George Clooney was never young. I mean, yes, George Clooney the person was once young, trotting alongside his newscaster father to beauty pageants in Indiana and fixing pipes as the mullet-topped 24-year-old handyman on The Facts of Life. The George Clooney we know, though, didn't materialize in our collective consciousness until the first episode of ER, when he was 33. In most roles, he's played someone older than his age, wearing sharp suits or scrubs, uniforms or space suits. He's talked about the atrocities in Darfur, had dinners with Barack Obama and Walter Cronkite.
But George Clooney was also never old. He was a bachelor. Rode a motorcycle. Had a weekly basketball game. Created his own tequila. Owned a pet pig. Played practical jokes. He was always the same age, the bubble exactly in the middle of a spirit level measuring from man to guy.
George Clooney had neck surgery last fall, after a scooter accident in 2018, and when the doctors were examining him, they found some arthritis. It was a bad accident — you can go online to watch video from a hotel security cam and see Clooney launched at about 70 miles per hour, his helmet shattering a car's windshield, his body cannonballed out of his own shoes, his mouth full of what he thought were shattered teeth but was actually glass. Even though he's still at his high school weight and recovered quickly, and he's been in motorcycle accidents before, he has kids and a wife now, so he won't be riding ever again. And basketball — that's too tough now, too.
Movies for Grownups Honors Clooney With Career Achievement Award
And the Winners Are …
Don't miss our annual Movies for Grownups Awards, an exceptional show honoring the best films and performances of 2020. Oscar-winning producer and actor George Clooney will receive the Movies for Grownups Career Achievement Award. Find out more at aarp.org/moviesforgrownups.
Where to Watch
On Sunday, March 28, at 8 p.m. ET, view the star-studded awards ceremony on Great Performances on PBS (check local listings) or stream it at pbs.org/moviesforgrownups or on the PBS Video app. The show's presenting sponsor is Consumer Cellular.
For 10 years Clooney has declined offers to be on the cover of this magazine, though he did consider doing it as a joke when he turned 50. “I wanted to do a funny bit, which would be Sexiest Man Still Alive. I would have done some funny picture, like with a walker,” he says over Zoom from the screening room of his Los Angeles house.
"Now that I'm about to turn 60, it's not as funny,” he adds, running a hand through his cropped more-salt-than-pepper hair. And when AARP The Magazine's Movies for Grownups awarded him the Career Achievement Award, he surrendered: “I always say to my dad, ‘I'm middle-aged.’ And he goes, ‘You know a lot of 120-year-olds?’ ”
I'm 49 years and 6 months old — just a short time away from receiving that fateful red-and-white letter to join AARP and start getting this magazine — and I wanted advice from the embodiment of graceful aging. I've interviewed Clooney three times before — once over the phone when he left his home number on my voicemail instead of setting up a meeting through a publicist, once at his bachelor pad as he sat under a photo of the Rat Pack, and once over a very long dinner I cooked for him at my house. Each time, I've received his teachings. When he rejected my store-bought salad dressing with disdain, I permanently switched to oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. I upgraded to a more expensive house because Clooney, who owns no stocks or bonds, believes in living in his money. I learned simple home repairs after Clooney made me get a ladder from the storage space under my house with him so he could climb into the attic I'd never been in, screwdriver in his mouth, crawling across the beams, to fix a noise that turned out to be a carbon monoxide alarm in the kitchen that needed new batteries.
Now I wanted advice on just how I should negotiate the future, the same question he asks in his new movie, The Midnight Sky (Netflix), which he not only stars in but also directed and coproduced. In the film, Clooney plays his oldest character yet — a terminally ill scientist rummaging through the postapocalyptic Antarctic, contemplating whether he has spent his life well.
The movie wasn't supposed to be that existential. He finished filming last February and had just started postproduction when, on March 11, the NBA canceled its games and the people who ran the editing room announced that older people would have to work from home for their own safety. “They said, ‘If you're under 50, you're fine,’ ” says Clooney. “And I was, like, ‘Wait a minute? I'm the old guy now?’ ”
Editing in lockdown in his house, Clooney made a movie that had started as a warning about the dangers of rising nationalism — an On the Beach of populism — and kept removing dialogue until this turned the film into a meditation on not being able to connect, the perils of isolation and fading away. “You couldn't help it when you're in the middle of editing from your home, where you can't go out and you can't see anybody,” he explains.
For the role, he grew a David Letterman beard, gave himself a spotty crew cut — and he might not smile once in the entire film. “If you are this sex symbol and that's tied to some notion of youth, you can feel when there's a holding on instead of a letting go,” says David Oyelowo, who portrays an astronaut in space in the movie, unaware of Earth's apocalypse. “That's what he does in The Midnight Sky that's so eye-catching. There's not an iota of that George Clooney eye twinkle or the Sexiest Man Alive. He has completely shelved it. You're allowed to really look at him. You're going, ‘Whoa, the same guy from Out of Sight with J.Lo is here with a beard and not saying any lines and letting us hike the crevices of his face?"