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Cooler Than Mr. Freeze

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Perched 14 floors above the busy metropolis, Batman and Robin stand united--hurling chunks of muffin and grapes off a balcony of Beverly Hills’ Four Seasons Hotel.

It’s a fitting first glimpse of George Clooney, 36, and Chris O’Donnell, 26, who--with director Joel Schumacher--considerably lighten up the Dark Knight’s brooding image in “Batman & Robin.” (The “ER” star’s debut as the Caped Crusader opens Friday.)

It’s also typical behavior for a Dynamic Duo known for Bat-mooning their crew and serenading co-star Alicia Silverstone with X-rated riffs on Andrew Lloyd Webber. “They’re the sons of Satan,” Schumacher says with a laugh, before adding, “their parents should be proud. They’re very real, not a shred of pretension. I want to be George Clooney when I grow up and have Chris as my brother or son.”

As the two stars finally plop onto a couch and jostle like teenagers for leg space, it’s clear seriousness is a bigger enemy than Batman’s latest nemesis, Mr. Freeze.

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George Clooney: Here’s the thing. You start asking questions, and we have to throw you over the balcony. We were testing the aerodynamics with the muffins.

Question: When did you guys first meet?

Chris O’Donnell: We met at a Planet Hollywood opening. We were high-fiving over being named to the Top 10 best dressed list.

Clooney: We didn’t make the list after that.

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Q: Did you meet again when George went to the “Batman Forever” [the sequel that starred Val Kilmer as Batman] premiere?

O’Donnell: I don’t speak to TV actors. [to Clooney] That’s when you started to plot your takeover, right?

Clooney: [hypno-stare, whispers] “Val, leeeave . . . walk away. . . .”

O’Donnell: “Val’s been very difficult, Val’s been very difficult. . . .” He whispered that to everybody.

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Clooney: Actually, at the premiere I went into the bathroom midway through the film, and Val was in there, washing his face, sweating! So now I’ll be in the bathroom . . . come check it out.

O’Donnell: And whoever comes in the bathroom when you’re there will be . . . the next Batman!

Clooney: Abe Vigoda’s gonna be there! [Both convulse with laughter--Clooney does old Jewish man voice.] “Hey! Robin! Run down that Freeze!”

Q: You’re supposed to do the next Batman film [Clooney’s three-picture deal with Warner Bros. is worth about $28 million] but if that deal goes south, who’d you like to play Batman?

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Clooney: Gary Coleman.

O’Donnell: I was going to say Emmanuel Lewis.

Q: Chris, is George easier to get along with than Val?

O’Donnell: I got along great with Val. It’s just, after a scene, he’ll go back to his trailer. George likes to hang out with the crew, goof around and. . . .

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Clooney: Kick your ass in basketball.

Q: I heard one day you threw some hoops with Dean Cain.

Clooney: Yeah, Dean Cain, Chris and I took on these three guys at Warner Bros., and they beat the hell out of us. They got to go home and say they beat Batman, Robin and Superman. [Chortles.]

Q: People may not realize this isn’t your first film sequel. . . .

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Clooney: I did “Return of the Killer Tomatoes,” “Return to Horror High.” My first film was “Grizzly Two, the Predator.” It was never finished. Me, Charlie Sheen and Laura Dern--in Budapest! It was supposed to take place in Northern California, but it was cheaper to shoot in Budapest. We did a rock concert scene with 20,000 Hungarians who’d never been to a rock concert in their lives. The assistant director would go, “OK, everybody, wave your arms!” and everybody would go [a Frankenstein monster scowl, arms stiff at sides], “Mmmm. . . .” It was awful.

Q: Between that and 15 TV pilots, you’ve paid your dues--but Chris, there’s the perception you got famous overnight.

O’Donnell: In my own mind, I’ve been famous since I was 5 or 6.

Q: Having six siblings, did you feel some of the jealousy Robin does in this film?

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O’Donnell: I didn’t have the full Jan Brady syndrome, which is what Robin’s going through--"Batman, Batman, BATMAN!” No, I was a spoiled brat.

Q: George, what’s he like now?

Clooney: I’m just shocked this guy is a star. It’s wonderful what they do to him in post. . . . They add the sound effects, Glenn Close loops his voice. . . . No, Chris is a pro, and he works the way I like to work--he has fun doing it.

Q: Speaking of fun, you’re famous for pulling pranks, like turning the “Batman” emblem upside down and telling Joel Schumacher it was like that all day.

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Clooney: Yeah, after they shoot the expensive stuff. I did one practical joke I’m gonna break right now. I play a doctor on this little television show I do. I got some doctor friends of mine . . . and . . . well, we conned Arnold [Schwarzenegger] into thinking he needed heart surgery. I’m pretty proud of that.

Q: In spite of all this, Joel Schumacher has called you “a more mature, accessible Batman.”

Clooney: That’s because I have gray hair.

Q: How much did they tailor the script to fit your personality?

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O’Donnell: They saw George and said, “We gotta go for the spoof!”

Clooney: And we’re gonna have to make it an ensemble! It was originally called “Batman & Batman.” Then I came on and they said, “We gotta get Schwarzenegger to prop it up.”

Q: Review your performance.

Clooney: The role belongs to Michael Keaton. Val came in and saved the franchise and my job is not to screw it up. In seeing the movie, I think I did my job.

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Q: Chris used the word “spoof” . . . some Bat-fans won’t take kindly to the lighter tone of this movie.

Clooney: Well, you ain’t gonna make everybody happy. I don’t want to see a movie where [Batman] keeps feeling sorry for himself and can’t go on with his life. He’s got two other people in the house whose parents are dead, too, so he can’t just sit around talking about his parents being dead!

And I actually don’t think it’s really all that light. Alfred dies . . . shall we tell that? [Clooney may be lying.]

O’Donnell: And we’ll have Abe Vigoda as Alfred II.

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Clooney: Michael Gough, who plays Alfred, is 117 years old.

Q: You’ve said Batman has “a great life--a mansion, good friends, beautiful women, all the coolest toys and he has a great sense of humor about it.”

O’Donnell: You are Bruce Wayne!

Clooney: It just dawned on you, didn’t it?

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Q: If you’re Bruce Wayne, does that mean you avoid emotional commitment?

Clooney: Well, I don’t know about that. I’m not getting married--been there, done that. [Clooney was married briefly to actress Talia Balsam; he’s currently dating French lawyer Celine Balitran.] I am thinking of marrying Chris. If he’ll have me.

Q: Since you brought that up, the Batman story involves two men who live together. . . .

Clooney: They wear rubber suits. . . .

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O’Donnell [Seizes George]: He’s just definitely the sexiest Batman I ever worked with!

Q: I’m guessing you didn’t use this as back story on the film.

Clooney: No, Joel did that for us. [O’Donnell laughs.] No, seriously, didn’t even think about it.

Q: You and Chris both had films out last December . . . “In Love and War” and “One Fine Day.”

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Clooney: Did that come out?

O’Donnell: Caroline [O’Donnell’s new bride] loved that movie. She saw it on an airplane.

Clooney: That’s where we went to. Right to an airplane.

O’Donnell: We went right to Spectravision.

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Clooney: Chris and I were on the set at the time going, “How’d yours tank? Mine tanked pretty bad! Hey, there’s always dinner theater!” We’re gonna be doing “The King and I” next.

Q: It probably softens the blow to have a movie tank while you’re wearing the Bat costume.

O’Donnell: That’s not true. Because as an actor, you’re always insecure, thinking, “Oh, my God, am I gonna work again?” [eyes Clooney] I mean, it’s a little different when you have a 40-share TV series.

Clooney: Yeah, I get to fall back into the obscurity of 30 million people watching me every week.

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Q: Chris, did you invite this guy to your wedding?

O’Donnell: Yeah. George was a no-show.

Clooney: I was in Chicago, working--the wrong place at the wrong time.

Q: Is Chris now trying to reform your bachelor ways?

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O’Donnell: Nooo, sir! I live to hear the stories.

Clooney: Mr. Married over here. . . .

O’Donnell: [Screams.] Six weeks, baby!

Clooney: They said it wouldn’t last!

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Q: Plan on a lot of kids?

O’Donnell: Maybe half a dozen.

Clooney: [Points.] Let me just say this. Irish.

Q: And George, you’ve called yourself “white trash.”

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Clooney: Wait a minute--[raises tan arm]--I’m not that white anymore! We didn’t grow up in trailers, although we did move around when the rent was due. We’d vacillate from my dad having a very good job [Nick Clooney, now on AMC, was a popular Midwestern TV host] to being unemployed.

Q: Your dad also started your career of acting in costume. Didn’t you wear an Easter bunny outfit on one of his shows?

Clooney: Yeah, it was Easter . . . I think I was 13, and I was at home trying on the costume in Kentucky where I lived, and the ground started shaking. It was the first earthquake Augusta’d had in 150 years--things were flying--and I was running out in these giant feet and full bunny outfit on a Sunday afternoon yelling, “What the hell’s going on?!!” That’s humiliating. Imagine if you’re Frank Gifford. This is his hotel room, by the way.

Q: Chris, two floors down, Will Smith is doing interviews for “Men in Black"--I heard you turned down that part.

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O’Donnell: [Squirms.] Uh . . . I don’t know. . . .

Clooney: Oh, you turned it down, did you? Smart move! “Yeah, I didn’t want to do ‘E.T.’ or ‘Gandhi’ that year . . . I did ‘Ishtar’!”

[As Clooney roars, a hotel busboy peers into the room and asks if he can take out the remaining food.]

Clooney: Yeah . . . you better. Somebody was in here throwing some of it out the window.

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