Spotlight By: Andrea Tuccillo
Does George Clooney have a split personality? Or maybe he has a clone? Nope, it’s just good old-fashioned talent that enabled him to be both the director and the lead actor of his new film Leatherheads. For this comedy about the world of 1925 football, Clooney wanted to make something fun; something with spunky dialogue and an old-fashioned sensibility. It was nonetheless a daunting task for this gorgeous A-list Oscar-winner, who tried to balance both acting and directing duties in a graceful way.
In the film he plays Dodge Connelly, a 46-year-old football player during a time when the game had no rules. When his team is endanger of being shut down for good, he recruits college football star and war hero Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) to play and they find instant success. In the process, Dodge finds time to trade barbs with a sassy newspaper reporter named Lexie (Renee Zellweger) out to expose some secrets from Carter’s past.
So was it more difficult directing the movie than acting in it? “It’s tricky because there’s an enormous amount of narcissism that comes into play,” he explains. “You’re breaking the trust between 2 actors, in particular when you’re in the lead. If you and I are doing a scene together and we’re talking, I’m not supposed to be judging you as an actor. Now a lot of actors do and they’ll tell you what to do, but in general you’re not supposed to break that trustâ€”the director is. So if we’re doing a scene and I go, ‘Ok cut,’ and I go, ‘You know try it like this,’ you have to go to each of the actors before you start and say listen, this is going to be awkward. You just get it out in the open and lay it out early and say it’s going to be strange all the way around. As an
As a director he was able to find inspiration in old films and borrow some key screwball elements. “I stole from Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges in a big way,” Clooney admits before rethinking his choice of words. “Wait, wait, wait…homage. I ‘homaged‘ the shit out of Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges and early George Stevens. There was a film called The More the Merrier that we were trying to rip off a lotâ€”homage off a lot.”
The break-neck speed dialogue in particular is something taken straight out of a Cary Grant-Katharine Hepburn film. It was something the actors certainly had to get used to. “The tendency since probably Montgomery Clift came on the scene is to internalize, which is great,” he says. “It’s made for some of the greatest work ever but what gets lost in that is the ability toâ€”you’re almost answering just as if you couldn’t have heard the question. It has to be that quick. The difference is you can’t do it exactly like Rosalind Russell. She’s brilliant, but if you took that performance and put it into a modern film, even it was supposed to be an older film, it would just feel like an impersonation. So with someone like John or someone like Renee, they’re actors that don’t feel contemporary which is important. There are a lot of actors where it feels like it’s 2008 no matter what you do.”
Aside from the dialogue, there was another way in which Clooney made Leatherheads feel like an authentic period piece. “There was a trick to this,” he says. “When you’re doing a period film, in particular a football film, an action film, we’re used to now handheld cameras and Steadicam cameras that you can really increase the excitement level of football. But if
Leatherheads may not seem like your typical George Clooney film and that’s exactly the point. After directing Good Night and Good Luck and acting in more serious fare (like his recent Oscar-nominated turn in Michael Clayton), Clooney made the conscious decision to avoid pigeon-holing. “I had a great fear of being the ‘issues’ director because the issues change and I have a much bigger interest in being a director,” he says. “So I thought I want to do something completely away from this and I like screwing with different genres and this is a world I knew a little bit of. So I spent a summer stealing from The Philadelphia Story and ‘homaging’ the hell out of those films.”
Instead of hard-hitting issues, Leatherheads presents the realities of changing times to a protagonist who just doesn’t want to grow up. Dodge Connelly wants to save the football game as he knows it, but rules and regulations begin to take over. “I thought this was more like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid which was about someone who was desperately hanging onto something that has now long since failed,” he says. “It’s inevitable that its going to go away, it’s gone away and you’re just holding onto sort of this great memory because you’re not wanting to grow up, probably. That was sort of the world I kept looking atâ€”that in order to save it you’re going to have to basically destroy it. Destroy it in his mind, which is to make it commercial and then make it have rules and play by the rules. You could nail me on that about not wanting to grow
That last statement is definitely true for Clooney, a well-known prankster. Between directing and starring in his film, he also found time to play one doozy of a trick on his co-stars. He got the actors who played his teammates to stick around 2 days after they had wrapped shooting by convincing them that they needed another shot of them all covered in mud! “I set up a giant green screen on the roof of this parking lot, got a big tub of mud, and got all of them laying in the mud and rolling around,” he says. “Had them covered in mud and the whole crew’s in on it. We were shooting the whole thing; it’ll be on the DVD!”
A true professional multi-taskerâ€”Clooney even thought of the DVD’s extra features!