Based on the notoriously kooky 1984 ''unauthorized autobiography'' by ''Gong Show'' creator Chuck Barris, the mindbending ''Confessions'' script (by ''Being John Malkovich'''s Kaufman, whose ''Adaptation'' will also be on view this season) had long been regarded as one of Hollywood’s great unproduced screenplays, intriguing the likes of Mike Myers, Edward Norton, Sean Penn, and Ben Stiller, but to no avail. Finally, in February 2001, the film seemed set to roll with ''X-Men'''s Bryan Singer directing Johnny Depp as Barris and Clooney as a mysterious CIA operative who recruits the game-show goof as an assassin. Then Miramax shelved the project because of budget issues. But Clooney kept it alive by making a bid to direct -- and getting the job.
''I wanted to steal from the guys I loved,'' says Clooney, citing Alan J. Pakula and Sidney Lumet as influences. He also swiped talent from his earlier films, including his ''Three Kings'' cinematographer, ''O Brother, Where Art Thou?'' storyboard artist, and ''Ocean’s Eleven'' costar Roberts, who plays a CIA agent. Still, Clooney had to coax Miramax into giving him final cut and casting Rockwell (''Charlie’s Angels'') as his Barris. He got both by offering the studio first dibs on low-budget flicks (such as ''Full Frontal'') developed by his and Soderbergh’s Section Eight production company. Clooney says he’s pleased with his $29 million directorial debut, but is in no rush to get back behind the camera: ''All I wanted to do was get a good script made. If I bring anything more to it, I got lucky.''
THE LOWDOWN Rockwell has long been a breakthrough waiting to happen; we’re eager to see if this peculiar project is his moment.