George Clooney feels pretty optimistic about the future and technology, although he is worried about privacy and drones over his house.
We’ll get to that later. First, the two-time Oscar winner is starring in “Tomorrowland,” from director Brad Bird (“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” “The Incredibles”) with a screenplay by “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof and Bird.
Disney’s sci-fi mystery-adventure is a rarity for a big summer movie – not part of a franchise and not set in a grim future.
“Putting me in the summer movie is a very bold thought,” Clooney jokes. “I think it’s bold for Disney to do something that isn’t a sequel for a summer film.”
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In “Tomorrowland,” the actor-filmmaker plays disillusioned inventor Frank Walker.
“When Damon and Brad showed up to my house, they said, ‘We have written a part for you,’” says Clooney with a smile. “Then I open it up and the description of the character is a 55-year-old has-been.”
Bird says he and Lindelof “always described the character as being a George Clooney type. We never imagined that we would get him.”
The original Tomorrowland was created in 1955 by Walt Disney as a section of Disneyland. The iconic filmmaker and visionary was always interested in the future. For the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City, the Disney Co. created three rides, including It’s a Small World, Carousel of Progress and Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, which used robotics.
The film opens at the 1964 World’s Fair, where a young boy (Thomas Robinson as the young Frank) has made his way to show off a jet pack he invented. He soon meets a young girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) who reveals to him that Tomorrowland – where the future is so bright you need sunglasses – might actually exist on another plane of existence.
Jump forward to today, where Casey (Britt Robertson), a bright, curious and scientifically minded teen, is trying to save her dad’s job at NASA with a bit of illegal activity. She, too, encounters Athena, looking the same (one of the film’s mysteries), who puts her on the trail of Frank.
For the record, Clooney just turned 54 and hardly looks like a has-been. Besides “Tomorrowland” he has a couple of interesting projects on the way including “Hail, Caesar!” from the Coen brothers and Jodie Foster’s “Money Monster.”
“Tomorrowland” attracted Clooney because of its optimism. “What I love about this film is that it speaks to the idea that your future is not preordained,” Clooney says.
Bird calls the film, which is among the first to use Dolby Vision and Imax Laser projection, an “unusual beast underneath” because it holds excitement for the future. He says he was sick of people being pessimistic about what lies ahead.
The filmmaker tells a story about how he was worried about a high-school play audition when a girl told him to believe he was the best in the room for a few minutes. He got the part.
“It wasn’t necessarily true, but it became true,” he says. “Some people view the future that way and act in a way they want the world to be.”
Lindelof says he has always bent toward optimism even at his most cynical moments. But he’s not a cockeyed optimist, and mentions nuclear weapons and environmental and inequality problems. “Tomorrowland” also addresses the possibility of a dark future.
“It was important for us to show this,” he says. “This movie will only work if you see the mushroom clouds.”
Clooney notes that he grew up during the Cold War era: “Although we all thought the world would end in a nuclear holocaust, everybody was pretty hopeful.”
Lindelof calls Clooney one of the most optimistic people he has ever met.
“I’m very optimistic,” says the filmmaker-actor whose father, Nick Clooney, is a former TV anchorman. “I grew up around news, and I saw the news when it was very bad, and I saw the news when it was put in perspective. What happens now with the flood of things we see is that the perspective is lost. If you’re watching television for any period of time, the world is falling apart. We’re all going to die.”
Clooney is involved with Not On Our Watch Project, an organization that focuses global attention and resources to stop and prevent mass atrocities, such as in the Sudan.
“There is a funny thing about careers. As time goes on and you’re more comfortable with your career path, you’re able to focus on other things,” he says.
“In this line of work there is a lot of attention on you that you don’t really need. So you try and turn that attention to some place like sub-Saharan Africa,” Clooney adds. “We are not policymakers. We try to shine a light on those people who don’t really get a light shone on them.”
He says that despite all the problems mankind faces, he believes we will “work it out in the end.”
Clooney points to the issue of gay marriage as how fast social issues can change. “When my father ran for Congress in Kentucky in 2004, he was basically attacked for being related to me, and being related to me meant that was Hollywood vs. the heartland and that meant gay marriage,” he says.
“Now most of the country doesn’t give a damn, mostly because of the younger people. It doesn’t matter if they are conservative or liberal.”
“Tomorrowland” was partly inspired by Walt Disney’s belief that technology held the key to building a better world. Though Clooney also believes in its power, he is worried about some aspects of it.
While his character, Frank, invented a jet pack, Clooney joked that he wasn’t looking forward to seeing paparazzi in them flying over his house. The subject then turns to small drones.
“We have had them in front of the window at our house,” he says, adding that there have been about a half-dozen incidents. A magazine reportedly used one to film his 2014 wedding to Amal Alamuddin in Venice. The actor would like to see the relatively nascent technology better regulated. If you can sell a photo for $20,000, a $500 fine isn’t likely to deter somebody, he reasons.
Another problem, Clooney sees, is that “We are getting farther and farther from living our lives and more about recording our lives.” He mentions attending a fundraiser for President Obama and seeing people going up to shake his hand and “They’re like this.” Then he holds up his arm miming taking a selfie.
“You know everyone went home and said they met the president, but they didn’t meet the president. They recorded a video. They didn’t look him in the eye to greet him, and I feel we’re doing that a lot more,” says Clooney.
“I treasure the letters I have from Walter Cronkite and Paul Newman. They are framed at my house. A text would’ve been very different. I miss some of that. Maybe I’m just getting old.”