by Victoria Lindrea
BBC News Online
Clooney says Solaris was never a blockbuster movie
At 41, actor George Clooney may not be able to open a movie single-handedly or guarantee box office success, but he is undoubtedly a significant presence in the film industry - and one of Hollywood's most popular players.
The son of a news presenter and nephew to the late singer Rosemary Clooney, the former ER star gained an early insight into the trappings of fame.
"She was a huge influence on me," he says of his aunt, with whom he spent his early years in Hollywood.
"She was famous and then not famous, but she didn't become any less of a singer - things change that you have absolutely nothing to do with."
The nature of celebrity is one of the themes in George Clooney's directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.
It tells the story of TV personality Chuck Barris, who claims he led a double life as a CIA assassin while hosting game shows in the 1970s.
Clooney played Dr Doug Ross in ER
"I wasn't looking to direct, but I felt like this was a screenplay where I knew how to tell the story," says Clooney, who grew up on TV sets during his father's brief career as a game show host.
Curtis Hanson, David Fincher and Bryan Singer were among the directors who briefly took and relinquished the film's helm.
By 2000 so much money had already been spent in pre-production costs that it looked certain never to be made.
"My pitch to Harvey (Weinstein) was that I could do it $20m cheaper than anybody else," says Clooney.
Taking advantage of social standing in Tinsel Town, Clooney easily persuaded stars like Julia Roberts and Drew Barrymore to work for lower salaries.
Brad Pitt made a cameo appearance in Clooney's film
"They weren't calling because they wanted to work with me - these were great parts," he says.
Some stars did not receive any payment at all.
"It was a pure and simple favour," he says of Matt Damon and Brad Pitt's cameo appearance.
"I still can't believe they showed up for a shot that we didn't even stop the camera on. That's what great friends they are."
It may sound conceited, but in a profession replete with warring egos, Clooney certainly appears to be one of the good guys.
"He is unbelievably generous, always putting everybody else before himself," says Natasha McElhone, Clooney's co-star in the upcoming film Solaris.
Solaris, a new version of the sci-fi classic by Andrei Tarkovsky, marks Clooney's third project with director and friend Steven Soderbergh, who wrote the screenplay.
A slow, cerebral film, Clooney calls it "a polarising film that was not designed to be a blockbuster" and blames its poor reception in the US on bad marketing.
But then, Clooney is accustomed to poor receptions. Among his early big screen outings was the comic book sequel Batman and Robin, which made a spectacular nosedive at the box office.
In fact, the actor did not have a box office hit until 2000's The Perfect Storm and, despite critical acclaim and a Golden Globe, the Coen brothers comedy O'Brother, Where Art Thou? was only grudgingly received.
"The trick is that you can't spend all your time trying to correct the things that are said about you," says Clooney equably.
He claims the best advice came from his father who told him to "do it, and be willing to fail".
"The best part of the fame is being able to make the films that you want to make. Films that will last longer than an opening weekend," he says.
It is all a far cry from flirting with Nurse Hathaway across the operating table as Dr Ross in hospital drama ER.
Solaris opens on 28 February and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind opens on 21 March.