For a few minutes on a Monday afternoon in early autumn, on the roof deck of a Manhattan photo studio, the impromptu banter of a celebrity interview suddenly sounds as though it’s been scripted by Preston Sturges. George Clooney is sitting with Renée Zellweger, his costar in the upcoming screwball comedy Leatherheads, which Clooney also directed, and the two are chattering away, less like the former paramours they are alleged to be and more like pals from way back, catching each other up on how they conquered the world at 24 frames per second. Their connection is so striking, one of such evident affection and yet such inert sexual chemistry, that it’s only natural to ask how long the two have known one another.
“Oh, God,” says Zellweger with a sigh, as if attempting a long math problem without paper and pencil. “Twenty-five, 30 years.”
“Thirty-five years,” figures Clooney.
“We’ve been married 28,” notes Zellweger.
“Twenty-seven,” says Clooney firmly. “We lived together the first year. It was a lot of fighting.”
“But we saved on rent,” she says.
“That was the only reason,” he says.
“And I fed the dogs and pigs,” she says. “I vacuumed too.”
“That’s true,” he says, adding, “I was a younger leading man, and she was an ingenue.”
“He’s a younger leading man,” Zellweger answers. “And I’m a character actress.”
They both laugh, but Clooney, true to his reputation as a gentleman, is too gallant to let the brunt of old age fall on the lady alone. He passes a hand over himself—all 46 years of him, trimmed with a thatchy beard (for his role in the Coen brothers’ film Burn After Reading) and topped with graying hair that makes him look not a day over 50—and insists that he is the one falling to pieces, veritably before our eyes. “I’m Lionel Barrymore,” he says.
Welcome to the George and Renée show, one of the livelier comic duets since Burns and Allen. The old friends (who eventually acknowledge having known each other for about a decade) and recent costars have briefly alighted together on this Manhattan rooftop to discuss Leatherheads, Clooney’s first directing effort since the 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck, for which he received Oscar nominations for direction and screenwriting. (That same year he also won a best supporting actor award for Syriana: “All right, so I’m not winning director,” he predicted, correctly, in his acceptance speech.) Egging each other on, the pair’s frisky conversation shifts gears from the earnestly thoughtful, with Clooney proving himself to be the sort of Democratic alpha male Al Gore wanted to be in 2000, to the shamelessly goofy. Zellweger, in particular, is as energetic as a Spinning instructor and loopier than Minnie Pearl.