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George Clooney: The Journey to 'Good Night'

Actor, producer, writer, director George Clooney directed and co-wrote the new film Good Night, and Good Luck, about the showdown between legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow and Sen. Joseph McCarthy that took place in 1954.



DATE October 18, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: George Clooney talks about his career and his latest
film "Good Night, and Good Luck"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest is George Clooney. He directed, co-wrote and co-stars in the new
movie "Good Night, and Good Luck." The movie is about how journalist Edward
R. Murrow challenged Senator Joe McCarthy's tactic of smearing people by
accusing them of being Communists or associating with them. This
anti-Communist crusade had led to investigations, black lists and a climate of

At the time the movie is set, in 1954, Murrow was hosting the CBS News program
"See It Now." Murrow and his crew decided to do a program about Lieutenant
Milo Radulovich, a US Air Force Reservist who was kicked out for being a
security risk without being told what the charges were after he refused to
denounce his father and sister, who were accused of being Communists. In this
scene, two Air Force colonels are pressuring Murrow's producer, Fred Friendly,
to cancel the broadcast. Friendly is played by Clooney.

(Soundbite of "Good Night, and Good Luck")

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY ("Good Night, and Good Luck"): (As Fred Friendly) We are
going with the story that says that the US Air Force tried Milo Radulovich
without one shred of evidence and found him guilty of being a security risk
without his constitutional rights...

Unidentified Man #1: And you, who also have not seen the evidence, are
claiming he's not a security risk. Wouldn't you guess that the people who
have seen the contents of that envelope might have...

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Friendly) Who?

Unidentified Man #1: ...a better idea of what makes someone a danger to his

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Friendly) Who? Who are these people, sir?

Unidentified Man #1: ...or do you think it should just be you that decides?

Mr. CLOONEY: (As Friendly) Who are the people? Are they elected? Are they
appointed? Do they have an ax to grind? Is it you, sir?

GROSS: George Clooney in a scene from "Good Night, and Good Luck." He's
starred in such films as "Ocean's Eleven," "Out of Sight," "Three Kings" and
"O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and first became famous for his role on "ER."
His father is the broadcast journalist Nick Clooney, who's also a former movie
host on cable's AMC.

George Clooney, welcome to FRESH AIR. What did Edward R. Murrow mean to you
when you were growing up?

Mr. CLOONEY: My father was an anchorman and still writes for the newspaper in
Kentucky, and broadcast journalism was a big part of our lives growing up.
I'd spent most of my life as a small child on the floor of WKRC newsroom
watching my father put news shows together. He was the news director. He
wrote the news. And Murrow and Cronkite were heroes of his because of the two
probably great moments in broadcast journalism, which was Cronkite coming back
from Vietnam and saying, `It doesn't work,' and Murrow taking on McCarthy,
because they changed policy overnight. And for that alone, he was a hero of
my father's and, therefore, a hero of mine.

GROSS: Now in the movie you don't have an actor playing McCarthy. The only
time we see McCarthy is through his actual videotapes, through his television

Mr. CLOONEY: Right.

GROSS: ...such as, you know, the hearings and the videotape that was made for
the Edward R. Murrow "See It Now" broadcast. Why did you choose to have him
play himself instead of having an actor portray him?

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, in the film--in the actual story--and we researched
everything; I had to treat this like a journalist. I talked to my father
about this, and he said, `Look, if you get anything wrong, you'll be
marginalized now.' So we did it the old-fashioned way, which is every scene
we double-sourced, either through books or through the real people, Joe and
Shirley Wershba, Milo Radulovich or Don Hewitt, so that we were very careful
with the facts. Then we decided to do exactly what Murrow did in his show,
which is use McCarthy in his own words, so that, again, you couldn't have
someone say, oh, we were making him look too much like a buffoon or too arch.
We thought best to let him hang himself.

GROSS: Now as an actor and director, talk a little bit about how Murrow looks
on TV compared to how McCarthy looks on TV.

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, that's sort of the beauty of it. It's--in a way, the
other one of those version would be Kennedy-Nixon debate...

GROSS: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. CLOONEY: know, where the simple truth was McCarthy was pretty
good at a 30-second soundbite, where he could yell and scare people and talk
about death and bombs and things like that. But he wasn't handsome, and he
certainly wasn't proficient at the new art of television, and Murrow was the
best. So that when he demanded equal time, which was 28 minutes and 28
seconds, to do his rebuttal, he holds up for about a minute, and then--he's
also pretty drunk--he slurs and drags on. And it's one of--if you see the
whole half an hour of the rebuttal...

GROSS: He's drunk?

Mr. CLOONEY: Oh, yeah, very drunk. When you see the rebuttal, it's
embarrassing. I mean, it's the most unprofessional thing you've ever seen.
So it was an interesting--the moment that that happened was when they first
knew they had him. They were--because the simple truth is--and the funniest
thing is--Murrow going after McCarthy is not what hurt McCarthy. McCarthy
turning around and accusing Murrow of being a traitor is what hurt McCarthy
because everyone knew that Murrow was the guy at the top of those buildings
during the London Blitz. We knew he was a hero. And so the minute you saw
those methods, when he turns around and calls Murrow `the cleverest of the
jackal pack of Communists,' everybody knew that wasn't true.

GROSS: What did you have to do with the rest of the film to make it
consistent with the real video that you had of McCarthy?

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, the interesting thing was we weren't trying to "Forrest
Gump" it. We weren't trying to make it look as if both of those things were
happening. We weren't trying to match film stock or anything so that it looks
like they were standing right next to each other. We had an advantage, which
was--we were going to shoot it in black and white because we were going to use
the original stock footage. But all of the original stock footage is either
projected on the projector or on a wall or on a TV screen, so that the match
didn't have to be perfect. We were able--in a way it was a cheat. We were
able to use it that way.

GROSS: The film is so much about faces, you know. The film is shot in pretty
high-contrast black and white, and there are so many close-ups of faces 'cause
it all takes place basically in the office and in the studio. And the faces
are so interesting to look at. They're mostly, you know, middle-aged and
slightly younger than that and slightly older than that men, who are kind of
creased and who've lived and who haven't had plastic surgery.

Mr. CLOONEY: Yeah.

GROSS: And it's just really wonderful to see these faces.

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, I think the interesting thing to me was even in the film,
the score I wanted to be silence. Silence was how I would score the film.
And the way you do that is by spending time on people's faces because that's
how you can understand suspense. I know when you'd see films like "Fail-Safe"
or "12 Angry Men," there would be--tension came out of these close-ups of
people's faces and watching--putting them in a difficult situation and
watching them deal with it and watching it play on their face, as opposed to
hearing them talk about it. Now we talk about everything. Then, guys didn't
talk about anything.

So there was that sort of bravery of, you know, lighting a cigarette and
looking at each other and going, `All right, Butch,' `See you later, Sundance'
kind of feeling. And I loved that. It's a very masculine, probably not great
thing to do, but it is very romantic in a way, you know, to watch a couple of
people--watching Patty Clarkson and Robert Downey Jr. just looking at each
other when they know they've got McCarthy. There's something beautiful about
that. It's simple.

GROSS: Do you see a connection between McCarthy and the culture wars of
today, and did that connection inspire you to make the movie?

Mr. CLOONEY: Sure. I had issues that I thought would be good to debate.
Again, I'm not a journalist. I'm the son of a journalist. I thought it was
important to talk about these things because there's been a period of time
where no one's been allowed to talk about it without being called unpatriotic.
The two issues I thought that were--that are represented in the film that are
prescient were the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to always question
authority, whoever that authority is. It is important and seems important to
always constantly remind ourselves that the toughest questions are the most
patriotic things to ask; that and also the idea that I thought it was a good
time to talk again about the debate of using fear to erode civil liberties.

It was right when the Padilla stuff was happening, when we first started
putting this together. And we didn't want to say there's a right or wrong
answer to this. We wanted it to be a debate. Much like Murrow says, you have
to find a place where you can protect the rights of the individual and the
state at the same time. Padilla was the case that sort of threw it in, along
with the Patriot Act, in Guantanamo Bay, which was Padilla, for instance,
might very well be a terrorist and might have been planning a dirty bomb.
That may all be true. But either you're a prisoner of war and you get Geneva
Convention rights, or you're a criminal and you get the writ of habeas corpus.
And if you don't get those two things, then we are protecting a u--then I'm
worried about the union that we're protecting.

GROSS: You are one of the, quote, "Hollywood liberals" who are sometimes
attacked by the right. Bill O'Reilly has had his share of comments about you.

Mr. CLOONEY: Sure.

GROSS: Does that affect your career at all? You know, I think one of the
things that O'Reilly has implied a couple of times is that, you know, liberal
views affect people at the box office.

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, I don't know. I doubt it. I've done pretty well; I'm
doing pretty well. I think the arguments or the fights I've had with Bill
have only helped Bill. He's only used them, you know, to further his own
cause. You know, he started the fight over the telethon, and then he went

GROSS: This is the September 11th telethon.

Mr. CLOONEY: The September 11th telethon, and then he went on the "Today"
show. And Matt Lauer said, `Why are you doing this?' And he said, `Because I
want to help Americans.' And Matt Lauer said, `Well, but would it not be
disingenuous to also say that you said you would only come on the show if we
talked about your book?' The truth of the matter is Bill is a self-promoter.
That's fine. There are--those guys have always existed.

I, in some ways, shouldn't have taken some of the bait by fighting him, but it
wasn't when he was attacking me. It's when he attacked the actors that I got
to come do the telethon; that I thought I owed them a good fight. And, you
know, the problem is he went on the air the other day and, you know, was angry
at something I said, which was factual. And he constantly says, you know,
it--that he is credited and credits himself for the telethon. And he said, `I
proved that those guys--the money was going to the wrong place, and I made the
Red Cross change their ways.' And he'd keep saying, `I made the Red Cross
change their ways.'

And, again, I say to him, as thick-skulled as he is, we were not the Red
Cross. We were the United Way. We were investigated. We were--at the end of
the investigation, Congress basically said, `This is the way you should handle
the distributing of the funds.' We did it as perfect a way as you could in
that quick a period of time. We're very proud of how we did that.

GROSS: Do you find it amusing when you are targeted by the right and singled
out for criticism because you're a, quote, "Hollywood liberal," or is it
disturbing to you?

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, now, you know, look, if you're going to stick your head
out and stick your neck out, you're going to have to take some hits. I don't
think anybody in their life has ever accomplished anything that they would be
proud of later if they didn't take some criticism for it. Sometimes that
criticism is right. The criticism--I would be disturbed if I wasn't, 20 years
from now, able to point back at a point in time and say, `This is where I
stood and what I believed in,' which I think will end up proving to be pretty

You know, the strangest thing to me is that the word `liberal' is a bad word.
I'm going to keep saying it and saying it and saying it as often as I can. I
don't know where we've stood on the wrong side of social issues. Now I have
many friends who are conservatives, so I'm not knocking conservatives. I have
a lot of very good friends who are conservatives. But to have us losing the
moral argument when we were the ones who said that women should be allowed to
vote and that, you know, blacks should be allowed to vote and sit in the front
of the bus, we're the ones who said Vietnam was a mistake--you go down the
list of the social issues over a long period of time, we haven't stood on the
wrong side of those issues. And so I don't understand how we lose the moral
argument. I think we're bad at it, us liberals. I think we're pretty weak at
it right now.

GROSS: Not to make an analogy between the terror of the McCarthy era and the
friction in our country today with the culture wars, but do you ever feel in
Hollywood a kind of--on a smaller level, that people are afraid to talk with
each other about things or afraid of things that they've said or connections

Mr. CLOONEY: There was a period of time...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CLOONEY: There was a period of time right after the war--right after 9/11
in the lead-up to the war where it was a very difficult time. There were only
a few of us. And if you look at it, there wasn't a senator out there saying,
`Hold on. Let's ask some questions.' There was a period of time that was
tricky. But I thought it was an important time to be talking about it. I
don't think there's ever a bad time to ask constitutional questions. Are
there tricky times? Is it--not compared to 1953 and '54.

You know, when people want to compare McCarthyism to this, I always talk
about--I think we are evolving, you know. And in the beginning we were
burning heretics at the stake and witches at the stake that we disagreed with.
And then in 1941 when we were scared, we put a bunch of Japanese-Americans
into, you know, detention camps. And we realized, `Well, that's probably not
so good.' And then in the '50s, we brought people in front of the Senate
subcommittees and in front of the House on Un-American Activities, and we
realized that's probably not so great. And now we just have sort of, you
know, some right-wing pundits call us bad names. So I think we're evolving
slowly as a country.

GROSS: My guest is George Clooney. He directed, co-wrote and co-stars in the
new film "Good Night, and Good Luck." We'll talk more after a break. This is


GROSS: My guest is George Clooney. He co-wrote, directed and co-stars in the
new film "Good Night, and Good Luck" about Edward R. Murrow and Joe McCarthy.

Your father ran for Congress from Kentucky in 2004.

Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: You campaigned for him...

Mr. CLOONEY: No, I actually didn't.

GROSS: Oh, I thought you did.

Mr. CLOONEY: I was very careful not to actually. I did fund-raising for


Mr. CLOONEY: places. I was...

GROSS: Why didn't you want to campaign for your father?

Mr. CLOONEY: Because I would damage him, because...

GROSS: You'd damage him?

Mr. CLOONEY: Sure. Absolutely. You know, the--sometimes you have to take
ego out of this. Actors, I think, at times don't understand that. They were
already going to paint my father as Hollywood vs. the heartland, and my father
lived in Kentucky his whole life and certainly isn't Hollywood. But they did,
they had a poster of him like a hippie smoking pot. Now my father is a
straight-laced--the most straight-laced guy you've ever met. So me
campaigning for him in a conservative state would hurt him. Now he'd lost
anyway, but it would have hurt him pretty badly, much in the same way that
when John Kerry's people called and said, `Come get on the train and ride with
us,' I said no. Even though I wanted him to win badly, I thought that my
being there is part of a polarizing effect, and I thought it would hurt.

I believe in fund-raising, but I also think that you have to find ways to
participate without hurting people, you know. I think that, you know, my
ideas were to call up the Kerry campaign and say, `Listen, if you want to show
how virile you are, don't snowboard, but go hang off of the side of a building
and do Habitat for Humanity, if that's what you want to do. You can't get
burned for that,' but not to get on board a train and yell about my liberal
beliefs because I don't think it helps. I think it only gives people
something to point at.

GROSS: When you were growing up, your father was on TV. He had his own show.
He was a news anchor. Did your father seem like a different person on camera
and off?

Mr. CLOONEY: No, no, no, not really. My father's--I think one of his great
qualities is that integrity has been sort of the thing that has always lasted
and has lasted well into his 70s. He's been the same guy. It's an
interesting thing. It's more difficult being the child of someone with that
kind of integrity than it's--I'm now thrilled, but, you know, when you're a
kid and you're in a state that's still dealing with its own problems with
bigotry--we'd be out at dinner, and you'd hear someone say, you know, `Well,
that's about those people,' knowing that they're talking about blacks, you
know. And my sister and I knew that my dad was going to make a scene and walk
out. So we would eat as fast as we could. We'd start to eat quick 'cause my
my father's going to make a scene. And I remember as a kid always wishing
that maybe there was just one time he just pretended not to hear it.

GROSS: Well, what would he do when he made a scene?

Mr. CLOONEY: Oh, he'd get up and say, you know, `You're an idiot, and how
could you say something like that?' and, you know, `Are you from the 1500s?'
And, you know, he would make a big scene. And I, at times, wished that he
hadn't. Now I couldn't be more proud that he did, and he taught me those same
lessons, which are that every time you let that go, every time you don't hear
that or you purposefully ignore it just to make things easier for yourself,
you are doing a disservice. And so that's why you have to fight those fights.

GROSS: Now your mother was a state beauty pageant winner.

Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm. She was Miss Lexington, and she was in the Miss
Kentucky--first runner up in the Miss Kentucky pageant.

GROSS: OK. One of the things that you've been admired for in your career is
your looks; that's one of the many things. What did she teach you about the
relative value of being attractive?

Mr. CLOONEY: You know, my mom is such a beauty, you know, and she's such a
sort of--you know, she does all the handiwork around the house. You know,
she's a carpenter; she builds things, you know. I suppose the only thing she
ever taught was by example, which was that she, you know, went to work every
day and worked very hard. And you never felt as if she was using her looks to
gain an upper hand on anything. And I don't know--you know, it's a tricky
question to answer, as you know, because it's assuming that you're saying that
you're good looking, which I don't like to say or do. On the other hand, you
look like a jerk when you go, you know, `I was the ugliest kid in school.'

GROSS: Right. Right.

Mr. CLOONEY: So actually it's sort of a hard answer to answer without

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. CLOONEY: ...sort of like a jerk.

GROSS: There's a lot of cigarette smoke in your movie.

Mr. CLOONEY: Yeah.

GROSS: And Edward R. Murrow died of lung cancer. He was quite a smoker.
It's just amazing to see him smoking on camera or even smoking in the hallway
of the office. You just can't do that anymore.

Mr. CLOONEY: Yeah. You couldn't--yeah, we were the only set that had people
outside the sound stage not smoking.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Did you have to work hard to get the actors to inhale?

Mr. CLOONEY: No, we--every actor that we hired I talked to, and literally we
brought them in and said, `Smoke,' because if you can't smoke, you can't
smoke. It doesn't look right if you're faking it. And we needed people who
could smoke because all these guys died of lung cancer. You know, most of
them did. It was a pretty brutal time.

GROSS: You grew up on a--well, your grandparents had a tobacco farm.

Mr. CLOONEY: Sure.

GROSS: So were you near that?

Mr. CLOONEY: I worked it for years. That's how you made your money in the
summer when you're a kid. You know, you start by topping it, and then you're
chopping it and cutting it and housing it and stripping it later. And you can
make, you know, 3 1/2 bucks an hour, so you could make some pretty decent
money. But, you know, you don't think of those consequences of tobacco at
that point. I had nine great aunts and uncles, all brothers and sisters. Six
of them died of lung cancer and emphysema. Both my grandparents died of it.
I'm not a smoker. I don't--you know, I was concerned with how romantic we
made smoking look in the film, and so I put that commercial in just to show
how--some of the lies that were perpetrated back then about how smoking was
actually good for you.

GROSS: George Clooney directed, co-wrote and co-stars in the new film "Good
Night, and Good Luck." He'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: George Clooney put on about 30 pounds for his role in the forthcoming
film "Syriana." He thinks the extra weight is one reason why he sustained a
serious back injury shooting a torture scene. Coming up, we'll talk with him
about that injury. We're listening to music from the soundtrack of his film
"Good Night, and Good Luck."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with George Clooney. He
directed, co-wrote and co-stars in the new film "Good Night, and Good Luck"
about Edward R. Murrow's broadcast challenging the anti-Communist crusade of
Senator Joe McCarthy.

Something that happened to you physically...

Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...recently which has been written up a little bit so our listeners
might know a little bit about this. You were making a movie--I think
directing and starring in it?

Mr. CLOONEY: No, I was just acting in it...

GROSS: Just acting in it.

Mr. CLOONEY: ...producing it...


Mr. CLOONEY: ...and acting in it, a film called "Syriana," that's coming out
in about a month.

GROSS: And it's based on the memoir of a former CIA agent.

Mr. CLOONEY: Yeah, Bob Baer.

GROSS: And you hurt yourself in a scene.

Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: In a torture scene, I think?

Mr. CLOONEY: There was a torture scene. I--the problem was that I'd put on
35 pounds to do the movie in about a month. So already I was in a pretty bad
place physically. And then I started--I did a scene that I--usually 170
pounds and I was 208, and it was a scene that I probably could have done at
170 pounds, but shouldn't have done at 208. And I started a series of events
which were tearing the dura, which is the wrap around my spine; it holds in
your spinal fluid. So my back didn't ever hurt; it was my head. And I still
go through those--I still have--you know, I've had a bunch of--several
surgeries, several operations for it to repair the torn dura.

GROSS: So spinal fluid leaked out because the dura was torn
because--What?--you were thrown around in the scene or...

Mr. CLOONEY: I was taped to a chair and getting beaten up and we did quite a
few takes. And then the table--the chair was to be kicked over and I hit my
head. The truth is usually I'm a jock, I'm an athlete, I'm in pretty good
shape. I don't think you should probably put on 38 pounds on purpose when
you're 44. You know, maybe when you're younger, you could do it as an actor.
It was probably a dumb move on my part, but it was worth it for the film.
It's a really important film and it's a good film, and it was important for
the role. But it's caused me a tremendous amount of discomfort since then.
But you know, it's getting better and it's a slow process. And if I were to
quit and just lay down for six months, it'd go away, but I haven't had the
chance to do that.

GROSS: How are you coping with pain? You know, the difference between
pain-free and having pain is a big difference.

Mr. CLOONEY: It's huge--it's very different. You know, people will say,
`Well, I have a--you have a high tolerance for pain.' I don't know how you
relate that to other people's tolerance of pain or what pain is. All I can
say is that I've never been through anything like that and that it was--before
the surgery, there was the most unbearable pain I've ever been through,
literally where go, `Well, you'll have to, you know--you'll have to kill
yourself at some point. You can't live like this.' But once we found out
what it was and started to cure it just--it's a lot of pain.

I don't take painkillers because I worry about that. You know, we've had
members of our family who have become very fond of painkillers over the years.
But I've had to do a lot of, like, pain consulting things, where you have to
sort go to--you go to a guy who basically says, `You have to stop missing or
longing for the time when your head doesn't hurt. You have to consider as if
you were born and this is how your head felt when you were born and work from
there so that you don't constantly sit around saying, "God, I wish my head
felt like it used to," because it hasn't and won't for a long period of time.'

GROSS: If it were me, I know I'd be just like beating myself up that I did
the scene or I'd put on the weight and I'd want to, like, replay the tape of
my life and save myself from that episode that damaged me.

Mr. CLOONEY: Sure.

GROSS: And I'd just be obsessing on that. What do you do to not obsess on

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, you know, I'm having--you know, it's an interesting thing
because it's been probably the worst year personally I've ever had. You know,
a lot of--my brother-in-law died of a heart attack at 45.

GROSS: Oh, my.

Mr. CLOONEY: My grandma fell, broke her hip and died this summer. And my dog
got attacked by a rattlesnake and killed. And I had this sort of health
issue. And so one thing after another sort of hit me.

I've also had creatively by far the best year. "Syriana" is an important
film. I'm working on a film right now called "The Good German" that's just a
phenomenal film that Steven Soderbergh's directing. "Good Night, and Good
Luck" was a labor of love, and it's been received much better than any of us
ever could have imagined; not only with reviews, but even at the box office
that we've opened so far has just been astonishing. So we feel as if--I feel
as if you can't have them all. You know, you don't get to feel healthy and
have a great year and have a creative year. So I feel like it's balanced out
by the idea that I'm--this will be a year I will look back and I won't think
of the bad things; I'll think of the good things.

GROSS: I read your short-term memory was affected by it.

Mr. CLOONEY: Yeah.

GROSS: And I think at a certain age, your short-term memory's shot anyway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CLOONEY: That's true. And drinking doesn't help.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: What are you doing to compensate?

Mr. CLOONEY: I have to practice. I have to count, you know, to do things--I
have to literally--it's a muscle, you know, you have to work on it. It's

GROSS: Like a short-term memory muscle?

Mr. CLOONEY: Yeah, basically. What's happened is that I basically bruised
my brain. You know, it's bouncing around in your head 'cause it's not being
supported by the spinal fluid. So I have trouble--like, if you ask me a
question, I could start to talk and very quickly forget what the question was
and forget--and it's frustrating in a way. But most of the time it's because
your head hurts, you know, and you start to obsess on that.

But mostly what you have to do is practice things. You have to--I have to
practice--you know, like, I count when I--like, if I'm on a bicycle I have to
count how many times I pedal and stuff like that, just--not that it's--not
that I can't remember it, but that is part of a repetition that's important.

GROSS: My guest is George Clooney. He directed, co-wrote and co-stars in the
new film "Good Night, and Good Luck." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is George Clooney and he co-wrote, he directed and co-stars
in the new film "Good Night, and Good Luck," which is the story of Edward R.
Murrow and how he and his team took on Joe McCarthy in 1954.

One of the many things I really like about your film is the performance by
Dianne Reeves, the singer, in it. And the music director for your film is
Allen Sviridoff, who had been the music director for your Aunt Rosemary

Mr. CLOONEY: Right.

GROSS: ...who I'm an enormous fan of. I love her recordings. What did her
music mean to you when you were growing up? It was not your generation.

Mr. CLOONEY: No, but I was one of those weird kids, you know. I was
listening to...

GROSS: It wasn't my generation, either.

Mr. CLOONEY: No, that's right. Well, I was listening to Led Zeppelin, and I
was listing to Nat Cole. You know, I had a very--varied growing up because I
was on the road with, you know, with them a lot. Or I was always exposed...

GROSS: Were you on the road with Rosemary Clooney?

Mr. CLOONEY: Yeah...

GROSS: No, I mean, with Led Zeppelin? Wait. Who were you on the road with?

Mr. CLOONEY: Oh, yeah, exactly, with Led Zeppelin. No, I was on the
road--when I was 20 I was Rosemary's driver, you know.

GROSS: Oh, you were--right. I see. Yeah, yeah.

Mr. CLOONEY: So I spent--I was around that kind of music a lot.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CLOONEY: So I got to appreciate Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer.

GROSS: I see. Yeah.

Mr. CLOONEY: And I had a real appreciation of those guys--Sinatra and, you
know, Nate "King" Cole especially and Rosemary. And Rosemary was having
(clears throat)--Excuse me--she was having her comeback at that point. And
her comeback was something rather spectacular because she became the singer's
singer. Singers adored her and would show up. So there was a great pride in
being around her. So I was really exposed to that kind of music.

The fun part for me was in putting this band together. Peter Martin, the
pianist, is Dianne's--works with Dianne, but the rest of the guys all played
on Rosemary's albums, you know. And it was fun because I got to pick the
music and wrote one of the scenes around "How High the Moon" when Don
Hollenbeck unfortunately killed himself. But the rest of the stuff--you know,
the rest of the music was fun because I got to sit down with Allen and go,
`Let's talk about music that we really loved and how to play it and how to do
it.' And so it was about simplifying things because now everybody likes to
show off. I remember asking Rosemary why she's a better singer at 70 than she
was at 21, because she couldn't hold the notes the way she could. She
couldn't hit the notes the way--and she said, `because I don't have to prove I
can sing anymore.' And I thought that was a good acting lesson, you know, was
not having to show off anymore.

GROSS: I know exactly what she was talking about too, because her voice was
basically shot...

Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: the last couple of recordings she made but her phrasing was so
beautiful, and the emotion was so beautifully conveyed in it. But...

Mr. CLOONEY: Oh, when you see her taking songs that are normally sort of
up-tempo'd, like "Don't Fence Me In" or--and bringing it down to, like, a
quarter of the speed and singing, you know, `straighten up and fly right.'
It's amazing.

GROSS: You stayed with your aunt when you first got to Hollywood...

Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: ...and it sounds like she threw you out after a while.

Mr. CLOONEY: Pretty much, yeah. I understand that. I would have thrown me
out, too.

GROSS: How come?

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, I think at some point you don't need a 22-year-old kid
hanging around in your house anymore. I'm sure I was a pain, you know. At
some point, I'm sure, you know, the idea of offering your nephew to come out
and live with you is a nice gesture, but I think it comes back to haunt you
after about a year, you know.

GROSS: Yeah. Did you think you were talented when you started working?

Mr. CLOONEY: I did...

GROSS: Did you think you actually had something?

Mr. CLOONEY: I didn't really know whether I had any talent or not. I knew
that I was, for the first time in my life, engaged, and I hadn't been. I was
sort of--I was one of those guys who was pretty good at almost anything I
tried right away. You know, anything I wanted to do I could pick it up pretty
quickly--sports, almost any sport--but never great at anything. And I found
myself quickly bored by things. So I didn't really pursue anything. I'd lost
sort of--I was 20 years old, 21 years old and didn't really have any great
objectives. I wasn't going to be a great news man. I'd studied journalism.
I'd done a few news pieces, but I wasn't bright enough or curious enough to do
news, especially at the level that my father was doing it. I was certainly
going to be compared to my father.

And then I found acting, and I thought, well, this is something that, at the
very least, I'm not going to be bored by. And I know that there is no moment
that you go, `Wow, I've finally done it.' You know, you're never going to be
satisfied by it because it's a constant growing process. So I thought, well,
that's interesting to me and I found it to be interesting.

And I got into an acting class pretty quickly, and I started working with
working actors. And, you know, there's an assumption before you actually
become part of the acting community that people who work are good actors and
people who don't are bad actors. It's just sort of an assumption. And what
you realized was--you'd be doing a scene, you'd be holding your own with
someone who's making a very good living acting--you'd realize that there's a
possibility that you can actually do this for a living. So it was a long
process of figuring out whether or not I was any good at it, and then it's
still a long process of figuring that out.

GROSS: One part that you auditioned for that you didn't get was the part that
Michael Madsen played in "Reservoir Dogs," right?

Mr. CLOONEY: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: And this is like one of the amazing scenes in the movie where he...

Mr. CLOONEY: Sure is--slices the guy.

GROSS: ...slices off the ear of one of his hostages, and you don't really see
it being sliced off, but yet it seems so vivid you feel like you've seen it.
How would you have played that scene? Do you know?

Mr. CLOONEY: I have no idea. Michael was so good.

GROSS: And what's the record in the background? Is it "Stuck in the Middle
With You" that's playing?

Mr. CLOONEY: "Stuck in the Middle With You," yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CLOONEY: No, you know, I--there are a couple of movies--you've got to
remember that when you're in television, which is where I was, it's a huge
chasm between movies and television then. Not like it is today. You really
couldn't get--I remember I was doing the show "Sisters," and they were paying
me a considerable amount of money for an actor, and I couldn't get--I remember
I got one audition for a casting director for two lines in the film "Guarding
Tess." It was one of those things where it was just--it was literally night
and day. It was Gulliver's Travels to try and get into film. And "ER" was
what changed all of that for me. I auditioned--the only other film I'd really
been close to getting was the film "Thelma & Louise" that Brad Pitt got the
role, and that changed his career. And I remember seeing the movie and
thinking `Yeah, that's the right actor.'

GROSS: My guest is George Clooney. He became famous for his role on "ER" as
Dr. Douglas Ross. Here's a scene from the 1994 pilot. He's in the ER
examining an infant. He suspects the baby has been abused by his mother,
who's also in the room.

(Soundbite of "ER")

Unidentified Woman: Look, he's still crying. Why aren't you giving him

Mr. CLOONEY (As Dr. Douglas Ross): I can't give him anything until I know
the extent of his injuries. We took an X-ray so we know he has a skull

Unidentified Woman: A skull fracture? The baby-sitter. I never trusted her.

Mr. CLOONEY: Ma'am, your child has multiple contusions that are at least 12
hours old. He has a skull fracture. He also has several old, healed
fractures. He's a battered child.

Unidentified Woman: I'm not even going to respond to that. You think I harm
my child?

Mr. CLOONEY: Happens all the time.

Unidentified Woman: Look, if you're not going to treat him, I'm taking him

Mr. CLOONEY: No, you're not. Do you have anything to say?

Unidentified Woman: He's my date (baby continues to cry). Look, I can assure
you, whoever you are...

Mr. CLOONEY: Ross, Dr. Ross.

Unidentified Woman: Well, Dr. Ross, let me tell you, your concerns are
unfounded, OK?

Mr. CLOONEY: How'd he burn his legs?

Unidentified Woman: What?

Mr. CLOONEY: These marks right here on his legs--those. Those are healed
burn scars. How did that happen?

Unidentified Woman: He--I--I don't know anything about burns on the legs.
I'm beginning to think you're making this up, is what I'm thinking.

Mr. CLOONEY: Ma'am, you may want to call an attorney.

Unidentified Woman: I am an attorney.

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, then I'm sure you'll know how the Department of Child
Services will handle this.

Unidentified Woman: How dare you speak to me this way!

Mr. CLOONEY: How dare you treat your child like this? He's a little kid. I
try to be understanding in my job, but, lady, this just stinks.

GROSS: Well, "ER"--when you got "ER," that certainly must have changed your
life a lot.

Mr. CLOONEY: Sure.

GROSS: I mean, suddenly you were a star and people become so close to you
when you're on TV every week.

Mr. CLOONEY: Yeah.

GROSS: There's this kind of bonding that I think people go through.

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, it's an unusual experience because it's not like being a
movie star. You haven't paid 10 bucks and you're 30 feet high and you've made
it a date. You've been in their homes every Thursday. So, you know, the
truth is, I'm a product of a great amount luck. I create some of that luck
because, you know, I did 13 pilots and I did eight television series before
that. But the simple truth is, had I done that exact same show and that exact
same role and we were on Friday night instead of Thursday night at 10, I don't
have a film career and I'm not sitting here with you. It requires that kind
of luck. The show would never have been as popular on a Friday night as it
was on a Thursday night.

GROSS: You knew something about fame. You know, your father was on TV.
Rosemary Clooney, your aunt, was incredibly famous.

Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: But what surprised you most when it happened to you? What were you
unprepared for?

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, it's a funny thing. There isn't a real "Fame" school that
you can go to and learn, you know. I had--probably if there was
anybody--there's--I haven't met many people better prepared for it, because I
had the great vision of watching, especially with Rosemary, how big you can
get and how quickly it can be taken away.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CLOONEY: And it's not like Rosemary became less of a singer in that
period of time, which showed me that it has very little to do with you. And
that was an important thing to learn and an important thing to understand,
which I did. So when I wasn't famous a lot, I kept thinking, `Well, there's
always this opportunity.' And when I got famous, I understood that it wasn't
just because I was a brilliant actor or deserving of it, that, in fact, there
were other elements involved. And you still have that--I still have the idea
that that goes away at some point, as it does, sooner or later. When it does,
that's why you direct and you write and you try to have other coals in the

But the things that you aren't prepared for are the trade-offs. No one wants
to hear you complain about them so you don't complain about them. But I would
say that the significant loss of privacy is interesting.

GROSS: One of the things you've done was try to take on one of the tabloid
news shows, "Hard Copy."

Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: What provoked you to take a stand and try to tone done the
aggressiveness with which the tabloid shows were coming after stars?

Mr. CLOONEY: I thought it was--you know, I've always dealt with things
because I'm the son of a journalist. I thought I had a journalistic argument,
which I did, which was that if--you know, it all started in sort of a silly
moment. I was sitting eating dinner with a girl and somebody had a video
camera on the table next to us, and they propped it up on a cork and
videotaped it. And the next night that conversation that I was having with
this girl in private at a restaurant was on "Hard Copy." I said, OK, fair
enough. I'm going to say you're allowed to do that, even though I think it is
an infringement of privacy. Let's just say I'm a public figure, so fair
enough; everything's fair game. However, somebody took that video and "Hard
Copy" bought it. And "Hard Copy" was owned by Paramount, who also owned...

GROSS: "Entertainment Tonight."

Mr. CLOONEY: ..."Entertainment Tonight." So I called up "Entertainment
Tonight," and I said, `Listen, I'm not going to have to do any more of your
shows, which--you used me to make money, and then you used that money to buy
these videos from these guys.' That seems like a fair argument. And a guy
named Frank Kelly, who was running the place at the time said, `I'll make
you a deal.' I said, `What's the deal?' And he said, `The deal is you'll
never appear on "Hard Copy" if you just drop this right now.' And I said,
`Put it in writing.' And he did, on Paramount letterhead.

Now this was right when they were putting the ratings on TV, and they thought
it was going to be a big deal, you know, TV, PG and stuff like that. They
thought it was actually going to be much bigger than it was, and everyone was
trying to get a news rating, which meant there was a no rating. And "Hard
Copy" was battling heavily to be a news show--which, of course, it isn't; it
wasn't; it was an entertainment show--battling, you know, "Inside Edition"
with Bill O'Reilly, in fact, "A Current Affair," "Hard Copy," "American
Journal." Those shows were all sort of entertainment shows. So I had this
piece of paper that said, `We agree that you will never appear on our news
show "Hard Copy."

About six months later there was this innocuous story--because it couldn't
have been--if it was an explosive story, it would have just been me trying to
defend myself for the story. It had to be an innocuous story. It was just a
shot of me walking down the street with my girlfriend, but it was on "Hard
Copy." So I called--I sent the letter around and I said, `First of all, you
broke your promise, but more important than that is, I'm not sure you're
allowed to call yourself a news organization and make this promise. I'm
fairly sure you can't, in fact.' And it ended up on the front page of a lot
of newspapers, and they called it a smoking gun, and it ended up being sort of
a fun fight. It was all a journalistic fight.

GROSS: George Clooney directed, co-wrote and co-stars in the new film "Good
Night, and Good Luck." This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with George Clooney. He directed,
co-wrote and co-stars in the new movie "Good Night, and Good Luck."

When you were, I think, around 13--Tell me if I'm wrong with the age--you got
for about a year something called Bell's palsy.


GROSS: And you could describe what it is for a second.

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, Bell's--it's a--they're not quite sure what causes it.
They think it's an inner ear virus. It's certainly something you catch. Most
people--when you're kids, it usually takes about six months to go away.
Sometimes people have it when they're older, and it doesn't last quite as
long. About 90 percent of the time it gets better, but it's complete
paralysis in half of your face, numb, comple--you know, eye patch, the whole

GROSS: So you were that way for about a year?

Mr. CLOONEY: About nine months, yeah.

GROSS: Terrifying.

Mr. CLOONEY: Well, when it first happened--because I'd just seen the movie
"Pride of the Yankees," with Lou Gehrig, and he'd had Lou Gehrig's disease,
you know, it came out at the end of the movie. And I remember I was sitting
in church with my mom and dad, and my tongue was numb and the side of my face
was numb. I was just starting high school, you know. It's not a great time
for that anyway. And we went to Frisch's Big Boy, which is where you go
to--you know, like Bob's Big Boy and some others, fast-food restaurants where
we would go after church. And I was drinking, and the milk was pouring out of
the side of my mouth. And I thought, `Oh, I've got Lou Gehrig's disease, and
I'm gonna die.' Then you realized fairly quickly that it was Bell's palsy
after I'd gotten to a doctor.

GROSS: That naturally goes away on its own?

Mr. CLOONEY: Yeah, there's nothing you can do about it.

GROSS: Well, the reason I ask is, I've noticed that a lot of artists,
writers, actors were disabled and sidelined during a part of their childhood
by some kind of, you know, illness or another and that they were forced to
kind of stop doing certain activities and spend more time alone in their
bedroom doing whatever you do when you're a kid alone in your room. Did
Bell's palsy put you through a period like that, and did it change you at all?
Did it make you...

Mr. CLOONEY: Sure. Well, what it does is--it's a funny thing, but, you know,
you've got to remember that up until I was 13 years old, we moved. I went to
five different grade schools. We moved a lot because my dad had a lot of
different jobs. So going from, you know--you actually develop either a good
personality about being around people or--my sister had a tougher time with
it. You're either comfortable or you're not about being around people. It
makes it much more difficult when suddenly half your face is paralyzed and
you're going into high school.

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. CLOONEY: So what you become is the joker. It's probably a great thing
that it happened to me, because it forced me to engage in a series of making
fun of myself, and I think that's an important part of being famous, by the
way, which is, you know, you gotta get yourself first. You have to--you know,
the practical jokes have to be aimed at you. You have to be able to make fun
of yourself a lot. I think that that's been one of the issues with some of
the liberal bend. Some of my friends even at times that take up the fight
against Bush is that they lack some humor, and because of that, it comes off
as preaching. And I think that there's other ways of doing it.

You know, the traitor issue is a perfect example. I'll give you--the best
example is there was this magazine, and it had, you know, Sean Penn and
Michael Moore and myself and Barbra Streisand and Susan Sarandon and Tim
Robinson, and it had the pictures of--not the Globe, but it was one of those
magazines. It said: Traitor across his chest. And I got a call from one of
these actors--not one of them, but another actor who I--will remain
nameless--but called me and said--who was also on the cover, and he called up
and said, `We have to hold a press conference and say that this is
McCarthyism. This is--you know, you can't do this.' And I said, `Look, you
can't be talking about freedom of speech, which is what we're talking about,
being allowed to say what we want, and then say, "But don't say bad things
about me." You gotta take your hits.' I said, `Let me handle it. Let me do
one.' And he said, `OK.'

So I took that same cover of the magazine with the same pictures of us on it,
and I found other people who were speaking about the war--the pope, Pat
Buchanan, Bob Novak, Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter--I put them also on that,
with traitor right across the pope's chest. And I put it--sent it to 800 news
outlets anonymously with a thing underneath it that said: Paid for by the
citizens for a free Iraq. You know, I'm for a free Iraq. Folded it up and
sent it out anonymously and waited. And CBS and "Entertainment Tonight"
eventually picked it up. They called and said, `Have you seen this flyer
that's going around?' And I was waiting for that.

GROSS: Was your name on it? Did they know it was from you?

Mr. CLOONEY: No, no, it was completely anonymous.


Mr. CLOONEY: So when they sent it out, my quote--"Entertainment Tonight"
called and said, `Have you seen this flyer that's going around?' And my quote
was, `The pope and I can take it, but don't pick on Pat Buchanan.' And the
trick was to me--the idea was you gotta do this with some humor. I mean, I
remember Michael Moore called me up and he said, `Have you seen this flyer
that's going around?' I said, `That's me, Michael, I did that' He goes, `Oh,
OK. Good.' So the trick to me was there had to be some humor to this,
because we gotta sort of--and you gotta take the hits yourself a little bit.

GROSS: I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. CLOONEY: Oh, it was fun.

GROSS: George Clooney directed, co-wrote and co-stars in the new film "Good
Night, and Good Luck."


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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