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Clooney: From heartthrob to heavyweight

He is the only person in Oscars history to be nominated for acting in one movie and directing another in the same year.

india Updated: Mar 06, 2006 15:32 IST

Matinee idol George Clooney packed on the pounds to play an ageing spy in Syriana, a stunning transformation that won him his first Oscar on Sunday and anointed him as a Hollywood heavyweight.

After more than two decades in Hollywood, Clooney had never even attended the Academy Awards until this year, when he arrived armed with three nominations for two politically-charged films: best supporting actor for Syriana and best director and screenplay for Good Night, and Good Luck.

He is the only person in Oscars history to be nominated for acting in one movie and directing another in the same year.

The politically outspoken screen idol, 44, who spent half his career struggling as an unknown TV actor, has now hit the big time with two movies that tackle highly contentious topics, films that prompted US conservatives to brand him anti-American and even a traitor.

In a highly political Oscars year featuring a clutch of films that tackle real-world problems, the actor wears the barbs as a badge of honour, saying they indicate that his films raise important questions.

"It's your right or duty to question and ask questions. I don't think we provide any answers; we just ask a lot of questions," Clooney, one of Hollywood's most liberal stars who has frequently criticised President George W. Bush's administration, told an interviewer.

In Stephen Gaghan's complex thriller Syriana, about oil industry machinations in the Middle East and the US government's murky role in them, Clooney plays weary veteran CIA agent Bob Barnes.

Clooney suffered for the role, moving away from his suave leading-man image by gorging himself on pasta to put on nearly 40 pounds (18 kilos), growing a beard and even becoming as depressed as his tired character during the filming.

"I thought it was a good space to stay in while I was doing this film, because the character of Bob feels like he's been deserted and betrayed all along," he has said.

Clooney spent months studying for the role and meeting real CIA agents to add credibility and accuracy to the patchwork drama about oil and geopolitics that weighs in on fictionalised government corruption and amoral US covert operations in the Middle East.

Making things tougher, he seriously injured his back and head when a stunt went wrong, requiring major spinal surgery.

The playful-natured actor, who boasts a serenity and self-assurance that comes with achieving success later in life, shot to fame in 1994 as a doctor in the hit US television series "ER."

The 1.8-meter-tall (5-foot-10-inch-tall) son of a television newscaster in the southern state of Kentucky and the nephew of famed torch singer Rosemary Clooney, Clooney came to Hollywood at the urging of his cousin Miguel Ferrer in 1984.

But he would spend 10 years playing small parts in television series such as the syrupy sitcom "The Facts of Life" and filming 15 pilots for series that were ultimately never produced.

His first big-screen lead role was in 1997's coolly received Batman and Robin, but he went on to make the 1999 Gulf War drama Three Kings, followed in 2000 by the critically praised comedy O Brother, Where Art Thou?

He became a major A-list star with the high-seas blockbuster The Perfect Storm in 2000 and formed his own production company with director Steven Soderbergh, turning out such hits as 2001's Ocean's Eleven as well as more thoughtful fare such as Solaris and Syriana.

After making his directorial debut in 2003 with the offbeat dark drama Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Clooney turned his mind to freedom of speech and governmental abuse of power in last year's black-and white Good Night.

The movie, which he also co-wrote and co-stars in, tells the story of newsman Edward Murrow's battle against the repression of the 1950s Communist witch hunt in the United States. It forged a new reputation for him as a serious filmmaker.

"It's really awesome. Who would have thought that after doing 'The Facts of Life' that this would have worked out like this? If you've survived a mullet, you can survive anything," he joked recently.