That Time George Clooney Gave Briefcases Containing $1 Million Each to All His Closest Friends
If you’ve ever thought George Clooney comes off as a extremely likable kind of guy in many of the roles he plays in films, well, it turns out that part at least isn’t really an act. Beyond things like helping to organize and spearhead several pledge drive events that have generated tens of millions of dollars for charities and donating many, many millions of dollars of his own money to various humanitarian organizations, such as relatively recently paying for over 3,000 Syrian refugee children to get an education, or that time he got himself arrested for protesting outside of a Sudanese Embassy to bring more public attention to the human rights issues there, etc. etc., it turns out the Good Guy Clooney meme is actually a thing in more day to day matters as well. In fact, hilariously, in interviews we read, he even gets rave reviews from several of his ex-girlfriends (who note he’s every bit as nice in private as in public). But we’re not here to talk about his already much talked about love life. No, we’re here to discuss that time he gave each of his closest friends a briefcase full of $1 Million in cash.
To begin with, while you might think most of these friends were probably rich and famous celebrities like himself or the like- so what do they need $1 million for?- it turns out, further exemplifying his reputation for being the most “normal guy” in Hollywood, his core group of friends hasn’t really changed much since long before he was ever famous, and while some of them have since had some success in the industry, others are just regular Joes like the rest of us mere mortals. It was this group that he invited over for dinner. According to one of the more famous among them who would later reveal the event to the media, entertainer and businessman Rande Gerber, in 2013 Clooney sent them all a message saying, “Hey, mark 27 September on your calendar. Everyone’s going to come to my house for dinner.”
And so it was that 14 of his closest friends showed up at his door, perhaps expecting some high jinks that night, given Clooney has a reputation for being an insatiable prankster with his amigos. For example, at one point in his younger years he apparently cleaned his roommates’ kitty litter immediately after the roommates’ cat used the little box. Both simultaneously embodying the “Good Guy Clooney” and the “Prankster Clooney” this meant his roommate didn’t have to clean the litter box… for weeks.
The issue was, he didn’t know Clooney was doing this and, with a little subtle suggestion, he eventually became very concerned about what was going on with his cat who apparently had stopped all digestive processes. This ultimately culminated in a very worried owner and a trip to the vet, during which the cat checked out fine. When his roommate got home, he apparently found Clooney had taken a dump in the litter box…
As Jimmy Kimmel states of Clooney, “Nothing delights [Clooney] more than identifying a vulnerability and striking when an attack is unexpected. I’ve seen George reduce himself to tears retelling his years of torment. The amount of time and energy he spends on this kind of thing is literally incredible. He somehow manages to be both the best and worst friend a person could have, and that is a dichotomy I love.”
But a prank wasn’t what Clooney had in mind for this evening together. Instead, he was going more for the “best” side of that friendship dichotomy, wanting to give a heartfelt thank you to those he cared about the most.
As alluded to, what they found at that dinner, beyond food, was a briefcase at each of their places at the table. Gerber stated Clooney then said, “Listen, I want you guys to know how much you’ve meant to me, and how much you mean to me in my life. I came to Los Angeles, I slept on your couches. I’m so fortunate in my life to have all of you and I couldn’t be where I am today without all of you. So it was really important to me that while we’re still all here together, that I give back. So I want you all to open your suitcases.”
When they did so, they found a whole lot of bills- $1 million worth each, it turns out. Said Gerber, “Every one of us – 14 of us – got a million dollars. Every single one of us. We’re in shock. Like, ‘what is this?'”
He states Clooney then went on,
I know we’ve all been through some hard times, some of you are still going through it… You don’t have to worry about your kids; you don’t have to worry about school; you don’t have to worry about paying your mortgage.
And note here, not just a princely sum in the cash itself, given that Clooney would have had to pay the taxes on those gifts and he’s in the highest of tax brackets, giving his friends that $14 million actually cost him in the ballpark of just shy of $20 million. For reference, in 2013, that is estimated to have been close to 20% of his total net worth at the time.
That said, he’s since skyrocket that net worth, in large part not from acting, but thanks to, on a whim with some friends that very same year, deciding to start a Tequila company. Fast-forward to 4 years later, in 2017, he sold that company for $700 million + a potential $300 million extra based on performance after the sale, with Clooney getting 1/3 of that. So, oddly enough, Clooney has probably made more money on a Tequila company he started solely so he could have some Tequila exactly the way he liked it than he has on acting. In fact, reports from the co-founders are that when they first started the company, they hadn’t intended to sell the Tequila to the public. They had only started to think bigger after the manufacturer told them they needed a business license to purchase the volume they wanted.
Moving on from there, on the integrity front, when Clooney first made it big on the unexpected smash hit ER, he and other cast members were offered rather large bonuses in the second season to make up for their somewhat lackluster pay at the time given how huge the show had become. As for Clooney, however, though still not rich at this point, he turned down a $1 million bonus and did not even attempt to re-negotiate his five year contract unlike others, despite his rising star. Said Executive Producer John Wells,
We were the number-one show, and it was very clear that George was breaking out, and Quentin Tarantino-who directed an episode in season one- wanted him for From Dusk Till Dawn. He was great and very professional, and when everyone else was getting huge raises, George always said no. He said, “I’m going to honor my commitment to you.”
On a similar note, in 2010 Clooney was offered $15 million up front and $30 million on the back end to tack his name onto a film, but turned it down, not because he wasn’t interested in the project, simply because he’d already agreed to appear in the Fox Searchlight film The Descendants, and his name being attached to that was a big part of why it was being made. So he turned down the $45 million and did the small project, which to be fair ended up doing insanely well in the box office, earning almost $200 million, despite its total $20 million budget.
On that note, Clooney is frequently known for joining such small film projects he thinks should get made or get more attention, even though he’s often only paid token amounts. He states of this, “Acting used to be how I paid the rent, but I sold a tequila company for a billion f–king dollars. I don’t need the money. But I have money, so I can fight to make movies I want to make. If you look at what I’ve been in over the past 15 years, for the most part they weren’t going to get made if I didn’t do them. Nobody was going to make Good Night, and Good Luck; Michael Clayton or Up in the Air, and I fought to get those out there.”
Speaking of helping projects get made, we have, among many other examples, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who when they were budding young talents toiling away in school created a Spirit of Christmas short for Fox junior executive Brian Graden as a sort of Christmas gift Graden wanted for friends. Graden sent this to a few friends, and at some point Clooney got a copy of it. He then made hundreds of copies and sent it out to his friends and executives throughout the industry, and otherwise just promoted the crap out of it, helping it become one of the earliest examples of an amateur made viral video, as well as making sure various TV execs saw what the boys had done.
Reportedly largely thanks to Clooney, it spread like wild fire, with the interest here helping to land the two young men a deal with Comedy Central. A couple decades later, Stone and Parker have made well over a billion dollars combined, and South Park was largely responsible for Comedy Central itself becoming a major cable network. To illustrate, in 1997 Comedy Central had a reach of about 9 million households. A mere year later, largely on the back of South Park, they had jumped to being broadcast in over 50 million households.
Incidentally, at one point Clooney, like so many other actors, expressed interest in guest starring in South Park, which spurred Parker and Stone to offer him the part of a Stan’s gay dog in Big Gay Al’s Big Gay Boat Ride, with Clooney then asked to provide the barks and other such noises for the dog… While some high profile actors might have felt snubbed, instead Clooney loved it and happily accepted the role of a barking dog.
Similarly, on Jimmy Kimmel’s debut of the Jimmy Kimmel Live show, Kimmel recounts, “George was my first-ever guest on Jan. 26, 2003. It was my first show and we were on live after the Super Bowl, with many millions of people watching. I was as nervous as I’d ever been and terribly unprepared to host a talk show. After a shaky start, George, who I did not know and who was much too big a star to be there, showed up and calmed me down with shot glasses, vodka and movie-star magic. He gave our show and its bumbling host instant credibility just by showing up, and was so charming and funny. It did not matter that I was not. George is always great, but that debut likely would have been a disaster without him.”
Moving on from there, they say the true measure of a man is not how he treats his friends, but how he treats those ostensibly beneath him, or who serve him. And if that’s true, Clooney comes out 5 star reviewed there too. Beyond more common things like a reputation for being an insanely good tipper (for example, in one instance apparently paying a group of kids running a lemonade stand $100 for a small cup of their wares), by all accounts he’s ultra friendly with those who come up to him in his day to day life, and even to those who don’t exactly act well around him. For example, in one instance recounted by journalist for Esquire, John Richardson who witnessed the event, an exceptionally drunk woman more or less harassed Clooney for hours at a bar, even at one point slapping him upside the head and yelling at him repeatedly to bite her ass… Note here, her friends at one point dragged her away from him, and in another the workers at the establishment did the same, but she kept coming back… This spurred the bartender to offer to call the police to remove her forcibly, but Clooney declined this offer.
As an idea of the riveting conversation the inebriated lass apparently had with him, we have a rather colorful joke in which she stated, “How do you get a dog to stop humping your leg?” When Clooney politely responded “How?” She stated, “Pick it up and suck its dick…”
Doubling down on the “Good Guy Clooney” persona, later after leaving the bar, a couple of his companions were making fun of the woman as they went home, but Clooney quickly quieted them, noting she clearly had issues in her life and they shouldn’t make fun of her. You see, apparently Clooney has a bit of a thing against talking bad about people behind their backs, though interestingly not necessarily to their faces if the situation calls. With Clooney stating of his general philosophy on this, “The difference is if you do it to their face… If you look at her and do it and she goes, ‘You’re making fun of me,’ and you go, ‘No, no.’ But if you go bleah bleah to your friend, then you’re chickenshit.”
This all brings us to a little talked about fact in Hollywood, that, on set, the plebeians beneath the main actors and main production staff are, to put it mildly, not always treated well. The lowest of the low on the set, of course, are the extras who can generally expect to be treated like disposable cattle and even occasionally degraded to the extreme, as we’ve previously covered in depth in our article on What It’s Like to Be an Extra in a film or TV show.
Enter George Clooney on the set of Three Kings. Early in the shooting Clooney had become rather irritated with director David Russel, who according to Clooney and some others was taking this poor treatment of extras to a whole other level, allegedly even at one point ignoring an extra who was having a seizure, who Clooney rushed to help. Though Russel would later claim he hadn’t seen the extra as he was focusing on the shoot.
Whatever the case in that instance, Clooney was having none of this. While initially reports of all of this were kept out of the media’s eye, when the story finally broke later, Clooney begrudgingly gave his account of events that led up to an actual fight on set between the two.
Said Clooney, “He yelled and screamed at people all day, from day one…. For me, it came to a head a couple of times. Once, he went after a camera-car driver… David began yelling and screaming at him and embarrassing him in front of everybody. I told him, ‘You can yell and scream and even fire him, but what you can’t do is humiliate him in front of people. Not on my set, if I have any say about it.'”
As for Russell’s side, he states, “The camera broke, we were losing the day and I was upset about that. So I jumped off the truck and I was like, ‘Fuck!’ I was just kicking the dirt and everything like that. And then George had this big thing about defending the driver, whom I hadn’t really said anything to.”
Going on, Clooney states, “Another time he screamed at the script supervisor and made her cry. I wrote him a letter and said, ‘Look, I don’t know why you do this. You’ve written a brilliant script, and I think you’re a good director. Let’s not have a set like this. I don’t like it and I don’t work well like this.'”
This brings us to the actual fight between the two, which was triggered after Clooney witnessed Russel yelling at an extra and throwing him to the ground. As for Russell’s side, it is alleged he was simply showing the extra what he wanted to have happen in the scene and the shouting was because it was really loud on set.
But, right or wrong, that was not Clooney or certain other cast members’ perspective on the incident, with Clooney stating,
He read the letter and we started all over again. But later, we were three weeks behind schedule, which puts some pressure on you, and he was in a bad mood. These army kids, who were working as extras, were supposed to tackle us. There were three helicopters in the air and 300 extras on the set. It was a tense time, and a little dangerous, too. David wanted one of the extras to grab me and throw me down. This kid was a little nervous about it, and David walked up to him and grabbed him. He pushed him onto the ground. He kicked him and screamed, “Do you want to be in this fucking movie? Then throw him to the fucking ground!” The second assistant director came up and said, “You don’t do that, David. You want them to do something, you tell me.” David grabbed his walkie-talkie and threw it on the ground. He screamed, “Shut the fuck up! Fuck you,” and the Assistant Director goes, “Fuck you! I quit.” He walked off… I went over and put my arm around [Russell]. I said, ‘David, it’s a big day. But you can’t shove, push, or humiliate people who aren’t allowed to defend themselves.’ He turned on me and said, ‘Why don’t you just worry about your fucked-up act? You’re being a dick. You want to hit me? You want to hit me? Come on, pussy, hit me.’ I’m looking at him like he’s out of his mind. Then he started banging me on the head with his head. He goes, ‘Hit me, you pussy. Hit me.’ Then he got me by the throat and I went nuts … I had him by the throat. I was going to kill him. Kill him. Finally, he apologized, but I walked away. By then the Warner Bros. guys were freaking out… [We] finished the movie, but it was truly, without exception, the worst experience of my life….
In the end, Clooney sums up the whole series of events, “I would not stand for him humiliating and yelling and screaming at crew members who weren’t allowed to defend themselves. I don’t believe in it and it makes me crazy.”
Finally, for something a little more light hearted, after Clooney finally found a woman he could commit to, famed human rights attorney Amal Alamuddin, the couple ultimately had twin babies together. When the littles were around six months old, he and his family needed to make a transatlantic flight. Concerned their babies might cry the whole trip and disturb everyone, Clooney went ahead and purchased high end noise canceling headphones for everyone, with the couple passing them out and apologizing in advance for their babies. For the record, Quentin Tarantino was on that flight and stated the babies were quiet throughout. Apparently Good Guy Clooney only produces Good Baby Clooneys.
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Speaking of the life of an extra, in regards to the filming process itself, extras, like children in a stereotypical British household, are expected to be seen and not heard. Beyond it being strictly forbidden to talk to the talent or distract them in any way, even in off time, in order to keep the various sounds in the film as isolated from other noises as possible, the mics are usually targeted at only recording the voices of the talent. Virtually all background noises are then added in post-production. In addition to background chatter, this includes noises you aren’t even expected to notice, like the ruffling of the main character’s clothes as they walk or the clink of a cup being placed on a table.
This is generally one of the more difficult things for extras to get good at as many people find it unnatural to make silent vocalisations without overcompensating by moving their eyebrows too much or otherwise trying to use body language to make up for the fact that they aren’t making any noise when fake talking. To avoid this, beyond being conscientious of body movements, some extras practice nonsense phrases they can repeatedly mouth to one another. For a little fun, pay attention to talking extras in the background next time you watch a movie. You can almost always spot the newbies from the veteran pro extras because of things like this.
On that note, because most sounds are added in post-production, scenes involving parties, dancing, or cheering crowds are an especially surreal experience for extras, as the set is almost always completely silent while filming, other than the talent doing their thing. This poses another unique challenge for extras who are required to dance to a song they can’t hear, in time with other people listening to the same, non-existent song, all while pretending to ignore whatever the main actors are doing. And with cheering crowds, extras must be extremely careful not to actually make any clapping noises while they clap and otherwise raucously cheer silently.Expand for References
- What’s It Like to Be an Extra on a Film or TV Show?
- George Clooney Gave His Friends $1 Million Each
- Three Kings
- Somebody Has to Be in Control
- Why George Clooney Really Fought with Russel on the Set of Three Kings
- Trying Not to Be a Dick Takes Work
- Being Clooney- Not As Easy as It Looks
- How George Clooney’s Life Has Changed
- George Clooney
- George Clooney Nice Guy
- The Private Life of a Superstar
- That Time George Clooney Tried Out for the Reds
- Satellite Sentinel Project
- Amal Clooney
- George Clooney
- Awesome Guy George Clooney
- The Extreme Normal Man
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