How ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ became part of Bellagio’s ‘fabric’

Updated October 12, 2018 - 7:08 pm

If you really wanted to rob the vault at Bellagio, it would take more than a team of highly skilled thieves and grifters, experts in munitions and surveillance, and a tiny acrobat.

For starters, you’d have to hire somebody to build a vault.

“There’s a count room,” Paul Berry said, deflating “Ocean’s Eleven” fans everywhere. “It’s as boring as boring can be.”

Hollywood: 1, reality: 0.

Berry was director of hotel operations in 2001 when one of the greatest concentrations of star power ever assembled took over the resort for almost six months. The update of the Rat Pack’s 1960 master class in cool is practically dripping with Bellagio.

George Clooney and Julia Roberts smoldered in their scenes inside Picasso restaurant. Brad Pitt and Matt Damon hit the casino floor, where Bernie Mac dealt cards. Comedy legend Carl Reiner, Scott Caan and Casey Affleck strutted beneath the lobby’s Dale Chihuly glass sculpture. As Terry Benedict, the casino’s fictional owner, Andy Garcia had the run of the joint. Don Cheadle disappeared down a manhole in front of the hotel. And the Fountains of Bellagio served as the focal point of the movie’s most iconic scene: when members of Danny Ocean’s crew go their separate ways after watching the water sway to the sounds of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”

“Operationally it was ‘interesting,’ as we would call it,” Berry said, reflecting on the times the film shoot took over the front desk, half the casino floor and the entire driveway for days. Part of the conservatory became the hotel’s check-in lounge, and guests were shuttled in and out through emergency exits. “But we didn’t care, because we were having so much fun, and we recognized the power of what this movie was going to be.”

An influx of visitors were hoping to catch a glimpse of the actors and the action. “When we were filming, there would be thousands of people watching,” Berry recalled. “Thousands. Thousands! Thouuuusands.”

The movie’s release on Dec. 7, 2001, had an even greater impact: introducing the relatively new resort to the world. “December is typically the worst month we ever have from an occupancy standpoint,” Berry said. “December of 2001 was the best month that we had that year.” It’s still the hotel’s best December ever, despite the fact that local tourism was reeling following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Ocean’s Eleven” went on to gross $183 million in the U.S. and $267 million internationally. It ended its box-office run as the year’s eighth-biggest domestic release.

Parts of 2004’s “Ocean’s Twelve” and 2007’s “Ocean’s Thirteen,” mostly involving Garcia’s Terry Benedict, also were filmed at Bellagio. The investment of the hotel’s resources in the trilogy’s first installment, though, is still paying dividends.

“There’s not a day that goes by that people don’t come by Bellagio and talk about ‘Ocean’s Eleven,’ ” said Berry, who’s now the vice president of hotel operations at Aria.

“It feels like it’s part of the fabric of Bellagio.”

Matt Damon’s recollections

In a 2016 interview with the Review-Journal to promote the release of “Jason Bourne,” Matt Damon looked back at the time he spent living and working at Bellagio while filming “Ocean’s Eleven.”

“Every single moment was fantastic. It was so fun,” he said. “To be with those guys, it was just the greatest group of guys.

“All of the pressure was really on Steven (Soderbergh, the director). The rest of us, we’d work, like, two or three days a week and then hang out together. Go play golf. It felt like we were robbing the casino, actually.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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