By Kyle | October 5, 2008
Clint Eastwood came into town last week for a press conference to introduce his new Angelina Jolie-starring period drama “Changeling”–during which he described himself as “a libertarian” and said essentially that he was disgusted with both political parties. Interesting. More on that later.
On Saturday, he was interviewed by the New Yorker’s legendarily durable writer Lillian Ross, a sort of Eastwood of magazine writing, who has spent decades at the magazine and received a cheerful round of applause as she clambered upon the stage at the Directors Guild of America theater on W. 57 St.
Eastwood, natty in a leather blazer and a tie, regaled the audience with some tinkling on the piano–he writes the scores to many of his movies–and reflected on his life in cinema. He made it clear that he regards his 60s and 70s pictures as insubstantial work. “Anytime anybody says–[switching to dumb-guy voice] ‘When you gonna do another segment of “Dirty Harry”‘ [end of dumb-guy voice] I say, ‘Well, I think that’s kind of come and gone.'” The audience laughed as he did his dumb-guy voice, congratulating themselves on their superior taste, although minutes earlier most of them had applauded the “Do you feel lucky?” clip. Later, when asked what “Rawhide” meant to him, Eastwood said, “What it meant to me was a job–an actual steady job which is very rare and very hard to come by…I just thought that I’ll learn as much as I can about film and stay here a few years.” When he made the Sergio Leone pictures, he said, he spoke no Italian and Leone spoke no English. “I didn’t understand a word he was saying,” he said. And the set was place where “you’d work for a while and then you had a huge lunch and everybody goes to sleep for two hours.” Nevertheless, “It was great fun to do the outrageous interpretation of our western….[“A Fistful of Dollars”] was a little tiny movie that cost $200,000, shooting in the plains of Spain, and I thought that if this doesn’t work nobody’s ever gonna se it.” Ross informed Eastwood that Robyn Hitchcock was writing a rock opera based on “Magnum Force,” which was news to Eastwood.
Ross’s profile of Eastwood was called “Nothing fancy,” and Eastwood was proud of that. “I just keep doin’ em. I think it’s fun to work,” he said. “With the passing of Paul [Newman] the other day, I thought, the generation I came up with, there’s not many of ’em left. So I just keep makin’ em.” He referred to his earlier films as “the armed and dangerous thing,” adding, “it was fun to do fantasy detectives and fantasy cowboys,” but “since 1970 I’ve been trying to move to the back side of the camera.” But occasionally good roles made him want to act again. “Then ‘Million Dollar Baby’ came along and I thought, ‘Well, that’s a nice character.'”
After “Changeling,” which as I said before is basically a 1940s Bette Davis-style Warner Bros. melodrama–about the only obvious change is that this one is in color–Eastwood has yet another picture this year, “Gran Torino,” which he stars in as well as directs and which is already in post-production. He showed a clip from the film in which his character is given a birthday party by what appear to be his daughter and son in law (or maybe son and daughter in law), who, as they slip him the birthday cake, also slide him some retirement village pamphlets and explain how “beautiful” and “resort”-like these places are. Eastwood’s character does a slow boil. “He’s such a bizarre guy because he’s a total racist and doesn’t understand what’s going on in the world,” said Eastwood. “But he finds redemption. He doesn’t really seek it, but he finds it.
Of “Changeling,” in which Angelina Jolie plays a telephone systems manager whose son is kidnapped, only to be replaced by a boy she claims is not her son (the police claim he is), Eastwood echoed my original post. “I grew up watching films in the 40s when there were a lot of women’s films that weren’t necessarily chick flicks,” he said. “The Bette Davises and the Ingrid Bergmans–they had some really good roles to play. I think we sort of lost that for a while.” He also said Jolie, as an actress, is “hampered by having this gorgeous face–the most gorgeous face on the planet.”
When Ross mentioned, “You were in ‘Paint Your Wagon,'” Eastwood quickly replied, “Yeah–but don’t tell ’em that.” Alan J. Lerner, he said, offered him the part while he was shooting “While Eagles Dare” and Eastwood said he thought, “Boy, things are getting desperate now.” While shooting the picture with Lee Marvin, Eastwood said, he was warned, “When Lee comes to your trailer and asks if you have any beer, tell him you don’t….Because then he’ll need a vodka chaser” and so on. The experience evidently gave Eastwood a distaste for alcohol, especially considering shooting “Where Eagles Dare” with Richard Burton. “He’s Welsh…they’re sort of championship in that department.”
Perhaps most instructive was Eastwood’s discussion of his methods as a director. As is well known, he frequently shoots only one take, and the actors know this so they’re always prepared to go. “I don’t like to yell ‘action’ because that does get a couple of drops of adrenaline.” Instead, he silently signals the crew to start rolling. Sometimes child actors aren’t even aware that the cameras are rolling.
I asked Eastwood what qualities he believed would be ideal in a presidential candidate. He quoted James Cagney as saying, “Plant your feet and tell the truth.” He said politics was “such a smoke and mirrors kind of thing these days” and that “they all have the BS factor because that’s the nature of politics…I don’t know when this all started but it’s promising, ‘What can we give you? If I get in I’m gonna give you a check. And people think that’s great, but what’s gonna happen on the other end?” Of the debate two days previous, Eastwood said, “One of the candidates the other night seemed more prone to telling the truth than the other.” Everyone laughed–this was a New York, cultural audience, therefore presumably liberal. They thought he was referring to Joe Biden. But then Ross interjected, to my shock, “I liked her too!” And Eastwood went on to talk about how “she” did, although he stopped short of a ringing endorsement. He said he met John McCain at a social event and quipped, “I just said, ‘Don’t even ask it–I will not be a vice presidential candidate.'” Eastwood later said, more seriously, “You have to sell your soul” to be VP, calling it, “the least appealing job.”
Asked to name his favorite films, Eastwood retreated to his youth, mentioning, “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “Blood on the Moon,” “High Sierra,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Blvd.,” and “Red River.”
At the tail end, Eastwood spoke about his next film (apparently) after “Gran Torino,” “The Human Factor,” which is in part about Nelson Mandela’s lack of vindictiveness after being released from prison and being elected president. The film’s A-story is that of an all-white rugby team that was at the bottom of the rankings but managed to win the championship after desegregation, a neat symbol of unity.