LAGLIO, Italy – George Clooney (search) shoots baskets with the local kids, carries grandmothers' groceries uphill and works hard on pronouncing "buon giorno."
He has international stardom and rascally good looks, but in this hamlet where Clooney owns an 18th century mansion with a private dock on Lake Como (search), the star is simply "bravo" — Italian for "a good person."
Sure, the fans pitching tents outside Villa Oleandra (search) are a nuisance, but locals say they don't mind the extra business their celebrity neighbor has generated since he bought the mansion two years ago.
"He's good and kind with everyone. All you have to do is not intrude on him," said Giordano Saibene, sunning himself on a narrow stone ledge with a view of the pine-shaded villa.
Intruding may include snapping photos — Saibene said Clooney's bodyguards once threw apples at a fan who was trying to take a picture of the villa.
On a recent lazy July day, word was out that Clooney wasn't in town. So Laglio, surrounded by forested foothills stretching toward the Alps and Switzerland, was enjoying a respite from celebrity watchers.
Only a few days earlier, however, star-watching was at a fever pitch as fans searched for a glimpse not only of Clooney, but his co-stars in "Ocean's Twelve," (search) which was wrapping up filming in Italy. Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta-Jones (search), Julia Roberts and Matt Damon (search) are in the sequel to 2001's "Ocean's Eleven," which is a remake of a the 1960 Frank Sinatra movie.
"Everyone was outside the villa. Old ladies and entire families. There were even those who slept in their car. It was a pilgrimage," said Nearco Folloni, owner of Laglio's Lanterna bar.
Pitt liked to tool around in a rented motorboat, said Daniele Riva, whose family boatyard provided it. Riva said local authorities asked that boats not be rented "to the curious" who might disturb the stars at play. The Rivas, who have built boats for five generations for the rich who summer in Laglio, obliged.
Mariuccia Riva, Daniele's mother, said she first came across Clooney when he had locked himself out of the villa. Since then, he always tells her good morning.
"He says it like this, 'Buon giorno, signora,'" Mrs. Riva said, opening her mouth wide and rolling the vowels in an exaggerated imitation of Clooney's efforts to pronounce Italian.
Clooney is known for hopping into the boat with a white convertible top that he keeps at his dock, zipping guests across the lake to dine in other towns.
A Como newspaper published an appeal by Laglio's Catholic pastor, pleading to fans to leave Clooney in peace, saying Laglio's "tranquility" is its main selling point.
But Folloni contended celebrity is good for business: "Before, Laglio wasn't on the map. Now it is and we like that."
Townspeople say they have an easy relationship with Clooney.
"Maybe because none of us ever bothered him, he would invite us" to join him on a public basketball court, said Saibene.
Clooney would pedal the few miles to the court on his mountain bike, a basketball in his backpack.
The actor was cycling one morning when he saw Saibene's 75-year-old grandmother trudging home with bags of milk, bread and other groceries and carried them for her.
"This man in a cap and dark glasses stopped and asked if he could help. She thought he was an American tourist," Saibene said. "She doesn't watch TV because she's in bed by 8 o'clock. She has hens and chicks to tend to."