It’s no secret that George Clooney enjoys a good prank or practical joke. Lucky for him, he appears to be raising two like-minded disciples in his 3-year-old twins, Ella and Alexander.
“They both have learned to play pranks, which is good fun,” Clooney tells PEOPLE in this week’s cover story where he is named one of the magazine’s People of the Year.
A favorite in the family repertoire? The Nutella-in-the-nappy joke, he says proudly. “I did work with them on putting Nutella in a diaper and then eating it [prank]. Whenever a stranger is around, they’ll come in holding it, like, ‘Papa, it’s a dirty nappy!’ and I go, ‘Okay, I’ll take care of it,’ and then they eat the Nutella out of the nappy.”
Pleased with their budding talent, he says, "You can imagine the freak-outs we get…. Yeah, I taught them that."
Fatherhood clearly suits Clooney, who by his own admission, “came to it late.” “Look, I’m an older father — I have 3-year-olds and I’m 59. I’m basically Tony Randall,” he says with signature self-deprecation.
But he is no less engaged – and grateful.
Clooney has spent much of the year holed up with his family and relishing the small stuff: reading Peppa Pig and Dr. Seuss to the twins, doing chores (“I mop, vacuum, do laundry and cut hair”), taking family walks with their new puppy Rosie (named for the star’s late aunt, singer Rosemary Clooney), watching the kids jump in the bouncy castle set up on the family tennis court.
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He wouldn't trade it for anything.
"In marriage, and now with the kids, you give away the selfishness of only looking out for yourself,” he says. “It’s a wonderful thing. Amal and I talk about it every day. … We feel so lucky."
Even before the pandemic hit, Clooney, who directs and stars in The Midnight Sky for Netflix, out Dec. 23, had planned to spend the bulk of his time hunkered down with the family.
“I haven’t been working as much as I had before we had the kids, so I had every intention of focusing on them [anyway], putting them to bed at night and stuff, so we didn’t need to be forced into that by a pandemic,” he says, acknowledging he did get off easy being in quarantine with such young kids. “I’m lucky because our kids are 3, so I don’t have to homeschool trigonometry. I can survive with just spending time with them.”
The Oscar winner is the first to reflect on how his life has changed since becoming a dad. “Yeah, the times I used to be able to sit back and read a book, that’s done for a while,” he says. “Like I was watching game six of the World Series, the winning game for the Dodgers, and my son had a dream that a dinosaur with fire was coming after him. It was just when Mookie Betts hit the home run, and I’m trying to comfort him. So things have changed a little bit.”
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While his current literary options run from Green Eggs and Ham and Room on The Broom to Curious George and Peppa Pigs [“they’re obsessed”], he and Amal are able to entertain the kids with more adult-friendly music. “We've been listening to a lot of older stuff, a lot of old Motown because the kids love it,” he says. “It’s fun to sing ‘Under the Boardwalk’ or ‘Heard It Through the Grapevine’ with the kids. That’s the kind of the music world I'm in right now!”
Clooney is also enjoying watching Ella and Alexander develop distinct personalities. “It's funny, they're twins, but they're very different,” he says, before offering an example: “Ella is very shy around adults. We have a Saint Bernard puppy, Rosie, and she’s like 125 lbs. of sheer energy. She got stung by a bee, and now when we walk the dog and hikers go by, Ella kind of hides her face while Alexander walks right up and says, ‘Rosie got stung by a bee.’ He explains it to every single person.”
He’s concluded he has a much smaller role in determining their paths than he thought he might. “You learn so much with twins because you're raising them both at the same time, born the same day, but you realize how little it has to do with you,” he says. “They were the person they were going to be when they were born. Now all your hope is to just kind of guide them along in the right direction.”
So far, so good, with one exception.
"Here's a dumb thing I did," he starts. "They both speak fluent Italian, which I do not. I didn't think this through. So now I'm sitting with my kids and I'll say, 'Hey, what say we clean up the room?' and they look at each other and in Italian they start talking – I’m like, ‘Papa stronzo? What did you just call me?!' "
For more from George Clooney, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
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