In “Up in the Air,” George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham fires people for a living.
Bingham works for a company that keeps him airborne for more than 200 days a year, living out of a suitcase and collecting frequent-flyer miles (his goal is to get 10 million) as he crisscrosses the country ousting crestfallen office workers from their jobs.
“If you’re going to have a guy who fires people for a living, you need the most charming person alive for that role,” says “Air” helmer Jason Reitman (“Juno,” “Thank You for Smoking”). “George is the most charming person in the world. I knew he would understand the charmer requirement to play the role in a believable and nuanced way.”
But there’s far more to Clooney’s protagonist than a guy who delivers bad news in the form of an informational packet and a modest severance package. He’s also a person hiding from serious commitment when it comes to planting roots or connecting with his family.
His sister is getting married and he hasn’t even met her fiance. His love life consists of airport layover liaisons with a fellow itinerant played by all-business Vera Farmiga.
“Ryan is a man trying to think about who he is and what he wants from his life,” explains Reitman. “There’s a vulnerability in this role that George has never shown before. He gave it to us as a gift. He just played these beats beautifully. He’s an actor who thinks like a director, so he’s constantly aware of what his role needs to be, and he comes at it with zero ego. It was a really wonderful collaboration.”
As for how Clooney (who won the supporting actor Oscar for “Syriana”) plays every role with an ease and nonchalance not witnessed since the matinee idol days of Cary Grant, Reitman is nonplussed.
“I am in awe of what he does onscreen,” gushes the director. “I don’t know how he does it.”