebrity-hounding paparazzi, especially in the aftermath of Princess Diana's death.

He also is attentive to fans. He is realistic about his current fortune without being dishonestly humble. His intense eyes exude warmth, with a hint of devilishness.

It seems astonishing now, but during his struggle to gain a foothold in Hollywood, Mr. Clooney couldn't get a tumble from filmmakers.

"I was reading for the casting director's assistant for small, small, small roles in films, and couldn't get by him," he recalled. "I wasn't going to get the role of the leading guy's buddy. And I wasn't going to get the leading man's role, because that was going to people who had film names.

"I was sort of at an awkward age. I looked a little bit younger. My hair was longer; I wasn't as gray. I couldn't play out of my range."

Television was more receptive. Warner Bros. placed him under contract and cast him in a recurring role on Sisters. Recognizing his appeal in the long-running series, the studio groomed him for both a half-hour sitcom and an hour drama series.

While preparing for a series called Zero Tolerance, Mr. Clooney read a script written by Michael Crichton. It was for ER. Mr. Clooney auditioned for the series and was chosen.

Complication: NBC had authorized the pilot for Zero Tolerance, starring Mr. Clooney. Since both shows would be produced by Warner Bros. for NBC, Mr. Clooney pleaded to be allowed to join ER. His wish was granted, and his gratitude is the major reason he has remained with ER while his movie career has zoomed.

"They were honorable with me all along," said the actor, "so it's easy for me to do right and stick with the show."

Within the first few weeks, ER was on its way to becoming one of the most successful series of all time. Mr. Clooney wasn't prepared for what happened next.

"Since I had the smallest part in the pilot and on the show, I thought that I would get edged out," he remarked. "So I got a publicist, and I did some things to separate myself from the show in terms of getting my name out there. I started getting involved in other projects I wanted to publicize.

"My first magazine cover was Us magazine; that helps separate your name. I was walking in downtown New York in February of the first season. For 12 years I'd been on TV series. People would recognize me, but they didn't know who I was. They'd say, `Hey, you're the guy from....'

"As I was walking in New York, people kept saying, `Hey, George!' I turned to my buddy, and I said, `I just got famous."'

His TV popularity began to steamroll, and he was offered a couple of films that were "big paychecks and not very good projects." He turned them down.

Then Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction) and Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi) sought Mr. Clooney for the offbeat vampire film, From Dusk Till Dawn.

The film had a good opening weekend, and "the doors started to open for me," he said. Soon, he auditioned with Michelle Pfeiffer and won the role in the romantic comedy One Fine Day.

Then, Steven Spielberg sent him the script of The Peacemaker, an action-adventure that would be the first release for Mr. Spielberg's DreamWorks Pictures, and Mr. Clooney accepted.

Two months later, director Joel Schumacher came to Mr. Clooney's house with a startling proposal: "Do you want to be the next Batman?"

"From The Peacemaker on, the movies I make become more about my decisions," he commented, "as opposed to my availability. I become more responsible for the films I have coming."

With that in mind, he has formed two production companies, one for features, one for television.

The Clooney saga began in Cincinnati, where Aunt Rosemary also got her start singing on radio.

"My father had a variety show in Cincinnati, like the old Mike Douglas Show," said Mr. Clooney. "It was a family business, really vaudeville. I was about 6 years old, and I played all these characters. On St. Patrick's Day I was a leprechaun. On Easter I was a rabbit.

"As I got older and my father was in the news, I got interested in broadcast journalism. I thought that was my calling. I had my foot in the door because of how successful my father was.

"I got some opportunities early on, and I wasn't very good. I was also compared to my father, who was very good. That was tough to beat."

When Mr. Clooney was 21 his cousin Miguel Ferrer and Miguel's father, Jose Ferrer, came to nearby Lexington, Ky., to make a movie. Mr. Clooney went down for a visit and was given a role that lasted three months. Miguel Ferrer suggested that he come out to Hollywood and try acting.

"I got in my old Monte Carlo, which was beat up and running on four cylinders, and I drove to Los Angeles at 15 miles an hour. I slept in people's closets for two years. Then I got some breaks."


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