George Clooney wants to set the record straight: He did not hustle John Krasinski out of $2,000 on the basketball court.
If anything, his co-star in the football comedy “Leatherheads” hustled himself, Clooney insists.
“He started that fight,” Clooney told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira on Thursday in New York. “He came up to the dinner table the first night we were there, and he said, ‘You know, I play a little basketball.’ And I said, ‘I play a little basketball, too.’ ”
Clooney was on the show to promote the film about the rough-and-tumble early days of professional football, which opens this week. But what he really wanted to talk about was how an old man took a cocky kid for a wad of cash in a game of one-on-one hoops.
Krasinski, the 28-year-old star of NBC’s “The Office,” is 6-3 ½, Clooney reported, and a good athlete. But the 46-year-old Clooney is pretty good, too.
“He said, ‘I’ll play you for a grand, and I’ll spot you six points – game to 11,’ ” Clooney said, describing the set-up for the game.
“I said, ‘Listen, I’ll play you straight up for another grand.’ ”
The challenge was made when they started shooting the movie, which Clooney conceived and directed. All during the shoot, Clooney kept on Krasinski about the game they were going to play when the film was in the can.
“And for four months we talked about it, and every day I had the rest of the guys on the team telling him I could dunk – I’ve never been able to dunk,” Clooney said, relishing the tale. “The last day, we finally played. I was really in his head by then. I beat him to death. I beat him like 11-7.”
To Clooney, it was a bigger accomplishment than directing a movie. “I didn’t care if I didn’t finish shooting the film,” he said. “I was so happy. Really. It made me happy.”
“What is it about you?” Vieira asked when he was done with the story.
“It’s about guys,” he said. “It’s about playing sports. It’s fun. There’s something about it, our heads just switch off, and we gotta play games.”
A legendary prankster, Clooney seems to play more games than most. So, when Vieira turned the tables on him, he didn’t miss a beat. She set up her gag by noting that even though he doesn’t like to talk about his personal life, she had to ask him about his hot romance with the partner he’s often seen with in public.
She then called up several pictures that showed Clooney and his good friend Brad Pitt. Is there a “bromance” there?
“He is very handsome,” Clooney admitted. He then
launched into a story about another prank that grew out of the rumors that circulate about him and Pitt, including that he’s the godfather of Pitt’s and Angelina Jolie’s children. It’s not true, he said, “but I enjoy hearing it.”
Before that rumor was one two years ago that had Pitt and Jolie planning to get married in mid-winter at Clooney’s house on Lake Como in Italy.
“You would never go to Lake Como in February,” he said, pointing out the absurdity of the idea. “It’s sort of rainy. You certainly wouldn’t have an outdoor wedding. But once the story started, and all these people started showing up – and I mean hundreds and hundreds of press people outside the house, including people from all the entertainment shows.”
He couldn’t just leave them there with nothing to cover, so he got an idea. “I called and ordered high-top tables and had them put out on the front lawn because helicopters are flying over,” he said. “It went on for two weeks -- people thinking there was going to be a wedding.”
The one-time kid from Kentucky first made a name for himself on “E.R.” and has gone on to win an Oscar, become a social activist and be named People magazine’s sexiest man. Recently, he had been making serious movies about social issues, including ‘Good Night, and Good Luck,” and “Michael Clayton,” and, he said, all the roles he was offered were for other serious roles.
But he wanted to try something different. “I really just wanted to be able to direct, so I thought I’d do a comedy.”
He wrote “Leathernecks” because he wanted to make a “His Girl Friday” sort of film set in the Roaring 20s.
He recruited Renee Zellweger and Krasinski to co-star because he felt that they would slide seamlessly into that era.
Vieira told Clooney that on Wednesday on TODAY, Zellweger had said that Clooney doesn’t know how good a director he is.
The self-effacing star shrugged off the praise. “I think I show up prepared and surround myself with truly great people,” he said. “Between Renee and John Krasinski and the crew, if I screw it up, I truly am an idiot.”