George Clooney's Big Surprises: Small Paychecks, Insomnia, Bouts of Loneliness

 Joe Pugliese

Think of George Clooney, and an image immediately springs to mind -- of a real-life Danny Ocean who lives in “the Playboy Mansion West,” as he jokes; who jets back and forth between lavishly appointed, starlet-strewn houses in Los Angeles, Mexico’s Cabo San Lucas and Lake Como, Italy; and who hangs out in an enviable modern-age Brat Pack with the likes of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Every movie star has a public persona that to some extent is at odds with the man inside. But with Clooney, the differences are striking.

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As The Hollywood Reporter executive editor, features, Stephen Galloway confirmed during his recent meeting with Clooney, he’s as charismatic in person as anyone alive, as charming and gracious. But the private Clooney, 50, also is a revelation. He lives with chronic pain (the result of a devastating accident from 2005); admits to bouts of loneliness, despite being surrounded by friends; makes his home on the “wrong” side of the Hollywood Hills in a comfortable but unpretentious Tudor-style Studio City estate; and watches ESPN and Modern Family as well as everything from The Soup to Jersey Shore. In other words, his life is disturbingly like yours.

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With two Oscar nominations this year alone (for best actor in The Descendants and for co-writing The Ides of March), Clooney reveals what a long way he has come since one of his initial forays into film, 1997’s Batman & Robin debacle. “There’s this turning point,” he tells THR. “When you first start out, you are just happy to get a job, any job. And as time goes on, either you move forward or screech to a halt.”

Some of the other details from THR's Clooney cover story:

CLOONEY MAKES A LOT LESS MONEY THAN YOU'D THINK
A movie star with an indie heart, Clooney took a humble $300,000 for his role as a grief-stricken, cuckolded father in The Descendants, a $20 million-budgeted best picture nominee directed by Alexander Payne (who had rejected him for a role in Sideways years earlier). And that's hardly anything new for him, rarely taking more than scale -- at most a few hundred thousand dollars, backend excluded -- since the $10 million he received for 2000’s The Perfect Storm. At the box office, the last of his projects to have earned more than $100 million domestically was 2007’s Ocean’s Thirteen. For 2005's Good Night, and Good Luck, which he directed, co-wrote and starred in, his payday was $120,000 (with no backend). The movie made $31.5 million. Recently, he turned down $15 million for one project that came with a promised $45 million on the backend.

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CLOONEY CAN'T SLEEP
The actor/director says that he's in bed by 10:00 p.m. almost every night, though wakes up often throughout the night and requires the flickering of the TV in order to doze off. “Turning off the television causes me to think, and once I start that vision roaring, I have a very tough time getting to sleep,” he admits. "I'm able to numb out," he says, though even with the TV on, “Without question, I wake every night five times.” It was during one of these sleepless spells he wrote a memorable line of dialogue from Ides. "I woke and sat down and wrote the whole scene in the kitchen between Ryan [Gosling] and myself: ‘You want to be president... You can start a war, you can lie, you can cheat, you can bankrupt the country, but you can’t f--- the interns.’”

WHY HE HASN'T HAD A DRINK SINCE NEW YEAR'S EVE
“I drink at times too much," he acknowledges. "I do enjoy drinking, and there have been times in my life when it’s crossed the line from being fun to having to drink late at night for absolutely no reason. So what I do is, I stop. I haven’t had a drink since New Year’s Eve.”

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CLOONEY WON'T RULE OUT MARRIAGE
“A couple of years ago, [Brad Pitt] really nailed me. He did one of those shows and they asked him when he was going to marry Angie [Angelina Jolie], and he said, ‘I’ll marry when George can legally marry [a man].’” He laughs. “He really got me badly, something I have had to deal with the past few years. But I could give a shit. I have to live in the world that I care about and that’s all that matters.” Once divorced, from actress Talia Balsam, Clooney hasn't ruled out getting married again -- but it's not on his mind either: "I don’t even think about it, really.”

BUT HE ALSO WON'T TALK ABOUT STACY KEIBLER
Clooney doesn't speak much of girlfriend Stacy Keibler -- "There is so little in my life that is private" -- but he did mention that his black cocker spaniel, Einstein, ate all of the loose cash Keibler had left out in his home a few days before the interview.

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HE ONCE REFUSED A $1 MILLION ER BONUS
Sticking to his five-year ER contract without trying to renegotiate, he refused to take a $1 million bonus that was offered to the leads during season two because he didn’t want to imply he’d stay. “We were the number-one show, and it was very clear that George was breaking out, and Quentin Tarantino -- who directed an episode in season one -- wanted him for From Dusk Till Dawn,” recalls ER executive producer John Wells “He was great and very professional, and when everyone else was getting huge raises, George always said no. He said, ‘I’m going to honor my commitment to you.’”

HE WAS HELD UP AT GUNPOINT
During his missions to Sudan, “Everything about it is difficult, and you never feel safe, and we are not traveling with guns and security guys,” Clooney says. Once, he was held up while traveling with his father. It was “in the middle of nowhere and we were pulled over by a bunch of 13-year-old kids with Kalashnikovs, and that’s where it’s dangerous because it’s random violence.” Luckily, a colleague just walked over to an assailant and pushed his gun away as if speaking to a child and said, “No.” “I couldn’t believe it was that simple,” Clooney marvels, “because I was embarrassed at how scared I was.”

WHAT HIS FRIENDSHIP WITH RIVAL NOMINEE BRAD PITT REALLY IS LIKE
“Brad is one of the great guys,” says Clooney. “We’re good friends, but it’s different from what people think, meaning we don’t spend a lot of time together. He has been to my home in Como; we motorcycle together. But until recently, I hadn’t seen Brad in a year.”

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HIS DAD'S ADVICE WHEN FOX NEWS CALLED HIM A 'TRAITOR'
"Fox News and other places were calling me a traitor," Clooney says of his opposition to the war in Iraq. “I called my dad and said, ‘Am I in trouble?’ And he said, ‘Grow up. You’ve got money. You’ve got a job. You can’t demand freedom of speech and then say, 'But don’t say bad things about me.'' And he was right.”

HE'S MOST LONELY IN BAD RELATIONSHIPS, THE PUBLIC EYE
"Anyone would be lying if they said they didn’t get lonely at times,” he says. “The loneliest you will get is in the most public of arenas: You will go to a place and end up in the smallest compartment possible, because it’s a distraction to everybody, and you end up not getting to enjoy it like everyone else.” He adds, “I have been infinitely more alone in a bad relationship; there’s nothing more isolating. I have been in places in my life where that has existed.”

Read the THR cover story in full here

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