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Posted 6/27/2004 9:10 PM
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No escaping fascination with 'Ocean's Twelve'
LAKE COMO, Italy — A British tourist surveyed the wild scene: television cameras, paparazzi, reporters, burly security guards, fans and looky-loos hanging around George Clooney's lakefront villa. He asked, "Is Bush here?"

No, sorry. Much bigger. It was where some of the Ocean's Twelve cast of Clooney, Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Brad Pitt, accompanied by his wife, Jennifer Aniston, were holed up for 10 days.

Whether it's Lake Como, Rome, Amsterdam, Monte Carlo or Paris, this paparazzi-dream cast currently filming in Italy causes a stir wherever it goes. Adults, teens and children caught Ocean's Twelve fever as production on the Warner Bros. sequel to the 2001 crime caper hit Ocean's Eleven moved from Chicago to Europe the first week of May. The film wraps next month in the USA.

In Lake Como, Clooney housed the film's main actors and producer Jerry Weintraub at his 25-room, 18th-century mansion, while director Steven Soderbergh and others stayed down the road at the Villa d'Este hotel, where the switchboard handled calls from star-seekers.

Though the making of a film is as uneventful as getting Botox in places like Los Angeles and New York, here it was the topic of conversation seemingly everywhere. It was nearly impossible to go in an ice cream shop, restaurant or boutique without overhearing someone asking whether a star di Hollywood (star of Hollywood) had been spotted. Thursdays are the big night out in the village of Cernobbio. But instead of Italians mingling over a scoop of gelato or cup of espresso at Harry's Bar, some of the scantily clad young girls perched outside the gates of Villa Erba, where production on Ocean's Twelve was taking place and where maybe, oh, just maybe, Clooney or Pitt would exit in a tinted-window, chauffer-driven Range Rover.

"It's great for business, not with the actors, but from the people looking for the actors," said Nearco Folloni, owner of Bar Laterna, a local spot just up the road from Clooney's villa and where a glass of wine sells for less than a dollar.

The press is barred from the movie set, but that hasn't stopped American, French, German and British media from following the Ocean's Twelve gang from city to city.

Clooney's home, called Villa Oleandra, is in Laglio, a village of about 850 residents. The actor bought the mansion from the Heinz family for about $10 million in October 2002. It sits on long, windy and scenic Via Regina, the main drag. The front of Clooney's home is visible to all. So security guards often were stationed at all entrances and on top of an elevated parking structure across the street.

Laglio mayor Giuseppe Mantero had issued a temporary order saying "due to the presence of international v.i.p.s, parking or standing (on foot) around the street adjacent to Via Regina, 20 (Clooney's address) is strictly forbidden." Laglio parish priest Mauro Stefanoni asked that the media "lasciate in pace George," or leave George in peace, because the priest feared the area was in danger of losing the tranquility that drew Clooney to the village.

During filming in Amsterdam, the scene was chaotic near the set. School-age children wanting to catch a glimpse of one of the stars packed a train station during a morning shoot and screamed and squealed when Pitt briefly appeared.

Security was so tight at the five-star Amstel Inter-Continental that people calling to make reservations at the bar or the hotel's restaurant La Rive were told that there are "special guests" in the house and that they should be prepared for extra security.

Somehow Rome's luxurious Hotel de Russie managed to keep secret from the media that the cast was headquartered there until a few days into their stay. Of course, the actors always register under pseudonyms, so don't bother trying to reach them if you don't know whom to ask for. A gift for Zeta-Jones took two days to reach her. One top Italian designer was furious that the items he sent to the stars were never delivered to their Hotel de Russie suites because he didn't know their assumed names.