Third career a charm for Clooney

Monday, December 10, 2001

LOS ANGELES -- George Clooney adored the Cincinnati Reds growing up, yet choked at the plate when he tried out for the team. He idolized his father, a TV anchorman, then discovered he lacked the news skills for a journalism career himself.

And when Clooney tried warbling the signature song of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", he realized he was a few notes shy of his aunt, singer Rosemary Clooney.

So the actor settled for becoming one of Hollywood's hottest commodities, with a choice of plum roles and multimillion-dollar pay days. Not bad for a guy who slept on the floor of a buddy's closet during his early time in Hollywood and spent a decade toiling in mostly bad television and movies before hitting it big with the series "ER" in 1994.

Clooney's movie success parallels Steven Soderbergh's, his new producing partner and director of "Ocean's Eleven," in which Clooney stars with Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and Matt Damon. In the mid-1990s, both stumbled through critical or commercial duds, Clooney with "Batman & Robin," Soderbergh with "The Underneath."

"Steven and I were both kind of at creative low points," Clooney said in an interview. "Things weren't working so well for either of us."

Then they hooked up for "Out of Sight," an acclaimed crime romp that, while failing to make money, showcased Soderbergh as a skilled big-budget director and Clooney as a charming leading man.

Soderbergh went on to make the independent hit "The Limey," then followed up last year with "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic," winning the best-director Oscar for the latter.

Clooney, 40, broke out with the satiric Gulf War adventure "Three Kings" and established box-office luster with "The Perfect Storm." "O Brother," the Coen brothers' rootsy update of "The Odyssey," showcased Clooney in a new light, as a modern rapscallion who would have been at home in the screwball comedies of Preston Sturges.

"He's just sort of unique right now. There's no one quite like him, his age, who can do the kinds of things he does. That's probably why he gets offered everything," Soderbergh said. "And as he himself says, 'What I'm concerned about now is the films I leave behind.' He's in the fortunate position not to really have to worry about money, so he can focus on that."

The two consulted after "Out of Sight," offering advice on each other's projects, then formed their own company, Section Eight, to make anything from lower-budgeted films to $80 million productions.

One of the first scripts that came their way was "Ocean's Eleven," a remake of the Rat Pack flick that starred Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. At Clooney and Soderbergh's urging, the superstar cast took big pay cuts to make it affordable.

Clooney stands in as the Sinatra character, masterminding an elaborate casino heist. Neither Clooney nor Soderbergh were fans of the original "Ocean's Eleven," but the actor worried about reprising even a so-so Sinatra role.

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