George Clooney heard me on the radio when he was in high school. Years later, he puked behind my back.
When he was in high school, George Clooney listened to me on the radio. He told me that when I first interviewed him in 1999 for CNN’s Showbiz Today. It was a press junket for the movie, “Three Kings.” I told him I had met his father when we both worked in Cincinnati in the mid-Seventies. Nick Clooney was a TV news anchor; I was at WEBN-FM.
“EBN!” said George. “I loved that station! Were you a DJ? When was your shift?”
I told him I did the news, in the mornings.
“With Robin Wood! I listened to you every morning getting ready to go to school.”
So, if there was ever a reason for me to admire the actor, there it was. He seemed genuinely enthused about our Cincinnati connection.
People often ask me about the celebrities I’ve interviewed, “What’s he really like?” I usually explain that, since the time I typically spent in their company was anywhere from 8 minutes at a press junket to an hour or so for a profile piece, I couldn’t honestly answer that question. And after all, they were putting on their best face for ABC or CNN.
After I “bonded” with Clooney during that brief first encounter, I became curious about what I’d heard was his reputation as one of Hollywood’s nice guys. So I asked a couple of people in the Showbiz unit at the Los Angeles CNN bureau what the “word on the street” was about Clooney. Was he too good to be true? A low-life behind the scenes? The replies sounded like a cowboy ballad: there seldom was heard a discouraging word.
The next time I did a junket for one of his films, “O Brother Where Art Thou?”, he greeted me with, “Hey, there’s my friend from Cincinnati.” The time after that, though, was the best.
The junket for “The Perfect Storm” was held in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in the summer of 2000. The film adapted Sebastian Junger’s best-selling nonfiction book about a fishing boat out of Gloucester caught in a huge Atlantic storm some nine years earlier. Warner Brothers chose to promote the film by inviting TV reporters to the docks in the harbor of the picturesque New England fishing town. On the aft decks of five fishing boats they set up two-camera shoots for each of four actors and the director. This was better than the usual junket, where we would trudge up and down hotel corridors, sit in “on deck” chairs outside rooms with two-camera setups, and go inside when our turn came for our 5 minutes with the stars. 8 minutes if our media outlet was a big one.
At street intersections around the town, signs were posted directing drivers to the “Perfect Storm” media event that had taken over the harborside. Gloucester was a little bit of Hollywood for the weekend and the town seemed to appreciate the attention Warner Brothers was giving it. Clusters of onlookers and autograph seekers gathered throughout the afternoon.
A hospitality tent was set up at the foot of the dock where, in between interviews, we could feast on the catering spread and watch a TV monitor where the “B-roll” tape would play on a loop. This was the handout tape — “the making of..” tape, the behind-the-scenes footage shot on-set by a hired PR crew – that we could use in our pieces about the movie. In the case of “The Perfect Storm,” there was footage of a giant water tank on a sound stage where part of a fishing boat was recreated, life-size, and hung from a gimbaled crane that could move it rapidly in all directions. The water beneath it was roiled by gigantic machinery. The effect was that George Clooney and fellow actors were very realistically being violently tossed about on a raging sea.
So that afternoon, in turns, I boarded the real fishing boats at the dock and interviewed “Massachusetts’ own” Mark Wahlberg, the always friendly John C. Reilly, the raven-haired beauty Diane Lane, and, of course, George. I told him the boat scenes in the tank looked like they weren’t easy to make. “What was that like?” “It was a lot like being on a boat in a raging sea, I would imagine,” said Clooney. “We were really getting thrown around.” He joked that it was all he could do to avoid getting seasick.
My final interview of the day was with Wolfgang Petersen. The German director had been nominated for two Oscars for the gripping submarine drama, “Das Boot.” He would go on to helm the remake of the “Poseidon Adventure.” The sea was in his filmmaking blood, it would seem. We were sitting face-to-face in director’s chairs (appropriately) on the deck of one of the boats, when I noticed Petersen’s eyes suddenly focusing on something over my shoulder. I heard footsteps behind me as someone hopped onto the afterdeck. Turning, I saw it was Clooney, who has a reputation as a practical joker. He was positioning himself within the range of the camera that was on me, leaning over the boat’s gunwale. He held a small plastic water bottle against the far side of his face, leaned out over the harbor – and with the hidden bottle aligned in profile with his mouth – let the water fly as if he was tossing up lunch.
This goofy seasickness pantomime gave me the perfect, humorous shot to end the taped piece I would make about the movie. I’m not a hundred percent certain he didn’t do that for other reporters that day, but I like to think that it was a little gift to the guy from the Cincinnati days. Because that’s the kind of nice guy he is.