George Clooney
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George Clooney on Space Movies and the State of the World

For George Clooney, the timing of what we now simply call “2020” was lucky after all. He had finished shooting his new film The Midnight Sky by the end of 2019 and had planned on spending the following months editing in Los Angeles. That he would be doing this from the locked-down safety of his own home instead of an editing studio, was not the plan, but if we have learned anything since March, it is that making plans is a futile exercise. He spoke to us about the topics behind the movie that have always fascinated him, remembers funny moments of his career and gets serious about the state of the planet.


Your film is based on “Good Morning, Midnight”, the novel by Lily Brooks-Dalton and is the story of a lonely scientist in the Arctic Circle who tries to stop a group of astronauts on a spaceship from returning to an earth that has endured a global catastrophe. So many science fiction-films we have seen aren’t really science fiction anymore after a few decades. Are we headed that way?

You can look at all the anger and hatred in the world right now and you could forward that 20 years and it isn’t science fiction at all, the idea that we can destroy one another. That’s not out of the realm. That was my pitch with the film, that it isn’t quite as fictional as we’d hope. But the reason I loved it was that there was redemption. That there IS some hope.

You did another space film, Gravity, a few years ago – does this topic fascinate you?

Space travel is interesting because basically, we were looking at information that NASA is working on right now. That would be stuff that would be built in 25 years. There are a few Hollywood tropes that have existed in films for a while, like that rotating gyroscope thing that’s in almost every spaceship shot now, that could create a false gravitational pull. That exists but it wouldn’t be quite as simple as we’ve seen them in films. And yes, there are a couple of moons that we’ve seen surrounded by ice and heated from the inside, but walking on it, the radiation alone might burn you up pretty quickly.

Another topic these films bring up is the effect of climate change…

Yeah, we were shooting in Iceland on what used to be the second-largest glacier in the world. It’s not anymore. It’s melted to a big extent. Go to Iceland and ask them if there’s global warming and it’s not a political question to them, it’s just a simple fact. Or go to the Maldives, a very flat set of islands, and they are sinking because the water is rising. Go to any of these places and there isn’t any political debate about it. It is just happening. And that’s what we should be discussing and solving.

When you got the Cecil B. deMille Award at the Golden Globes a few years ago, you talked about how lucky you are and many people in that room. And that you recognized the responsibility that comes with that privilege. You’ve always been an activist and have worked on many different causes like South Sudan, to name just one. Is there something right now that motivates you?

I still raise several thousands of dollars a year and we continue to chase war criminals. We have a foundation called Century which basically tries to bankrupt these guys who are profiteering off the misery of other people. In South Sudan, the Congo, lots of different places. We have forensic accountants and we’re able to freeze their assets. And then Amal and I have the Clooney Foundation and we’re monitoring trials, because so many of these places we’re talking about, like what’s going on in Hong Kong right now with these three young men who’ve been arrested for protesting against the Draconian new laws Mainland China is imposing. And a whole list of other countries from Myanmar to the Philippines. We are getting people into those courtrooms, that are used by these groups, with their judges to give some semblance of a democratic judicial process. But the judge is also the prosecutor. Whether we are successful or not, we do this as a reminder that the judicial system has to hold up in order for these governments to work. Right now, the people who are doing the bad shit are getting away with it and the people who are exposing them are going to jail. It’s a big passion of my wife’s and mine. She is representing Maria Ressa, a brilliant journalist who went to jail for exposing President Duterte. There is a lot going on in the world that matters.

You were born in Kentucky, a Southerner. Is there anything about Southern culture that stuck with you, be it music or food or drink?

All of it. Drink, are you kidding, I’m Irish from the South! It’s in your baby milk when you start. I still have a house in Augusta, and my parents and my sister live there. When you are born in the South, there are these drawn lines and it all goes back to the Civil War. It’s funny because when people say, oh you’re from the South, Kentuckians go, not really from the South, we were neutral during the Civil War, Tennessee below us, that’s the South! But we sure sound like the South and it feels like the South. I had a great time growing up there. It’s a town of 1,100 people. I was the starting center of my basketball team, and starting centers are usually 6’8”, 6’10”. I am 5’11”, so… we lost every game!

What’s next? Can you do another movie under the present circumstances?

I’m doing one, shooting in Boston, but it’s a very, very small film with a very small cast because that’s all we can do right now. The other ones I had planned next required a lot of background artists. They were just too big to handle with Covid. This one is low budget and I think we’re adding $7 million dollars for just Covid-testing and safety measures. And if you expand that to a larger film, the Covid-costs become prohibitive. We’re gonna go through at least another four months of very bad times, I think it’s gonna get a lot darker before the dawn, but we have some adults who are going to be in the room now.

Do you have hope? Not just in terms of beating Covid but also the state of the country?

There is an openness and a kindness and a generosity of spirit to Americans, and hopefully, we are constantly working towards our better angels.