George Clooney has become embroiled in an ugly spat with Hungary’s government for criticising the country’s prime minister Viktor Orban.
The actor’s new post-apocalyptic Netflix movie, The Midnight Sky, sees the star play an Arctic scientist who races to stop a crew of astronauts from returning home to a mysterious global catastrophe.
Reflecting on the events in the film, Clooney warned that the potentially planet-destroying disaster that occurs in the film is made more likely by authoritarian leaders like Orban and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro.
“Go to Bolsonaro in Brazil, or Orban in Hungary. Look around: lots of anger and hate,” he told GQ. “(The film) takes place in 2049. If you played it out this could very well be what our reality is if that kind of hate is allowed to fester.”
Clooney’s interview sparked a backlash from Hungarian officials, with foreign policy spokesman Tamas Menczer calling the actor’s words “foolish”. He went on to state that the star should not be treated as a “global political oracle,” while news websites linked to Orban’s party Fidesz associated the Ocean’s Eleven star with Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who has been demonised by the regime.
The actor has now responded in a written statement to Hungarian news organisation Telex, in which he praised Soros, noting that he had funded Orban’s studies at Britain’s Oxford University but denying that he had links to the businessman.
Echoing European leaders’ criticism of the Hungarian government as corrupt and authoritarian, Clooney said: “Orban’s propaganda machine is lying. As for my earlier remarks, I would be ashamed not to speak out publicly against the kind of authoritarianism with which the Orban regime controls the media, subjects companies to draconian tax rules and silences the free press.”