With The Midnight Sky, the actor-director takes on his most ambitious project yet. And that’s saying something.
George Clooney’s new action drama The Midnight Sky begins with the end of the world. The year is 2049, and a team of astronauts is en route back to Earth. They’ve been exploring the life-sustaining capabilities of one of Jupiter’s moons, but global catastrophe strikes before they can return home. A lone scientist survives at an Arctic outpost, searching for a way to warn them.Clooney, who both stars in and directs the film, sees uncanny parallels in contemporary society. “The inability to communicate from Earth to this spaceship feels very much like the things that we’re going through more and more,” he says. “We’re losing the sense of community. We get into our own worlds, and we stop looking out for one another.”Based on the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton and adapted for the screen by Mark L. Smith (The Revenant), The Midnight Sky marks Clooney’s return to cinema after a three-year absence, as well as another collaboration with producing partner Grant Heslov. He plays Augustine Lofthouse, the lone scientist remaining at the outpost. Lofthouse is terminally ill, and he’s profoundly alone — until an abandoned child, Iris (newcomer Caoilinn Springall), makes her presence known. He must protect her and save the Jupiter expedition from a dying Earth.The film features an all-star supporting cast — Felicity Jones, David Oyelowo, Tiffany Boone, Kyle Chandler, and Demián Bichir — and stands as the most expansive production Clooney has yet overseen. He is more than up to the challenge, having long ago earned his stripes as one of Hollywood’s most gifted actors and filmmakers, not to mention one of its nicest guys.
After breaking through in the 90s as the TV heartthrob Doug Ross on ER, Clooney forged longstanding creative relationships with directors including Steven Soderbergh, Alexander Payne, and the Coen brothers. In 2006, he earned the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, playing C.I.A. agent Bob Barnes in the geopolitical thriller Syriana. That same year, he cemented his reputation with the Oscar-nominated Good Night, and Good Luck, a black-and-white drama that he directed, starred in, and co-wrote with Heslov.In the years since, he’s directed acclaimed films including the political drama The Ides of March and, most recently, the 1950s-set satirical thriller Suburbicon. He’s given celebrated performances in Michael Clayton, Up in the Air, and The Descendants, and brought his effortless charm to the Ocean’s Eleven franchise. He’s also lent his celebrity to a raft of humanitarian causes, from ending world hunger to curtailing human rights abuses.The actor-filmmaker is now the father of twins and the husband of international human rights attorney Amal Clooney. He says that the environmental themes in The Midnight Sky were a key factor in his attraction to the project. Part interpersonal drama, part cautionary tale, the film imagines a bleak future, but one that Clooney believes we can avoid.“If you don’t look at these bigger issues and take them on, then climate change is going to reach our doorstep; anger and hatred are going to come home to roost,” he says. “We need to find a way to remind ourselves that we’re all in this together. There is redemption in this film. The idea that none of us alone get out of this thing alive, but maybe as a group we get out of it intact — I think that’s important.”
Queue’s Krista Smith spoke to Clooney for her podcast Present Company.Krista Smith: Is it fair to say you felt a sense of urgency driving you to make this film?
Your co-star, Caoilinn Springall, is extraordinary.
GC: Almost everything I did with her was one take. She’d never acted before, and she’s brilliant in the film. I would go, “O.K., now you’ve got to be running away, and I need you to turn back with your scary sad face.” She’d run, turn back, and do this scary sad face. It ruins it for the rest of us who have to go through all this process before we can do it exactly right. She’s just like, I can do that. Having been on ER playing a pediatrician, I had worked with a lot of kid actors. The issue with kid actors is that they are trained by their parents on how to respond; they’re responding before you even ask the question. Caoilinn reacted in the moment in the way that the best actors do.
When the script works, when the actors understand what their role is, and when we’re all in it together, it’s such a beautiful moment.”
Has becoming a father changed your creative life? Had you not become a family man, would you have made The Midnight Sky?
GC: I haven’t acted in five years in a film. It was an active choice to try to spend as much time as I could with my children at a very specific time. They’re three and a half now, and it’s been a very exciting time to watch them grow up. Since I could, I wanted to be around — a lot of people can’t. I started very old, so I had an advantage. My mom was 19 years old when I was born. That’s hard, with no support system, no car, no nothing. I had these luxuries, the ability to say, O.K., I can take a year off and just sit with these knuckleheads and see who they want to be and watch the personalities that pop out.
You struggled for your success. You were that actor who had umpteen failed pilots. Then you hit with ER in your mid-30s. It was like a supernova.
GC: We got 40 million people watching that show. The big surprise was we were supposed to lose to Chicago Hope, and we ended up being the big winner. It was lucky for me because I was the oldest guy on the show. I’d done 13 pilots, and I’d done seven television series, so I had a real perspective.
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