George Clooney on Directing Actors and Beating the Odds

Actor George Clooney admits he often feels uncomfortable directing other actors when he is starring in the same scene.

Photo: Claire Folger © Amazon Content Services LLC

“If you’re an actor in Hollywood, working at all… you’re beating the odds by a long, long, long shot.” – George Clooney

George Clooney is a two-time Academy Award winner, but only one of those Oscars is for acting — as you likely know, Clooney has had an equally-prolific career as a director and producer. His latest film, The Tender Bar, is one of those projects in which he works exclusively behind the camera. In an extensive interview with Deadline, Clooney spoke about the coming-of-age film, which stars Tye Sheridan as a young aspiring writer and Ben Affleck as his wayward bar-owning uncle, touching upon his approach to selecting actors for their parts and then how he directs them on set.

As to why he cast Affleck — who has been better known these days for directing films and being in the tabloids — in the key role of the protagonist’s uncle, Clooney says, “He was hungry for this, and Ben’s a better actor than he’s had the parts for. He came in and all you had to do is point everybody in the right direction and leave them alone, because they were all really accomplished actors. He has a great part, so he gets to show off what he can do.”

Though Clooney admits that it was difficult filming a drama with all of the pandemic protocols in place, he gives significant praise to Affleck for his doing his part to help the cast through the challenge. He explains, “The great advantage we had was that we had actors who were really up for it. Ben showed up on this, in a really big way. He came in and was like, I’m in. He knew all his lines, he knew everybody else’s lines, he was the first guy on the set. He was open and sharing, and those things go from the lead on down. If the lead acts like a dick, everyone tends to be kind of dickey. The way Ben showed up made a big difference in the right direction. It was like when we did ER. Tony Edwards was the lead, and a great guy, and it rubbed off.”

One of Clooney’s discoveries was Daniel Ranieri, who plays the young version of Tye Sheridan’s character in the film. Clooney first noticed him when he saw Ranieri on television. He reveals:

“We’d been looking at kid actors, they all looked like actors, and this kid seemed great, and he went to do the Jimmy Kimmel show the night that I saw that video. I called Jimmy up, I go, you got that kid there? He goes, yeah. Well, put him on the phone. I had him read some lines… I called up Amazon and said, I think this kid can do it. But the reality is, when you’re ten years old, are you really a professional actor, are you just the right person for the job? When you watch this film, we do a scene with Max Martini, the guy who plays his father, and it’s a sequence where they’re driving in a car, seven pages, shot in one take with no cuts. We did it in one take with that kid. One take! We were prepared to shoot all day. We shot one take from the front, and I looked at Grant [Heslov], and I was like, we got it. He’s like, you sure? We went back and watched it on the monitor to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind. I wasn’t. This wasn’t like either Grant or I being smart, it was more about being lucky in finding that young man. Sometimes you get lucky.”

Though Clooney has directed films that he has starred in before, he says that he didn’t consider playing a role in The Tender Bar. Clooney admits he often feels uncomfortable directing other actors when he is starring in the same scene, explaining, “There’s an immodesty to doing more takes on yourself than anyone else. You’re doing a really unfair thing, breaking an unwritten rule of actors. If you and I are doing a scene together, and I’m directing as well, and we’re talking, and the camera’s pushing in, and I’m telling you you’re not doing it the way I want you to do it…it’s really sh—ty for one actor to say that to another. Like, say it a little differently, pick up the pace. It’s not a sh—ty thing for a director to say. So, you’re also breaking some rules that I think aren’t necessarily all that fun to break, and you have to have a really trusting cast that goes, okay, I get it, I understand, but I don’t enjoy it at all. If I could not do that I would.”

In addition, while Clooney is one of the most famous actors on the planet, he remembers what it was like struggling for roles in his pre-ER days and has sympathy for those in that position. He shares, “If you’re an actor in Hollywood, working at all, even if you’re doing a sh—ty television series, if you’re working, you’re beating the odds by a long, long, long shot. I mean, it’s still hard to get a f—ing acting job and get somebody to pay you to act. So, I knew that I was disappointed in the jobs that I was doing, because every time you do a pilot you’re like, this is going to be great, and you always think that it’s like if Spielberg was directing it, and it was written by William Goldman, and most times it’s not. And then ER happened, and that’s just luck you know, and also being available and being around for it.”

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