George Clooney’s co-stars, friends and collaborators gathered virtually to share anecdotes and praise his contributions as actor, director, humanitarian and colleague — not to mention Sexiest Man Alive twice over.
Among those paying tribute to Clooney at the Museum of Modern Art’s annual film benefit Monday night was David Letterman, who recalled something Clooney had once said to him “that I carry with me today.”
Clooney had told him his humanitarian efforts in Darfur hadn’t turned out quite as he’d hoped, but added that it didn’t matter. “What matters is you just keep trying,” Letterman quoted Clooney as saying. “If it doesn’t work the first time, try something else.”
“And I thought, ‘This is such a simple, eloquent way to express the importance of helping others,’” Letterman said. “I’ve never forgotten it and I never will.”
The tributes mixed praise with humor. Actor David Oyelowo, who appears in Clooney’s new Netflix film “The Midnight Sky,” told him, “I’m so grateful to be in your orbit.” He also quipped how Clooney is humble — but sometimes falsely so, “because he will get the fact that he was (People’s) Sexiest Man Alive TWICE into almost every conversation.”
Julianna Margulies, who co-starred with Clooney in the TV drama “ER” early in his career, told the story of how she’d told him she loved to drive, and he’d asked her, “Have you ever driven a Porsche?” And then he handed her his keys and said “Let’s go take a spin.”
“And I thought, ‘Who’s this guy who’s letting me drive his Porsche? This guy can’t be for real,’” she said. “I would read the telephone book for you, my friend.”
Clooney joins a group of previous MoMA honorees that includes Martin Scorsese, Tom Hanks, Julianne Moore, Cate Blanchett, Quentin Tarantino, Pedro Almodovar and others. MoMA’s annual film benefit raises funds to bring great works of film to the museum’s collection. This year, amidst the COVID-19 crisis, the event — presented since 2011 by Chanel — also benefits Artist Relief, an emergency initiative supporting artists.
Also giving virtual tributes Monday evening were actors Felicity Jones, Tiffany Boone, Kyle Chandler and Demian Bichir, who appear in “A Midnight Sky,” which Clooney stars in and directs.
Sam Rockwell, Jeffrey Wright, Tilda Swinton and Bradley Cooper also appeared.
In his own remarks, Clooney spoke of how he’d first come to MoMA as “a kid from a small town in Kentucky, and it opened my eyes to a whole world, a world where anything is possible.” He also threw some shade at President Donald Trump.
The benefit featured clips from some of Clooney’s many films: “Michael Clayton,” “Syriana,” “The Descendants,” “Gravity,” and “Good Night, and Good Luck,” among others.
In earlier comments to The Associated Press, Clooney said “Good Night, and Good Luck” was probably his proudest professional accomplishment. The 2005 film, which he directed and co-wrote with Grant Heslov, portrays the conflict between journalist Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy.
“I wrote a film about the fourth estate when the other three estates dropped the ball, and I was proud of that,” he said. He added he was also proud of “The Midnight Sky,” “because it takes on a lot of those same issues of responsibility and how we have to look out for one another, and what man can do to man.”
Clooney also told the AP what he found most striking about parenthood; he and Amal Clooney are parents to 3-year-old twins.
“The thing that I have learned, that everyone else who’s had children know and they don’t tell you, is that they’re born with their personalities, and … basically your job is to make sure they survive until they can feed themselves.”
“Because the truth of the matter,” he added, “is they have all their personality already in them. My daughter and son are twins so I can really compare the two. They are very different. So mostly it’s just about keeping them alive while they plot to overthrow the entire family. “