One of the first to congratulate Harry and Meghan on their first-born was their pal
‘It’s a big day for me, and now some royal child has been born,’ he laughs when we meet soon after in the posher-than-posh Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills.
We’re here to discuss his latest TV project, but after Archie’s arrival the actor is keen to talk candidly about how his own children have changed his life, and why he thinks the Sussexes will make great parents.
He and Amal, who have a house in Sonning, Berkshire, not far from Harry and Meghan at Windsor, have been friends with the royal couple for many years now, although he’s vague about how the friendship started.
‘I’ve just known them,’ he shrugs.
George Clooney, 58, (pictured with his wife Amal, 41) revealed how he balances family life with his career, ahead of the debut of his six-part series Catch-22
‘We live not too far from one another and we have dinners and stuff and we’re friends with them for all the reasons that you’re friends with anybody.
‘They’re just really nice, fun, kind people, they’re a very loving couple, and they’re going to be great parents.’
Cheerfully gulping coffee, it has to be said he’s looking tired this morning.
A few years ago this would have been down to a hangover, but today he says it’s a very different story.
‘My daughter Ella was sick last night,’ he explains. ‘She woke up at 2.30, went to sleep again, then woke up again at 4.30. She was crying so we put her in our bed.
‘Then she took over the bed to the point where I was literally lying at the foot of the bed, because that was the only place there was room for me.
‘She finally falls asleep, we don’t want her to fall off the bed, so I’m finding pillows and putting them all around the bed like a bouncy castle in case she falls off.
‘And then there was no room for me at all, so I had to go sleep on the couch in the nursery.’
He stops and looks thoughtful. ‘That didn’t happen before I had kids,’ he concludes.
He doesn’t look too unhappy though, and he really doesn’t have much to be unhappy about.
George (pictured centre with Chris Abbott and Pico Alexander in his new show Catch-22) produced, directed and starred in the TV adaptation of Joseph Heller’s classic 1961 novel
Once a struggling actor who tailored his ill-fitting suits with a stapler and supplemented his income by selling insurance door to door, he’s now at the top of his game professionally, able to work precisely when, with whom and on what projects he chooses to.
He’s about to launch a three-pronged attack on the entertainment world with Catch-22, a six-part TV adaptation of Joseph Heller’s classic 1961 novel, which he produced, directed and stars in.
A satire on the Second World War and widely deemed one of the most important books of the last century, Catch-22 tells the story of a squadron of US airmen – including bombardier Yossarian, the protagonist – stationed on an island off Italy during the war and their desperation to complete their missions and get home safely.
George has the time of his life snarling through his scenes as the sadistic Scheisskopf, their parade-obsessed boss who rises through the ranks over the course of the book from lieutenant to colonel to general.
‘I first read the book in high school, and I knew the Mike Nichols movie had been a tricky adaptation from book to film because so many characters die in it that if you didn’t get the chance to get to know them, they just felt like cannon fodder,’ he says.
‘So I loved the idea that by making a TV series, we could spend time with these characters before they ended up meeting their demise.
‘Television felt like the perfect medium to do that.
George (pictured on his motorbike) had a crash last summer while travelling to a filming location for the new series. He is now off bikes for good
‘I’m not a particularly nice guy in this one, and I think my moustache says it all.
‘There aren’t a whole lot of nice people in this – there’s a lot of very flawed individuals and mine is a particularly unsavoury character.
‘His name is Scheisskopf, which means “s**thead”, and I’m kind of a s**thead all the way through, so it’s perfect.
‘I’m really mean to Chris Abbott, who’s playing Yossarian.
‘But he deserves it – he’s young, and he’s sleeping with my on-screen wife!’
He admits that when he was first offered the job his immediate instinct was to turn it down.
‘They called and said, “Do you want to do Catch-22?” and I said no, because it’s a beloved novel, and you don’t really like messing with these things.
George admitted he cannot imagine being ‘more proud’ of anyone than he is of wife Amal. Pictured, the couple at the wedding of their friends the Duke and Duchess of Sussex last year
‘Then they sent Grant [Heslov, George’s co-producer and director] and me three of the six scripts, we read them overnight, and called back and said, “If there are three more like those, we’ll do it!” We have a great cast – I made a rule a long time ago that I don’t work with anyone I don’t like – including Chris, Kyle Chandler and Hugh Laurie, who we got because he was the cheapest actor for the role! And besides, I always feel sorry for the guy because, as you know, he’s always being compared to me as a doctor!’
He laughs, remembering his and Hugh’s roles as, respectively, Dr Doug Ross on ER and Dr Gregory House in House, and then turns serious again.
‘We became friends on the 2015 film Tomorrowland and I really admire him.
‘He’s actually a comic genius, so we asked if he wanted to play the part of Major De Coverley, which is a great, funny, insane part.
‘He said yes, and we had a blast working together.’
Off screen, the former playboy and Hollywood party king finds life a different sort of blast, as at 58 he is now proud father to twins Ella and her brother Alexander, who turned two this week, and devoted husband to human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, of whom, he says, he could not be more proud.
‘I can’t imagine being more in love with her than I am, and I can’t imagine somebody I’m more proud of,’ he announces.
‘Take my birthday in May. It was one of the most spectacular days ever.
‘Now, every single day for the last year Amal has been working on a case to get two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, out of prison in Myanmar.
‘And I mean every day, Saturday, Sunday, three in the morning, whenever, it’s been a long slog of hard work behind the scenes.
‘She’s been working with the chief of Reuters and with another lawyer, and she’s been tireless about it.
Proud husband George revealed his wife is one of the ‘funniest people you will ever meet’. Pictured, the couple together in New York City in December 2018
‘On my birthday we were sitting at home having my birthday dinner together, and at the same time, over in Myanmar, the journalists were released and walked out of prison.
‘It was a beautiful moment, and as good a birthday present as you could ever have. Amal was crying, and I felt like I couldn’t be luckier than to be in her presence.’
The couple will celebrate their fifth anniversary this September. ‘And they said it wouldn’t last!’ he laughs.
He’s come a long way from the young actor who once declared he was never going to get married or have children at all.
‘Well, it wasn’t really this mantra I had,’ he says.
‘It was just something I said years ago. I’d been married once before [to actress Talia Balsam, from 1989 to 1993] and I probably wasn’t very good at it then.
‘But then this incredible woman walked into my life.’
With her impeccable dress sense, dramatic dark looks and formidable reputation, Amal is one of the most redoubtable human rights lawyers around.
It’s tempting to suppose that, in person, Mrs Clooney might be more than a little on the intimidating side.
Amal (pictured) who works in some potentially dangerous situations, now discusses her career decisions with George
Far from it, says George.
‘It’s funny because nobody knows her well because she doesn’t really do interviews, and she works on such serious subjects that people tend to tiptoe around her,’ he once told me. But she’s one of the funniest people you will ever meet.’
Which is not to say life is all laughter in the Clooney household.
Amal’s work is not only intense but it takes her into some potentially dangerous situations.
Four years ago she planned a trip to the Maldives to meet former president Mohamed Nasheed, who’d been sentenced to 13 years in prison for what Amnesty International described as ‘political’ reasons.
Then, just days before she arrived, her co-counsel, Mahfooz Saeed, was set upon by masked men outside his hotel and stabbed in the head with a 10in knife, leaving him close to death.
She continued with her trip anyway, and Saeed, happily, has since recovered.
But George says that since then, and particularly now that they have the children, he and Amal, 41, have had to have some serious conversations about safety issues.
‘That happened the day before she got there, so there’s some hairy stuff going on.
‘Amal’s been in some pretty rough places in her time.
‘She was one of the lead prosecutors in trying Hezbollah for killing Hariri [former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005].
‘She was there in a bunker for a year and that was a pretty risky spot to be in.
‘She’s as tough as nails and she’s going to keep doing what she believes is the right thing to do.
‘She’s had an incredibly successful career and accomplished some amazing things, so she’s not going to curb what she’s doing.
‘But we’ve got kids together now, and we talk about things.
‘We talk all the time about which clients she gets called about, whether she takes them on or what cases would be too dangerous.
‘We’ve made certain pacts about how she’s going to stop going to certain places, and I said I’m going to stop going to war zones where it’s dangerous to be.’
In the past he’s visited places such as South Sudan in his capacity as a human rights activist.
‘You can’t completely change your life around, you still have to do what you do.
George (pictured with Amal at the premiere of Catch-22) says his decision to stop driving his motorbike was related to being responsible for his twins
‘But our family motto is “Pick good fights”, and that’s what we try to do.’
One of the ‘good fights’ was about his beloved motorcycle.
He has recently announced that he’s off the bikes for good following a potentially disastrous crash last summer on the island of Sardinia when he was heading to a filming location for Catch-22 and crashed into a van at 70mph.
He was taken to hospital but released with, miraculously, only minor injuries.
However, he’s subsequently said it was one accident too many.
Possibly a case of Amal putting down her elegantly designer shoe-clad foot?
‘Amal hasn’t banned me from anything!’ he says. ‘It was my decision.
‘I hit the guy at 70mph – boom! – and if I were to do that a hundred times, then 99 times out of those I wouldn’t be sitting here at all.
‘There was a lot of luck going on there and I probably used up nine lives right there in that one shot.
‘Amal said to me, “So, do you think you want to ride again?” I thought about it, and I figured I’ve got 40 years of good riding behind me, I can let that one go.
‘I’ve got the twins now and I’ve got to be responsible.’
George (pictured with Amal) gushed about enjoying fatherhood, he says the family has decided to spend a lot of time in Italy
He’s loving every second of fatherhood, nights on the nursery couch included.
‘They’re really funny and really smart,’ he beams proudly of his twins.
‘We’ve decided, because we spend a lot of time in Italy and they’re going to spend a lot of time growing up there, that Italian is going to be one of the languages they learn.
‘Already they’re saying their ABCs in Italian and in English.
‘And they can count from one to 20 in Italian too, which I can’t do! They’ve definitely got my wife’s genes in the brain department because she’s the smart one in the family.’
They may be blessed with their mother’s brains, but it sounds like Alexander has inherited his father’s love of a practical joke.
‘We’re playing pranks together,’ George reports delightedly.
‘I’ll put peanut butter on the side of his shoe and he’ll go to his mother and say, “Mamma? Pooh-pooh?” And then he reaches down like this, and he puts his finger in it and licks it, and he goes “Pooh-pooh?” again.
‘And when I get him to do that, that’s when I really get her! Pooh-pooh works every time. It’s the universal language!’
He declines to say whether he will be passing such suggestions to the newborn Archie Mountbatten-Windsor when they next pop round for lunch, but he’s adamant he won’t be dropping in on his Sonning neighbours Theresa and Philip May any time soon.
Amal has publicly criticised Mrs May’s reluctance to allow more refugees into Britain, and George has strong opinions on Brexit, which he describes as ‘a disaster – the worst own goal in history for a country to do.’
Besides, he adds, the way the Mays and the Clooneys live their lives, they’re never in the same place at the same time.
‘For the longest time our paths just didn’t cross because on Sunday she would go to church and Amal and I would go to the pub.
‘And more recently with Brexit we still haven’t crossed paths because she now goes to the pub – and we go to church!’
Catch-22 will begin on Channel 4 later this month.