By the time George Clooney hit 50, he was already an Academy Award-winning actor with dozens of film and television credits to his name. He’d also established himself as a respected director, producer, businessman, philanthropist and activist.
He had it all — or so he thought.
But during a recent sit-down with TODAY’s Hoda Kotb, Clooney said that looking back on those days now that his wife and children have entered the picture, he can see how “incredibly empty” his life was despite the success.
The reason? Fatherhood has given him so much more than Hollywood did.
“Oh, everything,” he said when Kotb asked for an example. “(It’s given me) a sense of belonging and a sense of home and unconditional love — all the things that you were hoping you could get from a really good career and a dog. You realize that this is a lot more than that.”
Still, even knowing what he knows now about all of the rewards that have come his way with a more domestic life, the 59-year-old said he wouldn’t have welcomed fatherhood any earlier. Because there was one key element about having kids when he did.
“I found the right person to have them with,” he said.
“There are some people, their goal was, ‘I have to have children,’” the star noted. “Mine wasn’t. I wasn’t looking at life, going, ‘My life will be unfulfilled without children.' I felt like I had a pretty full life. Then I met Amal and realized that my life had been pretty empty. And then when you throw these two kids in there, then suddenly you realize how incredibly empty it was.”
With a family, “it fills it all up, it makes it fun.”
And he fills his life with plenty of fun by introducing his children to his own prankish sense of humor.
“My whole job, really, is to teach them really terrible things,” he said with a smile. “I really do enjoy teaching my children to do things that shock their mother.”
For instance, instead of teaching his kids to put some hazelnut spread on a piece of toast or fruit, he’s taught them to load up their diapers with Nutella and even smear some down their legs. Then all they have to do is hold out the evidence for their other parent to see.
“(Amal) goes, ‘OK, wait! Don’t move!’” Clooney said, describing his wife’s panic with amusement. “And then they take it, and they eat it.”
Evidently, after waiting so long to become a dad, he’s really taken those dad jokes to the next level — much to Mom’s chagrin. In fact, if there’s any need for her to dish up discipline around the house, it’s not the kids who have to face it.
“No, me,” he said. “She doesn’t discipline them at all. They don’t need discipline. ... She’s like, ‘Really? That’s what they learned today?’ The worst thing you can do is leave me alone with them for a long period of time because the things they learn are just horrific.”
However, the truth is, Amal doesn’t really have complaints about it.
“We’ve been a team really since we met,” Clooney said. “The most we’ve ever been apart is three or four days, never had a fight, which people always get ticked off when I say. You know, we’ve been married seven years. We have a really wonderful life together. We’re both busy, but we’re both very involved in each other’s lives, which is nice.”
When he was younger, if anyone would have told him that the nicest part of life would happen for him after 50, he would have found that fact sad.
“I would have considered 50 practically dead,” he told Kotb. “Now, I’ll be 60 in a couple of months. Now I’m like, ‘60’s not so old; 60’s young, really.’ I’m OK. I’m fine with all of it. The number 70 will put a hitch in my giddyup a little bit, but I think the rest of it I can handle.”
See more from both Hoda and the iconic actor Sunday at 8 p.m. EDT on PBS, when the TODAY co-anchor hosts AARP's Movies for Grownups Awards where Clooney will be honored with the career achievement award.