DATE December 27, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: George Clooney talks about his career and his latest
film "Good Night, and Good Luck"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
We're ending 2005 by featuring some of our favorite interviews of the year.
George Clooney has two movies that are currently playing in theaters: "Good
Night, and Good Luck" and "Syriana." Clooney is nominated for a Golden Globe
for his performance in "Syriana." For "Good Night, and Good Luck," he's
nominated for best director and best screenplay, which he co-wrote. In
January, "Good Night, and Good Luck" will receive the Stanley Kramer from
the Producers Guild of America.
The film 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 Communists. At the time, 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
(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 the cable channel 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: ...you 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: 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...
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. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Let's get back to our interview with George Clooney.
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: ...in 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
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: 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: There's a lot of cigarette smoke in your movies.
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. And...
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: George Clooney recorded in October. We'll hear more of the interview
in the second half of the show. His latest films, "Good Night, and Good Luck"
and "Syriana," are currently playing in theaters. Here's a song from the
soundtrack of "Good Night, and Good Luck." The singer is Dianne Reeves. I'm
Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of song)
Ms. DIANNE REEVES: (Singing) The buzzard took a monkey for a ride in the
air. The monkey thought that everything was all square. The buzzard tried to
throw the monkey off his back. The monkey grabbed his neck and said, `Now
listen, jack. Straighten up and fly right. Straighten up and stay right.
Straighten up and fly right. Cool down, Papa. Don't you blow your top.
Ain't no use in diving. What's the use in jiving? Straighten up and fly
right. Cool down, Papa. Don't you blow your top.' The buzzard told the
monkey, `You choking me. Release your hold, and I will set you free.' The
monkey looked the buzzard right dead in the eye and said, `You know, your
story's touching, but it sounds like a lie. Oh, straighten up and fly right.
Straighten up and stay right. Straighten up and fly right. Cool down, Papa.
Cool down, Papa. Papa, don't you blow your top.'
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation with George Clooney. He'll
describe how he was injured while making "Syriana." Music critic Milo Miles
says the music story of the year is reggaetone, a hybrid of reggae, hip-hop
and salsa. He'll review several reggaetone CDs.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
This week we're featuring some of our favorite interviews of the year. Let's
get back to the interview I recorded in October with George Clooney. He has
two films in theaters now, "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Syriana." Let's
hear a scene from "Syriana." The story is based on a memoir by a former CIA
agent. Clooney plays a CIA agent based in the Middle East who's being forced
out. He tries to hold on to his job until he starts questioning the larger
political motives of the agency and the government. In this scene he's at a
(Soundbite of "Syriana")
Mr. CLOONEY: (As Bob Barnes) And our analysis seems to be on the mark.
We're getting good satellite coverage. We're reprogramming resources into
Unidentified Woman: Thank you for coming over, Mr. Barnes. Welcome back, and
forgive me if I wade right in, but forgetting for a second your bureaucratic
checklist I'm trying to get undigested information.
Mr. CLOONEY: (As Barnes) Well, to the best of our ability...
Unidentified Woman: India is now our ally. Russia is now our ally. Even
China will be an ally. Everybody between Morocco and Pakistan is the
problem--failed states and failed economies--but Iran is a natural cultural
ally of the US. Are we going to have a nice, secular pro-Western,
Mr. CLOONEY: (As Barnes) It's possible. It's complicated.
Unidentified Woman: Of course, it is, Mr. Barnes. Thank you for your time.
Mr. CLOONEY: (As Barnes) They let young people march in the street and the
next day they shut down 50 newspapers. Put a few satellite dishes up on the
roofs. Let 'em have "My Two Dads." That doesn't mean the ayatollahs are
surrendering one iota of control over that nation.
Unidentified Man: Mr. Barnes, the reform movement in Iran is one of the
president's great hopes for the region and crucial to the petroleum security
of the United States. These gentlemen are with the CLI, the Committee for the
Liberation of Iran, Mr. Barnes.
GROSS: George Clooney was injured while shooting a scene in "Syriana," a
scene in which he's tortured. He told me what happened.
Mr. CLOONEY: 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 at coping with pain? You know, the difference between
pain-free and having pain--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: I read 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: 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
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
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--oh, right. I see. Yeah, yeah.
Mr. CLOONEY: So I spent--I was around that kind of music a lot.
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, Nat "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 we 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 'cause 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
Mr. CLOONEY: Mm-hmm.
GROSS: ...in 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.'
GROSS: My guest is George Clooney. We'll talk more after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
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: Oh, I'm not even going to respond to that. You think I'd
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
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 know, 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
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.
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.
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 use 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: 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.
Mr. CLOONEY: Yes.
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 the
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.
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 cover, and it had, you know, Sean Penn and
Michael Moore and myself and Barbra Streisand and Susan Sarandon and Tim
Robbins, and it had the pictures of--not the Globe, but it was one of those
magazines. And it said `Traitor' across our chests. And I got a call from
one of these actors--not one of them, but another actor who I will
remain--keep 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 out 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--and I 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. And they called and said, `Have you seen
this flier that's going around?' And I was waiting for that (unintelligible).
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 flier 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 flier
that's going around?' I said, `That's me, Michael; I did that' And he goes,
`Oh, OK. Good.' So the trick to me was that there had to be some humor to
this, because we gotta sort of--and you gotta take the hits yourself a little
GROSS: I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. CLOONEY: Oh, it was fun.
GROSS: George Clooney, recorded in October. Tomorrow we'll continue our
end-of-the-year series featuring some of our favorite interviews of 2005.
Coming up: Music critic Milo Miles on the sound he considers the music story
of the year. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Rise of reggaetone
TERRY GROSS, host:
The music style called reggaetone is a combination of reggae, hip-hop and
salsa. It's the leading youth sound in Spanish-speaking communities and has
broken into the hip-hop mainstream. Music critic Milo Miles chronicles its
The explosion of reggaetone is the music story of 2005. Reggaetone is the
first Spanish-language pop style to pervade English-speaking radio programs.
And while the singers and rappers aren't as central to the tunes as they are
in straight hip-hop, they are way more important than voices were in old dance
crazes like the mambo. This is real cultural change.
Reggaetone has been taking shape for at least 20 years. It began among
Jamaican workers in Panama and reggae fans in Puerto Rico. It built on local
beats like the bamba and established hip-hop fusions like Jamaican raga. One
key influence was the 1990 hit by Shabba Ranks, "Dem Bow."
(Soundbite of "Dem Bow")
Mr. SHABBA RANKS (Singer): (Foreign language sung)
MILES: And, though modified, that basic rhythm still drives reggaetone
superstars like Daddy Yankee.
(Soundbite of unidentified song)
DADDY YANKEE (Singer): (Foreign language sung)
MILES: The sound of reggaetone offers a refreshing change in what had become
the very hard-slamming world of hip-hop. It's lighter and more graceful, more
melodic and with better singers and more female voices. There are
all-reggaetone stations in a half dozen cities including Miami, Los Angeles
and New York. But with a huge, ravenous market to feed, there's now an
enormous number of reggaetone releases out there. And even top names like
Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Ivy Queen and Tego Calderon do not make consistently
Reggaetone is guided by collections of hit singles, which means it's
producer-driven. And the easy consensus is that the supreme producer team is
Francisco Saldana, known as Luny, and Victor Cabrera, known as Tunes, and
together known as Luny Tunes. They must have vibrant rapport with their
clients because their name crops up in many songs. In this number by Daddy
Yankee, it's even the chorus hook.
(Soundbite of unidentified song)
DADDY YANKEE: (Foreign language sung)
MILES: The first anthology of Luny Tunes productions from 2003 is called "Mas
Flow" and it's an apt name. Their mixes and arrangements do have superior
flow. Luny Tunes used the boom-chaboom-chick-brown beat as an accent broken
up with synthesizer figures, electronically altered voices and hearty chants.
Any developing form such as reggaetone needs visionary producers or performers
who can hear what needs to be enriched and how to do it. Luny Tunes made
reggaetone too strong for the mainstream to resist.
(Soundbite of unidentified song)
Unidentified Singer: (Foreign language sung)
MILES: Saldana and Cabrera were born in the Dominican Republic, raised north
of Boston and now operate out of Puerto Rico. Listening to rough-sounding
import singles when they were teens, the pair would riff on ideas how to make
the tracks hipper and more varied. Now Luny Tunes themselves are the essence
of hip. They are scheduled to work on tracks with Enrique Iglesias, Ricky
Martin and Jennifer Lopez. And this is the usual next step for visionary
performers and producers. They try to make their hard-core work, well, a
little more all things to all people.
Whether Luny Tunes continue to shape reggaetone or not, they have already
released three definitive introductions. The first is "Mas Flow," the second
is "La Trayectoria" and the most recent is "Mas Flow Dos." Except no
substitutes. These are the way into reggaetone.
GROSS: Milo Miles lives in Cambridge.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
(Soundbite of unidentified song)
Unidentified Group: (Foreign language sung)
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.