Heist Society
The coolest thieves on the block are leaving Las Vegas. Ocean's Twelve takes Hollywood's newest rat pack around the world - bit did they have fun? God, yes...
(Total Film, February 2005)

So we are at the Bighorn golf club in Palm Desert, California, an upscale retreat two hours out of Los Angeles. Total Film spots Michael Douglas padding around one of the velvety greens, as the missus looks on...

"My husband is playing golf with these guys because they all get along so great," says Catherine Zeta Jones with undisguised glee. "What they all have in common is they're just regular guys once you take the 'movie star' away." Those "regular guys" being George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt.

Total Filrn has been invited to this A-list love-in by producer Jerry Weintraub, who insists that the chumminess isn't the usual brand of hollow Hollywood back-slapping. "They're all good friends," he says. "So they all wanted to come back." But, as Damon confirms, it still took a hefty nag from returning director Steven Soderbergh's producing partner Clooney to reunite this modern-day Rat Pack. "George called me and said, 'We're doing this again but we don't want it to be one of those sequels where everyone's price goes up' Damon pauses, a grin spreading across his face. "So he said, 'We're cutting the salaries to five percent less than last time!"'

"Steven and I have a rule," cuts in Clooney, resting a hand on Damon's shoulder. "We only work with people that we want to work with. It's part of the 'life's too short' theory. When we're putting these projects together, we look around at our friends first and say, 'This is what we're doing and we'd love you to be involved.' Of course, the danger with a film like this is that it can end up being really fun to shoot and yet not look fun on screen. But that's what happens if you don't have Steven Soderbergh directing.'

Clooney and co certainly talk a good game, but it's hard to shake the feeling that the original's $6oo million take might have had just a little something to do with the gang getting together for a sequel. Maths over art, maybe? Apparently not - Soderbergh first tabled the idea to Weintraub over dinner during the Ocean's Eleven promotional tour. "I'd fallen in love with Rome on my first visit," says the director with unwavering conviction. "Suddenly, I began thinking about what the story and structure might be and the idea of setting it in Europe began to take hold."

Ocean's Twelve is set three years after Danny Ocean (Clooney) and his crew - fronted by detail guy Rusty Ryan (Pitt), upstart pickpocket Linus Caldwell (Damon), explosives geek Basher Tarr (Don Cheadle) and safecracker Frank Catton (Bernie Mac) - pulled off one of the most daring heists in history. After splitting and frittering away the $160 million snatch from casino boss Terry Benedict's (Andy Carcia) Vegas vault, they've been going straight and laying low.

But then Benedict tracks them down, and the gang reconvene for three jobs across Europe: good for the characters (settling the beef with Benedict), the viewers (much cooing at the pretty Euro- spots) and, clearly, a fine, boozy old time for the actors.

During Soderbergh's Ocean's Twelve dreamtime, Weintraub passed him a script being developed for John Woo - Honour Among Thieves - about an Italian-French thief who tries to move in on the heist of an American thief. The project was quickly snapped up and Honour's writer George Nolfi was brought in to help Soderbergh overlay it on to his own ideas.

The process turned up an added twist: a beautiful Europol agent, Isabel Lahiri (Zeta-Jones), pursuing Italio-Frenchie Fracois Toulour (Vincent Cassel) and struggling with old-flame flickers for Tolour's American rival. A few more tweaks (Cassel's character leads Benedict to the original eleven; Zeta-Jones's character's affections were switched to Pitt to allow Clooney and Cassel to face off) and Soderbergh had his sequel.

"I think the character stuff in Ocean's Twelve, is even more interesting than in the first film" says Soderbergh. "Part of the fun here is seeing what each of the characters has done with their money and watching them find out who busted them with Benedict. Of course, once they've got that they have to decide what to do about it...'

As is Soderbergh's style, Ocean's Twelve was shot light and breezy, the bespectacled auteur determined to give it an off-the-cuff quality. But even he had his (quick) wits tested when Julia Robert, back as Danny's ex-wife Tess, discovered she was pregnant with twins shortly before filming began. Soderbergh reworked the story to incorporate the bump, giving the character a stronger role in the con itself, allowing Roberts to indulge her comedic side.

" Steven changed things around so that it became even more fun for me," raves Roberts, flashing famously wide smile. "This was my fourth film with him and there are never days that drag. Part of his efficiency comes from people being happy to serve the work and that was certainly the case on this movie. We were all really on the team together.'

Clooney acknowledges that Roberts' pregnancy forced her mostly male co-stars to behave a little differently. "We weren't quite as raunchy around her as we were the first time because all of a sudden she was a mom. But she was like, 'Why are you guys suddenly treating me like a grown-up now?"'

While Ocean's Eleven was shot on location in Atlantic City, Florida and in and around Las Vegas's Bellagio Hotel, this time around the entire production went on the road for to weeks of filming in Chicago, Amsterdam, Paris, Monte Carlo, Lake Como, Runic and Sicily.

'I'd like to say 1 had the time of my life on this film but I can't," groans a stony faced Pitt. "Crappy locations, rotten food - especially in Italy - and horrible company!"

Pitt's full of praise for the new girl, though, dropping his comedy routine the moment Catherine Zeta Jones's name is mentioned. "The thing about Catherine is that there's this great beauty and elegance, but at the same time she'll drink any one of you under the table!"

In Paris, they filmed scenes at the Sorbonne, the Australian Embassy, the Gare du Nord and various Parisian neighborhoods. 'We were shooting at the Australian Embassy on a terrace overlooking the Seine and the Eiffel tower', says Weintraub, "and I said to Steven, 'You know, the Eiffel Tower is out there.' He said, 'That's a cliché, we don't need to show it.' But in the finished film, an image of the Eiffel Tower appears as a reflection in Brad's sunglasses in a shot that I think will probably be studied by film students for the next 25 years.'

From Paris, Clooney and co headed to the chocolate-box Italian town of Lake Como, where they stayed at Clooney's modest villa. "At one point at mv house, Brad and Jen were staying in the room above me and Matt was next door, along with Steven, Jerry and Julia, so we were all under my one roof!" Clooney grins, evoking hazy memories of'70s movie-brat parties. "It felt like the Hearst Castle for a while and it was nothing but water balloon fights non-stop."

No surprise there, Clooney's fearsome reputation for cray-zee practical jokes preceding him wherever goes. Thing is, Georgie boy now often gets a taste of his own bitter medicine, with Pitt this time starting things off by creating a mock call-sheet in Italian. Handing it out to the crew prior to production, he included a stern note insisting that Clooney was adamant all crew members should only refer to him by character name. "For a month, everyone on the crew would say, 'Good morning, Mr Ocean' or, 'Lunch is ready, Mr Ocean' until George finally figured out where it was coming from,' Damon grins. He's looking at Pitt but his mischievous co-star is refusing to take the credit - or the blame - for the stunt. Take his side of the story and it was all Clooney's fault. "George's prima-donna behaviour became a problem on this movie," he sighs. "He can paint it anyway he wants to, but it was a problem."

Soderbergh's leading man retaliated by sneaking heavy-duty weights into Pitt's prop luggage for a scene that required him to grab his bags and board a train in one fluid movement. "The luggage was like iron but I found it added a level of realism to the scene that I crave in my performances,' Pitt says, still playing it straight. Then, finally, comes the smile. "It's all a testament to the complete and utter immaturity that can happen when people are not serious about their craft!"

Yet one person was left out of all the fun and games entirely. Victim of not one practical joke during the entire shoot, Zeta-Jones was left feeling like the new girl who didn't fit in - even though she's worked with both Soderbergh (Traffic) and Clooney (Intolerable Cruelty) before.

"I thought George wasn't my friend because I was waiting for the big prank and it never happened," she laments. "But when I told him, he just said, 'Catherine, it could take three years!' Well, I've known him for two years now. So I'm going to be looking over my shoulder a lot in the next year..."

Surely all this paradise couldn't come without a little trouble? Apart from rumbles about Roberts demanding reshoots because she didn't like her pregnant look, just about the only bum note in the whole affair was the budget hike involved in schlepping the production around Europe. But even that was eased by Weintraub's mateyness with the Italian ambassador.

Still, with all those matey comedy capers and elaborate wind-ups, it's a wonder they ever got a film made at all. Total Film puts this to Clooney; he dismisses it with a shrug. "Why shouldn't you work with friends?" he asks. "It's fun to take a boat to work in the morning and it's fun to be somewhere as beautiful as Lake Como, shooting a film. But the bottom line is the friends. I say that if you can work with your friends, you do it!"

 
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