George Clooney

Space gives Section 8 partner room to emote

Critical analysis: “George Clooney projects the brooding solipsism of a man’s man encased in a shell of loneliness. In the Hollywood pantheon of recycled heroes, he suggests a Clark Gable for the new millennium, without the raised eyebrow and rakish leer.”

— Stephen Holden, New York Times

Awards pedigree: Won the 2001 Golden Globe for “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Won three SAG kudos, and received two Emmy and three Golden Globes noms for his work on “ER.”

Upcoming: Co-starring in his directorial debut, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.” Next up is Coen brothers comedy “Intolerable Cruelty.”

George Clooney has never been to the Oscars. If his minimalistic performance in “Solaris” strikes the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters the way it has some critics, he might just have to go out and get himself a new suit this March.

As tortured widower Chris Kelvin, Clooney shows a depth previously unseen in characters like the randy Doug Ross of “ER,” the farcical Ulysses in “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and charming con man Danny Ocean in “Ocean’s Eleven.”

Clooney was drawn to the challenge of the emotional complexity of the character, light years away from the flirtatious roles he so frequently plays.

“I loved the story. I loved the fact that Steven (Soderbergh) was going to stick his neck so far out and experiment with belief systems and design it with no answers,” Clooney says of his relationship with the Academy Award-winning helmer.

When he heard that Soderbergh was contemplating using another actor for the lead, Clooney wrote a letter — rather than just asking — his Section 8 Prods. partner for consideration.

“There were none of the things that actors get, not even a crutch,” Clooney says of the unique challenge of playing a solitary character in a film that dwells more on metaphysics than astrophysics. “There’s no humor or charm or action sequences, nothing that you can hide behind. You have to just be present and be emotionally raw.”

That rawness was enhanced by Clooney spending most of his nights in his trailer while making the film. He was editing his directorial debut, “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” every night after “Solaris” wrapped for the day and got an extra hour of sleep by staying on the lot.

About Oscar possibilities, Clooney responds, “If you win one, you get it, stick it up on your shelf and three days later… you go back to doing what I do every day. If nice things happen, it’s phenomenal, but I’ve never looked for it.”