'Midnight Sky': George Clooney on how he captured the year's most shocking death scene and learning from failure

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Warning: Midnight Sky spoilers ahead.

George Clooney sits pretty comfortably in the upper echelons of Hollywood when it comes to level of fame, success as an actor and respect from his peers. Where he’s found more of a mixed bag, though, has been behind the camera as a director. He’s had unqualified triumphs, like Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) and Good Night, And Good Luck. (2005). He’s also had some clunkers, like The Monuments Men (2014) and Suburbicon (2017).

His latest effort, the visually striking sci-fi drama The Midnight Sky, marks a definite high for Clooney, who also stars as a scientist desperately attempting to warn a returning spaceship that Earth has been rendered uninhabitable in the not-too-distant future.

As Clooney, 59, tells us in a new interview, though, it’s the failures that are more valuable.

“You don’t learn anything from success,” Clooney says (watch above). “When everybody says ‘You knocked it out of the park,’ there’s no lesson to be learned. It’s nice. It’s nice to have people like something, but you don’t learn anything… You learn from mistakes, or things that you didn’t understand when you were telling the story.

“I feel that way in life. You learn from the things that you did that don’t quite add up, and hope you do better next time… There’s nothing gained by the successes. Not that I don’t want them, but you don’t learn any lessons from them.”

George Clooney on the set of "The Midnight Sky" (Netflix)
George Clooney on the set of The Midnight Sky. (Photo: Netflix)

The Midnight Sky, which premiered on Netflix last month, is drawing Clooney some of the best accolades he’s received as a director, not to mention Oscar buzz. While the film is generally moody and restrained, there are two deeply tense sequences that speak to his growing confidence as a filmmaker.

In what had to be the most shocking movie death of 2020, an astronaut played by Tiffany Boone (Hunters) is injured during a meteor storm why “walking” outside the spaceship on a repair mission. The nerve-wracking, slowly building action moves inside the spacecraft, where gobs of blood begin rising into her helmet as she and her crewmates (David Oyelowo and Felicity Jones) look on in terror before cascading into a burst of bloodletting once it’s removed.

“In the script, she had run out of air, and we had done that in Gravity, so we couldn’t do that anymore,” Clooney said of his 2013 hit, while noting the blood was all created by computer generated effects. “I was watching some of the astronauts up in a space station drinking water, they’d throw it up in the air and drink it out of the air.

“So I went to the effects guys and I said, ‘Can we make blood floating?’… But I said I don’t want it to just be droplets, I want it to feel like ballet. I want it to move and have this mercurial vibe to it. And they really did a beautiful job, and they worked really hard on it. I was extraordinarily proud of them for the work they did on that piece because we knew what we wanted, but we didn’t know what we’d get. You can’t see it, they have to work on it for a year. And when they came up with that and showed it to us at the end, we were really excited.”

Another buzzworthy moment comes when Clooney’s Augustine gets caught in a blistering Arctic snowstorm while protecting a young child (Caoilinn Springhall), a sequence that is spine-chillingly immersive. This time the effects were minimal.

“We shot that on a glacier in the middle of Iceland, and we were getting knocked around,” Clooney says.

Springhall insists she was never scared while filming it, though. Not so much for her co-star.

“It was scary for me, yeah,” Clooney says. “I’m gonna be 60 this year, I could drop.”

The Midnight Sky is currently streaming on Netflix.

Watch Clooney talk about why The Midnight Sky is his first movie role in four years:

— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jimmie Rhee

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