George Clooney isn't a god, but it might have seemed that way Thursday night at the Brilliant Lecture series because the set of the Wortham Center stage resembled a gigantic cross, which the actor/activist walked through to greet an adoring, near-capacity audience, heavily populated with voluptuous women in skin-tight cocktail dresses.
During an interview and question-and-answer session that lasted just under an hour, Clooney was everything the predominately female audience hoped for — funny, charming, self-deprecating and dreamy. Just days before his 51st birthday on Sunday — the audience sang an early "Happy Birthday" to him — he seems more like a mischievious bad boy than infallible human being, which makes him that much more appealing.
His personal motto is a good one: "Be the person that your dog thinks you are," he said.
While there wasn't a lot of new territory uncovered — most fans already know about his passionate advocacy of the Sudan, his mansion in Italy and his fabulous life — Clooney revealed a few things we didn't realize about him and confirmed a few things we did.
1. He's refreshingly normal
At every opportunity thoughout his evening in Houston, Clooney seemed to strive to break through his "movie star" confinement and make connections with everyday people. He hugged a Sudanese refugee onstage, asked her what life in Houston was like for her, and appeared genuinely interested. (She replied through an interpreter that for the first time in her life, she was allowed to go to school).
During a short question-and-answer session, a St. Thomas University student asked him to choose three words to describe himself. After he rattled off "confused," "intimidated," and "gray — unfortunately," he good-naturedly turned the tables on her.
"What three words basically describe you?" he asked her.
"Seriously?" she said and seemed stunned that he would care.
Then she quickly regained her poise and responded, "Blessed," "energetic" and "happy."
Later in the evening, in the midst of a frenzy to meet him at the home of John and Becca Cason Thrash during a dinner where guests paid $2,500 each to attend, he reached out to CultureMap photographer Michelle Watson to see if she was OK.
"Are you getting trampled?" he asked.
When she said she was fine, he smiled.
At the Wortham, when interviewer Lynn Wyatt asked him, "What's it like to be George Clooney?" he responded, "I have a fairly normal life, believe it or not," listing a home, a family and dog.
And we believed him.
2. Fame came to him late in life
Part of Clooney's balanced philosophy comes because he became a big success relatively late in life. He was 33 — really old by Hollywood standards — when he became an "overnight" star in the hit television series ER. Prior to that, he had appeared in 13 failed TV pilots and seven other TV series (including the Facts of Life and Sisters).
"Having failed a lot, you get a much better perspective," he said.
3. He can't sing
When he was filming the 2000 movie, Brother, O Where Art Thou?, everyone assumed Clooney could sing because his aunt was the great singer Rosemary Clooney. (She died in 2002.) They soon learned otherwise, he explained, once he opened his mouth.
“I figured I could sing, too. So I went into the booth and gave it my all,” he said. But when he finished, the producers all had their heads bowed. “No one would even look at me,” he said.
End of singing career.
4. As a child, he wasn't particularly close to his famous aunt
Before moving to Los Angeles at age 20 to seek an acting career, he had only seen his famous aunt "five or 10" times in his life, he said. "I always envied my cousins in LA," said Clooney, who grew up in Kentucky, where his father was a news anchorman.
5. He adores his parents
Clooney said he directed and starrted in the 2005 movie, Good Night, And Good Luck, which pays homage to broadcast great Edward R. Murrow, as a tribute to his father, Nick Clooney, who adhered to the highest standards of journalism during his career. When the movie premiered at the New York Film Festival, his parents attended and a spotlight shone on them at the end of the movie, which Clooney said was one of the magic moments of his life.
"You can't get in trouble if you get arrested with your father," he told the Houston audience to loud laughter and applause.
"What if this dog doesn't like me?" Clooney fretted. "I can't explain I'm the two-time sexiest man alive."
Click here to read George Clooney charms the ladies (and a few guys) at Brilliant Lecture Series black-tie dinner