George Clooney on his new film and loving fatherhood
'All this is icing on a cake'
At the Fairmont Royal York hotel during the Toronto International Film Festival in September, where he arrived to meet the press for his new movie Suburbicon, George Clooney was his usual charming self.
The 56-year-old US actor-director acknowledged everyone with a kind word or two, patted shoulders, joked around and even pulled out his mobile phone to show photos of his five-month-old twins Ella and Alexander.
He explained the genesis of his latest directorial project, which is showing here. Clooney and writing-producing partner Grant Heslov were working on a screenplay based on true events in Levittown, Pennsylvania, where the Myers family became the first black one to move into an all-white suburb in the 1950s.
This led to racist harassment and mob violence, which required intervention by state authorities.
"The day the Myers moved in, the mailman assumed Mrs Myers was the maid and asked her if Mrs Myers was home," Clooney recounts.
"When she explained that she was Mrs Myers, the mailman took it upon himself to go door to door, asking everyone, 'Have you met your new neighbours?'
"By that evening, there were about 500 people on their lawn shouting racial epithets, hanging Confederate flags and burning a cross on the lawn next door."
At the time, Clooney recalled an old script by Oscar-winning film-making duo Joel and Ethan Coen about characters making bad decisions and decided to use it as a basis for the Levittown incidents, and Suburbicon - in which he points the finger at the racial tensions in present-day America - was born.
It is hard to find an actor that can be the guy that gets his ass kicked, and then does the ass-kicking in another movie, and do them both believably. George clooney on Matt Damon
The focus of the satire is now on a white family, the Lodges, whose lives unravel in the aftermath of a tragic break-in as they are caught up in a darkly comic spiral of misfortune, deceit and murder, while the innocent black family next door is targeted with racial animus.
Clooney's buddy and frequent co-star, US actor Matt Damon, was his choice to play the lead, with US actress Julianne Moore taking on a double role as his wife and her twin sister.
Said Clooney: "This is the thing that people don't get about Matt, he really is an incredibly versatile actor.
"It is hard to find an actor that can be the guy that gets his ass kicked, and then does the ass-kicking in another movie, and do them both believably. He is also a sweet guy and is fun to work with. You don't have to do a whole lot of directing."
With the arrival of his babies, Clooney - who married British-Lebanese international law and human rights barrister Amal Alamuddin in 2014 - joked that he got rid of a few friends because "I can only have room for so many people in my life".
He is godfather to about 20 children, so he thought he knew what fatherhood was all about.
He said: "I think the surprise for me was how much more complicated twins are than one. It is not like twice as much work, it is more than that.
"I have such admiration for my wife, who is getting about two hours of sleep a night. She is up breastfeeding these two knuckleheads that all they want to do is eat."
Clooney has a noble mission in the way he is planning to bring up his children.
"What you want to do is make sure they understand that they were, by birth, given things that other children aren't. Some of it is good and some of it is bad.
"But it all happened by birth, and you just as easily could have been born as a child in Syria and your life is a completely different life.
"That is going to be our job, and that is what is important to me."
His life so far has changed in very meaningful ways.
"I have got an incredible wife, and I have got two children that literally do not even care that I exist right now," he said, laughing.
"I have nothing to give them. I can give them a bottle every once in a while, and they are happy. But other than that, it is all Amal right now, which is beautiful and it is a sight to see."
Clooney added: "I didn't really think that was going to happen in my life. All of this is icing on the cake.
"I thought my life was going to be focused on my career. And then I had this incredible relationship and all of a sudden, we have these two knuckleheads who make me laugh every day.
"And look, today is the first time that I have been away from them since they have been born and my wife sends me pictures and I sit there thinking, 'I wish I were with my kids'. It is nice to feel that way. So I am excited to get home."
When asked about his tips on achieving happiness, Clooney - who has escaped to his 18th-century villa in Lake Como, Italy, every summer for more than 15 years - advised: "If you haven't been to Italy, go to Italy.
"My joke used to be with Italy, they did everything better than us except govern. And now, I can't even make that joke.
"But there is something about the way they live. I bought the house there because I thought I would sell it and make money off of it. Then I got there and I saw all these construction workers, with a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine and they are singing.
"I was like, 'They are living better than I am'. I have been eating lunch standing up for 25 years. I realised there is more to life than being in a hurry."
Besides making message movies like Suburbicon, Clooney has also always been in the Hollywood forefront of philanthropy, and he has plans to continue giving back.
From the sale of his company Casamigos Tequila, where he and his partners reportedly made US$1 billion (S$1.36 billion), he put US$20 million into his Clooney Foundation for Justice.
"It gives us the opportunity to not have to do fund-raisers with people that we can't stand," Clooney joked.
"We are building schools in Lebanon, starting with putting 5,000 kids into education, because... the quickest way you can defeat terrorism is to take people and give them education and give them hope.
"The worst thing you can do is put them in a room and let them be stagnant.
"Our goal is to try to cut these problems off much earlier when we can, and hopefully we will be able to scale it up to a much, much larger level.
"Lebanon is a country of 4 million people and they have taken on 2 million refugees. And obviously because of my wife, it seems like a very important place for us to try and have some effect there."