Clooney says that becoming famous relatively later in life—he was in his 30s when ER took off—has enabled him to keep a steady grip on reality. Born in Kentucky, the son of a local newscaster, he went to a public high school so small—23 pupils total—that it couldn’t field a football team. At age 20, after “Aunt Rosemary,” singer Rosemary Clooney, invited him to live with her in L.A. and try his hand at acting, he drove west in a rusty 1976 Monte Carlo. “I probably made her life hell,” he says with a chuckle.
The actor recalls himself then as a small-town rube. When he first arrived, he recounts, Rosemary’s son Miguel Ferrer (Crossing Jordan, Bionic Woman) offered to show him around. The two were in a Porsche and eventually hit downtown Hollywood, which back then was run-down, with hookers on every corner. “I didn’t know what hookers were,” recalls Clooney. “We pulled up at the stoplight, and all of these girls came over, and they were like, ‘Hey, do you want to party?’ I looked at Miguel and I said, ‘Chicks love me, man! I’m on fire here!’”
Ferrer looked at him with pity and pointed out that the nice ladies were interested in a certain kind of work and that Clooney, if he hadn’t noticed, happened to be in a Porsche. “Figure it out, moron,” he told the young Clooney.
These days the people waiting for Clooney on street corners are more likely to be paparazzi. Like Zellweger, he dislikes the side effects of fame, but he does find the occasional battle against tabloid culture energizing. In 1996 he led a vocal campaign against the trashy “news” show Hard Copy, and last year he took on the blog Gawker when it encouraged readers to report stars’ precise whereabouts for the site. Zellweger, who had been changing after the shoot, arrives just as Clooney begins the tale.
“I’m talking about Gawker,” he tells her.
“Oh, I log on every day to see where George is,” she gushes. “Oh my God, get your things! He’s at Barneys!”
While some celebs demanded that the site be shut down, Clooney suggested an alternative: He asked people to post fake sightings. “They had 6,000 locations for me in the first day,” he reports with pride. Gawker admitted temporary defeat, even posting some of the messages, from “George Clooney at the Beverly Hills Hotel” to “I think he’s in my backyard.” Zellweger, as usual, sees things differently.
“The problem with that,” she teases, “is with his schedule these days, the sightings were all true. He was in all 6,000 places that morning—before lunch.”