George Clooney says there is a lot he can relate to in his new movie “Up in the Air,” a comic drama about a man who travels across the United States to lay off people amid the financial crisis.
Like his character, Clooney says he has worked around the clock, at times to the detriment of his friendships and family relations. And while he doesn’t fire people for a living, Clooney says he had his fair share of layoffs before becoming a Hollywood star.
“There are a lot of things about this guy I understand,” Clooney said of his character, speaking at the Rome Film Festival where the Jason Reitman movie was presented Saturday. “Part of it is — and a good portion of it is — that you can spend a large part of your time literally up in the air, you can spend it working and missing part of your life.”
“I spent a long time unemployed and when you are broke and unemployed, when you finally start working you don’t wanna stop,” Clooney said. “Sometimes when you do that you’ll end up missing your family, your friends, people that you care about.”
Clooney’s character, corporate downsizing expert Ryan Bingham, is busier than ever as companies struggle in the financial crisis. As he travels across America, he tries to rack up a million frequent-flyer miles.
“To know me is to fly with me. This is where I live,” Bingham says at one point in the movie, as he expertly navigates check-ins and security controls in one of the U.S. airports he calls home. But his desire to live an isolated life on the road, with no strings attached, is put to test when he meets fellow frequent-flyer Alex, played by Vera Farmiga.
The movie received warm applause at a press screening at the festival, where it is running for best-picture award. It is director Reitman’s follow-up to “Juno,” which won in Rome in 2007 and went on to become a best-picture nominee at the Oscars.
The gloomy atmosphere brought about by the financial crisis figures significantly in the movie, some of which takes places in hard-hit cities such as Detroit. Many of the workers who get fired in the movie are played by people who in real life lost their jobs in the past year, Reitman said.
“You can feel the effect everywhere, we were in Detroit, Michigan where you can really feel it, we were in St. Louis where you can really feel it,” said Clooney. “It’s incredibly dramatic right now, we’re facing the worst recession/depression since the 1930s and it’s a great concern.”
Being fired is something Clooney remembers from his pre-acting days, when he said he worked various jobs, from selling insurance door-to-door to selling men suits or women’s shoes.
“I’ve been fired from a good many jobs,” the 48-year old Hollywood star recalled.
“I have some understanding of it.... I did not have a family to support so I did not have the same sort of pressure that other people have,” he said, though he admitted: “It’s been a while since I’ve been fired.”
One thing that Clooney says is different from his character is a sense of loneliness.
Bingham has a small empty house that he doesn’t like coming back to. He cherishes his time alone and has little contact with his family, though ultimately he finds himself longing for deeper, more meaningful relations.
“I actually have a pretty great life, I’ve great friends, people I’m very close to and great family,” Clooney said. “We’re very different in that sense: He really is truly alone and I don’t find myself often alone.”
Clooney, one of Hollywood’s most sought after bachelors, is expected to walk the red carpet later Saturday with Italian actress Elisabetta Canalis, his reported girlfriend.
The Rome festival runs through Oct. 22.