George the collector
I like a good watch, a good vintage wine and motorbikes! But I’m not a collector and I don’t hoard. I’ve got a couple of paintings hanging on the walls at home, for example, that mean a lot to me because they remind me of good times, places I’ve been, people I’ve met. They’re not Old Masters, that’s for sure. When I had my house in Italy redecorated a couple of years back, I hired an interior designer. The guy seemed to know about art so I showed him my paintings. He had the cheek to tell me they were worth less than the nails they were hanging on! I tried to justify myself by explaining how I’d bought this one when I was 33, on my first trip to Paris, and that one in Madrid, but it was like talking to a brick wall!
First steps in Hollywood
I would have been eight years old. I can still see myself on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, looking at the famous actors’ handprints. I was so excited! I wanted to be an actor too. A few years later, I started hassling my uncle, Jose Ferrer, for contacts. It’s also thanks to my aunt, the singer Rosemary Clooney, and some good friends that I got my foot on the ladder. Without them, I’d be bagging groceries in a supermarket [laughs]. When I was doing the rounds, going from one audition to the next, a friend put me up at his place for months because I didn’t have enough to pay rent. Another pal paid the photographer for headshots. No headshot, no pressbook, no audition. It’s that simple. I’ve always been grateful to my friends for their straight talking. They’ve never been the type to say, “Hey George, you were great!” when I knew full well that neither the film nor my performance were up to scratch. In Batman, for example, they never hid the fact that my acting was terrible and that I looked like one of the Village People with my latex underpants!
Moment of truth
My Aunt Rosemary was married to Jose Ferrer, who was a famous actor in the 1950s. He got me my first scripts. My first gig was actually in a play, The Biz, that his son, Miguel, was directing. So, one day Jose comes to see us at the theatre, and when an Oscar winner comes to see you, believe me you’re going to do your best to impress. I thought I’d done an excellent job. I was crying, spitting, yelling, all the things you do when you’re 21 and just starting out. Especially when you’re convinced you’re a great actor. There were eight people in the cast and eight people in the audience [laughs]. When I went over to Jose to ask what he’d thought of my performance, he came out with this: “Keep the scenery out of your mouth, you don’t know where it’s been!” That was a good lesson for me. I got my first real piece of advice from Steven Spielberg. We were on the set of ER when he said, “You know, you could be a star if you’d stop bobbing your head like a pigeon!” Message received loud and clear. I also stopped dressing like a hick and got a new neo-Greek haircut that every stylist in Beverly Hills jumped on.
The golden age of Hollywood
I’ve always felt part of the big Hollywood family. When I go to the Warner studios, it’s like going back in time. There are technicians who’ve been working there since the 1950s. We’re on good terms. Whenever I’m over there, I bump into this old pal who asks me if I want to take a ride in his electric car, and we always end up chatting about the directors who made Hollywood what it is. When one of the studio walls collapsed during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, we found a cylinder among all the rubble. Rolled up inside were the sign-in sheets for Casablanca. One of my technician pals gave me one and I had it framed. Proof that I’m a diehard fan of Hollywood’s golden age. I based my character in Hail, Caesar! on Victor Mature in Samson and Delilah. I’m a huge fan of his. Once, he tried to get into the Los Angeles Country Club, but they told him they were sorry, they didn’t allow actors as members. And you know what he replied: “I have 75 films to prove I am not an actor”! [laughs].
Hour of need
I’m often asked whether I’ll go into politics one day. Seeing what politicians get thrown at them is enough to put anyone off. When you switch on the TV these days and see all these places being torn apart, it’s an understatement to say these are difficult times. My wife Amal and I talk about the war and the situation in Syria every day. It’s heartbreaking and sadly just one example among many. There are problems everywhere. Look at Ukraine. When you’re campaigning, you have to be willing to compromise and that’s not my type. When I stand up for something I believe in, I don’t pussyfoot around issues in case I offend one of the people financing my campaigns. I think I can be a lot more useful to the projects I work on if I’m not involved in politics. Everything’s so polarised in politics. Believe me, I’m much better off away from all that.
Whiling away the hours…
I like to watch what’s going on around me. I like to understand society. I was born in 1961 and grew up in a turbulent era, much like today. There were the civil rights riots, the Vietnam protests, the women’s movement. We realised we had to get involved in the society we lived in, even if you only had one or two people behind you. This is something I’ve had in me all my life. Look at the pay gap between men and women. Smokehouse, the production company I set up with Grant Heslov, is run by five women, and they’re there because they are the most qualified people for the job. I honestly hadn’t planned to only hire women but as it turned out, the people with the most impressive resumes were all women. It’s something to watch out for. If one day you end up with an office full of guys, there’s a problem. It means you haven’t given the question enough thought. I don’t condone sexism. Hollywood is supposedly a very liberal environment, yet women are still paid 20% less than men. I’m delighted to see more and more films focusing on women. It was time to set certain records straight!
I get along great with Jean Dujardin. We’ve become good friends, especially since we made the Nespresso commercial together. I actually persuaded him to do it. At the least opportunity, on my birthday for example, he sends me his famous camel imitation. It’s a killer! He has to be one of the funniest guys I know. And the crazy thing is that we barely understand each other. I speak very little French and Jean’s English is, well, let’s say, pretty limited. The language barrier didn’t stop him from spending a vacation with me in Como. We had the best time. Jean Dujardin is a real French treasure. Our friendship means a lot to me.
When my time comes
I’d like to get run over by a bus. That way I’m bound to get this fantastic obituary with all the details. Maybe even get my photo on the front page! [bursts out laughing].