It's 10 a.m. on a Wednesday at Planet Hollywood San Franciscoand already George Clooney
and Don Cheadle have had an wearing day.
Up at 5 and to Los Angeles International Airport by 7 tocatch their ride here, they've already been conducting interviews for anhour and they will spend the afternoon signing autographs for a throngof fans forming a line outside the restaurant.
As they sit down to talk about their new Elmore Leonard-adaptedfilm "Outof Sight," Clooney orders a big Coke andCheadle slouches in his chair, pulls his baseball cap over his eyes andsays, "Goodnight, everybody."
"What time did you guys get up this morning?"I ask.
"5 o'clock," says Clooney.
"4:45," says Cheadle, sitting back up. "Freshas a daisy!"
"It's all the acid we took on the plane," Clooneyjokes, nudging Cheadle, who shoots back, "I think it was the crankthat really did it."
And they're off. This kind of satirical by-play has apparentlybeen going on since the two actors became friends on the set of "Outof Sight."
Cheadle, an up-and-coming star best known for playing Mousein "Devilin a Blue Dress" and the cowboy porn starin "BoogieNights," seems to be the straight man.
He takes hits from the wise-cracking Clooney all morningand sits by drowsily while Clooney takes the bulk of the question frominterviewers. Asked why they paired up to promote the film, Clooney saysit's part of his job as the star and Cheadle came along because "wehad pictures of him with a goat."
But the soon to be ex-"E.R." star doesn't playeverything for laughs. He's refreshingly frank about his tenuous positionas a box office draw, acknowledging that most of the films he has carriedhave "under-performed," and accepting partial culpability forthe meager success of the last "Batman" movie.
"I think we buried that franchise," he says whenasked about rumors of a "Batman 5." "I think Warner Bros.and I put that one to rest."
It was while working on "Batmanand Robin" that Clooney was offered therole of Jack Foley in "Out of Sight," a notorious bank robberon the lam who falls for a beautiful, brassy, young Fed assigned to bringhim in.
"I was just finishing the shooting of 'Batman' andI kind of knew I had to find a script that was a little more on the ball.I read a bunch of scripts, I passed on a bunch, I didn't get a few, andthis was the one that...well, luckily I think Travolta was busy,"he grins.
Both actors call themselves big fans of Elmore Leonard,the character-conscious crime novelist who wrote "Out of Sight"and two dozen other novels, including "GetShorty," "Fifty-Two Pickup" and"Rum Punch," which last year became Quentin Tarantino's "JackieBrown."
Clooney says he was instantly attracted by the idea ofworking an a Elmore Leonard picture -- especially one adapted by ScottFrank, who also wrote the script for "Get Shorty" -- becauseFrank's scripts put Leonard's characters ahead of everything else.
"The first thing that got me excited (about this movie)was Elmore Leonard, who I thought wasn't well represented (in film) until'Get Shorty,'" Clooney says. "(In) the scripts from his books,the story doesn't really matter. It never did. Oh, it's a diamond heist!We've never seen that before. What's important with Elmore Leonard is characters."
The character banter in "Out of Sight" is pivotal.Jack Foley's attempts to seduce his pursuer without getting caught is thecrux of the film, and his partnerships with fellow criminals played byCheadle and Ving Rhames keep the film clicking when it's not focused onsexual tension, which is why, according to Clooney, this film works.
Being such big fans, I wanted to know if Leonard had visitedthe set while they were filming.
"Call me 'Dutch,'" Clooney says, imitating Leonard,then breaking into laughter with Cheadle. "Yeah, Dutch was there.I really loved him being around because I'm such a huge fan of the guy."
"You gonna wear that?" Cheadle pipes in, usingLeonard's voice again and causing the two stars to lean into each otherand crack up again. Obviously Leonard was a big presence on the set.
But Clooney insists what really solidified the projectfor him was the signing on of director Steven Soderbergh. Known for low-budget,high-impact, character-driven fare like "sex, lies and videotape,"this is Soderbergh's first mainstream film, and Clooney says his directionhelped make this "the classiest project I'd certainly ever been involvedin."
He also had high praise for co-stars Cheadle and JenniferLopez ("Selena," "Anaconda"),who plays the U.S. Marshall that makes his heart go pitter-pat.
Lopez, he says, had all the qualities he and the producerswere looking for in a leading lady, not the least of which was "youhave to believe she could pick up a gun and shoot you, and you still haveto want to chase her around the couch."
Cheadle became attached to the film during a table readingof the script at the home of producer Danny DeVito.
"Don came in as a favor and read his part, just readit," says Clooney, "and all we did was watch Don..."
"I was wearing a dress," Cheadle chimes in.
"Exactly, and a blonde wig." Clooney plays alongbefore continuing more seriously, "At the end, instead of all of ussitting around talking about the script, we were all in a corner going,'How are we going to get Don Cheadle to do this movie?'"
After a pause, he adds, with his trademark head down, eyesup Cheshire grin, "So we got the pictures of him with the goat."
Clooney seems always ready to joke, even about his highly-publicbattle against the tabloid press. Even though he takes his privacy seriously,he claims to have been misunderstood when he spoke out against the paparazziafter Princess Diana's death and says he would does not support proposedlegislation to reign in freelance photographers.
"I'm a public figure. If I do something stupid andthey get a picture of it, I deserve it."
"But come with me through an airport one day and watchwhat they do to the people I'm with," he adds with all semblance oflight-heartedness temporarily absent. "When 17-year-old kids withvideo cameras go 'Who's the fat chick?' and so you go 'F--- you,' and thenthey sell that -- that's creating news. And that to me is the problem."
Clooney realizes that, for the moment, this kind of thingis the price of fame, and he says he knows fame and success are fleetingin his line of business.
"It all depends on when you get killed whether youend up being a success or not," he says, noting that if he'd diedduring his early career, he would have been best known for "Returnof the Killer Tomatoes."
"I only did movies, up until very recently, that hadthe word "return" in the title," he says with a laugh. Thenhe and Cheadle are back in their verbal game of ping-pong.
Cheadle: "Out of Sight Again!"
Clooney: "Really Out of Sight!"
Cheadle: "Further Out of Sight!"