Opening Friday, comedy “Leatherheads
” about 1920s footballers (George Clooney
and John Krasinski
) and Lexie Littleton reporter (Renee Zellweger
) is Clooney’s third outing as a director, following “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
Those two films showcased the 46-year-old superstar’s inner rabble-rouser, while his last few as an actor played to other facets of his well-plumbed persona: “Michael Clayton” was a don’t-trust-the-Man thriller; “Ocean’s Thirteen,” a for-the-boys lark; “Syriana,” a dark political expose; “The Good German,” a nod to his old-fashioned movie-star image.
But “Leatherheads,” by its quirkiness, may be the forward pass that links them all. For despite his omnipresence in pop culture, and all those interviews trying to get to the bottom of him, Clooney refuses to be pinned down.
“The actual truth of it is, after ‘Good Night’ and ‘Syriana,’ for that matter – everything I was offered to direct was a political film,” says Clooney.
“All heavy stuff. And I actually think of myself as a director, not an ‘issues’ director. And the way to [protect] that is to direct different types of things, different genres, mix it up. So I thought, ‘What’s next for me should not be a message film. It shouldn’t have a statement.’ And there’s nothing further from a statement than ‘Leatherheads.’ It was the perfect one to do,” Clooney added.
The script, by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, had been bouncing around for 15 years. When talking about what helped him click with the story, he’s said that it was the realization the movie should be a modern take on “The Philadelphia Story” (1940).
Asked about it now, he laughs and admits that, as he has with his other directing efforts, he only pilfers from the best.
“I figured out who to steal from,” he says, also mentioning “Hail the Conquering Hero” (1944) and “The More the Merrier” (1943) as inspirations. But knowing great old movies backwards and forwards didn’t help with some new hurdles.
“It’s a challenge to direct yourself in a lead role,” he says. “With supporting roles like in ‘Confessions’ and ‘Good Night,’ you know exactly what to do to come in, serve the film and get out. But leads have to drive movies; that’s your job. So I wasn’t necessarily ready for that when also directing. And the other thing, honestly, is: I was in shape, but I wasn’t ready for being hit that hard playing football.”
The movie’s title comes from the comically inefficient headgear worn by pro and amateur players in the early days of the game. Set in 1925, Clooney’s character, rough-and-tumble Dodge Connolly, finds himself playing with pretty-boy college player Carter (The Bullet) Rutherford (Krasinski) when the latter joins the Duluth Bulldogs.
As regulations are imposed upon what were essentially free-for-alls with goal posts, the two vie for the attention of Lexie Littleton (Zellweger), a newsgal sent to dig up dirt on the Bullet.
“The secret was making both guys a viable option for Lexie,” says Clooney. “You want the guys to be really different, but completely possible romantic options for her. And that’s Krasinski and myself – he’s 6-3, I’m 5-11. He’s 27, I’m 46. We’re worlds apart, but it all works.”