(3 of 4)
He's just as calculating about his career choices. "He was offered a stupendous amount of money to continue to do Roseanne," the sitcom he was on for 11 episodes, says his dad Nick Clooney. "I was thinking he could build a little nest egg and maybe acting would pay off after all. He said, 'No, I'll be in a cul-de-sac. I'll be that guy, and that's all I'll be.'" He pitched sitcom pilots and dramas and eventually won an Oscar nomination for co-writing the original screenplay for Good Night, and Good Luck. He makes sure to not get stuck in one character or type of film. He has a Joel and Ethan Coen movie coming out in which he plays an idiot (as he did in their O Brother, Where Art Thou?), and he's working on a movie about the founder of est and a comedy about the 1979 Tehran hostages who escaped. The next movie he directs and co-stars in is Leatherheads, a screwball comedy about pro football in the 1920s that comes out April 4. "After Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck I was offered the Richard Clarke book and every issues movie," Clooney says. "I didn't want to be the issues guy because if the issues change, you're done. The Facts of Life is a good example. If you're a young heartthrobwhich I never caught on asthose fans not only abandon you, but they're embarrassed to have liked you. It's the same thing with issues movies. I want to just be a director."
He is good at slipping into many different worlds, even the one in my kitchen, where he is pouring in the egg mixture while I add the hot spaghetti for the carbonara. He reaches over and stirs the bacon, grabs a string bean from the pot and eats it. He is mad guesting, Olympic-level guesting. He's been over for two hours, and it occurs to me that the smooth bastard must have turned off his cell phone before he got here. When I leave the table to check on the lamb, he puts extra bacon on my pasta. He's doing impressionsPat O'Brien confusedly reporting outside Clooney's Como villa, expecting Pitt and Jolie's wedding (Clooney had bought $1,500 worth of flowers and 15 tabletops as a prank on gossip reporters); James Carville denigrating John Kerry's campaigning skills; Daniel Day-Lewis doing John Huston in There Will Be Blood.
We're deep into a second bottle of Barolo when Clooney cuts into his rack of lamb, and, oh, there would be blood. This is why a star wouldn't take this invite, wouldn't be here, staring at a red-raw-inedible piece of meat. He says it's fine. I grab it, put it in the oven but forget to turn on the heat, so when I take it back out, it's just as raw. Fine again, he says. I put it back one more time. He takes more pasta and salad. Rattled, I drop the salt. "Throw it over your left shoulder," he says. "That's just bad mojo. You know it, and I know it." He may not believe in religion, but luck, Clooney has learned from his family, cannot be messed with.
One person Clooney will mess withthe thing he keeps coming back to the more we drinkis what a massive loser Bill O'Reilly is. It's an irrational feud because every time O'Reilly gets to be as important as Clooney, O'Reilly comes out way ahead. But Clooney can't help himself. He keeps talking about O'Reilly, and the little traps he's set for him and how thrilled he is when he falls into them. It's as if Clooney loves O'Reilly because he gives him permission to be an irrational 8-year-old. Maybe that's why anyone loves O'Reilly. But he is also the anti-Clooney, donning a public persona, one that's humorless and incapable of self-effacement. It's as if someone created for Clooney his own Elmer Fudd.
One of the things O'Reilly has taken issue with is Clooney's involvement in the crisis in Darfur, saying it's reverse racism from someone who didn't care about the Arabs being killed by Saddam Hussein. Clooney got interested in Darfur in 2005 after the campaign for Oscar votes for Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck made him feel dirty. "You're campaigning for yourself. To compete for art," he says. His dad was also dejected and angry after losing an election for Congress, and Clooney had been reading about the lack of attention being given to Darfur, so the two went on a trip to Africa to shoot footage. Clooney wasn't able to get into Darfur until late January, when the U.N. said it would give him an official title. "I have a U.N. passport. It says 'Messenger of Peace' on it. It's very cool," he says.