In his final appearance on David Letterman’s Late Show three years ago, George Clooney refused to talk about his then-upcoming marriage to Amal Alamuddin. But in his first appearance on Letterman’s new Netflix talk show, My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, Clooney spoke at length about his marriage to Alamuddin — as well as his childhood in Kentucky, his activism and life as a father.
The latest episode in Letterman’s Netflix show, which premiered Friday morning, kicked off with an on-location segment in which Letterman asked Clooney why he agreed to appear on the new series at all. Over fries at In-N-Out, as the pair watched planes take off at a nearby airport, Clooney responded, “Honestly, I’ve [just] had twins, and I’ll do anything to get out of the house.” He added, joking: “Well, I felt sorry for you, sitting at home with nothing to do.”
After the opening credits, Letterman set up the tongue-in-cheek premise that led the show: That he believes he and Clooney are very similar, having both grown up in the Midwest (Clooney in Kentucky and Ohio and Letterman in Indiana), “both being top stars of our day” (“Of a day,” Clooney counters) and “we couldn’t be more handsome.”
Letterman then ran through Clooney’s childhood as the son of a broadcaster and former Miss Kentucky who was born in Lexington, but went to five different grade schools as the family moved around the Midwest. Though Clooney says that his father’s profession didn’t persuade him to go into show business, he did show early interest in the industry by playing the Easter bunny and a leprechaun in annual holiday “interviews” that his father would stage on WKRC-TV. Clooney also maintained that he hardly knew his famous aunt, singer and actress Rosemary Clooney, though he occasionally drove her and her performing friends to gigs in Kentucky.
Instead, Clooney credits his cousin and Twin Peaks Returns actor Miguel Ferrer with giving him the acting bug: After Miguel and his father, actor John Ferrer, gave Clooney an extra part on a horse-racing movie in Kentucky and Miguel suggested Clooney come to Hollywood, Clooney drove a ’76 Monte Carlo for two days and nights straight to Los Angeles. “I couldn’t turn it off because it wouldn’t start again,” Clooney explained.
Letterman didn’t spend much time dwelling on Clooney’s acting career past bringing up a few amusing anecdotes, including when Steven Spielberg, while directing an episode of ER, told Clooney he could be a star if he held his head still. Instead, in Letterman’s stage interview and in an in-the-field segment at home with Clooney’s parents in Augusta, Kentucky, the host focuses on Clooney’s activism and marriage to human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin.
To contextualize his advocacy over the course of his career, Clooney recalled that during holiday seasons when he was a child, his family would choose one letter sent to his famous TV-broadcaster father and buy Christmas presents for the letter-writer’s family, delivering them on Christmas Day. Clooney said he was also raised Roman Catholic, and professed to feel a great deal of guilt as a result: After learning that one Catholic saint put a pebble in his shoe to do penance, Clooney said he put gravel in his shoes and jumped off of his bed in them whenever he didn’t tell a priest about one of his sins in confession.
But Clooney admitted that one of his most visible activist projects, going to Darfur in 2006 to raise awareness of the conflict there, did not produce much change. “So how do you go after [war criminals]? You go after their money,” Clooney said, adding that he then hired forensic accountants to track dirty money. (Clooney’s impact on Darfur is still debated.)
While Clooney joked about the difficulty of rearing infant twins, which Alamuddin gave birth to in the summer of 2017, he and Letterman, who has a 13-year-old son, got serious about the impact of children on their lives. “The purpose of your life is now not you,” Letterman noted.
“I have to say that before I had the twins, I felt that way about her. I felt that I had met someone who I would absolutely trade my life for. I’d met someone that her life meant more to me than my life. I’d never had that experience before,” Clooney added.
As for how Clooney became interested in the refugee crisis, that was the work of Amal, Clooney’s father said decisively in one segment shot in Kentucky. Alamuddin first met Clooney at his home on Lake Como in Italy, when a mutual friend brought her along for a visit. After they had dinner and “talked for hours,” Clooney says he began emailing her from the perspective from his dog, who said, “I’m being held hostage, and I need a lawyer to get me out of this room.” They met for a second time at Abbey Road while Clooney was recording a soundtrack for a film; Clooney laughed that he thought the invitation would make him seem cool, but that his hopes were sobered up when he learned Amal had just come from visiting with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Clooney noted that Alamuddin famously brought ISIS to court over the Yazidis. The Clooneys have since sponsored Yazidi refugee Hazim Avdal, currently a student at the University of Chicago, after his village was pillaged by ISIS. “The people who could not make it, also my friends basically, they were either killed or taken as captives,” Avdal told Letterman in Kentucky. He added that seven mass graves have been found in his town since.
As the episode wound down, Letterman asked whether Clooney would have sponsored a refugee had he been working “at a Dairy Queen.”
“Here’s the truth about that. I’m able to do it because I can afford to do it. There’s an awful lot of people that have two or three jobs just to make ends meet, to survive, and they look at that like, ‘I’d do it if I could,'” Clooney said. “I do have this Irish-Catholic guilt where I think, ‘I hit the jackpot.’ … You should spread some of this luck around.”