George Clooney reveals freak-out moment when he learned his star in 'The Midnight Sky' was pregnant
George Clooney didn’t have the easiest time making The Midnight Sky, his adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s 2016 novel Good Morning, Midnight. For one, he gave himself the task of both directing and starring in the film as terminally ill scientist Augustine Lofthouse, who remains on a dying Earth (as the rest of humanity evacuates) to warn any returning spacecrafts of the planet’s apocalyptic condition. Clooney also chose to shoot his Arctic-set portions of the film in Iceland, often in freezing temperatures and blizzard-like conditions.
But as he recounts in this exclusive clip from The Hollywood Reporter’s Oscars roundtable discussion, perhaps his greatest challenge had to do with his leading lady Felicity Jones, who delivered a bombshell that had him freaking out about the project’s future.
The Midnight Sky is a bifurcated affair, with half of its action taking place on Earth (with Clooney’s character) and the other half set aboard a spaceship populated by astronauts played by Jones, David Oyelowo, Kyle Chandler and Demián Bichir. And as Clooney tells fellow acclaimed directors Lee Isaac Chung ("Minari"), Spike Lee ("Da Five Bloods'), Regina King ("One Night in Miami"), Paul Greengrass ("News of the World"), George C. Wolfe ("Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom') and Chloé Zhao ("Nomadland"), while shooting his portion of the sci-fi epic, he got news from Jones that left his jaw on the floor.
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“It’s kind of two films, and I shot my half first. We’re in Iceland on a glacier, and I got a call from Felicity and she says, 'Well, I’m pregnant!' And you know, I knew what to do — I knew how to answer that, which is, congratulations. But if you saw my face, I’m like, 'Oh sh**!'" Clooney admits with a chuckle.
Given that Jones’s pregnancy wasn’t part of the original script, that proved a considerable wrench in Clooney’s plans. Initially, the filmmaker thought that the surest way forward was to simply shoot around his lead actress’ growing belly — a common tactic used when such situations arise mid-production.
Nonetheless, that turned out to be less than successful. “We started to shoot around it, which is always a mistake, because you can’t shoot it around it," Clooney shares. "People know when you’re hiding things. So we just looked at it and said, 'Look, they’ve been in space for two years. People have sex.' It’s like going on location,” he laughs. Moreover, Clooney took inspiration from current Best Actress nominee Frances McDormand’s iconic character in Joel and Ethan Cohen’s Fargo, who investigates a series of increasingly grisly crimes while pregnant.
“I just thought, like Fran in Fargo, women every single day are pregnant and going to work and doing their job, and why not in space, and why not deal with it?” he says.
So Clooney integrated Jones’ real-world pregnancy into the drama of The Midnight Sky, taking a lesson from his early training in improv. “It meant, on the fly, having to change some of the story. But you know, I came out of doing a lot of improv, and one of the things you learn from improv is always, 'Yes, and.' If you say no, you kill the improv. So this was. 'Yes, and.' You just said, 'If she’s pregnant, then what’s the next step?' Make it an additive as opposed to something you’re afraid of or had to walk away from.”
It’s a tack that works seamlessly in The Midnight Sky, as proven by the reaction to Clooney’s anecdote byOscar-nominated Nomadland director Chloé Zhao, who shared she couldn't believe that Jones’ character’s pregnancy wasn’t a part of Brooks-Dalton’s book. That said, Zhao reveals that she also made quite a few on-the-fly adjustments while filming her latest, since many of her non-professional actors didn’t agree to share their real-world stories on-camera until the morning a given scene was going to be shot — requiring last-minute changes that Zhao now believes is “very lucky” to have as part of her film.
To hear more about Clooney’s topsy-turvy experiences on The Midnight Sky, check out the above exclusive clip from The Hollywood Reporter. The 93rd Academy Awards takes place on April 25, 2021.
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