By Betsy Rothstein - 01/27/09 03:43 PM EST
The effortlessly handsome George Clooney appeared at the Newseum on Monday night for a screening of his film “Good Night, and Good Luck” that included discussion before and after the feature.
A slim and striking figure in a dark suit and black-and-white striped tie, Clooney sat on stage between his father, Nick Clooney, a former newsman who served as the evening’s emcee, and Bill Small, chairman of News and Documentary Emmys at the National Television Academy. Small lived in the era of the movie’s main character, Edward R. Murrow, and knew all the newsmen depicted in the film.
Before the movie began, Nick Clooney, who ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 2004, explained that the event was being filmed with the hope of being broadcast on television at a later date. He ordered all photographs to cease. He remarked that audience reaction could be filmed.
“If you’re now seated next to someone you don’t want to be seen with, this is your chance to move,” he said.
The Hollywood star stood and began to move away from his father. The audience burst into laughter.
“This is not going to go well at all,” the younger Clooney joked. “A big mistake.”
His father agreed. “A 3,000-mile trip for nothing.”
They proceeded in an intimate fashion, with the father interviewing the son, asking why he made the film.
“I grew up around news people,” George Clooney replied. “The Murrow legacy was a big part of my growing up, because of you. It was a real time of activism. Those were proud moments in our family’s history, the importance of the Fourth Estate. The Murrow example always seemed to be the best one.”
Why was the film made in black and white?
George Clooney said trying to cast Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) bore the burden of putting an actor in an impossible role.
Anyone playing him would have been accused of over-acting, he explained, saying, “I was going to cast McCarthy, but when you see the footage, you can’t cast the guy. We thought we had to use the real footage, so we had to shoot it in black and white.”
The panel was full of banter.
“It’s a great honor to be on stage with my friend, with Nick Clooney,” said Small, clearly forgetting George, who wore a dismayed expression.
“It’s a great honor to be on stage with you, too,” the elder Clooney replied, also leaving his son out.
As the audience laughed, the Academy Award winner interjected, “It’s great to be anywhere.”
Before the screening began, Small offered a serious warning to those who had not seen the film: “Unlike today, they smoke a lot all the way through the movie. In the ’50s everyone smoked and Murrow was addicted. Unfortunately, he died a very young man — lung problems from all the smoking.”
Nick Clooney had more questions for his son.
“What did you do to get it as right as you could?” he asked.
“If I was going to do a story like this, I was going to have to get it right enough that the people who had an ax for you would really have a tough time attacking you,” George said.
The actor, who wrote and directed the film, read as much history as he could find, and created scenes from existing material that matched from one book to another.
The elder Clooney couldn’t help but gush about his son’s film.
“This film has legs,” he said. “I don’t know how long it’ll last, but it’s been shown in journalism schools around the country. How do you feel about that?”
George deadpanned, “I don’t care for that.”
The actor then turned to Small and asked, “Will you adopt me? I’m wealthy, I’ll take care of you.”
As panel members left the stage, the Hollywood star, known for his on-set pranks, called out, “Everyone dies in the end, if you haven’t seen it.”
A little more than an hour later, the lights came back on, and the Clooneys and Small returned to the stage to heavy applause.
Nick Clooney remarked, “If you’re a news junkie, you’ve gotta love that movie.”
He then gave Small the stage and asked him to review the film.
“I have a sister-in-law addicted to movies,” Small said. “She gives you two choices — did you like it or love it? I loved it.”
Small said George got the film mostly right.
“About the way people looked in that movie,” he remarked. “I knew those guys. It’s kind of nice to see these actors pretending to be the people I knew. Frank Langella, who played [CBS chief executive William S.] Paley, is not a good-looking man. Paley, on the other hand, was a handsome man until the end.”
Nick Clooney, who is the Newseum and American University School of Communication distinguished journalist-in-residence, implored the audience to pose serious questions and not things you’d hear on TV’s “Ellen.” But one female student reached the microphone and directed her question to his movie-star son: “I’ve exaggerated to my friends back home that I was on a date with you. Can I?”
“Oh, sure,” George Clooney replied.
The evening, while full of jokes and light banter, culminated in a serious sermon from Nick Clooney, who homed in on the underlying gravity of the news business and what he sees as an unpredictable future for journalism.
He ended with his own Murrow-esque sermon, saying, “We must not overestimate you. You will get precisely the news you deserve. If you accept mediocrity and boutique news, you will get what you deserve.”
The elder Clooney bade farewell to the audience with Murrow’s patented parting words: “Good night, and good luck.”
Members of the audience stormed the stage, specifically George, who signed as many autographs as he could and chatted up strangers until event organizers surrounded him and led him out a back exit.
What newspaper would he write for if he could?
“I’d rather do sports,” he replied.