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He's drop-dead Georgeous; What's it like to spend 30 minutes alone in a bedroom with the world's sexiest man?

In the flesh, George Clooney is, impossible though it seems, even more handsome than he appears in pictures.

Tall and tanned with a salt-and-pepper brush crop, he's got a jaw so square you could use it in a maths lesson. And those trademark dark shadows under his eyes are less visible in the afternoon light.

But as he perches at the end of the couch in my hotel room, nursing an orange juice, he's clearly ill at ease. He fidgets. He stammers a little. He won't look me in the eye.

This is the new Cary Grant?

I have girlfriends who would eat germs if it meant they could be attended by TV's Dr Ross.

But the Clooney brand of confident charm is burning a little low this afternoon.

Yet he should be on a high.

Until now, the World's Sexiest Man has been like a rebel without a cause - a major star without a hit movie to hang his name on.

Four failed attempts to carry a movie made the 37-year-old star a lightweight in Hollywood terms.

When George took over as the caped crusader, Batman And Robin stayed grounded; One Fine Day did drizzly business at the box office; the Peacemaker was as neutral as Switzerland; and From Dusk Till Dawn sank quickly in the west.

But now the man who buried a lucrative superhero series is once more on the edge of breaking into the A- list of stars.

It was while he was licking his Batman wounds that Clooney came across the script for Out of Sight, a witty action- romance.

George plays bank robber Jack Foley, who is torn between the chance of one last heist and his attraction for the female US marshal who aims to give him his Go To Jail card.

And he finally looks like a big screen star in the film.

Until now he's been unable to say a line of dialogue without his most irritating movie mannerism, where he tilts his head like the Princess of Wales during her Shy Di phase and peers up at his co- stars.

Suddenly he's able to stand still and look the other actor straight in the eye with a new authority and presence.

George looks a little offended when I mention that he's finally shed his trademark head bob.

But he starts to warm up a little when we move on to the part in Out Of Sight which gives the movie its sizzle - Jack Foley's encounters with Federal Marshal Karen Sisco.

In his search for the right leading lady, George says he resorted to the oldest trick in Hollywood's book - the casting couch.

He and director Steven Soderbergh decided the litmus test was the film's steamy sequence where Foley and the marshal are locked in the boot of a getaway car with the marshal.

But for the audition, instead of a car, they used another cramped space - the leather sofa in the den of George's Hollywood mansion, where George squashed up beside actress after actress in front of a video camera.

Even the Doris Day of modern movies, Sandra Bullock, had to hop up on to his couch but the winner was Jennifer Lopez, last seen as a Mexican spitfire in U- Turn, who cut short her honeymoon to try her luck in George's big seduction scene.

"Every man I know is dying to be trapped in a car boot with Jennifer, but I'm the lucky one it happened to," grins George, then deadpans: "I tried to get her to stay for a couple of weeks, but she wouldn't go for it. The film is the answer to my dreams. Jack Foley is like the old Bogart character. He's a likeable rogue.

"Out Of Sight is the first film I wanted to do, not one I thought I had to do. I thought it was the best script I'd ever read." Soderbergh has compared George's performance to that of Robert Redford, who also had to wait until his thirties for his big break.

He says: "Before Robert Redford made Butch Cassidy, he was a respected actor who always did good work. But when audiences saw him in Butch Cassidy, he became a star because it was the right material for the right actor - and the same is true of Foley forGeorge."

Most movie actors would rather not dwell on their TV work. And George has a stack of cringe- making moments.

"Murder She Wrote," he grimaces.

I don't have the heart to bring up his role as the bad guy factory boss in the first series of Roseanne, where he sports a hairstyle that looks like someone tumble- dried his head. Or the score of failed TV pilots when he was struggling through his twenties.

But then it was also TV which launched his movie career. The hit series, er, brought him fame, fortune, and big money film contracts. And he remains grateful for his big break.

He admits: "Without er, I don't have a career. It's what made everything work for me. But it's a good thing to move around and move on."

The shot most photographers covet is of George with his real life leading lady, 24-year-old French law student Celine Balitran.

They met three years ago when she served him coffee as a waitress. Now she's moved to LA to be with him. I wondered if she'd been teaching George her native language. Apparently not.

He confesses: "Every time I try to speak French, Celine laughs at me. I took four years of French in my home town in Kentucky." He pauses - but can't resist a quip. "But even English is a foreign language in Kentucky."

George, married once before, is wary of wedding talk.

His pet Vietnamese pot-bellied pig, Max, is his longest live-in companion, of whom George does a mean impression.

He says of Max: "I didn't really choose him. He kind of chose me. I was working on Roseanne and we used this baby pig as a rat in the factory.

"Everywhere I went, this pig would follow me. So I thought I might as well keep him.

"Of course he's a lot bigger - I could ride him to work now."

George, I'm a little worried that you have forgotten you are one of our leading sex symbols, not a pig- loving slob. And I'm beginning to think that George isn't too interested in being the Sexiest Man Alive anyway. He's too smart and self-mocking.

Sexy men do not take the mickey out of themselves by telling goofy stories. It tends to dampen their smouldering effect.

And would Cary Grant ever have a pig sleep over in his bedroom? One last chance, George - is it true that Max is allowed to sleep in your bed?

"Yes he is, but that's a whole other sad, sordid story," he laughs.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Synnot, Siobhan
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Nov 28, 1998
Words:1143
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