In the futuristic thriller “The Midnight Sky,” George Clooney is a lone scientist trying to warn astronauts away from an Earth that is no longer habitable, and all while he’s caring for a young child.
For the movie, Clooney grew a beard, dropped some weight, and put on his director’s hat.
“You haven’t been taking on a lot of acting roles,” said correspondent Tracy Smith. “What was it about this project that was so compelling that you decided to direct and act in it?”
“I saw the part and I thought, well, this is a really great part,” Clooney replied. “And then I had an idea of how to tell the story, and so, I called up Netflix and said, ‘You know, I think I have a take on it.'”
The film, in theatres and on Netflix December 23, is both powerful and poignant. Clooney shot it all last year, just before the real world shut down.
Smith met Clooney at his home in Los Angeles, where he’s spent the past few months with his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, their two kids, and a whole lot of time on his hands.
“Are you enjoying being home all the time now?” Smith asked.
“Well, look: no, of course not,” he replied. “It’s been a while since I did, you know, 15 loads of laundry in a day and mopped floors and, you know, all these doors over here I stained! You know, I always say I felt like my mother in 1964, ’cause she had two kids and no help. And I don’t know how she did it now. I have more sympathy for her now than ever.”
And he’s even been cutting his own hair. “Uh-huh. I’ve been cutting my own hair for 25 years,” he exclaimed.
“So, it has nothing to do with quarantine?”
“Nah. Look, my hair’s, like really like straw, you know? And it’s so easy to cut. You can’t really make too many mistakes. So years ago I bought a thing called a Flowbee, which when we were kids – ”
“You did not!” said Smith. “The infomercial?”
“Yeah. It comes with a vacuum cleaner and the clippers? Yeah. I still have it. … Listen, man, it works!” he smiled. “Now, I wouldn’t do it to my wife …!”
In case you’re keeping track, Clooney (and his Flowbee’ed hair) have made more than four dozen films, and picked up two Oscars along the way.
He first came to fame as a doctor in the NBC series “ER,” but he was hardly an overnight success. He’d struggled in Hollywood for years after moving out from his Kentucky home with little more than the shirt on his back. “It was 1982 when I wanted to move out to L.A.,” he said. “I had a beat-up ’76 Monte Carlo, rust all over it. I would fill it with oil and check the gas, and I drove it out here in three days. I didn’t turn it off, ’cause I was afraid I couldn’t turn it back on. And I got here, it broke down, and I got a bicycle, and I rode to auditions all around town for a year-and-a-half.”
Now 59, and a millionaire many times over, he keeps busy with the Clooney Foundation for Justice that grew out of his work in places like South Sudan.
But “The Midnight Sky” was one of his most demanding jobs to date. This scene, where he’s separated from the little girl, was shot in a real Arctic snowstorm.
“That was the very first week of shooting,” Clooney said. “We were in Iceland, so we went out, it’s 40° below zero and it’s 70-, 80-mile-an-hour wind gusts. And I was doing stuff without goggles, so my eyelids would freeze shut after about a little over a minute. And so, I could only do a take for that long, then I’d have to go in and they’d take a blow dryer and get my eyelashes open so I could go back out.”
It seems like an action film, but Clooney says it’s really about human beings’ need to connect, across the universe or just across a room.
Smith said, “I would say one of the themes of the film is that idea of having someone to care for can keep you going.”
“In your own life, does having someone to care for change things?”
“Yes. There is no question that having Amal in my life changed everything for me, no question about that,” he replied. “It was the first time that everything that she did and everything about her was infinitely more important than anything about me.
“And then we had these two knuckleheads, and it is very fulfilling, and it’s something I wasn’t at all – didn’t see coming. So, you know, we never talked about marriage when we were dating. And I asked her outta the blue. Took her a long time to say yes. I was on my knee for like 20 minutes. I finally said, ‘Look, I’m gonna throw my hip out.’ We told that story to her parents, and they’re like, ‘There’s something wrong with his hip?'”
“And we never talked about having kids. And then one day we just said, ‘What do you think?’ And, you know, then we go to the doctor and, you know, you do the ultrasound and like, ‘Hey, you got a baby boy.’ I said, ‘Baby boy, fantastic!’ Then they go, ‘And you got another one there.’ And I was like … I was up for one, you know? ‘Cause, again, I’m old. All of a sudden it’s, like, two? And I literally – you know, it’s hard to get me to not talk. And I just stood there for like ten minutes, just staring at this piece of paper going … two … silently. But I’m so glad they have each other, you know?”
“It is a wonderful thing, right?” said Smith.
When he’s not making movies, he says he spends a third of his time with his foundation, but quietly. For a guy who’s now made a few space movies, George Clooney is remarkably down to Earth.
Smith asked, “So, I’m curious, just watching you, you’re very self-deprecating. And I’m wondering if that’s something that is in your nature, or do you work on that?”
“I think it’s in my nature,” Clooney said. “I think, you know, a lot of times the secret is, you take the gun outta their hands before they can shoot you.
“I think that’s a healthy way of looking at the world. There’s a line in a movie called ‘Out of the Past.’ Robert Mitchum says, ‘I never learned anything from hearing myself talk.’ It’s kind of a good measure to go by.”
To watch a trailer for “The Midnight Sky” click on the video player below:
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Story produced by John D’Amelio. Editor: Lauren Barnello.