George Clooney Says a Failed Movie Audition Made Him Realize His Career as a TV Actor

Today, George Clooney is a Hollywood star who has appeared in many successful films. But there once was a time in Clooney’s acting career when he struggled to make the transition from the small screen to the big screen. Thanks to a failed movie audition for a part that had only a few lines, Clooney realized he’d become a TV actor. 

George Clooney rose to fame on ‘ER’

George Clooney as Dr. Doug Ross on 'ER'
George Clooney as Dr. Doug Ross on ER | NBCU Photo Bank

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Before commanding millions of dollars for movie roles, Clooney made a name for himself as Doctor Doug Ross on the hit medical drama, ER. He starred on the NBC series for years and in doing so established himself as one of the most successful TV actors. 

ER became a major hit for NBC and went on to become one of the most expensive TV shows ever. Getting record-breaking ratings in 1996 and 1997, NBC dished out $13 million per episode.

The hope? To maintain stellar viewership and keep Clooney on the show. However, the increased budget didn’t do either. Viewership didn’t continue to break records and Clooney eventually exited the series in 1999. 

George Clooney considering himself ‘a film actor doing television’ until ‘Guarding Tess’

Now, any movie would love to have Clooney but that wasn’t always the case. It’s hard to believe the now-59-year-old ever having a difficult time getting cast in a movie.

Despite continually losing out on roles, Clooney continued to audition because he wanted to work in film. But after a failed audition for a small part in Guarding Tess, the 1994 film starring Shirley MacLaine and Nicholas Cage, Clooney admitted to himself that he’d become a TV actor. 

George Clooney at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival
George Clooney at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival | J. Merritt/WireImage

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The now-father of two said as much in a 2002 interview with The New York Times.

“I was on ER and I was trying to not just do TV,” Clooney said. “For years, before ER, I was very successful in television.”

The actor was so successful, making thousands and thousands of dollars but he couldn’t land a part in a movie.

“I was making $40,000 a week, and still, I could not get an audition for two lines in a movie called Guarding Tess,” he said. 

At that point, he realized he’d become a TV actor on his to becoming a film actor. 

“All along, I had thought of myself as a film actor doing television, but at some point, you have to face reality: I was a TV actor,” Clooney said. 

George Clooney lost out to Brad Pitt for a role in ‘Thelma and Louise’

Brad Pitt and George Clooney at the premiere of '8'
Brad Pitt and George Clooney at the premiere of 8| Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

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Not getting cast in movies had been going on for a number of years before Clooney starred in ER. Brad Pitt beat out Clooney for Thelma and Louise. And according to Clooney, he went out of his way to avoid watching the critically acclaimed movie because of it. 

“The funniest thing is, I didn’t watch that movie for a long time,” Clooney said in 2011 of the film. “I was really stuck doing a lot of bad TV at that time. … I just couldn’t watch that movie for a couple of years.”

Although he did admit to later watching the film, saying he liked Pitt’s performance. Clooney also said had he been cast in the role of J.D., he “would’ve f*cked it up somehow.”

Now, decades after struggling to catch a break as a film actor, Clooney is an Oscar winner and a director. And he and Pitt ended up starring in the Ocean’s 11 franchise together.

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