It's true, there are hundreds of women on the Fifth Avenue sidewalk to catch a glimpse of Clooney. But almost as many in the crowd are men, out to spy Michelle Pfeiffer, who costars with Clooney as a frazzled single mother. The two parents are forced to help each other though a hectic day, and in the process they fall in love.
``The modern definition of heroism is simply surviving the day as a working mother,'' says producer Lynda Obst (Sleepless in Seattle), who got the idea for the film. ``We're all living this enormous conflict, being the parents we want to be and the professionals we want to be. And it's not just the psychological and emotional conflict: It's physically accomplishing the logistics of what has to be done.''
It was a long way from Obst's inspiration to movie magic. There were schedule conflicts (Clooney crammed work on this movie and DreamWorks' first film, Peacemaker, into a hiatus from his role as ER pediatrician Doug Ross; and Pfeiffer's on-screen son had to work around a grueling McDonald's contract), the weather (it had to be overcast), Clooney's allergies and broken eye socket, disgruntled neighborhood residents and the challenge of shooting at 44 Manhattan locations.
Coming off his well-reviewed Restoration, director Michael Hoffman was immediately attracted to the romantic comedy. ``I like this movie because these people don't get along most of the time,'' he says. ``They're tough on each other and by the end, you somehow respect and identify with them.''
Over the course of one day, Pfeiffer's character, Mel, has an important architecture presentation and a crucial soccer game to get to. Clooney's Jack Taylor, a Daily News columnist working on a story about corruption in the mayor's office, must reach a skittish source. A crazy day gets crazier when Jack's bungling forces the kids to miss a class trip.
In the script's original draft, Clooney's character didn't even exist. But eventually, ``we realized . . . that we were being incredible sexists,'' says Obst. ``There are plenty of divorced, single working fathers going through the exact same thing.''
When Tom Cruise and Kevin Costner passed on the project, no one could agree on a male lead - until they met Clooney. ``He's got a great comic sense and he's sexy,'' Hoffman says. ``But he's also got a lonely quality I really thought was important in the character. His boyishness is critical to irritate and loosen up Michelle's character.''
Between scenes on location at the Natural History Museum, Clooney says he likes Jack, even if the every-other-weekend dad feeds his daughter s'mores for breakfast and brings her to his therapy appointment.
``Jack's a bit of an idiot,'' says Clooney, whose father, TV personality Nick Clooney, also writes a syndicated column for the Cincinnati Post. ``I grew up with those guys, I know them. They always have some sort of food stains on their coats. They're great at one thing and lousy at everything else.''
In keeping with the theme of the movie, children of the cast and crew were welcomed on the set. But the day-care atmosphere didn't sway the divorced, childless Clooney toward wanting kids.
``It had just the opposite effect,'' he says. ``It makes me think, `Thank God I don't have kids.' I'm a fun uncle. . . . Then I come into the trailer, sit down here and their parents have to take them home and discipline them and do all the things I don't want to be responsible for.''
Pfeiffer, on the other hand, is the mother of two children under the age of 4. ``The movie came from a place I could completely relate to,'' says the actress, whose development company, Via Rosa, is behind the film.
To keep her life in balance, Pfeiffer limits location shoots and tries to keep her workdays under 12 hours in order to get home and put the kids to bed. It didn't always work the way she planned it, however. For example, shooting ran late during a climactic scene in which Mel tells off her boss. As a result, Pfeiffer missed bedtime. ``In the scene, I finally stand up and say, `Guys, I'm out of here. I may get fired, but I want my kid to know he means more to me.' It was a 15-hour day, and I kept thinking, `Isn't this ironic? The one day I give this speech in the movie. . . .' I was so [angry].''
Though Pfeiffer and Clooney have significantly different personalities and ways of working - she is internal and somewhat shy while he is physical and gregarious - they worked well together. But they spent no time together outside the set, despite New York gossip columnists' claims the two were spotted having romantic dinners.
``He was charming and funny and he humanized the character,'' says Pfeiffer, ``but we never even had lunch together. He'd go off to play basketball and I'd go off and be a mom.''
Those now-famous basketball games involving director Hoffman, Clooney and crew members were serious if not competitive. During one, a grip elbowed Clooney, breaking his eye socket and leaving a swollen, purple mess.
``Luckily, I had six days off before going back on the movie,'' says Clooney of the injury that has strapped him with a left eye that tracks more slowly than the right. ``My eye was swollen shut, and I still have to put makeup on it to cover the purple. I was still shooting ER at the time, and I had to hold a baby in front of my eye until the swelling went down.''
On another difficult day, the cast and crew waited under a tent in Central Park to film the movie's crucial soccer game while it poured rain. ``I had this really bad allergic reaction to whatever fertilizer they just laid down on that grass, so I couldn't breathe,'' Clooney recalls.
Another day, on Fifth Avenue, the production found itself in the middle of the Israeli Day parade. And while filming on the Upper West Side, disgruntled residents, fed up with The Mirror Has Two Faces, The First Wives Club and other movies shooting at the time, called the fire department so sirens would interrupt filming.
The film wrapped on schedule, but the filmmakers aren't saying how the movie ends. ``Mel is a complete mess in the last scene,'' says Ellen Simon, the film's screenwriter. ``She is wearing sweats and has chop suey all over her clothes. Jack is there, chasing her around the apartment in a cat-and-mouse game, trying to kiss her.''
In Simon's draft, the exhausted couple fall asleep on the couch before the smooch. But who knows?, confides Simon. ``I think they shot it both ways.''