VALEDICTORIANS: GEORGE CLOONEY
If not for one unlucky September afternoon on the streets of New Jersey, 2007 would have been just perfect for George Clooney. In the first calendar year after his Oscar win for Best Supporting Actor in Syriana, he headlined the well-received blockbuster Ocean's Thirteen, turned in one of the most forceful performances of his career in the legal drama Michael Clayton (which he also exec-produced), and even popped up doing humanitarian work in the documentary Darfur Now. And the guy still had time to direct the football romance Leatherheads (due in April), take a role as an assassin in the Coen brothers' upcoming comedy Burn After Reading, and, of course, crash his motorcycle.
With or without a fractured rib, Clooney has forever been the definition of class. ''It's always nice to see someone coming into their own and assuming it very graciously,'' says Tilda Swinton, Clooney's costar in both Clayton and Burn After Reading. ''He has a very developed sense of service. And who knows what he's going to do with it.'' Indeed, no other Hollywood star more deftly balanced box office viability with personal responsibility this year. Calling from Washington, D.C., the evening before wrapping Burn, the 46-year-old discussed the highs (and low) of the past 12 months.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Did you expect Michael Clayton to earn such strong reviews?
GEORGE CLOONEY: It's a funny thing, because you have a movie that you've sat on for a year because you're trying to find a release date. And a lot of times, things start to get that smell of that ''There's something wrong with it and that's why it hasn't come out'' kind of thing. So I was concerned with that. But the films that were supposed to be the critical darlings were falling by the wayside, and it ended up working out really well for us.
You deferred your salary in favor of profit participation. Now that Michael Clayton has grossed over $35 million, when will you start getting paid?
Probably right about now, I guess. We're already way out of the hole in terms of cost of the film. It cost 20 [million] to do, which is dirt cheap for a movie of that caliber. So we're all in good shape. If you make a film like The Good German and it's critically thumped, [the] box office is destroyed. That makes it very hard to make another challenging film. So this one now being successful both critically and financially means we get to make another one of these.
You're a decent bet for a Best Actor nomination for Clayton. Do you think it's one of your best performances?
My job was to serve the material, and I think I did that as best I can do. I don't really know how to do it any better. If you look at the films that I've been at my best in Out of Sight or Three Kings or O Brother, those are good films. So I survive best around good material.
NEXT PAGE: Is the door open or closed on doing an Ocean's Fourteen?