Like any actor, George Clooney's roles have been many and varied. I still have fond memories of him as George Burnett the mulleted handyman who helped Natalie, Tootie and Mrs. G. rebuild Edna's Edibles into the oh-so-'80s gift shop, Over Our Heads. And I stopped watching "ER" after his always-fascinating Dr. Doug Ross got shipped off to Seattle — no other doc could compare.
From decades of watching Clooney, though, I can say that he seems to appeal the most to the audience when he takes on certain roles. He's a genius about choosing parts, and knows what viewers want to see. Fortunately for him and for us, he rarely chooses wrong.Slideshow: George Clooney's many roles (on this page)
Single is better than married: In both of his new films, "The Ides of March," opening Friday, and "The Descendants," opening next month, he plays a married man. In real life, Clooney's said he won't wed again, which is just fine by most of his female fans. And in films, he does best when he's a single guy. Not only does it allow fans to project our "he just hasn't met me yet" fantasies on to the character, but seeing someone with Clooney's looks in a happy relationship is almost too much. Don't rub it in!
Keep him a loner: In both "Up in the Air" and "The American," two recent Clooney films, he played a loner, someone who had friends and even lovers, but never had an entourage. Clooney shines all by himself, he doesn't need a wingman or a straight man to play off of. And again, his perfect image is much more interesting when there's the suggestion that he doesn't have a whole army of frat-boy buddies kicking back in his rec room. ("Ocean's Eleven" is kind of an exception.)Story: Lights, camera, Clooney! Star takes directing chair
He should be successful, but flawed: Although he's done comic roles well, generally, Clooney's got too much going for him dramatically to play the big screw-up. He's no Pauly Shore. We buy him as the successful guy who fires people in "Up in the Air" or as a presidential candidate in "Ides of March." But he's not as interesting when we aren't made privy to his character's flaws. Clooney is excellent at revealing those problems slowly, letting his handsome facade crack bit by bit, drawing viewers in as he does so.Story: 'Ides of March' is classy political drama
His best heroes are nontraditional: Sure, he played Batman — although the Caped Crusader is perhaps the most bitter, troubled superhero out there. But Clooney does best as a character without superstrength and Batarangs, one who isn't just going through the motions of a whiz-bang, shoot-and-run "Mission Impossible"-style thriller. His heroes are brooding and darker. They sail doomed boats ("The Perfect Storm") or escape from chain gangs ("O Brother, Where Art Thou?") and lead casino heists ("Ocean's Eleven"). They're never unstoppable, in fact, they're sometimes glaringly imperfect.
Keep him smart: Clooney is no idiot, that much is clear. Some disagree with his politics, but there's no doubt the man is intelligent and well-spoken. Even when playing a hillbilly in broadly comic scenes in "O Brother Where Art Thou," he never comes across as a dolt. When asked by a pal why he thinks he's their boss, Clooney's character replies, "Well Pete, I figgered it should be the one with the capacity for abstract thought." He's got that right.
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Gael Fashingbauer Cooper is TODAY.com's movies editor.
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