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Clooney, Zellweger visit Duluth

George Clooney and Renée Zellweger brought the witty banter from their on-screen characters in "Leatherheads" to real life when they visited Duluth's Depot on Monday.

The stars chugged into the old train station on the back of a train, joking that they were exhausted from their long journey -- even though they'd hopped aboard 400 feet away. About 125 fans climbed onto other trains in an attempt to get photos of the stars.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness launched the 11 a.m. press conference by proclaiming March 24 as "Leatherheads' Day" and saying he didn't consider himself "the slickest operator in Duluth," a line that Zellweger's character slams Clooney with in the film.

Zellweger begged to differ: "I think you are the slickest operator," she said.

"Leatherheads," which opens April 4, is loosely based on the Duluth Eskimos football team in the 1920s. The first question put to Clooney was what about the Duluth team appealed to him. He answered that it was hard to find storylines that were "new and different."

"We thought about shooting here, but it was February," he said. "Apparently, from what I understand, it's cold in February. So we ended up finding someplace a little warmer. The spirit of it all was about this ... I know about small towns and that's why it was important for us to come back here to say thanks for letting us play a part with this town."

The film was shot in the Carolinas instead of Duluth, and Clooney said the production team digitally changed the foliage to oranges and browns to make it look like autumn. They also inserted archival photos into the background to make it look like industrial Duluth, he said.

There were a few jabs in the news conference about the city's size. Northland NewsCenter News Director Barbara Reyelts introduced herself as being from the city's NBC and CBS affiliates, to which Clooney responded, "Now that's a small town. I'm the priest and the heart surgeon."

Asked about her impressions of Duluth, Zellweger said she hadn't had much time to look around. The duo revealed they had spent the night in the Sheraton Hotel, where Zellweger said she had seen fantastic archival shots from the city.

One reporter asked if Zellweger shared her character's view of Duluth as being at the ends of the earth.

"I didn't write it," she said. "Like I said I've been here for 12 hours and I like what I've seen so far. The people seem nice ... I think I'll stop with that: I didn't write it. The responsible party is directly to my left."

Zellweger punted the question to Clooney, who, along with starring in the film, directed and did some writing. Clooney insisted that everyone gets picked on in the film, and that his character "really likes Duluth."

The movie ended up having an unintentional Duluth reference with the football team's name. Clooney said he wanted to call the Leatherheads' team the Eskimos but the National Football League said the filmmakers couldn't use the name because there was drinking in the movie.

Clooney decided to name the team after his pet bulldogs instead, and didn't find out until later about the University of Minnesota Duluth mascot. Clooney congratulated the university's women's hockey team for winning the NCAA Division I championship in Duluth on Saturday.

The duo sparred with each other over an onscreen kiss, from which Clooney emerges with lipstick smeared all over his mouth.

"Was there an onscreen kiss in this movie?" Zellweger joked. "Well I kiss all my directors. I like my career."

Clooney retorted that Zellweger was extremely enthusiastic about the scene, knocking on his trailer wanting to rehearse.

"[We did] 40, 50 takes, that scene," Clooney said. "Never got it quite right."

After about 40 minutes, when the stars' handlers declared the time for questions were over, Clooney overruled them and took a question from a Duluth woman in the center of the crowd behind the press. Joan Koski presented the pair with hand-knit wool mittens (Clooney's were meant for his girlfriend Sarah Larson) and thanked them for bringing the city fame.

Clooney and Zellweger stepped outside to greet about 300 fans around 12:15 p.m. and left the Depot around 12:30 p.m., 30 minutes ahead of their scheduled public appearance.