George Clooney is one lucky guy – and he knows it. A phenomenally successful career, a marriage to beautiful human rights lawyer Amal and now, twins, Ella and Alexander. “It’s great,” George says of fatherhood. “It’s a time in my life that I didn’t think I would get to experience, so I’m a lucky man. How can one man be so lucky?”
George has only a few moments to spare during his hectic promotion schedule for Suburbicon, the darkly comic tale of family life, murder and racism in 1950s America that he directs, and which stars Julianne Moore and Matt Damon. I’m not anticipating an intimate one-on-one conversation, more like a generic, film-focused chat with a peppering of personality.
But one forgets just how well gorgeous George plays the game.
Or maybe that’s just it – he doesn’t, he’s just a genuinely charming, affable fellow. You can hear the joy in his velvety vocals when he speaks about his barely five-month-old babies. He is a doting dad who takes pleasure in explaining the delights of nappy changes and midnight feedings. Warm and open, he reflects on his career, and an eventful year in which he and Amal settled into family life at their home in Berkshire in the English countryside.
Julianne Moore has the nicest things to say about you. Isn’t she cool?
Really, isn’t she the coolest, nicest person you could ever meet?
But Matt, I’ve read, seems to be the only one who’s had quite a lot of bad things to say about you.
Matt, he’s the worst. What a nightmare. And he can’t even act to save his life [laughs].
You wanted Brad Pitt didn’t you?
He was busy and, you know, Matt’s the cheaper option [laughs]. You’re not going to get Tom Cruise for cheap, there’s budgets to contend with. So, you get what you pay for [laughs].
Did you get a lot of glee from the punch scene?
That’s why I tortured him. Probably the most enjoyment I’ve had, it’s somewhere in the top two per cent of my professional career. And the truth is, I got it in the first take. But we went again 20, 30 times, just because I could. And I’m not sorry. Not in the least.
The subject matter is eerily timely. Do you see that as a pro or a con?
Well, it’s not timely if you think about it because racism has never gone away. It’s still very much a part of our everyday and while it can appear to be pushed towards the back of consciousness temporarily, something like Charlottesville [where white supremacists and counter-protesters clashed in August at a “Unite the Right” rally] will propel that existence of hatred and bigotry back into the headlines and front pages.
It’s never far beneath the surface unfortunately, and it takes very little for it to rear its ugly head. I grew up in Kentucky, in a time when segregation and racism were deep issues, and I look back at it then and now and of course attitudes and opinions have progressed in a big way. But there are still huge swathes of society who feel like they’re losing their footing and their place in society and they’re blaming minorities for it.
Do you think the Trump administration has stoked the fire?
The talk of building fences and dividing and isolating minorities is very present, has been very present in recent times. But it’s nothing new. These conversations have been happening for a long time. And it was interesting for me to project that on a ’50s backdrop where the wide perception is a Leave It to Beaver, living the American Dream in Eisenhower’s booming economy. Scratch the surface, it wasn’t like that. It maybe was if you were a white man, that was it.
What’s your take on the Harvey Weinstein affair?
It’s a watershed moment in history, especially for women and their overbearing fear of not being believed. That has changed. Now the perpetrators, these men, can and will be exposed for their crimes and no amount of silencing or intimidation or bullying will stop it. But it’s not just a wake-up call for Hollywood, it’s a wake-up call for all industries and it’s a call for a society where women feel safe and feel secure discussing this subject.
And where predators abusing these positions will be publicly shamed and brought to justice. The key here is to not let it fade away. It’s to actually build on the momentum and make a permanent change to how industry has operated for a long time.
How is fatherhood treating you?
It’s really fun. They’re 4½ months old, they laugh at goofy faces and fart sounds, they’re the best audience I’ve ever had. Although now we’ve just started them on solids I think we’re at the precipice. I don’t think it’s going to be as fun [laughs]. And I’m only relatively good with the diaper changing, but this new transition, it’s changing everything.
For the worse. It’s all downhill from here. It’s a total train wreck. I’m not going to go into detail [laughs]. And I used to say to my friends, “What’s the problem, this diaper thing is easy!” Yeah, now I know [laughs].
Isn’t that what the nanny is for?
No, it’s my job. What’s the point of being a parent if you don’t get your hands dirty? That’s what it’s all about.
What has been your biggest surprise since becoming a father?
I can’t really understand just how fully formed they are as human beings. Five months ago, they weren’t here. And now, they’re both very different; he’s this little thug, this out-there personality, and she’s very sweet-natured and dainty.
And this is who they are, this is who they’re going to develop into and grow up to be, and we as parents just have to try our best not to mess them up [laughs]. I want them to be happy and healthy and safe and it’s our job to safeguard that to the best of our ability. And after that, it’s like rolling the dice.
What are you most looking forward to?
All of it. I am looking forward to their first word, talking and seeing what they come out with, that excites me. And how they’re going to talk back to me [laughs].
Your career has undergone a massive transformation since we first met you in ER, now you’re more involved in directing. What’s the biggest change between when you first started out and where you’re at now?
For so long, my only concern, my full focus, was on getting a job. Any job. I needed to make money. So, when you’re at a stage in your career where you’ve had success, been lucky enough to experience success, money isn’t the primary motivating factor. I can work on movies purely because I want to work on them.
The story we’re trying to tell, the subject matter, all that is my purpose. So that’s the most obvious contrast. And also working on projects that help others, because without anybody taking a chance on me, I wouldn’t have experienced any success. So I think it’s very important, you have to be mindful to give back, it’s your duty in a lot of ways. I like to do that.
Suburbicon is in cinemas now