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Ocean's Twelve -- plus one

It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. Interviewing the stars of Ocean's Twelve at a beautiful resort in sunny Palm Desert… sigh, a roll of the eye... It's all in a day's work for me.

In the sequel to 2001's box office hit Ocean's Eleven, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) and his hand-picked crew of criminal whiz-kids gather in lavish European locations to steal enough money to appease their last and biggest mark, Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia). Benedict was not only taken for an awful lot of money; Ocean also filched his statuesque fianc�e, Tess (Julia Roberts). Understandably, he's mad enough to kill -- and by hook or crook he wants his dough returned.

Cardsharp Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) is now a hotel entrepreneur but when Benedict's death threats hit him (and his fancy roadster) where it hurts, he and the entire crew are back in the crime game to steal enough money to pay it all back. The crew once again includes pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon); demolitions maestro Bashir Tarr (Don Cheadle); seasoned con man Saul Bloom (Carl Reiner); rich Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould); bickering bros Virgil and Turk Malloy (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan); electronics expert Livingston Dell (Eddie Jemison); inside man Frank Catton (Bernie Mac); and finally, contortionist cat-burglar Yen (Shaobo Qin).

As the crew hunts down theft-worthy treasures in Amsterdam, Rome and Paris, they spar with various new characters played by Eddie Izzard, Vincent Cassel and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Of the new kids on the block, only Catherine Zeta-Jones was there to chat with the press -- and she certainly held her own with experienced quipsters George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Don Cheadle.

At the big, lavish conference, much was made of the joke in the movie that Danny Ocean looks 50 years old. One cheeky reporter even went right up close to George to get a closer look, and another one, who was seated way in the back of the room, told him, "You look about 25 from here."

I was only a mere few feet away from the fab five, and I must say they all looked smashing -- Catherine was beautifully made up, wearing faded jeans and a glittery shrug; Brad wore brown and made it look good; the eternally boyish-looking Matt smacked gum while he answered questions; Don was resplendent in a crisp white shirt; and George? Well, let's just say looking 50 or not, George always looks damn good.

Q: George, what do you think about turning 50 one day?
Matt: What do you mean, one day?

George: I hate everyone in this room right now. We put that into the script because I was in Italy last year and some younger girl said to me, "Georgio, how old are you?" And I was stupid enough to ask the question that you should never ask which is, "Well, how old do you think I am?" And she said, "50." I said, "You think I'm 50 years old?" She said, "51?" So Steven thought it would be funny to put it in the film.

Q: Jude Law has been selected as this year's Sexiest Man Alive. Were you at all upset about that, Brad? [Pitt is the only man ever to be named "Sexiest Man Alive" twice by People Magazine.]

Brad: I think Matt was more shaken by it, as he campaigned hard, put up a good fight. But I think if he keeps applying himself like he has been this year, we'll see some greatness from him. George and I started a class, as former sexiest men alive, and we're working with the young-uns, and of course Jude's at the top of his class immediately. It was obvious to us that he was a natural, so we had great hopes for that.

Q: OK, let's talk about the movie. How did the idea for a sequel come about?
Brad: This movie was actually hatched during our press trip for the first one. Our last stop was Italy. We were sitting at a restaurant after having some beautiful pasta, and Steven said, "I have an idea for the second one." It was born there.

Q: Will there be yet another sequel?

George: We came up with our own theory, which was the musical, Ocean's 5-6-7-8! Look, we're not even thinking about it. Honestly, we really aren't. The only reason we did the last one was because Steven said here's a great idea. Jerry [Weintraub, the producer] said, "Let's put it together."

Q: How differently did you approach this material as opposed to the first film?

Matt: What's different for me this time is, I didn't actually read the script.

George: Yeah, that's not important to us.

Matt: I think if you approach it that way, then you're always going to be...

George: Surprised, really.

Matt: Gob-smacked.

George: We find that to work really well [not reading the script]. I did that with Batman and Robin, too.

Matt: You could tell just from looking at that movie.

George: There were a lot of surprises in that.

Don: It's a lot more fun, playing people who are totally fallible and screwing up, it was a lot more fun to play this time around.

George: It's sort of a natural progression. The first one, we really planned it out. We decided to do it. We [our characters] were forced into the situation where we had to do it and all of a sudden when we were on the defensive. It was a completely different set of rules, and that was, to me, what I think was the most fun. The audience and us all felt that we may not pull this off.

Matt: And also you're introducing a new character, a central character in the movie who's trying to catch us so if it seems like we're just going to get away with it, it kind of weakens that character's structure. You want her to be one step ahead of us, stealing Rusty's phone, and things like that. You want her to be formidable.

Q: Are you formidable, Catherine?

Catherine: My character has the blood of the best thief in the world and as much as she hates them, hasn't seen her father and is distressed over her lost love, there's a lot to play with. Also, it was nice that I was in Europe, being European, I was very proud to give a speech at The Hague. It was also very good to know that Europol agents wear red leather to work. When I was researching the character, I didn't think I'd be wearing red leather!

Q: How competitive are you guys with the new cast members, like Vincent Cassel?

George: He is very handsome, first of all. Pretty-boy Cassel. Yeah, I'm competitive, sure, but especially with agile French men. There's a joke in there but I don't know what it is. I'll have to work on it.

Q: Why does the film appear grittier?
Matt: I think we're just older and look less glamorous.

George: Thank you.

Matt: And by we, you know who I'm talking about.

George: Once again, that one hurt. That one hurt. I was going to smack him with the microphone. If you look at the first one, the first one actually was shot less. It wasn't as grand as I think people remember it. When you look at it, it's still a lot of handheld camera. Steven uses things, he's always been trying to bring into it the things he learned from independent films, foreign films, back into studio pictures. I think this is another step towards that which is I think you're right. It's a little grittier but it's still high end entertainment. We're not disemboweling anyone. Well, there were a couple we did.

Don: I don't think those made it.

George: No, they were cut.

Don: That got cut. Oh, I think it's on a much bigger pallet than the first one. And I think he's playing with colors in a different way, and also sound. I just think it's a lot more fun and it moves more. It's a lot more kinetic than the first one to me. And I think that as George was saying, he's bringing elements into big studio feature films from an independent world, from a foreign world, things to me that are always much more exciting than just sort of the standard slick Hollywood take.

Q: How did you get any work done when you're having so much fun? What's a typical day?

Matt: I think Steven Soderbergh... I'm sure he sees these things about how much fun it was and he wants to throttle us because really, the heavy lifting on these movies really does fall to Steven, which he likes. He likes it that way. He's a creatively really restless person, loves to work and I think that's one of the reasons he likes to direct and be the cinematographer and camera operator and then go home and edit at night. So these movies, for me anyway, they're always going to feel easier just because the work's divided up a dozen different ways. We're used to doing movies where we go every day to work and we're working five, six days a week and never have a day off. In Ocean's, we have three days off a week or something like that. The days we work, we really did work. We actually had to show up for 12 hours, but by and large, I think it's always going to feel easier to us. Easier for us, but really, really hard on Steven.

George: You didn't answer her question, you know. That was sort of a political answer.

Matt: Typical day of work was...

George: We get up, we go to work at a decent hour. We would work for, I don't know, eight, nine hours. And then start drinking. Go to the rooftop, start drinking.

Q: George, when you gained weight for the role [in the upcoming movie Syriana], were you being treated differently?

George: Yes, I did [gain weight]. Thank you. And I'm 50.

Matt: Well, it's not like when Gwyneth Paltrow put on the fat suit and nobody could recognize her. He looked like George. He just looked really heavy and like 50.

George: These are my friends. Imagine the people who aren't my friends, what they'd do. No, listen, it's a good thing. I wouldn't do it again. I'll do it once. I'm in the process of trying to lose a lot of that weight. It's hard on your system. It was interesting too. You were certainly less recognizable and that made it sort of interesting, but we were in some places you didn't really want to go out anyway. Over in the Middle East, so Matt and I stayed in our hotel rooms a lot.

Matt: Eating.

George:
Eating and eating and eating.

Matt: I put on 20 pounds for no reason. It was not a character choice, just an accident.

Q: Is this still the greatest gig on earth?
George: Mm-hmm. Who is it, I'm trying to remember, it was Jimmy Stewart or somebody who said, like, "If something could talk you out of it, it should. Let it." Yeah, it's a great gig. Let's face it. It's a really great gig. We all like it. That's why we continue to do it. We really like it at this level because we get to be more creative. You get to have some input in what you're making as opposed to just relying on what they want to do.

Don: I agree 100 percent and for me, it was great to do anotherOcean's because it was kind of a rest from what I'd just been doing. Sort of reunite with all these friends. We'd think of movie ideas on the set and just really be creative and think about other projects that we wanted to pursue later. So it's just really been a cool breeding ground, in a good way. A good Petri dish to just have everything cooking.

George: Actually, there was no camaraderie at all on the set on this one. Always fun people, except for Julia. We don't like her, or her twins.

Q: We heard about some pranks that took place while you guys were on location...

George: Brad did some dastardly things to me. When we first got to Italy, Brad had a memo put out in Italian that said to all the Italian crew that 'Mr. Clooney would appreciate it if you would only engage him as Danny Ocean or Mr. Ocean, and don't look at him in the eyes'. It was almost a month before I figured it out. Everywhere I went, it was like, 'Okay Mr. Ocean,' until I finally said, 'What the hell?'

Brad: His prima donna behavior became a problem on this movie, and he can paint it any way he wants to, but it was a problem.

George: When it got into the paper that I was like this diva that made all the crew call me Mr. Ocean, I felt like I had to get him. So I just put a bumper sticker on the back of his car, 'I'm gay and I vote.' Then it was 'Small Penis on Board'.'

Catherine: I thought the guys didn't like me, because I didn't have any jokes played on me. But I have been informed that the jokes can take up to three years to play out -- I've known George for two years now, so I have a year left, I guess.

Brad: I think the biggest joke was on Catherine, because she actually thought we were making a movie. Being the new kid, nobody told her, because she was up running lines and breaking down her character.

Q: Catherine, how did you stack up against the guys?

Catherine: I don't know about my humor, but god, we have a good laugh when we hang out and the guys are funny, and it's just contagious. I'm intimidated every day I go on the stage and every day I go on a movie set. It's terrifying and I always want to re-shoot the first day or the first week, I'm so terrified. When meeting them altogether for the first time, it's such a powerful force. All these guys together, you know, and it was just easy and simple and they welcomed me in with open arms. I had to leave my prissy girliness at the door, just join in and it was great, but I do get terrified every day I go on sets.

Q: You, terrified?
Catherine: I'm a regular woman, so I always have some type of insecurities. I'm always asking my husband if my bum is too big.

Q: Did you, as a mother, have any advice for Julia Roberts?

Catherine: It's nice to see somebody having that experience for the first time, reminding me how ecstatic it was for me. I remember the advice my mother told me; 'You enjoy it now. You enjoy every moment as it gets better and better.'

Q: There are two great actresses in Ocean's Twelve; Julia and of course Catherine...

Brad: We were just excited to get Catherine. First of all, because she brings this great elegance to it and a lot of the film was going to be focused on her. She was going to have to carry that thing; so it would have to be someone who could carry that kind of weight. The thing about Catherine is there is this great beauty and elegance but at the same time, she'll drink any one of you under the table.

Q: How did you get the role, Catherine?

Catherine: I had met Jerry before, and I worked with George and Steve Soderbergh on Traffic and so on with Julia, and I knew that Ocean's Twelve was going to be starting up soon. I didn't think for one minute that it was going to be anyone other than the characters that were formed already. So when I got the call from Jerry and Steven, I took a look at the script and I was in.

Q: What about the relationship between yours and Brad's characters?

Catherine: We wanted to make them different from Danny and Tess. She's loving this guy so much and having to be dumped by him and then the relationship sort of comes together and she's so happy. I bet I'm hated by women around the world for having to kiss this guy. My husband would say to me, 'What are you doing today, honey?' and I'd say 'Oh, I'm kissing Brad on a bridge.' The next day, 'Oh, I'm kissing Brad in the car or someplace.' It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it. We had a lot of fun. I'd love to do another movie with him in a different connotation. Maybe a musical.

Q: Is it hard work being away from home for so long?

Brad: I'd like to call it work, but it's pretty automatic for us. First of all, there's a very low level of maturity among the guys. Then we've got very beautiful women around to make us look a little better. Like I said, it's pretty automatic.

Q: How did this differ from working in Las Vegas, as you did on the first movie?

Brad: Europe and Vegas are just the antithesis of each other as far as culture and lack of culture, I guess. Bright neon and everything new versus history and ancient... just the patina of the old cities leads to a completely different feel and, I guess, a completely different look visually to the film. So, I really don't know how to compare them.

Q: How much of the plot and scenes were improvised in Ocean's Twelve?

Matt: Well, structurally, heist movies in general script-wise have to be really tight, because there are so many storylines going and so much happening and they're so plot-oriented a lot of the time, so there was leeway for all of us within a set structure, but the script was pretty...

George: Had to be pretty tight by design.

Matt: But there are still a lot of little character stuff that were open to us. Eight or nine months out, Steven sent us all a script with a note attached saying call me with ideas, suggestions. The environment's incredibly relaxed, so it's kind of fair game that you take a shot with stuff and see if you get a reaction from him and if he starts chuckling, then you stay with it. And if not, you go running back with your tail between your legs to the script.

Don: And say it was George's idea.

I don't know if it was George's idea or not, but the press conference wrapped up much too quickly and we all had to leave the desert nirvana, head back to our dark rooms and little keyboards, fortify ourselves with coffee, and write our stories.

Once this is done, I'll probably have to interview Tom Cruise or Jude Law. Will the misery never end?

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