George Clooney talks about the dark comedy “Catch-22” on Hulu

 The logline for the first episode of Catch-22, the Hulu Original mini-series,  reads—“Young American flyers arrive in war and discover that the bureaucracy is more deadly than the enemy.” That kind of stinging satirical commentary was appealing for George Clooney who is starring in the Hulu miniseries based on Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel. Clooney, who is also the executive producer and directed two episodes, reports he read the book in high school and loved it. 

 The dark comedy debuts May 17 on Hulu and all six episodes of  Catch-22 will be available on the premium streaming service starting then. You can watch them one at a time or binge them all at once if you want to overindulge in the classic satire of the absurdity of war.

The story follows Yossarian (Christopher Abbott, from HBO’s Girls), a US Air Force bombardier in World War II, who is upset because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. However his real problem is not the enemy, but rather his own army which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yossarian’s commanding officer is the crazy Colonel Cathcart (Kyle Chandler, from Friday Night Lights).

 If Yossarian makes any attempt to avoid his military assignments, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a bureaucratic rule which specifies that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of real danger is the process of a rational mind. A man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but a request to be removed from duty is evidence of sanity and therefore makes him ineligible to be relieved from duty. 

 To be stuck in a no-win situation, that’s what the phrase “Catch-22” has come to mean thanks to Heller’s well told tale about the paradoxical situation.

 Hulu presented a Catch-22 panel during the Television Critics Association’s winter 2019 press tour. The stars and creative team on hand to talk about the project were Christopher Abbott (Yossarian); Kyle Chandler (Colonel Cathcart); executive producer/director Grant Heslov (Doc Daneeka); exec-prod and co-writer Luke Davies; exec-prod and director Ellen Kuras; and exec-producer and director George Clooney, who plays Lieutenant/Colonel/General Scheisskopf.

The cast also includes Hugh Laurie (Major de Coverley), Giancarlo Giannini (Marcello), and Daniel David Stewart (Milo).

 Of course Clooney was his usual smart-alecky self with most journalists during the interview session. But this reporter got a few answers from the fellow who is still as charming as he was during his NBC ER days.

 I asked him to talk about how the Catch-22 remake has some great new relevance for today’s audience.

 Clooney said, “Well, the best way to answer that is to start from the beginning which is the nuts who decided that they wanted to adapt it in the first place and what relevance that is. So, Luke (Davies), why don’t you take that for a second.”

Then co-writer Davies explained, “In a very broad sense it’s just a beautiful and hilarious novel about the relationship between war and insanity, and capitalism and bureaucracy.”

 Davies noted it is relevant in a specific sense. “I think we all wake up every morning these days in this kind of shared global anxiety condition, and this novel is a beautiful distillation of a prophetic distillation of that anxiety condition. This is like the origin story of that anxiety condition. And I loved it ever since I was 16, and suddenly there was this thought, ‘what if I found a way of cracking the code of that novel, and unraveling it, finding out what the chronology is, and seeing what it’s shape would be in television.’ I loved the (1970) film, don’t get me wrong, but the film just recreates the chaotic kaleidoscopic madness of the novel, which is held tightly in a very literary sense by Joseph Heller. What we basically did was unfold the chronology so that all our characters could have actual emotional journeys from beginning to end.”

George Clooney (center), with Christopher Abbott, Pico Alexander, and Lewis Pullman in Hulu’s “Catch-22.” (photo: Philipe Antonello/HULU)

 So I asked George, what was his emotional journey? And after joking he “cried a lot,” Clooney responded, “From the very beginning, from the moment we read the screenplay, we thought we’re going to get to explore one of the great characters in literature which is Yossarian. And the interesting thing is it requires us, the audience, to be able to like and trust a character who does some pretty despicable things along the way. That actually came down to casting.  We knew we had to cast somebody that you could root for even when he did really rotten things…and he (Christopher Abbott) was kind of likeable, so it worked out fine.”

 Clooney, son of Nick Clooney—an Army veteran, has portrayed a military man in several movies, and I wanted to know about how he feels when he wears the uniform. Clooney said he feels a “an incredible sense of responsibility to generations, particularly that generation considered the greatest generation. I will say that as an actor in general, with the exception of the bat suit, any time you put on a costume it does help you get into character considerably. I’ve done dozens of shows and films where I’ve worn a military uniform. And when you put it on there is, of course, a sense of pride, but also a great sense of responsibility always along the way.”



Margie Barron has written for a wide variety of outlets including Gannett newspapers, Nickelodeon, Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, Fresh!, Senior Life, Production Update, airline magazines, etc. Margie is also proud to have been half of the husband & wife writing team Frank & Margie Barron, who had written together for various entertainment and travel publications for more than 38 years.