The Coen Brothers' Pitch For Burn After Reading Left George Clooney A Little Worried

For an actor who came to fame tackling roles that call upon him to exude worldliness and charm, George Clooney sure is good at playing the clown for the Coen brothers. There's just something gratifying about watching the "Ocean's Eleven" and "Michael Clayton" star make an ass of himself in the duo's "Numbskull Trilogy" — whether he's fretting about his hair gel in "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (he's a Dapper Dan man!) or being readily persuaded to team up with a group of blacklisted Communist screenwriters who've only just kidnapped him in "Hail, Caesar!"

Even by the Coens' standards, Clooney's "Burn After Reading" character is exceptionally risible. The duo's pitch-dark 2008 comedy casts the actor as Harry Pfarrer, a skeevy U.S. marshal who constantly cheats on his wife by dating women he meets online (he leaves out the part about him being married), goes out of his way to try and seem more cultured than he really is, and is prone to being paranoid. This makes for quite the volatile mixture in the film, which sees Harry getting entangled in a confusing web of misunderstandings and murder, all of it centered on a CD that is wrongly presumed to be carrying vital secrets about the U.S. government.

"Despite the Washington setting, ['Burn After Reading'] is really about shockingly dumb people doing dumb things involving sex and other situations. What makes it even more interesting is that they're not politicians," Clooney explained to Emanuel Levy in 2008. That being said, Clooney playfully confessed to being "worried" when he learned the Coens had written the part of Harry with him in mind:

"As soon as they called me up, I knew I'd do it. What could be better After all, it's the Coen Brothers. They make roles available to you that people don't know you're capable of doing as an actor. Then they told me they wrote the part for me, which worried me."

Clooney's characters are getting older, 'not wiser,' in the Coens' films

Beyond their skills as writers, directors, and editors, the Coens have a knack for casting lesser-known actors in the perfect roles. This goes all the way back to them casting then-newcomer Frances McDormand in their 1984 feature-film debut, "Blood Simple," and extends on through to them hiring a 13-year-old Hailee Steinfeld to play the lead in 2010's "True Grit."

At the same time, the brothers are known for casting big-name stars in parts they might've never gotten to play otherwise. Brad Pitt noted as much while talking to Emmanuel Levy about his own "Burn After Reading" character, Chad Feldheimer, a personal trainer with some impressively bad-looking blonde highlights:

"I didn't think the guy would be a dumbbell, a gum-chewing, Gatorade-swilling, iPod-addicted bubble-brain. I said to Joel and Ethan [Coen], 'He's such an idiot.' But, he does have a good heart. Basically, I see the role as a career-buster."

Clooney echoed Pitt's comments, stating, "[The Coens] make roles available to you that people don't know you're capable of doing as an actor." He clearly didn't begrudge the Coens for casting him as yet another clown in their movies, either, musing that Harry is "not unlike the [other] dopes" he had played for them by that point:

"He's this sort of sad, moronic character. But there's a viciousness to this guy that doesn't exist in, say, Everett in 'O, Brother Where Art Thou?' This script made me howl when I read it. It's so insane, I just went with it. I grew the beard they thought the character should have and showed up to the set, where I finally had the chance to work with [Frances McDormand]."

Thankfully, the Coens seem to recognize they have a good thing going with Clooney in their films. "As George gets older, our characters for George are getting older, and not wiser," said Ethan Coen.