The 57-year-old actor will play Scheisskopf in Hulu's six-episode Catch-22, marking his first series regular role since he starred as Doug Ross on ER from 1994 to 1999.
At Hulu's Television Critics Association winter press tour on Monday, Clooney explained that he's been involved in television since in a producing role; it just took the right project for him to get back in front of the camera.
"It’s been a while," he joked. "ER was a nutty moment in my career, but also in the lives of a bunch of actors. There was six of us who were thrown into the stratosphere. It was life-changing for all of us."
"Grant [Heslov] and I have always been involved in television. I don’t care about the medium, I just care about the quality of work," Clooney said, adding that he and Heslov initially passed on Catch-22, but reconsidered after reading the first three scripts. "This is considered one of the great American novels of all time."
Adapted from the 1961 book by Joseph Heller, Catch-22 is set in Italy during World War II and tells the story of Captain John Yossarian (Christopher Abbott), a U.S. Air Force bombardier, and the other airmen in his camp, who attempt to maintain their sanity while fulfilling their service requirements so they can return home.
In addition to acting and executive producing the project, Clooney also directed two of the show's six episodes. "You have to take a swing and hope you hit the ball. There’s no way you can do this half a**ed. You’ve gotta go for it," he shared of taking on such extreme comedy and drama in one show. "You can’t sort of subtly yell at people, and you can’t subtly kill these people. It’s a pretty gruesome business. There’s a morbid comedy to it as well. .... The difference between horror and hilarity becomes even more pronounced."
"It’s just about getting to the truth of it," Abbott added. "The [comedy and drama] tone was kind of set from the beginning… [and] as a personal taste, I think things are funny when they’re done very seriously… I think it’s just more of a question of commitment to that in that way."
Clooney emphasized the importance of finding the right person to play Yossarian, while Abbott confessed he was a little nervous to be directed by the veteran actor.
"I think in a weird way, it adds to a certain kind of camaraderie to it. You’re all in it together. There’s a sense of nerves at first, but it quickly dissipates," he said, cracking that Clooney was yelling in his face "on and off screen."
"Everyone does a good job. George does a good job," Abbott said, before turning to face the actor. "When I IMDB’d you… I was like, 'Oh, you’d done a lot.’"
"I’m very famous," George confirmed with a laugh. "A very big star."
Catch-22, also starring Kyle Chandler and Hugh Laurie, will debut with all six episodes on Hulu on Friday, May 17.