Less turns into more for Damon
By Louis B. Hobson
Matt Damon gets more screen time in Ocean's Twelve than he did in the first caper, most of it to show how bumbling, naive and inept his character is. "I actually asked for a smaller part this time around," Damon says. "I wanted to do less work because I had just come off The Bourne Supremacy and I was tired."
George Clooney jokes that Damon "showed up and told us he had this big hit sequel under his belt, so we'd need him to sell our picture. We had no choice but to give him a bigger part."
Damon says even he is amazed at just how much of a bumbler his character has become.
"I think it was a reaction to doing the Bourne movies and especially The Bourne Supremacy," he says. "I was so sick of being right in every scene that I wanted to play a guy who clearly wasn't always right."
In this Ocean's sequel, Damon says, "all of us are pretty fallible. We're constantly messing up. I think it's because we're introducing a new character (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who's trying to catch us.
"If it seems like we're going to pull these heists off as slickly as we did the Las Vegas one, it would weaken her character's role. She has to be formidable, which Catherine really is."
Ocean's Eleven and this sequel were inspired by Frank Sinatra's 1960 caper comedy of the same name. It featured Sinatra in his group of close friends, who became known as the Rat Pack. Jerry Weintraub, who produced Ocean's Eleven and its sequel, was a longtime friend of Sinatra.
"I knew Frank for 20 years and I knew his boys," Weintraub says, "and George Clooney and these guys are just as cool.
"The camaraderie George's pals have is pretty much the same as Frank had with his guys. Very early on in Ocean's Eleven, it was clear it was more like working with a small theatre company -- except that everyone gets paid a lot more."
Clooney and several of his co-stars took profit points in the films rather than their regular salaries.
"It paid off big time for all of them with Ocean's Eleven," Weintraub says.
Clooney jokes that Weintraub's Palm Springs estate is "affectionately known as 'The House That Ocean's Eleven Built.'"
Back at "Ocean's 12," Cheadle reveled in being back among friends. He jokingly rants at having to re-master another accent while his co-stars could use their own, but the bonhomie and Clooney's practical jokes made it bearable.
"I love all those guys," Cheadle says. "I know it sounds cliché, but it's really true. We hang out outside of the movie."
The specter of Cheadle's leading-man status was never far off, however. One day, talk on the "Ocean's" set turned to the weekend battle between "The Bourne Supremacy" with "Ocean's" Matt Damon and "Catwoman" with Halle Berry. An argument ensued over whether Berry had the clout to attract big box office. Clooney, according to Cheadle, then pointed out the foolishness of how a movie, good or bad, becomes solely about one person.
"It cuts both ways," Cheadle says. "You want to get to that spot and be up there. But two or three movies that don't open, and you're the reason it's perceived that they don't; it's a whole different story."
Throughout a recent press conference for Ocean's Twelve, fellow cast members Don Cheadle and Matt Damon continued to josh Clooney about his age, his silvering hair and the 14 kilograms he put on to play former CIA case officer Robert Baer in Stephen Gaghan's Syriana, which he shot after Ocean's Twelve.
"Sadly, putting on the weight didn't turn out to be all that difficult," recalls Clooney. "We were filming in places in the Middle East where you didn't really want to go out except to film, so Matt (Damon) and I sat around eating a lot of pasta."
When journalists tried to commend Clooney for drastically changing his look for a character, Damon intervened.
"It wasn't exactly like when Gwyneth Paltrow put on that fat suit for Shallow Hal and no one recognized her. George still looked like George -- only really heavy and 50."
Clooney says he felt the weight gain was "a good thing for that film and I'm glad I did it, but I would never do it again. I'm still in the process of losing the last few pounds. It's hard to do and it's hard on your system."
But he disagrees with Damon's jest that he didn't look all that different with the extra weight.
"The most interesting part of the whole process was that I was less recognizable -- and that was a unique situation for me these days."
The on-set camaraderie and the loose shooting style allowed the actors to play around with their alter egos and find new quirks and comic possibilities. Sometimes, however, the results weren't so glamorous.
"I don't know how my character ended up being such a bumbler," says newly minted action hero Damon. "I think it was a reaction to doing 'Bourne Supremacy,' and being so sick of being right in every scene. I wanted to play a guy who wasn't right that often."
But getting everyone - and we mean everyone - from the original back together was definitely what you would call "right."
"I got closer to everyone," admits Cheadle, "The first day we came back to work in Chicago, we all just stood around for two hours talking - just kind of reminiscing. After a while we were like, 'Are we going to work today?'"
The close-knit crew even got a chance to stay at Clooney's house in Lake Como, Italy during production.
"It was fun," says the host himself. "We took a boat to work a lot. And Matt Damon is very clean, I will say that."