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George Clooney and Julia Roberts: A Shared History

‘Ticket to Paradise’ is their first rom-com together, but we’ve been following them as a couple for most of this century

Getty Images/Warner Bros./Ringer illustration

Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. On-screen duos are one of Hollywood’s original marketing devices: When actors have undeniable chemistry, they’re bound to appear in another movie together, and then another one, and sometimes even another one. It’s easier to sell a movie with actors who have a proven track record as a duo, and people always want to see more of a good thing, as long as it stays good.

For some reason, though, modern Hollywood has been reluctant to lean on reuniting classic costars—which is ironic considering we’re living in a reunion-obsessed era. But on Friday, a major reunion will happen.

George Clooney and Julia Roberts aren’t like other on-screen duos. They’ve played each other’s romantic interests only three times in three films over the past two decades, and in two of them they were playing the same characters. Yet despite the brevity of their shared résumé, no on-screen couple has captured such unique, intoxicating chemistry, which will be reinvigorated when Ticket to Paradise hits theaters this weekend. Apologies to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper: They tried to emulate this in and while promoting A Star Is Born, but not even their intimate, horny performance of “Shallow” at the 2019 Oscars lives up to a split second of Roberts and Clooney magic in the Ocean’s franchise. Roberts and Clooney’s connection is natural under any dynamic—playful, sensual, snarky. (They are especially good at snark—making them the mother and father of American cinema.) Theirs is the kind of cinematic chemistry that Nicole Kidman should talk about in her next AMC ad.

But again, Roberts and Clooney have shared what adds up to less than four hours of screen time. Between 2004 and 2016, they didn’t work together at all. So how are they so iconic? Here’s a history of their friendship and work, all leading up to Ticket in Paradise, which is, somehow, their first-ever romantic comedy.

Before They Met

First, it’s important to understand Roberts before Clooney and Clooney before Roberts. Both became household names in the ’90s, with Roberts rising a few years earlier than Clooney. The similar timing of their ascendances is, quite likely, essential to their bond, as is their connection to director Steven Soderbergh, whose work elevated their statuses and reputations in Hollywood. “We both had great changes in our careers and our lives because of Steven Soderbergh, quite honestly,” Clooney told Vanity Fair in 2014 in a joint interview with Roberts.

In the late ’80s, Roberts made a splash with Mystic Pizza and Steel Magnolias, but hit the stratosphere when her contagious smile became internationally recognizable and universally beloved upon the release of her first (of many) rom-com, Pretty Woman. From there, Roberts starred in rom-coms opposite leading men like Richard Gere (in both Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride), Dermot Mulroney, and Hugh Grant. In 2001, she won an Oscar for her dramatic role in Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich. And throughout this period, Roberts had off-screen romances with costars including Jason Patric, Liam Neeson, Matthew Perry, Dylan McDermott, and Kiefer Sutherland. (Roberts was engaged to Sutherland, but they broke up three days before their wedding date in 1991.)

As Roberts was becoming a Hollywood legend, Clooney was working his way up in television. In 1994, he began his run on ER as Dr. Doug Ross. Television stardom, ironically, turned Clooney into a movie star. (Many others, such as The O.C.’s Mischa Barton have tried this route since, but it has worked only for Chris Pratt). By 1999, Clooney was a bona fide movie star who had outgrown ER. But after the failure of Batman & Robin, in which he played Batman With Extremely Hard Nipples, he became more careful about choosing roles. His first film with Soderbergh, 1998’s Out of Sight, costarring Jennifer Lopez, would set the tone for the next decade of his career.

In the early years of their rising stardom, both Roberts and Clooney were known for their irresistible charm and knack for conjuring chemistry with anyone; alone or together, they could make a piece of wet cardboard interesting. But it wasn’t until the two met and appeared on-screen as romantic interests that the world realized their talent stretches beyond that. Their talent was limitless, and together, they had the range.

Oceans of Chemistry

No other on-screen couple has quite captured the subtle, stirring sexual energy that Clooney and Roberts manage with a glimmer in the eye, a soft touch, or even silence. In Ocean’s Eleven, Clooney plays Danny Ocean, a recently released-from-prison thief who plans a massive robbery of a casino that happens to be owned by the new boyfriend of his estranged wife, Tess, played by Roberts.

Roberts and Clooney say they were aware of each other for years but did not meet until 2000, when they had a meeting at the Chateau Marmont to discuss Ocean’s Eleven with Soderbergh. Immediately upon meeting in person, they had the witty, quick banter they’ve become known for. “We had been long-reported best friends but had never met before,” Roberts told Vanity Fair in 2014. Roberts also recalls that Clooney and Soderbergh sent her the Ocean’s script with a $20 bill, since at that time, she was making 20 million a picture.

“We became instant friends,” Roberts said on Jimmy Kimmel Live in 2022. “You know, you just meet people and sometimes you think, ‘I really don’t like that person, I have no reason to not like them, I just don’t like them and I will never change my mind,’” she said. “Then there’s some people, like my GTC [George Timothy Clooney] who you go, ‘OK, I’m gonna know this person until the end of time.’”

Allow us to pause for a moment long enough to luxuriate in Julia Roberts calling George Clooney “GTC.”

Roberts does not appear in Ocean’s Eleven until about 40 minutes into the film, and in her first scene with Clooney, he doesn’t even show his face. He gently and sensually touches her shoulder from behind while she’s sitting down at a restaurant. Thinking he’s Terry Benedict, she excitedly turns around. Tess seems disappointed to see her thief husband, but Roberts’s sparkling brown eyes tell a different story: Deep down, she likes the thrill of being in love with a dangerous, scheming man. What follows is a scene of quick back-and-forth banter. Danny patiently tries to win Tess over while Tess brings him down, trying hard to resist him. Roberts and Clooney radiate the kind of energy you’d expect from lovers in an erotic thriller. Their portayal of a quiet but insipid sexual attraction to each other despite themselves is reminiscent of William Hurt and Kathleen Turner in Body Heat. Their on-screen sexual tension is so thick it could be cut only with a chainsaw the size of the Bellagio.

Roberts and Clooney’s obvious connection was a major talking point during the Ocean’s Eleven press tour, as well as how fucking fun it was to shoot the movie. Roberts played along with Clooney’s famous pranks, and when she was the subject of them, she took them in stride. “I was laughing like a 12-year-old,” Roberts said in an interview with when promoting the film in 2001. “We have a very similar personality, we’re like brother and sister, a very similar kind of rhythm and silliness.”

In 2004’s Ocean’s Twelve, Roberts returned as Tess—although the role, like the film, is more playful. Tess joins the con by (reluctantly) pretending to be Julia Roberts. To match the meta goofiness of that plot point, Roberts unleashes her romantic comedy chops—but that does not stop her and Clooney from unleashing the same sexual energy they did in Ocean’s Eleven. In a scene toward the end of the film, Danny and Tess are handcuffed in the back of a car, and they unleash their thick sexual tension with eye contact and body language, almost accidentally. Tess, annoyed that she got wrapped up in one of Danny’s cons, feigns annoyance. They bicker back and forth, but, as always, Tess is kind of obsessed. Meanwhile, it never once seems like either Roberts or Clooney is acting.

The Rumors

Throughout their friendship, rumors have circulated that Roberts and Clooney were romantically linked. This is an unavoidable consequence of being able to make entire movie theaters horny by exchanging mere glances. But the most notable (if we can even call them that) rumors that have spread were about their intimate friendship interfering with their romantic relationships with other people. In June 2001, Roberts’s three-plus-year relationship with actor Benjamin Bratt ended. An ABC News report stated that the relationship ended due to Bratt’s jealousy of Roberts’s relationship with Clooney: “The tabs say that Bratt, 37, gave 33-year-old Julia the boot after hearing how chummy she had gotten with 40-year-old Clooney on the set of Ocean’s 11.” The same report said that Roberts and Clooney “put on a steamy show on the dance floor” at the Ocean’s Eleven afterparty.

In a 2022 interview with Access Hollywood, Clooney explained why they never dated. “Julia was always in a relationship, or I was in a relationship,” he said. “And we were fast friends right away. So it was nothing, but it’s been nothing but fun for us. So, I don’t think that was ever really a thing.”

Roberts met her husband, cinematographer Daniel Moder, while filming The Mexican in 2000. They married after Moder finalized his divorce in 2002. They have three children together. Throughout most of their friendship, Clooney remained a bachelor, with some significant others here and there. In 2013, Clooney began dating humanitarian lawyer Amal Alamuddin, and they married in 2014 and welcomed twins in 2017. Over the years, celeb tabloids have tried to get Amal involved in drama by painting her as a jealous wife. “Amal has always kept a suspicious eye on Julia ... and has never felt comfortable with how pally she is with George,” a conveniently anonymous source said in 2021 of Clooney and Roberts filming Ticket to Paradise in Bali, according to the gossip blog Nicki Swift. These rumors have never quite taken off because they are most likely false. That won’t stop the tabloids from manifesting, though.

After Ocean’s

Roberts and Clooney worked together only three times between 2002 and 2021—in 2002’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, in Ocean’s Twelve, and in 2016’s Money Monster, the not-fake-at-all movie about a financial talk show that gets hijacked—but made each of them count. Even in a dour movie like Money Monster—which again, definitely exists—Roberts and Clooney radiate and sell material that wouldn’t have had a chance in lesser hands. No matter how long they’ve stayed apart, it feels as if we’ve never lived without them.

Together, Julia Roberts and George Clooney can do anything, really. But their greatest gift is pretending to hate each other, which leads us to Ticket to Paradise. In the film, they play divorced parents who hate each other, but are united in their hate for their daughter’s fiancé. Together, the bickering pair goes well out of their way to sabotage their daughter’s wedding, hopeful that their shenanigans will prevent it from happening. Will their hatred bring back their love? Yes, it definitely will.

Roberts and Clooney have been on what feels like the longest press tour of all time leading up to the release. This would be exhausting if it were anyone else. Most of their interviews reveal more of the same: a polished version of when they first met for Ocean’s over 20 years ago, cute little soundbites about how they laugh so much on set that it took 80 takes to film a kiss. It’s relentless, but Julia is mother and Clooney is daddy, so we listen.

Roberts and Clooney have said that they haven’t exactly resisted working together again, but have just been waiting for the right script and the right timing. In a red carpet interview with Variety, Roberts described Ticket to Paradise as “the first one that did something really clever. It sort of drifted onto our desks at the same moment and so it came into our energy together. And it sounds so silly to say, [but] I read it and I said, ‘This only works with Geroge.’ He felt the same way.”

The magic of Roberts and Clooney is the result of many factors. They just so happen to have similar personalities, similar careers at a similar time, and the same sense of humor. It is, after all, easier to work with someone you like, especially if you’re pretending to be in love or pretending to be former lovers who hate each other. But beyond psychology and talent, the one great unifier of Julia Roberts and George Clooney is the man who elevated them: the one and only Steven Soderbergh. Soderbergh’s vision of their capabilities as actors brought them together in Ocean’s Eleven: He is the reason they met, and he is the man who directed their incredibly sexy and influential on-screen debut as a pair. Since then, we’ve refused to let them go.