George Clooney says he was 'objectified' in early roles

George Clooney walks the red carpet at the
George Clooney walks the red carpet at the Ticket to Paradise premiere at Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles on Oct. 17. (Photo: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)

Nothing like a career achievement award to make someone, in this case George Clooney, reflect on the work he has and hasn't done.

Ahead of being honored by the Kennedy Center on Sunday, the 61-year-old leading man and director recalled having seen an image of "this old gray-haired guy from the back" at the premiere of his movie Ticket to Paradise. He wondered who it could possibly be, before realizing that it was him.

It was a change from Clooney's first roles in the 1980s, when his good looks were front and center as he appeared as a recurring character on popular sitcoms The Facts of Life and Roseanne.

"Quite honestly, I was objectified," he told the Washington Post for a story published Friday. "I remember doing scenes on Roseanne and I'd drop a clipboard and bend over, and they'd all slap me on the ass. You had to establish yourself as more than that. … Good Night, and Good Luck did that for me, in every sense of the word."

George Clooney appears alongside Roseanne Barr and Laurie Metcalf in a January 1989 episode of
George Clooney appears alongside Roseanne Barr and Laurie Metcalf in a January 1989 episode of Roseanne. (Photo: ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Clooney directed, co-wrote and co-starred in that 2005 film, which is set in the early days of broadcast TV as CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow works to expose Sen. Joseph McCarthy's lies during his infamous hunt for communists. The movie, only Clooney's second to direct, was nominated for six Oscars, including best picture, best actor and best original screenplay.

But it sounds like there might not be many more projects that require everything of him. He wants to spend more time with his wife Amal, 44, and their 5-year-old twins, Ella and Alexander, while he's young enough to enjoy it.

"Amal and I have had these long conversations about my age," he told the newspaper. "I said, 'You know, I'm 61, I can still do most things I used to do. But in 20 years I'll be 81, and things will be different. … So these are the good years, this next 20 or 25.' I said, 'Let's make sure we're living [life] differently.' Which means that I probably won't be directing, unless it's something I absolutely have to do. Acting in movies is an easy job. … I certainly get paid a lot more doing that, it's a lot easier, and I can still have a lot more time with my family."

He said that, for a while, he mistakenly thought that he needed to work more to have a full life.

"Amal changed that for me, in a big way," Clooney said of his wife of eight years. "Because now there was this incredible love, this incredible sense of family and these two kids, who are [something] that I didn't really think I was ever going to do."

Amal and George Clooney walk the red carpet at the
Amal and George Clooney walk the red carpet at the Ticket to Paradise premiere on Oct. 17 at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles. (Photo: Michael Tran/AFP via Getty Images)

The activist said he now needs to "make peace" with aging and "accept what those roles are," as an actor and a person.

In the case of the former, he noted that the late Paul Newman did what he aspires to do.

"Newman was the best at this. He figured out, [with] The Verdict, quite honestly, that he was a character actor and he accepted that role," Clooney said of the acclaimed 1982 film released when Newman was in his late 50s. "He didn't fight it or push and try to get his face done or look younger and act younger. He just said, 'OK, that's who I am now,' and he changed expectations a little bit."

That doesn't mean we've seen the last of the Michael Clayton star in leading man roles or as a director. Besides headlining Ticket to Paradise, the romantic comedy in which he and friend Julia Roberts played a divorced couple, in October, he's directing the upcoming drama The Boys in the Boat, which recounts the underdog story of the rowing team at the University of Washington winning the gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.