A Preview of Barbara Walters' Oscar Special

ByABC News
February 28, 2006, 3:38 PM

March 1, 2006 — -- For George Clooney, it's been a year of choices to be proud of. For Mariah Carey and Patrick Dempsey, it's been a year of renewal and redemption, and for Matthew McConaughey, it's been his sexiest year ever.

George Clooney has always enjoyed playing the lighthearted ladies man. But at age 44, he is being taken seriously. Clooney is the first person ever to receive an Oscar nomination for directing and writing on one movie -- "Good Night, and Good Luck" -- and for acting in another -- "Syriana."

Clooney became a bona fide heartthrob playing a doctor on the medical drama "ER," but Clooney says he has enjoyed the departure from roles that center on sex appeal and from films that shoot solely for box-office success. "I have money, you know my houses are paid off," he tells Walters.

"You want to work on projects that you're proud of and on things that you hope will last, and so that's what you try to do. I've been trying to do that since 'Batman and Robin' actually, which was a big bomb, and I was pretty bad in it. And then I thought, So you're gonna be held responsible not for your role or for your performance but for the films. So then you decide, well then, I have to do better films. And it has to be my decision."

It was in that spirit that Clooney took on the project "Good Night, and Good Luck," which tells the story of legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow.

The son of a broadcast journalist himself, Clooney says he has long respected Murrow and believed that the story of Murrow's showdown with Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who exploited Americans' Cold War fears by fanning anti-communist hysteria, resonated with our time. "I really liked the words that were being said by Edward R. Murrow in 1953 and 1954. We had just gone through the lead-up to the war [in Iraq] and I'd been in a couple of interviews and said what I believed. We should have some questions before we send off 150,000 kids to get shot at. And the administration said you're either with us or with the enemy. Not just with us or against us. But with us or with the enemy, an act of treason," Clooney tells Walters.

The political backlash that followed the film's release and the criticism that he was "unpatriotic" frustrated him, Clooney admits.

"I was very upset. I grew up a patriot, and I am a patriot you know. I grew up a liberal in Kentucky, but to me the idea of questioning your government was not just your right but was in fact your duty," he tells Walters.

"Syriana," a thriller about corruption in the global oil market, is also a politically provocative film -- a far cry from the lighthearted fare of "Batman" and "Ocean's Eleven." And Clooney is up for a best supporting actor award for his role in that film.

Between the two films, Clooney has had an extraordinarily productive year, but he's paying a price for overexerting himself. He was seriously injured during the filming of "Syriana" and is still recovering. "I was 43 at the time and I thought I was 33 still. And I started doing those things that you think you can get away with, and I cracked the back of my neck," he says. He tells Walters he has undergone several surgeries to deal with leaking spinal fluid, and still suffers from headaches and memory loss.