Satirical Clooney, Cheadle chime in on character-driven caper pic
It's 10 a.m. on a Wednesday at Planet Hollywood San Francisco and already George Clooney and Don Cheadle have had an wearing day.
Up at 5 and to Los Angeles International Airport by 7 to catch their ride here, they've already been conducting interviews for an hour and they will spend the afternoon signing autographs for a throng of fans forming a line outside the restaurant.
As they sit down to talk about their new Elmore Leonard-adapted film "Out of Sight," Clooney orders a big Coke and Cheadle slouches in his chair, pulls his baseball cap over his eyes and says, "Goodnight, everybody."
"What time did you guys get up this morning?" I ask.
"5 o'clock," says Clooney.
"4:45," says Cheadle, sitting back up. "Fresh as a daisy!"
"It's all the acid we took on the plane," Clooney jokes, nudging Cheadle, who shoots back, "I think it was the crank that really did it."
And they're off. This kind of satirical by-play has apparently been going on since the two actors became friends on the set of "Out of Sight."
Cheadle, an up-and-coming star best known for playing Mouse in "Devil in a Blue Dress" and the cowboy porn star in "Boogie Nights," seems to be the straight man.
He takes hits from the wise-cracking Clooney all morning and sits by drowsily while Clooney takes the bulk of the question from interviewers. Asked why they paired up to promote the film, Clooney says it's part of his job as the star and Cheadle came along because "we had pictures of him with a goat."
But the soon to be ex-"E.R." star doesn't play everything for laughs. He's refreshingly frank about his tenuous position as a box office draw, acknowledging that most of the films he has carried have "under-performed," and accepting partial culpability for the meager success of the last "Batman" movie.
"I think we buried that franchise," he says when asked about rumors of a "Batman 5." "I think Warner Bros. and I put that one to rest."
It was while working on "Batman and Robin" that Clooney was offered the role of Jack Foley in "Out of Sight," a notorious bank robber on the lam who falls for a beautiful, brassy, young Fed assigned to bring him in.
"I was just finishing the shooting of 'Batman' and I kind of knew I had to find a script that was a little more on the ball. I read a bunch of scripts, I passed on a bunch, I didn't get a few, and this was the one that...well, luckily I think Travolta was busy," he grins.
Both actors call themselves big fans of Elmore Leonard, the character-conscious crime novelist who wrote "Out of Sight" and two dozen other novels, including "Get Shorty," "Fifty-Two Pickup" and "Rum Punch," which last year became Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown."
Clooney says he was instantly attracted by the idea of working an a Elmore Leonard picture -- especially one adapted by Scott Frank, who also wrote the script for "Get Shorty" -- because Frank's scripts put Leonard's characters ahead of everything else.
"The first thing that got me excited (about this movie) was Elmore Leonard, who I thought wasn't well represented (in film) until 'Get Shorty,'" Clooney says. "(In) the scripts from his books, the story doesn't really matter. It never did. Oh, it's a diamond heist! We've never seen that before. What's important with Elmore Leonard is characters."
The character banter in "Out of Sight" is pivotal. Jack Foley's attempts to seduce his pursuer without getting caught is the crux of the film, and his partnerships with fellow criminals played by Cheadle and Ving Rhames keep the film clicking when it's not focused on sexual tension, which is why, according to Clooney, this film works.
Being such big fans, I wanted to know if Leonard had visited the set while they were filming.
"Call me 'Dutch,'" Clooney says, imitating Leonard, then breaking into laughter with Cheadle. "Yeah, Dutch was there. I really loved him being around because I'm such a huge fan of the guy."
"You gonna wear that?" Cheadle pipes in, using Leonard's voice again and causing the two stars to lean into each other and crack up again. Obviously Leonard was a big presence on the set.
But Clooney insists what really solidified the project for him was the signing on of director Steven Soderbergh. Known for low-budget, high-impact, character-driven fare like "sex, lies and videotape," this is Soderbergh's first mainstream film, and Clooney says his direction helped make this "the classiest project I'd certainly ever been involved in."
He also had high praise for co-stars Cheadle and Jennifer Lopez ("Selena," "Anaconda"), who plays the U.S. Marshall that makes his heart go pitter-pat.
Lopez, he says, had all the qualities he and the producers were looking for in a leading lady, not the least of which was "you have to believe she could pick up a gun and shoot you, and you still have to want to chase her around the couch."
Cheadle became attached to the film during a table reading of the script at the home of producer Danny DeVito.
"Don came in as a favor and read his part, just read it," says Clooney, "and all we did was watch Don..."
"I was wearing a dress," Cheadle chimes in.
"Exactly, and a blonde wig." Clooney plays along before continuing more seriously, "At the end, instead of all of us sitting around talking about the script, we were all in a corner going, 'How are we going to get Don Cheadle to do this movie?'"
After a pause, he adds, with his trademark head down, eyes up Cheshire grin, "So we got the pictures of him with the goat."
Clooney seems always ready to joke, even about his highly-public battle against the tabloid press. Even though he takes his privacy seriously, he claims to have been misunderstood when he spoke out against the paparazzi after Princess Diana's death and says he would does not support proposed legislation to reign in freelance photographers.
"I'm a public figure. If I do something stupid and they get a picture of it, I deserve it."
"But come with me through an airport one day and watch what they do to the people I'm with," he adds with all semblance of light-heartedness temporarily absent. "When 17-year-old kids with video cameras go 'Who's the fat chick?' and so you go 'F--- you,' and then they sell that -- that's creating news. And that to me is the problem."
Clooney realizes that, for the moment, this kind of thing is the price of fame, and he says he knows fame and success are fleeting in his line of business.
"It all depends on when you get killed whether you end up being a success or not," he says, noting that if he'd died during his early career, he would have been best known for "Return of the Killer Tomatoes."
"I only did movies, up until very recently, that had the word "return" in the title," he says with a laugh. Then he and Cheadle are back in their verbal game of ping-pong.
Cheadle: "Out of Sight Again!"
Clooney: "Really Out of Sight!"
Cheadle: "Further Out of Sight!"