George and Amal Clooney have set out to honor those who have taken great personal risk and devoted their lives to justice with the first-ever Albie Awards, which will be held at the New York Public Library on Thursday. The couple will host the event, and a star-studded ensemble of celebrities, including Meryl Streep, Dua Lipa, Oscar Isaac, Julia Roberts and Michelle Obama, are set to present.
“We’re not a government. We can’t change the laws,” George Clooney told “CBS Mornings” co-host Gayle King in an exclusive interview. “But we can make it loud enough that the citizens can demand those type of things.”
Named after Albie Sachs, a South African lawyer and former judge who was imprisoned for his fight against apartheid, the inaugural award ceremony will recognize journalists, human rights leaders and other global justice defenders who “are at great risk for what they do,” according to the Clooney Foundation for Justice.
“These are people that willingly go to prison because they believe so strongly in the fight for independence, in the fight for democracy,” George Clooney said. “They are real heroes.”
Amal Clooney, who represents clients like, cited her mother — who is a journalist — as a source of inspiration.
“She was always asking tough questions and not sort of intimidated by people who are in power, but, you know, impressed if someone’s actually doing something good and I think that has stayed with me,” she said.
She also said her inspiration comes from her desire to improve the world.
“I think we’re just responding to what we see in the world and try to use anger as a motivating force, rather than something that makes you want to bury your head in the sand,” she said.
George Clooney also cited a journalist — his father — for inspiring the project.
“My dad had really one rule for us which was, challenge people with more power than you and defend people with less power — because if you do nothing else in your life, then you’ll have a successful life,” he said.
But Clooney noted that his work is “a hard thing to do.”
“This arc of history bending towards justice, it feels like it takes a long time,” he said. “It does.”
The award ceremony is set to be held a day after the couple’s eighth wedding anniversary. Reflecting on their marriage, Mr. Clooney said he was “taken by” Amal the very first time he saw her — but added that he wasn’t sure if the feeling was mutual.
“She’s this extraordinarily, you know, fun, smart, beautiful, great woman and, you know, I was just very taken with her and I started writing her letters,” he said, noting that one of the letters was from his dog, who needed a human rights lawyer to rescue him from a wine cellar.
Amal Clooney said she was “definitely” interested in him, too.
“I met him and I thought, ‘I’m so glad that there’s someone like him in the world,'” she said. “I didn’t necessarily imagine that I would get to spend my life with him or that we would have this incredible family.”