Physically, neither is quite as one might imagine. Zellweger is built of bunched muscles, like a sprinter, with limbs toned by daily runs and a summer of learning to surf on Long Island, where she has a house. Her new haircut is almost short enough to be butch. (“I was going to make a joke about it going with my biceps,” she blurts in her loose-cannon way. “But I won’t.”) Clooney, on the other hand, is almost slight without the masculine armor of Danny Ocean’s hand-tailored suits. The polo shirt he wears reveals a trim but hardly muscular physique. He does move, though, with the loose-limbed ease of a younger man, thanks to his regular pickup games on the basketball court. Seeing a hoop in the photo studio, he gathers a few opponents for a game of Horse and lightly steps into a credible jump shot (he misses) and smooth layup (again). Later he cheerfully reports to Zellweger, who had been getting dressed during the matchup, that he lost.
“The f---ers beat me,” he says.
“Which ones?” she asks.
“All of ’em,” he answers with a laugh.
Clooney’s engaging personality hews pretty closely to the likable screen image he’s established since his breakthrough role on ER. “The cashier at the supermarket has a pretty good idea what he’s about,” says Tony Gilroy, who directed the actor in this fall’s Michael Clayton. “There is no other guy there.”
Asked to describe working with Clooney, Gilroy confirms just what the cashier may have suspected: He’s a charmer. “He’s a tribal king, man. He doesn’t have to buy the crew a bunch of sweatshirts to get them on his side,” Gilroy says. “He’s a good hang, always.” And so he proves to be. Clooney is clearly used to commanding attention, and like a CEO or a small-town mayor he makes easy use of his status. He speaks fluently, never in a rush to make his point, but always moving toward one, whether the topic is film or politics. At the mere mention of the word “politics,” Zellweger pretends to break out in a rash. “Get the calamine lotion,” she jokes. But Clooney has accrued an unusual level of credibility on this subject, and his recent work for Darfur alongside conservatives like Senator Sam Brownback protects him somewhat from right-wing critics, who, he says, might otherwise label him “the bad liberal freak.” As for the upcoming presidential race, he has said that he’ll do whatever it takes to help Barack Obama, even if that means publicly giving him a wide berth. Privately, they stay in touch. “I spoke to him two days ago for a half hour,” Clooney reports. “I think that he’s in that sort of doldrums, that midelection run, where you’re still trying to define what it is that you want to be.” Clooney’s advice to Obama, offered in all apparent seriousness, would be to watch the The Candidate—a 1972 Oscar winner starring Robert Redford as a charismatic liberal underdog running for the U.S. Senate—for inspiration.