Dialogue: George Clooney

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The last time George Clooney was in Dubai he was shooting 2005's "Syriana," which earned him a best supporting actor Oscar. This time, he brings with him the legal thriller "Michael Clayton," which serves as the opening-night film at the Dubai International Film Festival. The busy Clooney, who is receiving Oscar buzz for this film too for his role as a law-firm fixer, recently talked with Charles Masters of The Hollywood Reporter about his latest project and returning to the Middle East.

The Hollywood Reporter: "Michael Clayton" writer-director Tony Gilroy says he had a tough time getting his script in front of you. How did you eventually come to get on board?
George Clooney: I read it very early on and I thought it was great. But when you read a script and you think it's really good, you know there's a lot of dangerous traps in it ...you know, with a turn of a screw, this isn't a very good film. It's a great script, but it's easily screw-up-able. So the idea of a first-time director wasn't my ... I thought that this required a very mature filmmaker, which it did. Then I was busy doing "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Syriana" and a lot of other projects, and I was really loaded down at that point. So I read the script and thought it was great and said, Nah, I'm not really ready to jump into those waters again. And then (Steven) Soderbergh, about a year later, when things started to calm down for me work-wise, said, "You gotta meet with Tony." And was like, OK, and I met with Tony, and we had eight hours where we stayed at my house and just hung out, and by the time he left that afternoon, I was in. Soderbergh kept saying: "He's a grown-up." And that was exactly the take you get. You spend 10 minutes with Tony and you realize he's a grown-up. For an actor in a movie like this, it really is what you're looking for, somebody that knows exactly what they want in a movie. A lot of people give you good rap, but you never know whether they'll be able to do it or not. But he had a really good rap that I bought and he really delivered. I mean, he's much, much more than a first-time director by a long shot.

THR: Seeing the result, do you feel the gamble paid off?
Clooney: For me, it wasn't a gamble once I'd met Tony and spent time with him. From that point on, it's just whether it's going to be a well-made movie or a well-received movie, you know? But you felt as if the experience was going to be good. So the gamble was sort of done by the time I'd met him. I wasn't worried because the screenplay was really good, and that's what really protects you. I'm really proud to be a part of the outcome of this film because I think it's a really well-made film. I think it's smart. There's a period of time when you get the keys to the kingdom and you get to decide what films get made and what films don't, and you get held responsible for that. So you try to use that the most, you know, you try to pick the best projects you possibly can while you get that, because it doesn't last for verylong.

THR: What are your expectations in presenting the film here in Dubai?
Clooney: I'm sure it's going to be over-the-top in terms of opulence. That would seem to be the main thing. I think to me the great sort of selling point is that in Western culture, and particularly in American culture, we have to get back to the sort of cross cultures of Muslim and Arab communities. You have to find Egypt, and the UAE, and places that are more moderate so that we can start to find some common things that we all can talk about, and arts can do that a lot of times. Music has done it before, film has certainly done it, television has done it. Ways to just start to remember that we all have this commonality between us.

THR: Soyou think the Dubai festival has hit on a good idea?
Clooney: I think it is a good idea. When we were dealing with Darfur, we went to Egypt, because you know it's the largest Arab country, but it's also a moderate (country). It's not a theocracy, necessarily. We needed places where we could say, let's open up a discussion about things. And have an open discussion where we'll disagree maybe, or at least be able to find some common ground, without it being just absolutes. We've created some of
that in the United States, obviously, by our actions in Iraq and our actions over the years, and they've created it as well. So it's trying to find places where we have moderates, places to be able to be able to talk about not just our cultures but also specific issues like Darfur.

THR: On that point, it's interesting that the DIFF was launched as an initiative aiming to be a cultural bridge after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and it comes from the Arab side.
Clooney: It's an interesting thing. Dubai stands out as this sort of Las Vegas without the gambling or the booze. It's sort of this thing that's almost manufactured. They don't really have the oil anymore, so they've built an infrastructure. But what's interesting about it, in a way you think it's not really part of the Middle East. And then you walk out of the door and swim in the Persian Gulf and realize that this is still very much a part of that.

THR: You shot herefor "Syriana." Do you like the region?
Clooney: I do like the area. I haven't been to very many places that I don't like once you get to experience the culture. Dubai is tricky because it really is like going to a big entertainment area. It's like going to Orlando for Disneyland or going to Las Vegas, you know, a place that's really created for tourism. It is its No. 1 staple. And so it's always tricky because you're not really getting a taste of the society when you're going to a five-star hotel or a seven-star hotel. It's not very real. But we went shooting in Dubai proper and we got out and spent time with a lot of the people and it was at a fairly
volatile time, it was in 2003. There's something good about just getting
into that neighborhood and being able to be around people that certainly have different views than you.

THR: According to what you can read on the Web, you're attached to numerous future projects. Which of them are for real?
Clooney: You can ask me any of them. I don't really have any. I did the voice for "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" with Wes Anderson, I've got "Leatherheads" coming out on April 4. Those are in the can. "The Persuaders?" I've never even heard of it, literally. "Suburbicon" is a Joel and Ethan (Coen) movie that I talked with them about acting in about 10 years ago, and I always tried to convince them to make the film, but I've never been involved as a director on the film at all. "The Playgound Project?" This is the absolute first I've ever heard of it. We have a play (written by Beau Willimon) that we're getting adapted (with Warner Bros.) called "Farragut North" that Leonardo (DiCaprio) is in on, and is working on, and I think that could be a project -- if we can get the screenplay to work --that I'm interested in directing. We have a project --it's actually a comedy about something that happened during the Iranian hostage situation -- where six people in the embassy got out and were hiding at the Canadian embassy and the CIA used Hollywood to fake a film company and go into Tehran and get these guys out. It's a pretty funny story. We don't have a title yet. That's one that Grant (Heslov) and I are going to write the screenplay on.

THR: What about spy thriller "The Tourist"?
Clooney: We do have that one. We just got it, so it needs a little work, but that's one I'm actually interested in. Grant got the option for the book. I just read the screenplay. It needs some work, but it's one that there's real potential in to do sort of an interesting spy thriller. I'd star, but it'll always depend on the screenplay and how it comes out because these are those kind of movies that, if you do them really right, it is a Matt Damon film, it's the "Bourne" films. If you do them wrong, it's all the movies I've done before. (Laughs)

THR: Talking of Matt Damon, he just bumped you off the top of the Sexiest Man Alive poll in People magazine.
Clooney: Yeah, I was a little hurt by that, but if it had to go to anybody, I'm just glad it went to Matt. If you're going to give up the crown, it should go to one of your friends. The fun part for me was how embarrassed he was about the whole thing.

THR: This week marks the 300th episode of "ER." Is that a fond memory?
Clooney: Sure, nothing but a fond memory. I don't have a career without it. It's that simple. It's that random. When you see people talking about big hits now and they'll say 22 million people watch this show, we had 45 million at a time. Reruns were averaging 30 million. It was the juggernaut of all juggernauts, so to be on that rocket ride for five years was really an amazing experience. I think most actors' wish is to do the most creative things you could do, and "ER" was incredibly creative, so it didn't matter if it was film or television -- the medium didn't matter.

THR: You're no doubt awareof the case of the British teacher being jailed in Sudan for allowing her pupils to name a teddy bear Mohammed. What sort of impact do you think that will have on sympathies toward Sudan in the light of your actions on Darfur?
Clooney: I think of course extremism in any world is always a mistake, and the idea that this woman would be punished for something as ridiculous as that is beyond our comprehension in the Western world. Although I will say that the attention that it has gotten in some ways is frustrating when you think, here is a woman who was looking at 40 lashes, which is a terrible thing and completely unjust, but there's several hundred thousand people who've been killed over there and aren't getting that kind of attention in the media. News, especially broadcast news, has become more and more about what people want to talk about rather than what they should be talking about.
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