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."
George Clooney through the years
OnlyOnAOL: Let's all 'Hail' George Clooney's sexy legs
UNITED STATES - MAY 02: ROSEANNE - 'Let's Call It Quits' - Season One - 5/2/89, Roseanne has difficulty accepting new rules from a tough new supervisor at the factory. George Clooney (Booker) stars., (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)
THE FACTS OF LIFE -- Pictured: George Clooney as George Burnett -- Photo by: Ron Tom/NBCU Photo Bank
ER -- SEASON 4 -- Pictured: George Clooney as Doctor Doug Ross (Photo by Sven Arnstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO -- Episode 1404 -- Pictured: (l-r) Actor George Clooney during an interview with host Jay Leno on June 25, 1998 -- (Photo by: Margaret Norton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NBC SUNDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES- COMBAT HIGH -- Pictured: (l-r) Keith Gordon as Max Mendelsson, George Clooney as Maj. Biff Woods -- (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
George Clooney and Julia Roberts during 11th Annual Critics' Choice Awards - Backstage and Audience at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Santa Monica, California, United States. (Photo by Chris Polk/FilmMagic)
George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer on phones in backseat of car in a scene from the film 'One Fine Day', 1996. (Photo by 20th Century-Fox/Getty Images)
George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg And Ice Cube Star In 'Three Kings.' '99 Wb And Village Roadshow Film Limited (Photo By Getty Images)
1999 George Clooney stars in the latest season of 'ER.'
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 02: Actor George Clooney attends SeriousFun Children's Network's New York City Gala at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center on March 2, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
WESTWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 5: Actor George Clooney attends the 'Ocean's Eleven' Westwood Premiere on December 5, 2001 at the Mann Village Theatre in Westwood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)
George Clooney (Photo by Vera Anderson/WireImage)
US actor/movie maker George Clooney speaks during the global launch of 100 LIVES initiative and the announcement of a new humanitarian prize in New York on March 10, 2015. The 100 LIVES, initiated to express gratitude to individuals and institutions whose heroic actions saved Armenian lives during the Genocide 100 years ago, is to address the issues of genocide, human rights violations and the power of positive action. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - MARCH 31: Actor/director George Clooney arrives to the premiere of Universal Pictures' 'Leatherheads' held at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on March 31, 2008 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 8: (L to R) Actors Natascha McElhone, Ulrich Tukur, George Clooney and director Steven Soderbergh attend the 53rd Berlinale Film Festival February 8, 2003 in Berlin, Germany. Their new film 'Solaris' was written and directed by Soderbergh. (Photo by Kurt Vinion/Getty Images)
David Strathairn and George Clooney during 2005 Venice Film Festival - George Clooney - Sighting in Venice Lido, Italy. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
US actor and director George Clooney (R) and co-star Renee Zellweger arrive in London's Leicester Square on April 8, 2008 to attend the European Premiere of the film, Leatherheads directed by Clooney. AFP PHOTO / Max Nash (Photo credit should read MAX NASH/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - NOVEMBER 14: Actor George Clooney speaks to the media at the Four Seasons Hotel on November 14, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Piyal Hosain/Fotos International/Getty Images)
Nominee for Best Actor ('Michael Clayton') George Clooney (R) and gilrfriend Sarah Larson arrive for the 80th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California on February 24, 2008. AFP PHOTO / STAN HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)
Actor George Clooney speaks during the 80th Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theatre on February 24, 2008 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Matt Damon and George Clooney (Photo by Lester Cohen Archive/WireImage)
George Clooney at junket for 'Good Night and Good Luck,' a new movie. (Photo by Michael Albans/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)