December 06, 2004 12:00 PM

That eye twinkle that makes George Clooney so seductive on film? Irresistible. But a word to the wise: In real life the Clooney Twinkle often signals the actor’s wicked delight in a good prank. As his buddy Brad Pitt tells it, the two Ocean’s Twelve costars were recently camped out at the home of producer Jerry Weintraub for the film’s junket. Weintraub was getting a massage one evening, and “George looks at me and goes, ‘You got a camera?’ ” recalls Pitt. “I go, ‘Yes, I do.’ And we went into the [massage] room. It was nice and dark, and Frank Sinatra’s playing. George warmed his hands. We signaled the masseuse; she takes her hands off Jerry and in comes George. He starts massaging Jerry’s belly. I hear this, ‘Oooooo-aaaaah.’ And we start cracking away on the film. That is the kind of day-to-day activity that people with our maturity do.”

Hey, no apologies from Clooney. At 43, Hollywood’s merry prankster is as mischievous as ever, playfully bantering with reporters about filming Ocean’s Twelve (“there was actually no camaraderie at all on the set of this one”) and noting that his costars “are all fun people except for Julia [Roberts]. We don’t like her. Or her twins.” But seriously, reprising his role as con artist Danny Ocean in the sequel to the 2001 hit was pretty much a custom-made dream job for Clooney, who arranged for many of his castmates—including Pitt, Roberts and Matt Damon—to stay at his 25-room villa on Italy’s Lake Como during the shoot last June. “This whole group of people is a group that [I] really enjoy not just working with but being around,” says Clooney. “So when we all get together, it is really fun.”

This, coming from a guy who knows a thing or two about fun. In recent months the longtime bachelor with a penchant for motorcycles, golf and Italian food has rekindled his 2001 romance with British model Lisa Snowdon, 29. Whether boating together on Lake Como or zooming through Los Angeles on Clooney’s Harley, the couple “just enjoy every day together,” Snowdon told Britain’s Daily Mirror in October. “I think it’s easier for us the second time around as there isn’t so much pressure.”

Now if only he could convince the local Italian women that he’s not, y’know, “ancient.” “Last year some girl said to me, ‘Hey, Giorgio, how old are you?’ and I was stupid enough to ask, ‘Well, how old do you think I am?’ ” he recalls. “She said, ’50.’ I said, ‘You think I’m 50 years old!’ and she said, ’51?’ ” (The exchange ended up as a bit in Ocean’s Twelve.)

Of course, it’s not all play and no work for Clooney, who is in the process of losing the 30 lbs. he gained for Syriana, his recently wrapped geopolitical drama costarring Damon (see box). And he’s got several projects in the works with Ocean’s director and producing partner Steven Soderbergh, including an Edward R. Murrowbiopic (“a passion of mine for a long time”). Plus he took time in the fall to campaign for his father, former broadcaster Nick Clooney, 70, in his failed Congressional bid. “He’s had a tough time of it—I think he’s very disappointed,” Clooney says of his dad, who ran as a Democrat in the family’s home state of Kentucky. “My father has been an inspiration forever and always said, ‘Don’t wake up at 65 years old and think about what you should have done.’ ”

“Or 50,” cracks Clooney’s Ocean’s costar Don Cheadle.

“Or 50,” says Clooney. “That one hurt.”

Michelle Tauber. Michael Fleeman and Amy Longsdorf in Los Angeles and Sara Hammel in London

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