DECEMBER 22, 2006 THE CATHOLIC HERALD
‘I used to go to confession every week’
INTERVIEW GEORGE CLOONEY
BY GABRIELLE DONNELLY
George Clooney, actor, political activist, and, according to a recent issue of the American celebrity magazine People , the official “sexiest man alive”, is proudly demonstrating one of his lesserknown skills –that of serving the Latin Mass. “ In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti ...” he chants tunefully, sketching a cross in the air. “I could do the whole of it –sung, too. I was brought up with the whole bit, Catholic school, confession every week, everything. “Confession was funny because I grew up in this tiny, tiny, tiny town in Kentucky, 1, 500 people in the whole town and only about 10 kids who were Catholic. “Now, when you’re seven years old, you don’t really have a lot to confess, but you had to show up anyway, and I remember figuring out at one point that because there were so few of us, the priest would know who we all were. So I decided that I would only confess the things that I thought were OK for him to hear.” He stops and shakes his head, laughing. There are a handful of us hanging out with George in the fancy Beverly Hills hotel and it is not difficult to spot which of us were brought up Catholic. The clue is that all the Catholics are laughing with him, and all the others are looking faintly puzzled. Not that George notices. He is on a roll. “But what to do about the other sins, right? I’d read somewhere about a saint who would put a pebble in her shoe and walk around on it for penance. So what I’d do is, I’d go to confession and just confess what I wanted to confess. And then when I got home, I’d fill both of my shoes with gravel, and I’d jump right off the top of my bunk bed straight on to them. That way, I was completely cleansed of all the sins, and I’d still avoided telling stuff to the priest!” By now, the non-Catholics are exchanging glances and edging surreptitiously towards the door. But George has not yet started on his schooldays. “Did you ever get paddled?” he demands, cheerfully. “You know, where a priest would take a two-handed paddle and hit you with it –you’d stick books in your back, but he’d really whale you with
George Clooney: ‘I grew up with a great sense of structure and respect’
this thing, and it would hurt . Very different from the regular school, where if you did something wrong, it was no big deal, but in my school, they’d say, ‘I’m going to send you down to Fr Brinker’s office,’ and you’d be like oooooh, nooooo! “You certainly learned discipline, and I grew up with a great sense of structure and respect. But you know, I was talking about this with a friend the other day, and we were saying that these days if teachers ever hit kids as hard as the priests used to do back then, they would probably go to jail.” You would never mistake George Timothy Clooney for a victim of childhood abuse. He’s 45 now, and the boyish good looks have long given way to the attractive elegance of a middle-aged man who is supremely comfortable in his own skin. In his profession, he has moved from playing the hunky heart-throb of television’s ER to, not only acting in film, but writing, directing, and producing too. Off the screen, he is an outspoken political activist and Democratic campaigner, who is currently using his potent combination of energy and star power to help bring world attention to the tragedy of genocide that is
happening in the Darfur region of the Sudan. “It’s the big one we’ve really got to keep pushing right now,” he says of the latter. “It’s a very, very complex issue, because it’s a terrible situation but the question is what to do about it. My job is to try to bring light on to this wherever we can. We’re going to try to do something over Christmas, get a delegation over there, keep pushing it every which way,” he stops and laughs. “But I can’t talk too much about this right now, because if I do, they won’t give me a visa!” Joking aside, he admits that his outspoken political stance has earned him some enemies along the way. Well ... almost. “I do have this guy that starts my car for me and tastes my food before I eat it ... No, I’ll tell you something. There was a time back in 2003 when some feeling against me was really bad, people were out in front of theatres protesting my films, they put stuff over the internet calling me a traitor, there was that moment where paranoia creeps in and you start to think, ‘Well, am I getting myself into trouble here?’ But that’s your own paranoia and your own narcissism, and if you think
about it for a bit, you realise that these conspiracies against one particular person take a lot of work, and if anyone were going to do anything to anyone, they would focus on someone who is actually much more politically relevant than I am. Look, I’m a big kid now, I can take criticism. And let’s face it, I can’t argue the idea of freedom of speech and then say, ‘Oh, but don’t say bad things about me ,’ can I?’ He says he got both his sense of humour and his sense of social responsibility from his Dad, television news veteran Nick Clooney, with whom he is working closely on the Darfur project. His ability to roll with the punches, he inherited from his beloved Aunt Rosemary –singer Rosemary Clooney, who died of lung cancer in 2002. “I once asked Aunt Rosemary why she was a better singer at 80 than she had been at 28,” he says. “Cause when she was old, she couldn’t hit the notes she could at 28, and she couldn’t hold them as long, but she was still a better singer. And she said: ‘I’m a better singer because I don’t have to prove I can sing any more.’ She was amazing, Aunt Rosemary. Years ago, when I was starting out, I used to be
her chauffeur –her and Martha Rae and Kay Ballard and Kay Starr and Margaret Whiting and Helen O’Connell, which was fun. They were doing a show, Four Girls Four , with Tony Bennett, and I’d stand in the wings with this tall glass of vodka –no ice –and the guy on the stage would say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, it’s Helen O’Connell,’ and Helen would come into the wings and snap her fingers for the glass, and I’d hand it to her, and she’d down the whole thing, and then just walk out onto the stage and sing
‘Tangerine’. It was a great, great way to grow up.” It is a long time since George has supplemented his income by playing chauffeur to anyone. One of the top box-office draws in Hollywood, he will be seen next year in The Good German , a moody blackand-white love story-thriller set in Berlin just after the end of World War Two. The film has already drawn comparisons with Casablanca and The Third Man . “I’m a huge fan of Bogart,” he admits. “He was willing to be the bad guy and
that’s why you loved him – he mastered playing this sort of hapless jerk whom you really root for along the way. “I can’t think of any other movie star who could have pulled off To Have and Have Not or The Maltese Falcon , and made you like the characters. He was extraordinary.” He was also pretty much the opposite of the romantic, handsome young men George has specialised in playing in the past. George says that these days, although he’s happy occasionally to slip into Danny
Ocean’s tuxedo and have some fun, there are compensations to growing older, too. “I have gotten to a place in my career where those elements that were used to sell you when you were younger aren’t really the tools that you can use any more, and I’m actually kind of happy with that. I’m enjoying moving into the character actor role. I’ve always sidestepped people’s expectations in my career, and now I’m glad I have, because if I was still playing only the romantic comedy-type parts, people would be saying, ‘Y’know, he’s 45 and doesn’t look so young any more, got a lot of grey hair ... maybe we’ll go get somebody else for that part.’” He pauses: “Anyway, it’s fun to do a variety of work. I’m having a good time.” There’s just one thing missing in George Clooney’s life, and that is a wife and children to share his house in the Hollywood Hills and his beloved villa overlooking Lake Como in northern Italy. Ask him about his single state and he sighs. “I’m not planning to write a book on ‘How to Have A Successful Relationship’,” he once joked a little ruefully – but he does take care to mention that, if there is no steady woman in his life, there are at least a lot of children he is close to. “I’m uncle to a couple, and I’m godfather to about 12 or 13 more. At my house in Los Angeles on Sundays there’s always friends coming over and we have a barbecue and there’s a bunch of kids around. I’m good with kids, I like them.” He decides he has been serious for long enough. “I’m also considering adoption,” he adds, deadpan. The journalists in the room sit up. “Everyone else is doing it these days, so why not me? I’m going to adopt a 24year-old girl. Good-looking. With plenty of cash ....” If he ever does settle down she’ll be a lucky woman.
Perfect gift ideas for Christmas
Embracing the poor
In 1980 Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador was gunned down while celebrating Mass. This is his last Christmas reflection
Tonight, let us not look for God in the opulence of the world, in the idolatry of riches, in the desire for power, in the intrigues of the great. That’s not where God is. Let us look for God with the sign of the angels: lying in a manger, wrapped in the poor swaddling clothes that a humble peasant from Nazareth could provide for him,
some poor cloths and a little hay as the resting place of the God that was made man, of the King of the centuries made accessible to people as a poor little child. It is time to look today at baby Jesus, but not in the beautiful images of our mangers. We have to look for him among the malnourished children that went to bed tonight without having anything to eat, among the poor newspaper vendors that didn’t manage to sell all of their papers and will receive a tremendous reprimand from their stepfather or stepmother. How sad is the story of our children! Jesus takes on all of this tonight... Not everywhere is joy, there is much suffering, there are many homes that have been destroyed, there is much pain and there is much poverty. Brothers and sisters, we are not looking at all of this with demagoguery. The God of the
Archbishop Oscar Romero
poor has assumed all of this and he is teaching human pain the redemptive value, the value that it has to redeem the world of poverty, suffering, the Cross. There is no redemption without the Cross. But this doesn’t mean a passivity on the part of our poor, of those we have badly indoctrinated when we say to them: “It is the will of God that you are poor, marginalised and that you have no hope.” This is not true! God does not want this social injustice, but once it exists it means a great sin of the oppressors –and their greatest violence is that they deprive so many human beings of happiness and that they are killing with hunger so many who are malnourished. God demands justice but he is saying to the poor, as Christ did to the oppressed, by carrying your cross you will save the world if you don’t accept your suffering out of a conformity that is not God’s will. Rather, be concerned with salvation, dying in your poverty, desiring better times, making of your life a prayer and accepting everything that tries to free the people from this situation. December 24, 1979
Extract from Through The Year With Oscar Romero: Daily Meditations translated by Irene B Hodgson published by Darton Longman and Todd, priced £9.95
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