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Interview: George Clooney on directing and starring in Netflix sci-fi thriller 'The Midnight Sky'

George Clooney in The Midnight Sky
The Midnight Sky duo... George Clooney as Augustine with Caoilinn Springall as Iris (Image credit: Netflix)

George Clooney buckles up for a new end-of-the-world space thriller, The Midnight Sky (read our full review) that launches worldwide on Netflix on Dec. 23. He plays Augustine, a lonely 70-year old scientist who desperately tries to stop a NASA crew from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe. 

Living in the bitterly cold post-apocalyptic Arctic, suffering from cancer and possibly the last man alive, the odds are stacked against Augustine — especially when he discovers a little lost girl called Iris, who's been hiding and now needs his help to survive. 

The Midnight Sky is George Clooney’s first film in four years (he starred in Jodie Foster’s Money Monster and the Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar in 2016), and his first role since the TV adaptation of Catch 22, which aired worldwide in 2019. It also stars David Oyelowo (Selma), Felicity Jones (Rogue One, On The Basis Of Sex) and Kyle Chandler (Manchester By The Sea) and is adapted from Lily Brookes-Dalton’s 2016 novel Good Morning, Midnight. But George was so impressed by the script that he asked to direct, as well as star in the sci-fi thriller.

Here, George reveals much more about The Midnight Sky and the challenges of filming in 70mph winds in Iceland…

George Clooney on why he was the perfect fit to play his 'The Midnight Sky' character Augustine

George is only 59, but he wasn’t fazed by being asked to play a 70-year-old.

"Netflix sent the script over, asking me to play Augustine," Clooney reveals. "It’s a good part for me and really there were only a couple of other guys who could do it. Matt Damon or Brad Pitt are too young — I’m only a couple of years older, but I’m well worn!"

George Clooney reveals what inspired him to direct 'The Midnight Sky'

"I loved the script so much, I thought I’d really like to take a swing at directing it, Clooney says on the script penned by The Revenant co-writer Mark L. Smith. "I’d done a couple of space movies, Gravity and Solaris, so I knew how complicated it was going to be, but this felt like a really intimate piece about what mankind is capable of doing. And it's a redemption story, too."

Clooney’s only disappointment, however, is that audience won’t be able to see this epic film as he intended, with a cinematic release originally planned. 

"We shot it on 65mm film so that it could be shown on giant screens at the iMax, and now you’ll all be watching it on your computers!" he says.

George Clooney on working with his 7-year-old co-star Caoilinn Springall in 'The Midnight Sky'

At the heart of the film is the unlikely double act between Clooney and seven-year-old newcomer Caoilinn Springall, who plays lost child Iris. This is her first professional acting job but she wasn’t fazed by sharing scenes with one of the world’s most recognisable movie stars.

She’s every bit an actress," Clooney tells us. "She outed the rest of us actors because she didn’t need to prepare — she just jumped right into filming on a glacier at minus-40 degrees. She’s a tough little kid."

":There’s actually a real advantage to having a child in the story, which is something I learned on ER. My character Doug Ross was a drunken womanizer. But at the end of every episode he’d stick up for some kid. He could get away with anything as long as he still loved children! So it’s the same in The Midnight Sky. Having Iris there allows Augustine to be angrier."

George Clooney reveals how tough it was to shoot 'The Midnight Sky' in Iceland

George says the experience of shooting was almost like making two different films — Augustine’s story was in the can by the time he started working on the scenes set in space. 

The parallel tale is of a NASA crew made up of five astronauts, including captain Adewole (David Oyelowo) and pregnant mission specialist Sully (Felicity Jones), who are heading home after a long mission exploring a hospitable new moon of Jupiter.

"I shot all of my scenes first, in Iceland, with 70 mph winds, where it was physically so hard to shoot. And then we shot the space scenes at Shepperton Studios in London," recalls Clooney. "I had this massive David Letterman beard and a shaved head — I can tell you my wife was really happy when the movie was over!"

George Clooney reveals how he received a surprising call from co-star Felicity Jones while filming 'The Midnight Sky'

Felicity Jones in The Midnight Sky

Felicity Jones plays astronaut Sully in "The Midnight Sky." (Image credit: Netflix)

"We were in the middle of the Iceland shoot, cold and miserable, and I got a call from Felicity Jones, who plays Sully, to say she was pregnant … which complicated things!" says Clooney. "She was so gung-ho, she wanted to do all the stunts on wires but I said no. Eventually we realized if people go away for two years on a flight to another planet, they have sex, it happens. So Sully can be pregnant. It changed everything for us, we turned it into something special and positive for the film."

George Clooney on how he’s happy to slow down after more than 35 years in the business

"I always used to be in a rush, I ate lunch standing up for 25 years," Clooney reveals. "But then spending summers in Italy taught me a lot. These guys would come home from work with a bottle of wine and bread for a three-hour dinner, and I thought 'I’m not living the way I should!' "

"I was a struggling actor for 15 years and I just took any job, said thank you and paid the rent. I cut tobacco for a living for 3 dollars and 33 cents per hour in Kentucky, so that’s why I find it silly when people are tortured in this business. It should be exciting. We’re lucky!"