BY DONNA FREYDKIN
George Clooney has won an Oscar. He's a well-read, deeply intelligent, engaged activist on behalf of human rights, who's married to a world-renowned lawyer. He's the dude you want to throw back shots of Casamigos with. So he relishes nothing more than playing his polar opposite, a hare-brained buffoon with an inflated ego in "Hail, Caesar!," the latest from Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
His egomaniacal Baird Whitlock gets kidnapped while in an ancient Greek costume, and held for bail. Meanwhile, another movie star, played by Channing Tatum, has a pretty face and slick movies belying a hidden agenda. And handling it all is an ultimate fixer (Josh Brolin) tasked with making sure the studio trains run on time.
Clooney has been talking about the film for years, long before there was an actual script in place. "I think finally they wrote it to get me off their backs. I didn't talk to them about it ever. I would do press and say I was doing 'Hail Caesar!'" he says.
He's a veteran of Coen films. Tatum is a newbie. For him, the experience was "amazing. I don't think I've ever worked with directors that were as prepared. They'd never done a big dance scene. I've never done a scene that's been more prepared."
So much so that the veteran hoofer pulled something of a Gregory Hines, learning that specific craft. "It was my first time putting on tap shoes. I danced for about three and a half months. We didn't do that number thankfully that many times," he says, adding that he added his own flavor to his character. "I started to make up some weird guy who liked the outfits of communists. He wanted to become a communist because he liked the outfits."
For Clooney, who filmed "Burn After Reading, "Intolerable Cruelty" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" with the lauded directors, it's all a matter of trust.
"You just put yourself in the hand of these guys. Every actor wants to work with them. You do anything they say. It's easy. It was so much fun," he says.
Playing an airhead was rewarding, especially for someone who's the opposite of that in real life. "I enjoy being vapid," he says. "Channing and I love what we do and we feel lucky that we are able to do it."
For Tatum, the takeaway from the Coens was simple: follow your heart.
"The level of preparedness comes from their love of film. They're not doing this to show people how great and smart they are. They love what they do. No one was laughing harder or louder than Joel and Ethan were," he says.
Given that his character gets kidnapped in the film, who would Clooney like to whisk away in real life?
"I like Johnny Carson. You'd get some great stories," he says. "Actually I'm going to change it right up. Dean Martin. It would be the most fun day ever. He was a good friend of my aunt's. I would have a drink. I don't smoke but I'd light one up."
Tatum, too, would go old school. "Jackie Gleason. He would end up probably making me have the most fun day of my life. He was a man. I'm obsessed with him," says Tatum.
The actors joke that at this very moment, away from prying cameras, they're having a mutual admiration society, preening and posing for each other. And can we please talk about Clooney's amazing toned legs, on full display in his Greek ensemble? Who knew, right?
"Oh, I knew," says Tatum. "Right now, I'm in his Roman skirt. You can't beat a skirt. We're standing in front of two three-way mirrors."
Clooney too admired Tatum's ensemble. "I've always been a sucker for a guy in a sailor suit. That was his."
Agrees Tatum: "I brought it from home. It feels comfy."