Locals go looney for Clooney, Zellweger

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Susan Shinn and Steve Huffman Salisbury Post
They started lining up as early as 5:30 a.m. for their chance to see and speak with George Clooney and Renee Zellweger.

Outside Historic Salisbury Foundation’s depot, they gathered early Wednesday, their numbers swelling to almost 1,000 by the time Clooney and Zellweger arrived by train ó well, really, they rode it only a couple of hundred yards ó at 11:25 a.m.

The Salisbury visit was the third for Clooney and Zellweger as part of their Whistle Stop tour promoting “Leatherheads,” the Universal Studios production scheduled for an April 4 release.

“We need you to put your shirts on!” a representative of the studio shouted to the masses as he tossed “Leatherheads” T-shirts and ball caps to them.

“This is one of those Kodak moments!”

For the most part, crowd members obliged, their gold “Leatherheads” shirts and brown caps dotting the fence-line as they waited.

“Welcome back Renee & George, you’re the best,” read one of the signs taped to the fence that separated the crowd from the stars.

“Renee & George, we love you,” read another. “Can we please have your autographs?”

Dan Medlin and his wife, Susan, drove from Lexington for a look at the stars. Standing a tad more than 6 feet tall, Dan didn’t have a lot of trouble snaring hats and shirts for those around him.

“We need an extra large and a hat!” Dan shouted to the representative who was tossing out the shirts and caps.

The Medlins said they’d been fans of Clooney since his days on “ER.” Their favorite Clooney movie, they said, is, “O Brother, Where Art

“It’s hilarious,” Susan said.

Salisbury’s Mary Turner arrived at the depot about 9 a.m. with her grandson, 2-year-old Jamir Turner, in tow.

Like the Medlins, Turner said she was a longtime Clooney fan. “I go all the way back to ER,” she said.

Ed Czekaj drove from Indian Trail for the occasion, holding a sign reading, “G.T.C. For President” (“G.T.C.” are Clooney’s initials).

Czekaj said he was an extra in “Leatherheads,” working on the movie for a week while filming took place in Charlotte.

“They treated us very nice,” Czekaj said of members of the production company. “Once you’ve done it, you’ve got the bug. I’ve got something for my resume now.”

The crowd was mostly female, mostly skewed toward the 30-and-up group. When the train carrying Clooney and Zellweger finally arrived (it was 25 minutes late), a cheer went up. Crowd members remained polite (a better description might be “in awe”) throughout the visit.

Clooney and Zellweger waved to the group as they stepped from the train, then made their way down the line before a press conference was held inside the depot.

The two actors reached out and signed as much as time and their handlers would allow.

Jane Luther and her son, Joel, a freshman at South Rowan High School, came from China Grove. Joel said they’d visited the depot during filming ó parts of the movie were filmed in Salisbury and Spencer ó but hadn’t been able to see anything.

Frances King came from Winston-Salem with her daughter, Angela Triplett of Kernersville. The second-grade teacher was playing hooky from school, she admitted.

“I had an important errand to run my mother to in Salisbury today,” Triplett said.

Regina Digh of Lincolnton pulled a DVD of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” from her purse, hoping Clooney would sign it. The movie seemed to be a crowd favorite.

The youngest fan in the crowd was seven-week-old Isabelle Stepp of Salisbury, held by her mother, Sarah, a second-grade teacher at Hanford Dole Elementary.

“A teacher on spring break, what better to do?” Stepp said as she cradled Isabelle, bundled in a mint green blanket and pink hat. “My mother can’t fuss at me,” Stepp said, noting she had Isabelle properly dressed for the cool morning.

Isabelle’s grandmother is Emily Hounshell of Salisbury, who was out of town. But Stepp’s sister, Susan Hall, was there with her. Hall is a nurse who was on her way to work in the afternoon.

Pam Scott came from Stanly County because her son, Michael, was Clooney’s stand-in in numerous scenes.

Bill Treat wore his own suit that he’d worn as an extra in the movie.

Wife Susan topped her attire with a silver sequined cap.

They saw the movie Wednesday night.

“It was great!” Treat said. “It had some real funny scenes. They could have left out the language, though.”

The movie is rated PG-13.

Outside the depot, Jack Thomson, managing director of Historic Salisbury Foundation, basked in the attention that Wednesday’s press conference and soon-to-be movie release bestowed upon the depot.

Thomson said he was flattered that of all the North Carolina cities where filming took place, Universal representatives chose Salisbury for the site of Wednesday’s press conference.

He also took the opportunity to plug his organization. “If Historic Salisbury hadn’t saved this building 20 years ago, none of this would have happened,” Thomson said of the press conference and movie filming at the location.

“The film industry is relying more and more on locations. What’s appealing to them are saved unique and historic locations.”

Not everyone who had an encounter with Clooney saw him at the depot.

Janet Keyes and her friend, Trisha Thomason, were leaving Chick-fil-A on East Innes Street shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday when they saw a pair of limousines stop in the parking lot of nearby O’ Charley’s.

Keyes and Thomason wandered over and got to meet Clooney and members of his entourage. Keyes said Clooney was very friendly.

“We took pictures and told him we were honored to have him in town,” Keyes said.

Contact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or sshinn@salisburypost.com, or Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.