More than 40 years after landing his first acting job, George Clooney still feels incredibly fortunate to be working in Hollywood. "I used to cut tobacco for a living for three dollars and 33 cents an hour," reveals the 59-year-old star. "And I knew one thing when I left Kentucky, which was I didn't want to be a tobacco cutter. So everything on top of that has been gravy."
These days, the award-winning actor and director has the pick of the litter when it comes to projects, like his new sci-fi film, The Midnight Sky (coming to Netflix in December).
"If you're lucky enough to be able to be part of the process and eventually be the leader of the process, you should be celebrating," says Clooney. "Anybody who's angry or upset in that position needs therapy. We get to play make-believe, and people pay us to do it."
Tell us about The Midnight Sky.
GC: The guys at Netflix sent it over to me and I loved it. I knew how complicated the space stuff was going to be, but it also felt like a really intimate story about mankind and redemption.
You play a dying scientist facing the end of the world. How did you get into character?
I shot all of my stuff first with this massive beard going on and a shaved head. My wife was really happy when the movie was over!
Was casting yourself a no-brainer?
For this film, it was easy. Matt Damon and Brad Pitt are too young — I'm only a couple of years older than them, but I'm a little well-worn, I suppose! And I felt like there weren't that many people at the right age and right place in their careers for it.
Who inspires you?
I'm still starstruck by certain actors. I got a note from Robert Redford the other day, and I went upstairs and showed it to Amal and said, "Look a note from Robert Redford!" Laughs. And Paul Newman. We were supposed to do The Notebook together.
We met and we were like, "OK, this is it. We're going to do this. It's going to be great." I would play him as a young man. Then I was watching The Sting where he's the handsomest guy you've ever seen with these bright blue eyes and I said, "Everyone knows what you look like and I don't look anything like you! This is insane." I think it was Ryan Gosling and James Garner who did it many years later.
How fun were all the Oceans movies?
Those were so fun from the very beginning. Director Steven Soderbergh had to work hard but the rest of us had the easiest time.
What about making The Descendants?
I loved that character — it was one of my favorites — and Shailene Woodley is such a beautiful actress. We're still very close. She's gone on to become a big star, but I don't give a s**t, she's still my daughter. I love her so much.
You have a home in Italy. What's it like spending time there?
For 25 years, I was in a rush. I ate lunch standing up. In Italy, you see these guys coming home from work with a bottle of wine and bread and they're singing and they're going to have a three-hour dinner and you go, "Oh, I'm not living the way I should be. I should be celebrating dinners and my time off." Italy taught me a lot about that.
What's one thing you've missed during lockdown?
There's nothing more exciting than sitting in a theater with everybody and watching movies. I miss that and I wish we were all able to do it right now.