Ready for My deMille: Profiles in Excellence - George Clooney, 2015

by Philip Berk June 29, 2020
George Clooney with his 2015 Cecil B. deMille Award

HFPA Archives

Beginning in 1952 when the Cecil B. deMille Award was presented to its namesake visionary director, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has awarded its most prestigious prize 66 times. From Walt Disney to Bette DavisElizabeth Taylor to Steven Spielberg and 62 others, the deMille has gone to luminaries – actors, directors, producers – who have left an indelible mark on Hollywood. Sometimes mistaken with a career achievement award, per HFPA statute, the deMille is more precisely bestowed for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment”. In this series, HFPA cognoscente and former president Philip Berk profiles deMille laureates through the years.

ER made George Clooney a household name, for which he was nominated three years running for playing Dr. Ross in that landmark TV series; yet never once winning a Golden Globe as Best Actor in a TV drama. His reward was getting cast in forgettable TV series and movies of the week, the one exception being a recurring role in Roseanne which he did for three seasons. 

After years of aimlessness, he decided he wanted to be more than a TV star, and he got his wish. For a time most of his movies were under-achievers. His first Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn from a script by Quentin Tarantino did okay, but One Fine Day, which was supposed to make him a big star, fizzled, and Batman and Robin almost ended that lucrative franchise.

After that, there was Dreamworks' maiden effort The Peacemaker, another disappointment. Even Out of Sight, which was named the Best Film of the Year by the National Society of Film Critics was not commercially successful, and the public again failed to respond to David O. Russell’s Three Kings, which President Clinton called his favorite film of 1999.

But then the new millennium kicked in, and everything changed. The Perfect Storm was 2000’s biggest blockbuster, and the following year the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? earned him a Golden Globe as Best Actor in a comedy. However, it was Ocean’s Eleven, that changed the course of his career. Not that he hadn't worked with director Steven Soderbergh before (Out of Sight ) but this was the first time they collaborated on a blockbuster. The film was so successful it spawned a second and a third, and it made George a rich man (it was his company that produced all three films.)

Did that success take some of the pressure off him? We once asked him at a press conference. “Look, every time I did something, the discussion was always, ‘You know he hasn’t had a hit.’ But the truth is I kept working because the films I’d done always managed to make money. Luckily, they were all good movies, so in a way, it was a blessing that none of them were blockbusters because that might have pigeonholed me.”

Still, it enabled him, along with the producing partner Grant Heslov, to generate films of their own, most notably Good Night and Good Luck, for which he was nominated for both the Golden Globe and the Oscar as Best Producer, Director, and Actor in a Supporting Role.

It also allowed him to combine his artistic instincts with his political convictions, which he inherited from his father, a staunch liberal who was once anchorman for NBC’s news station in Los Angeles until he was unceremoniously replaced. He also took pride in his father’s sister, Rosemary Clooney, a big star of the 50s and one of the recording industry’s greatest talents, and her husband Jose Ferrer, the legendary actor best remembered for his Golden Globe and Oscar-winning performance in Cyrano de Bergerac.

For George, they were not mere relatives. As he told us, “Jose was my biggest influence for acting, and he and his son Miguel were the reasons I got into acting. When I was a kid, I worked as a chauffeur for Rosemary which was a great education for me because in the fifties she was very famous and then not famous, not because she got less talented but because things change. I’ve learned from her how quickly things come and go, how little control you have about it and that you should be prepared for both. I got great lessons from all of them. I remember Jose coming to the first play I ever did. I thought I was brilliant in it. I was crying and spitting and doing everything on stage. I thought it was beautiful, and after the performance, I went up to him and asked him, ‘’What did you think Joe?’ And he said, ‘I would say to you, get the scenery out of your mouth. You don’t know where it has been.’ That was the end of it for me. I knew I was eating the scenery. We were good friends even after they divorced, and (his son) Miguel was my best friend.”

After the critical and commercial success of Good Night and Good Luck, it wasn’t beneath him to join Robert Rodriguez in making a kiddie movie Spy Kids or to support the Russo Brothers in their maiden effort Welcome to Collinwood. He teamed up again with Soderbergh on Solaris, a different take on the Tarkovsky classic, but one which failed to please anyone. He had more success directing Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which gave Sam Rockwell his first important role.

The Coen Brothers came calling again, and he led their handpicked cast in the black comedy Intolerable Cruelty, which didn’t get much respect when released but has since gained in stature.

Syriana finally earned him his overdue Oscar and Golden Globe as Best Actor in a Supporting Role and established Steve Gaghan as a formidable writer-director. Now firmly established as Hollywood’s leading actor he welcomed a chance to work with Cate Blanchett in Soderbergh’s The Good German, but sad to say the result was a lame attempt to recapture the magic of Casablanca.

He came roaring back the next year with Michael Clayton which earned multiple Golden Globe and Oscar nominations including one as Best Picture. It also earned Tilda Swinton a Best Supporting Actress Oscar and established her as an international star. George himself was nominated for the Oscar as Best Actor. He tried directing again but Leatherheads a football movie was a sorry failure. He sought refuge with another Coen Brothers farce Burn After Reading, which was nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Comedy, and thanks to its all-star cast did quite well at the box office, but it wasn’t welcomed by critics.

As a good sport, he returned to playing Dr. Ross in a 2009 return of ER and was duly rewarded with his best run of films. He starred in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, which introduced two superlative actresses, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. All three of them were nominated for Golden Globes and the Oscar. He followed it with a respectable failure The Men Who Stare at Goats which gave his best friend Grant Heslov a chance to direct a movie.

He did a voice for Wes Anderson’s Golden Globe and Oscar-nominated animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox, played an aging assassin in the ill-judged The American and followed it with three of his biggest successes, The Ides of March for which he was again nominated for Golden Globes as Producer, Director, and Co-screenwriter. It served to showcase up-and-coming Ryan Gosling who was nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe. The following year he won the Golden Globe as Best Actor in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, which was also the Golden Globe Best Picture winner, and his first Best Picture win ever. The next year he had another Best Picture contender, Alfonso Cuarón’s masterful Gravity which won seven Oscars, but none for George, although his character inspired a classic male chauvinist joke from host Tina Fey at that year’s Golden Globes. 

Nothing he’s done since has equaled that film’s acclaim. The Monuments Men, which he also directed, Disney’s Tomorrowland, and the Coen Bros’ Hail, Caesar! have all been disappointments. His one subsequent success has been his marriage to human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin and the birth of their twins.

Last year he earned his sixth Golden Globe nomination as Producer of Catch 22, a miniseries his company made for television.

All told he has won three Golden Globes, two Oscars, as well as the Cecil B. deMille Award for lifetime achievement.

His classic films: Up in the Air, The Descendants, Michael Clayton, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Three Kings, Good Night and Good Luck