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Video: Watch the 'Ides of March' trailer

Hollywood Reporter
updated 10/5/2011 12:59:01 PM ET 2011-10-05T16:59:01

Had writer/director George Clooney and his co-scripters Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon injected "The Ides of March" with the intimate political conviction that made "Good Night, and Good Luck" a critical standout and a frontrunner for liberal patrons, the exit polls would be more positive on this political thriller juggling idealism and corruption with fairly predictable results. Not just its softer narrative and dingy Midwestern setting but its structural lack of heroics is likely to keep the popular vote down on “Ides,” which features tense pacing and a superb cast, led by a ruthlessly idealistic Ryan Gosling.

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Based on the play "Farragut North" by Willimon, a writer who worked on Howard Dean’s presidential campaign in Iowa, the story opens with an initial rush of insiders’ momentum. Then, from the excitement of being backstage at a presidential primary, the script steers away from American politics into the universal turf of the Hollywood thriller, where non-Democratic and international audiences are more likely to follow. The title itself is a clue to the Shakespearian aspirations of the filmmakers, who set the action and a number of dramatic, at times obviously contrived plot twists in a world of backhanded politics and manipulation where Cassius, Brutus and Julius Caesar would feel right at home.

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Perhaps the film is sufficiently in tune with the current American political climate of disillusion to find some bipartisan consensus. Pre-production on the $12 million movie was blocked in 2008 when Barack Obama won the presidential election because the film seemed too cynical for the optimistic mood of the day; a year later, it went back in production. Though few viewers will doubt what side of the political fence it’s on, the Democrats hardly emerge unscathed at the end of this behind-the-scenes trip through the cynicism, betrayal and double-dealing of a winner-take-all political campaign.

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As the curtain rises on the handsome, expressionless face of young campaign press secretary Stephen Meyers (Gosling), the two Democratic candidates are neck-to-neck in the crucial Ohio race. One is governor Mike Morris (Clooney), an astonishingly liberal thinker in the Obama mold, who fearlessly brushes aside his opponent’s religious challenge with a glib “my religion is the U.S. Constitution.” The suave Clooney is appealingly convincing as this purist Democrat who refuses to compromise his principles or, as Paul Giamatti’s rough-and-ready, rival campaign manager Tom Duffy puts it, “get down in the mud with the f-ing elephants.”

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In a few concise, well-written scenes, Stephen’s staunch idealism and dedication to the governor are firmly established, as well as his worth as a consummate professional and team player. He is a rising star in the office run by mastermind campaign manager Paul Zara, brought to life with tingling realism by Philip Seymour Hoffman. As weathered as Duffy but apparently less cynical, Paul actually follows a rulebook that allows no deviations. When Stephen lets the diabolical Duffy tempt him into a moral quandary about his job, all hell breaks loose.

Slideshow: George Clooney's life and roles (on this page)

Raising the stakes all around is another temptress, 20-year-old intern Molly (Evan Rachel Wood), who seduces Stephen in a smooth exchange in a darkly lit bar. As soon as the sultry blonde comes on the scene, the film shifts away from the hot, rapid-fire political exchanges that set the stage, and into a film noir mode which is not unpleasant, but certainly less than could have been hoped for by the film’s piquant and original first half. From here on in the story gets a lot more familiar.

Still the fine cast makes every line of dialogue count, like the memorable final exchange between Paul and Stephen outside a churchyard, as their lives take different paths. Jeffrey Wright’s brief appearance as an influential senator able to swing the election is an example of perfect straight-faced gravitas, while Marisa Tomei’s crafty Times reporter is delightfully smart and underhanded. Even Wood, for all her sexual incorrectness, evokes sympathy when she gets into major trouble.

Classy and professional throughout, the technical work gracefully holds all the threads together. Director of photography Phedon Papamichael works the cold, washed-out grays of Cincinnati into a quietly intense atmosphere piece, culminating in an electrifying nocturnal show-down between Stephen and Morris set, for no particular reason, in a restaurant kitchen. Alexandre Desplat’s evocative yet unprepossessing soundtrack follows suit.

Copyright 2012 The Hollywood Reporter

Photos: George Clooney

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  1. She's the one

    George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin are snapped on a dinner date celebrating a friend's birthday in Santa Barbara, Calif., on April 27, 2014.

    The Oscar-winning actor and the British human rights lawyer got engaged in April. Clooney famously dated a number of women over the years after being married and divorced once and saying he wasn't very good at it. (Rachel Murray / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. He's the 'Men" man

    Clooney poses on the red carpet as he arrives for the UK premiere of the film "The Monuments Men" in central London on Feb. 11, 2014. (Andrew Cowie / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Boys club at 'Men' premiere

    Bill Murray, John Goodman, Clooney, Jean Dujardin and Matt Damon attend "The Monuments Men" photocall during the 64th Berlinale International Film Festival at Grand Hyatt Hotel in Berlin, Germany, on Feb. 8, 2014. (Andreas Rentz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Culturally sensitive

    In Clooney's 2014 film "The Monuments Men," which he co-wrote, produced, directed and stars in, he appears (with Matt Damon) as a member of an Allied platoon in WWII tasked with saving priceless artworks before they are destroyed by Nazis. (Claudette Barius / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Lost in space

    In "Gravity," Clooney plays veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski, who is stranded in space after debris strikes the space shuttle where he is working. (Courtesy Of Warner Bros. Picture / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Center stage

    Clooney accepts the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film on Nov. 9, 2013 at the BAFTA LA Jaguar Britannia Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Michael Buckner / Getty Images ) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Second best

    Fans of Clooney love to pose with his image, even if it isn't the real deal. Here, members of the public say "cheese" alongside a waxwork model of the actor in London on Feb. 13, 2013. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Lady in red

    Sandra Bullock and Clooney stroll the red carpet together at the premiere of their new film "Gravity" on Aug. 28, 2013, which opened the Venice International Film Festival. (Ettore Ferrari / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Star power

    Clooney takes a boat to the Lido Beach at the 70th annual Venice International Film Festival on Aug. 27, 2013. He was there to promote his new film "Gravity," which was shown out of competition at the event. (Ettore Ferrari / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Three amigos

    Grant Heslov, Ben Affleck and Clooney pose with the most prestigious Academy Award, a best picture prize for "Argo" on Feb. 24, 2013. Affleck starred, directed and produced; Clooney and Heslov, who often collaborate on films, were also producers on the film. (Mike Blake / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Standing for a cause

    Clooney is arrested during a demonstration outside the Embassy of Sudan in Washington, D.C., on March 16, 2012. United to End Genocide, the Enough Campaign and Amnesty International held a rally to call on the United States and world leaders to stop the violence in South Sudan and prevent hundreds of thousands of people from starving. Clooney and several others, including his father, were released hours later. (Win Mcnamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Testify!

    Clooney smiles as he testifies at the Senate Foreign Relations Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity hearing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington on March 14, 2012. (Kris Connor / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Oscar nominee

    Clooney, a best actor nominee for his role in "The Descendants," and girlfriend Stacy Keibler arrive at the 84th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Calif., on Feb. 26, 2012. Clooney lost to "The Artist" star Jean Dujardin.

    The couple split in July 2013 after two years together. (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Another Golden night

    Clooney and Keibler pose with his award for best actor in a motion picture -- drama for "The Descendants," backstage at the 69th annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Jan. 15, 2012. (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Critics love him

    Clooney accepts the best actor award for "The Descendants" onstage during the 17th Annual Critics' Choice Movie Awards at The Hollywood Palladium on Jan. 12, 2012. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Clooney for president!

    Clooney stars as a governor running for president in 2011's "Ides of March." Ryan Gosling plays his idealistic staffer who is quickly introduced to the dirty side of politics. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Men of the year

    Gosling and Clooney pose at "The Ides Of March" premiere on Sept. 27, 2011 in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. In the director's chair

    Clooney doesn't just star in "Ides of March," he produced, co-wrote and directed the film. Here he reviews footage with co-stars Evan Rachel Wood and Gosling. (Columbia Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Name game

    Clooney signs autographs as he arrives at the Toronto Film Festival premiere of his film "The Descendants" on Sept. 10, 2011. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Backseat driver

    Clooney and Shailene Woodley are shown in a scene from the 2011 film "The Descendants," in which he plays a Hawaiian land baron. (New York Film Festival via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. That's life

    A tanned and happy Clooney arrives for the 68th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2011. (Andrew Medichini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Supporting South Sudan

    Clooney attends voting ceremonies during the first day of voting for the independence referendum in the southern Sudanese city of Juba on Jan. 9, 2011. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Night of honors

    Clooney and then-girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis attend the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights' 2010 Ripple of Hope Awards dinner honoring Clooney, Robert Smith and Marc Spilker on Nov. 17, 2010 in New York. (Kimihiro Hoshino / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Talking to the president

    Clooney met with President Barack Obama to discuss issues involving Sudan on Oct. 12, 2010, in Washington. (Pete Souza / The White House via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Saving Sudan

    Clooney was joined by TODAY's Ann Curry on a South Sudan visit in Oct. 2010. The actor says the international community needs to step in. "If we get involved now, we have a shot," he tells TODAY. (Tim Freccia / The Enough Project) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Armed and dangerous

    With James Bond on hiatus due to MGM's money woes, can Clooney fill the bill as the suave action hero of filmdom? Clooney, shown with Thekla Reuten, stars as an assassin who finds himself in trouble in scenic Italy in 2010's "The American." (Focus Features) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Seeking justice

    Clooney leaves Milan's law courts after testifying against three individuals accused of fraudulently using his name to promote a fashion label at Palazzo di Giustizia on July 16, 2010 in Milan, Italy. The actor testified as a civil plaintiff during the trial against the individuals running fashion label GC Exclusive by George Clooney. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. He's our guy

    Clooney accepts the Guy of the Year award at Spike TV "Guy's Choice" awards in Culver City, Calif., on Saturday, June 5, 2010. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Lady in red

    Clooney and then-girlfriend Elisabetta Canalis attend the 82nd Annual Academy Awards held at the Kodak Theater on March 7, 2010 in Hollywood, Calif. The couple split in June 2011 after two years together. (Dan MacMedan / WireImage) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. The Reitman stuff

    Clooney and director Jason Reitman attend a news conference for "Up In The Air" during Day 3 of the Rome Film Festival at the Auditorium Parco della Musica in Rome on Saturday, October 17, 2009. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. When in Rome ...

    George Clooney and Italian actress Elisabetta Canalis walk the red carpet before a screening of the movie "Up in The Air" at the 4th edition of the Rome Film Festival, on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2009. (Andrew Medichini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Looking 'Up'

    Clooney plays an unapologetic corporate downsizer whose untethered life is consumed by collecting air miles in the film "Up in The Air." (Paramount Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Got their 'Goat'

    Clooney stars with Ewan McGregor in "The Men Who Stare at Goats," a film about a down-on-his-luck reporter (McGregor) who gets more than he bargains for when he meets a special forces agent (Clooney) who reveals the existence of a secret, psychic military unit whose goal is to use paranormal powers to end war as we know it. (Overture Films) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Compassionate visit

    Clooney meets residents as he tours earthquake damage on the sidelines of a G8 summit, in St. Eusanio, near L'Aquila, Italy, on Thursday, July 9, 2009. (Alessandra Tarantino / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. High-level access

    Clooney speaks to the media following a meeting with President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington on Monday, Feb. 23, 2009. Clooney was urging the new administration to take action on the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Movie night with dad

    Clooney joins his father, veteran journalist Nick Clooney, for a screening of the film "Good Night, and Good Luck," and a journalism panel at the Newseum in Washington on Monday, Jan. 26, 2009. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. He's used to whistles

    Clooney and Renee Zellweger, stars of the film "Leatherheads," arrive at the Historic Salisbury Station in Salisbury, N.C, on March 26, 2008, on the third stop on a Whistle Stop Express tour to promote their film . (Peter Taylor / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. The usual laughs

    Clooney and Frances McDormand star in the 2008 Coen Brothers film "Burn After Reading" about two gym employees who try to blackmail a CIA agent over a computer disk containing his memoirs. (Focus Features) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Throwback

    Clooney is touted as "The Last Movie Star" on the cover of the March 3, 2008, issue of Time magazine. "He's a throwback to what movie stars used to be," friend Grant Heslov says in the article. "You see him and you think, Wouldn't that be a great life?" (Time) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. It's a snap

    Clooney directs and stars in "Leatherheads," a romantic comedy set in the world of 1920s football, where the owner of a professional team drafts a strait-laced college sensation, only to watch his new coach fall for his fiancée. (Universal Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Boots on the ground

    Clooney, who has been designated as U.N. messenger of peace by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, visits the Zamzam refugee camp in North Darfur, Sudan, in late January 2008. (UNAMID via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. He comes in peace

    Clooney speaks at at news conference at United Nations headquarters in New York on Jan. 31, 2008, after being designated a messenger of peace. Clooney was joining eight other well-known individuals to campaign for U.N. causes. (Stephen Chernin / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Lucky 'Thirteen'

    In "Ocean's Thirteen," Danny Ocean (Clooney) rounds up the boys for a third heist and they're out for revenge after casino owner Willy Bank (Al Pacino) cuts one of the original 11, Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould), out of a deal. (Warner Bros. Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Peace be with them

    Clooney and fellow actor Don Cheadle, left, are presented the 2007 Peace Summit Award by former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the city hall in Rome on Dec. 13, 2007. Clooney and Cheadle received the award from Nobel peace prize laureates for their campaign to help the people of Sudan's Darfur region after 4-1/2 years of war. (Dario Pignatelli / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Leg up on other ladies

    Clooney steps out with girlfriend Sarah Larson for the "Michael Clayton" premiere at The Zeigfeld on Sept. 24, 2007, in New York. Larson was injured during an accident while riding on the back of Clooney's motorcyle. The pair collided with a car in New Jersey. (Scott Wintrow / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Gotta hand it to him

    Clooney looks up as he places his hands in cement outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles on June 5, 2007. Clooney was out to promote his new film, "Ocean's Thirteen." (Damian Dovarganes / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Top of the heap

    Clooney's hectic year in 2005 was acknowledged with plenty of praise from his colleagues. In addition to his two nominations for "Good Night," he also won his first Oscar for best supporting actor thanks to his work in "Syriana." (Reed Saxon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Playing with fire

    Clooney stars as a veteran CIA agent in the 2005 geopolitical thriller "Syriana," directed by Stephen Gaghan. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Speaking out

    For Clooney, 2005 was a year to be outspoken not only on screen but in person. He hesitated to attack the Bush administration directly, but was unequivocal about his own liberalism, and about the political messages in "Good Night" and in "Syriana," which depicted a tangle of power struggles in the Middle East. (Domenico Stinellis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. 'Good' fortune

    Clooney went behind the camera in 2005 to direct "Good Night, and Good Luck," about Edward R. Murrow's battle against Sen. Joe McCarthy. His second feature film received tremendous praise, and Clooney himself scored two Oscar nods for best director and best original screenplay. (Melinda Sue Gordon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Not feeling Friendly

    Clooney worked on both sides of the lens for "Good Night," portraying rumpled (and not especially dashing) but talented TV producer Fred Friendly. (Warner Independent Pictures ) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. Family ties

    Clooney shares a moment with his father Nick and his mother Nina at a 2002 tribute to Rosemary Clooney, George's famous aunt. Two years later, Nick Clooney would launch a campaign for Kentucky's 4th congressional district. Despite well-stocked campaign coffers (thanks, at least in part, to some Hollywood fundraisers) he lost the race. (Michael Jacobs / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. Behind the camera

    In 2002, Clooney stepped to the other side of the camera, directing "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," the somewhat-true memoir of game show producer Chuck Barris, which co-starred Drew Barrymore and Sam Rockwell. Though reviews were mixed, Clooney got credit for attempting an audacious project without an obvious Hollywood hook. (Miramax) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. What a team

    Clooney's efforts in "Ocean's Eleven" wouldn't have been possible without his co-star, Brad Pitt. The two were close both on- and offscreen. Here, along with Pitt's then-wife, Jennifer Aniston, they check out an Armani collection during a 2001 Milan fashion show. Clooney is no stranger to Italy, having bought a villa on the shores of Lake Como in 2002. (Luca Bruno / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Stirred, not shaken

    Never was Clooney's dashing rogue persona more perfect than in 2001's "Ocean's Eleven," in which he teamed again with Steven Soderbergh. Clooney's portrayal of unflappable thief Danny Ocean (with Julia Roberts as Tess, the ex-wife he can't quite give up) was a dazzling combination of Rat Pack suave and modern smarts. The film put to rest any doubt that Clooney was an A-list star out of the glamorous mold of Hollywood's past. (Warner Bros.) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. Giving back

    Clooney speaks at a Dec. 12, 2001, news conference for the September 11 Fund as fund CEO Joshua Gotbaumb looks on. In the months after the terrorist attacks, Clooney was instrumental not only in fundraising but in corralling Hollywood star power to produce "America: A Tribute to Heroes," a televised memorial to the World Trade Center victims that raised over $100 million. It was a sign that Clooney had found ways to harness his celebrity for worthy causes. (Shannon Stapleton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. Calm in the 'Storm'

    Clooney explored his dramatic roots with a leading role in "The Perfect Storm." He played Billy Tyne, the real-life fishing-boat captain whose craft vanished in a massive freak storm off the shores of Massachusetts. Despite major buzz, "Storm" never gathered quite as much momentum as the surprise success of "O Brother." (Warner Bros. via Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. 'Brother'-ly love

    Clooney (second from top) went for something completely different in the Coen brothers' 2000 bluegrass-tinged comedy, "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" As a bumbling convict in a tale loosely based on Homer's "Odyssey," Clooney got to stretch his pipes for the film's singing scenes -- only to have his voice dubbed over, despite his having practiced singing for weeks. (Touchstone Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Paying off

    "O Brother" was a sharp shift in tone for Clooney, but it didn't go unnoticed. He won a 2001 Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy for his efforts. (Kevork Djansezian / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Paging Dr. Ross

    Needless to say, the pivotal event in Clooney's career was his role as Dr. Doug Ross on NBC's "ER." He started with the show's pilot episode in 1994 and continued for five seasons. Clooney (pictured here in 1999) eventually wanted to pursue his film career and had the womanizing Ross written out of the show. The character eventually settled down in Seattle after fathering twins with head nurse Carol Hathaway (Julianna Margulies). (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. Midas touch

    Clooney put a slightly different spin on the lovable rogue theme with his role in David O. Russell's biting 1999 Gulf War action-satire, "Three Kings." Clooney, Ice Cube and Mark Wahlberg played U.S. soldiers who uncover hidden treasure in the Iraqi desert. (Warner Bros. via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. Back on track

    Clooney's movie career didn't suffer long after "Batman." The following year, he starred in Steven Soderbergh's "Out Of Sight." Clooney's portrayal of Jack Foley set off a chain of charming thief roles for the chisel-jawed actor. It also marked the start of a fruitful creative partnership between Clooney and Soderbergh that continues today. (Universal Studios via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Odd 'Man' out

    Clooney followed his stellar on-screen selections with at least one dud: 1997's "Batman and Robin," in which he put on the famous cowl alongside Chris O'Donnell as youthful sidekick, Robin. Clooney did a capable job of portraying the caped crusader, but a lagging script and some puzzling touches by director Joel Schumacher (the rubber nipple suit, anyone?) left fans unimpressed. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. Ladies' man

    Clooney with his then-girlfriend, French actress Celine Balitran, at the 1998 Emmy awards. Clooney's love life has largely remained a mystery, and after divorcing wife Talia Balsam in 1993, he has since vowed never to remarry. Guessing who Clooney might be dating has become an ongoing parlor game for celeb-watchers. (Albert Ortega / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Big daddy

    Clooney's fondness for the small screen didn't keep him from some marquee moments on the big one -- and 1996 was his banner year (if you discount his role in 1988's "Return of the Killer Tomatoes!"). Clooney had starring roles in "From Dusk Till Dawn" and in "One Fine Day," opposite Michelle Pfeiffer, shown here with him and child actors. (Getty Images via 20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
  66. Look who's walking

    Clooney and Connie Selleca in a promo still from the 1990 ABC series "Baby Talk," a spinoff of the "Look Who's Talking" movie franchise. Neither actor stayed long on the short-lived series. Selleca quit before the series went into regular production, and Clooney departed soon after. (Toronto Star via ZUMA Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  67. Just the 'Facts'

    Before his "ER" days, Clooney hit the small screen in 1985 as charming, mulleted handyman George Burnett on the NBC sitcom "The Facts of Life." Imagine the show's mousse budget. (NBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  68. Growing up George

    Born in 1961 in Lexington, Ky., Clooney was raised outside Cincinnati, where his father, Nick, was a TV anchor. The A-list actor has one sister, Ada (pictured here), and several famous relatives: Singer Rosemary Clooney is his aunt, and his cousin is actor Miguel Ferrer. (Splash News via Newscom) Back to slideshow navigation
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