Clooney downplays competition with self, Alexander Payne

It’s Clooney vs. Clooney at the awards podium — and the box office, for a spell — but don’t tell that to George Clooney.

At a Saturday press conference for family drama “The Descendants,” which Fox Searchlight will release Nov. 18, Clooney was asked about the timing of that Alexander Payne film and his own helming/acting effort, Sony’s political drama “The Ides of March” (Oct. 7), also screening at Toronto.

“I find that it’s a very odd thing to think of competition when talking about what I still think of as art. I never think of competing with actors or filmmakers,” he said. “You still compete at the box office, (but) we’re far enough apart that I’m not concerned with that, either. At the end of the day I don’t really think about competition. I don’t want to think of it as a race with anyone.”

Like it or not, Clooney could be lining up against Payne for top director kudos. “I don’t want to race Alexander,” Clooney said. “That would be a drag.”

Later in the Bell Lightbox conference, with Payne and young stars Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller and Nick Krause onstage with him, Clooney was reminded that when he won his best supporting actor Oscar for “Syriana” in 2006, he joked: “All right, so I’m not winning (best) director” (an allusion to his nom that night for helming “Good Night, and Good Luck”).

So how about now?

“That’s a harsh thing to ask,” he said wryly. “I’ve won an award once, so when I die they say ‘Oscar winner’ — it’s a great sort of thing to have on the tombstone. But I really don’t have this dying need to collect things.”

Though he’s deft with the politics of awards season now, Clooney hinted there was a time when he wasn’t so cavalier.

“There’s a point in time where you start in this and you do get competitive. You can get caught up trying to compete with people. Then you realize that this is silly — we’re comparing artists, and I don’t understand that.”

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