"Hi, I'm George."

It's George Clooney. Of "ER." Dressed in black and wearing motorcycle boots.

He is doing the head tilt.

The shoulders hunch forward. Slightly. The neck curves downward. The head tips to the side and his deep-set, shadowy eyes gaze upward. He is being earnest.

At first glance, the Clooney tilt resembles the David Caruso cant. Caruso starred as Detective John Kelly on "NYPD Blue." Caruso regularly turned his head to the side, leaned forward and asked, "Are you okay?" His was a sensitive tilt.

That self-conscious lean of the noggin made Caruso a star. It has done a lot for Clooney, too.

The Emmy-nominated 'throb of "ER" was one of People magazine's most beautiful faces of 1995 and a GQ cover boy. He did a cameo on "Friends." He received a Golden Globe nomination. He's scheduled to co-star in "Peacemaker," the first film from DreamWorks SKG -- the Steven Spielberg-Jeffrey Katzenberg-David Geffen entertainment conglomerate.

And his first feature film, "From Dusk Till Dawn," directed by Robert Rodriguez and starring Harvey Keitel, Juliette Lewis and Quentin Tarantino, who also wrote it, opened yesterday. It's a cops-and-robbers-and-kidnappers-and- vampires adventure-thriller. Really.

"It looks like I'm going to get a fair run at features," says Clooney, 34. "Then I'll be doing Hollywood Squares.' "

This is Clooney showing off his self-deprecating humor, proving he isn't cocky. Or stupid. Unlike Caruso, who left "NYPD Blue" to focus on a film career and who set the standard for delusional career judgment, Clooney isn't going anywhere. He plans to honor his five-year contract with the producers of "ER."

This is a wise decision because "From Dusk Till Dawn" is not getting good reviews. Actually, it's being ferociously panned. Not because of Clooney -- who makes a fine action antihero -- but because the story is dull, gallons of blood flow without so much as a hint of irony, and the movie isn't funny.

"This isn't a steppingstone series," he says of "ER." It's critically acclaimed, highly rated TV. But even if it were not, Clooney wouldn't snub it. Television has kept him off the unemployment line. It has paid the bills. Long ago "I stopped saying, I'm a film actor who happens to do TV.' "

In the beginning, "you want to be doing a movie opposite Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, but it just doesn't happen," Clooney says. "No one says, Wow, I want to start off with an episode of "Baywatch." '

"But when you first start out, you can't be a snob. . . . I've done a lot of bad TV."

He tilts his head. Looks earnest. And slides a slice of honeydew into his mouth.

"Do you want some fruit?" he asks. "Anyone want coffee?"

Clooney sits at a table next to a window with a Capraesque 50th-floor view of winterized Manhattan. Snow is pouring from the sky by the bucketful. It is Sunday morning, and Clooney has to be back in California in time for work Monday.

He is worried. He's got an assistant working to get him on any air-worthy plane out of New York. Any destination will do. "Can I get to Florida?" He will not be blizzard-bound. A working fella doesn't like to take snow days.

Clooney is moving the interview right along -- no prima donna hesitancy. He's in a suite at the Rihga Royal Hotel to answer questions, recount an anecdote or two and tell folks just how wonderful his new movie is and how great it was to work with Rodriguez of "Desperado" and Tarantino of "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs." "I mean, the last thing {Tarantino} did won an Oscar!" Clooney gushes . . . earnestly.

Unlike some actors, Clooney looks in person precisely the way he does on television. Medium build. Medium height. Tanned with a shadow of a beard. He looks good. He does the forthrightness thing with ease. And he moves like he's tired.

Just before filming "From Dusk Till Dawn," Clooney took a golf holiday in Hawaii with friends. He knew it would be a long time before his pulse rate was that slow again. He took no time off from the TV show to make this film with Rodriguez. "There's an advantage of doing a series where you're supposed to look beat," he says. For six weeks, he worked two jobs. His work ethic was not made in Hollywood.

"I grew up in Kentucky in kind of a blue-collar area. My mentality, like a lot of guys, is you feel like you have to make your mark," he says. "You pick what you're going to do in your twenties, and in your thirties and forties you try to make your mark."

Clooney grew up in Augusta, Ky. His aunt is crooner Rosemary Clooney -- she took a guest role on the show. And his dad is regional TV news guy Nick Clooney. After a year at Northern Kentucky University, Clooney moved to California to act. His first big gig was a recurring role on "Facts of Life."

He later played a character named Booker on "Roseanne," and had leads in two blips on the prime-time landscape, "Hot Prospects" and "Bodies of Evidence."

"In general, you can see where your career is going," he says. And his seemed headed for sitcomville: zany neighbors, crusty but benign relatives, precocious kids, laugh tracks.

Along the way, Clooney auditioned for a lot of movies. Often, he says, he'd get down to the last cut. A great part -- or at least some part -- would be just within his grasp. "But eventually, I knew they were going to give it to a name. But in my other world, in television, I was getting the work."

One of the films Clooney auditioned for was Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs," the bloody tale of a heist gone wrong. He wasn't cast.

"I sucked."

Instead, he played the police officer boyfriend of actress Sela Ward on "Sisters." His character was killed in the line of duty. It was a great show, he says, but "a girl's show." The men were accessories.

And then Clooney turned up on "ER."

"It's nice not to be embarrassed about the work that you do," he says. "It's so exciting to walk down the street and have people say, I love your show. "

And they do. The episode in which Clooney's character, pediatrician Doug Ross, saves a child from drowning set a "ER" ratings record. It drew more than 48 million viewers. And folks still talk about last year's episode "Love's Labor Lost," in which a young woman dies during childbirth. Clooney was hosting "Saturday Night Live" that week and appears in only one scene. "When I watched it, it took my breath away."

It was Clooney's good fortune -- maybe -- that Tarantino guest-directed one of the episodes of "ER." It was the tape of that show that prompted director Rodriguez to call Clooney about a film job.

Rodriguez had cast all the supporting roles in "From Dusk Till Dawn," but had found no one to play the lead. The film studio gave Rodriguez a list of movie actors who'd played tough guys before. Name after name was familiar. One actor's rate? About $2 million. Too pricey for low-budget Rodriguez. "I'm from a family of 10 kids," he says. "I'm used to saving money." Then he saw the "ER" tape.

"I thought, There's the guy!' " Rodriguez says. "And George wasn't getting offered any big roles at the time. He was getting fourth-banana roles."

So Rodriguez gave him the chance to blow up a building, kidnap a family, threaten bikers, shoot bystanders, and chase and destroy vampires. The cast was ankle-deep in the blood bath just about the time politicians started their most recent round of decrying the violence in popular culture.

"We made the movie we wanted to make," Rodriguez says. "This one really crosses the line, and that's why everyone will want to see it. . . . It's over-the-top crazy exploitation."

There is a scene in which a convenience store clerk is not only shot repeatedly but also set afire atop a mound of popcorn. The bleeding, blazing man snaps and pops his way to his death. The audience laughs.

"That was my idea," Rodriguez says. "The laugh was in the script, but he was supposed to fall into Hostess Twinkies." Rodriguez didn't think the cream-filled cakes would be as funny as crackling popcorn.

"We set that up in the first scene," he says. "So you know you'll be laughing at more twisted stuff later on."

Clooney is a fan of that kind of violence. "I love pulp," he says.

Besides, he's used to all that blood and gore from "ER." In fact, the actor's TV experience proved doubly advantageous. "I work almost like a TV director because I move so fast," Rodriguez says. "With George, I don't have to sit and explain things to him. He'll try 11 things really fast. I like working at quite a clip."

On "ER," Clooney works through about 11 pages of dialogue a day. Most TV series finish only about six pages.

"I have a terrible memory. I can't remember my lines; I write my lines down on gurneys," he says. "All the zombies {in the movie} had my lines on them."

Walking dead aside, the scariest sight Clooney ever witnessed was inside a casting office. He was strolling by the open door when he spotted a well-known sixty-something actor auditioning for a part on a show Clooney was doing. The guest spot consisted of three lines. And it wasn't even a very good show.

"I remember thinking, That's frightening. I don't want to be 60 and worried about what a casting director thinks of me.' "

He wants to have made his mark by then.

Clooney doesn't look at his watch, but as he peers out the window at the deepening blanket of snow, he's getting anxious. He plans to do just one more interview. The others will have to be rescheduled or canceled. He has a way back to California. To work. He does the head tilt.

"You can't let these moments get away," he says, sounding like someone who's bone-tired and moving on adrenaline and momentum.

"I'll sleep when I'm dead." CAPTION: George Clooney: "When you first start out, you can't be a snob. . . . I've done a lot of bad TV." CAPTION: Actor George Clooney with his aunt, singer Rosemary Clooney, on "ER."