‘Catch-22′ Brings Clooney Back to TCA

clooneyThere was an extra reminder at a well-attended session of the TV Critics Association winter press tour that pictures were not allowed, since the ever-photogenic George Clooney was entering for a session for a six-part adaptation of “Catch-22” coming to Hulu May 17.

Clooney not only produces and directs, he also strains his neck muscles by portraying the constantly yelling lt. Gen. Gen. Scheisskopf.

Clooney, 57, called Joseph Heller’s classic “one of the great American novels of all time, so it was required reading when I was in high school.

“I loved the style of writing which was different than the kind of writing we had read,” he said. “ reread it when we were sent the scripts to do, and I hadn’t read it in — you know, high school was 15 years ago!” he joked. “So it was really fun and exciting to go back and read and understand why this book lasted and stands the test of time. It was fun.”

For a long time he had avoided the idea of adapting it for the camera. “It seems ridiculous,” he said. “It’s a beloved novel. I don’t want to get into the middle of all that.”

But he said he was impressed by the first three scripts by Luke Davies and David Michôd. Christopher Abbott stars as Yossarian and it features performances from Kyle Chandler, Hugh Laurie as well as Clooney, who said he wasn’t daunted by the 1970 Mike Nichols film. “We stole a couple of things from him along the way, which was part of the fun of it,” he said.

But having six hours allows more of an exploration of the work. “When you do a movie, as you know, you don’t have enough time to really get to know the characters, and that’s why you do this as a television show,” he said. “You get to spend time with the characters like the book does. And they just figured out a way to interpret it in a way that we didn’t think was really possible.”

For Clooney, it was a return to a press tour he first visited 25 years ago, as part of the young cast of a new show called “ER.”

“It’s been a while, I suppose,” Clooney said. “‘ER’ was a nutty moment in my career, but also in the lives of a bunch of actors. There were six of us who suddenly were thrust the stratosphere, and it was life-changing for all of us. And it was fun to be here. It was a little bit different, the room, but not that much. It is a lot of the same faces.”

And, the ever-charming actor added, “You look exactly the same!”

Clooney appears to play his hyperventilating sergeant broadly. “You have to take a swing and hope that you hit the ball along the way, and sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. We felt like this one, there’s no way you can do this half-assed, right? You got to go for it. If you read the characters, if you read the script, you can’t subtly yell at people along the way, and you can’t subtly kill these people.”

The effect of “Catch-22” today may be different than it was in the Vietnam era, but should be universal because the military hasn’t changed, Clooney said. “It was really to make fun of all of the red tape and the bureaucracy of war and the ridiculousness of it. And so I think that that still plays.”

And the length of the limited series, compared to the film, allows much more of Heller’s prose as well.

“It was not too difficult memorizing the material because if you read these really long speeches, it’s written so well there’s a rhythm to it, said Chandler, who plays Cathcart. “The writing was very enjoyable to play with.”

Said Clooney, “I’ve done dozens of shows and films where I’ve worn a military uniform. And when you put it on there is of course a sense of pride but also a great sense of responsibility always along the way.”

But bringing up a previous role, he added, “with the exception of the Batsuit, any time you put on a costume it does help you get into character considerably.”

Unlike his role in “Batman & Robin,” Clooney cracked, ”I was sad there weren’t nipples.”

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