by PREETI VIRDEE
Where does one begin with a movie legend with the stature of Clint Eastwood? He has almost 100 awards under his belt from as far back as 1961, including 4 Oscars®, a BAFTA Britannia Award for Excellence in Film and 5 Golden Globes.
Clinton "Clint" Eastwood, born May 31, 1930, is an American film actor, director, producer and composer. With the release of "Gran Torino" in 2008, Clint Eastwood became the oldest actor to reach No. 1 at the box office, and the longest running movie star in history.
He was first noted for his anti-hero roles in the TV series, “Rawhide”, and then went onto spaghetti westerns where he played the Man With No Name in “A Fistful of Dollars”, and Inspector Harry Callahan in the Dirty Harry movies. By this time he had already begun directing with movies like “Play Misty For Me”, and following comedic roles in “Every Which Way but Loose” and “Any Which Way You Can”, Eastwood became an acclaimed producer too. Somewhere amongst all that, he also served as the nonpartisan mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California from 1986–1988, tending to support small business interests on the one hand and environmental protection as well.
Once Tony Peckham had completed the script for “Invictus”, Morgan Freeman sent the screenplay to Clint Eastwood, with whom he had already collaborated on 2 Oscar® nominated movies. Eastwood immediately responded to the material. “The story caught my imagination. I thought it was a natural for a movie, and I really liked the way the script was written.”
So when Clint Eastwood was in London for the European Premiere of “Invictus”, we caught up with him at Claridges…
As with the rest of the cast and crew who weren’t from a rugby background, Eastwood knew little about the game until he got to South Africa. The team behind “Invictus” chose Chester Williams, former Springbok and the only black member of the 1995 World Cup squad, to coach the onscreen rugby players and he was an invaluable resource for the filmmakers. “Chester wanted to make sure we played real rugby in the film,” Eastwood commented. “He said, ‘None of this fake movie stuff. We’re going to play proper rugby,’ as he put it. As you know, ‘proper rugby’ is a sport that’s very rough. It’s related to American football, but without any helmets or pads and players on both sides play offense and defence. It’s a very tough game, and the guys who play it are a special breed of cat.”
Producer Robert Lorenz said of Eastwood, “Clint actually became a big rugby fan. When we were in South Africa, he would watch hours of rugby every night and come in the next morning and talk about the games. He enjoyed it quite a bit.”
The most obvious question of course is what was the driving force behind Invictus?
“I planned on not working at this time of life …49!...39! I’m enjoying it now more than I ever have. I can take on more challenges because I know more - & also at this age you can forget more! I’m trying to avoid that. I enjoy the process & enjoy making films from behind the camera. I have no real reason. I’ve been lucky enough to work in a profession I really like & I’ll continue til someone hits me over the head and says get out!”
Why did you chose to film the entire movie on location in South Africa?
“I would not have filmed this movie any other place but South Africa. You have to be there—you need the people, you need the places. We wanted that authenticity. The majority of our cast and all of our extras were South African. They also have a viable cinema group in South Africa, so we also had a nice ensemble of Americans and South Africans working together behind the scenes and their crew could not have been better.”
From a film maker’s point of view what were the challenges of staging that end rugby match in comparison to a dramatic scene?
“Finding Jonah Lomu!
“I didn’t grow up with rugby but I went and talked to a lot of people like the coaches at the University of California; Jack Clark gave me a run down of the game, watched his practices got ideas of the game. Then we went to South Africa and we had Chester (Williams) and Francois (Pienaar) – various people who had actually been in the game. We hired rugby players to play all those acting parts with the exception of Matt and one or two others, who were all people that got the game real fast. Chester was our coach – he’d tell the players to play proper rugby so they’d be hitting hard. Our biggest challenge was to stay out of the way; our camera crews are used to working on the fly so that’s the way we approached it.”
Had you met Nelson Mandela before starting on “Invictus”?
“I met him at the same occasion Matt did; I thought he was equally as impressive as I’d seen him on film. I’d seen him on newsreels and various film presentations over the years. He’s an extremely charismatic man and he has that million dollar smile when he walks in the room – everybody else wants to smile with him. But I never got the chance to talk with him very much; when we met him he was 91 or 92, and he also doesn’t get out a lot, but just being around him you get a feeling. I learnt most of it from studying various films remembering all the moments in history when he was going through post-apartheid election and also watching Mr Freeman.”
In the movie one of the big turning points was when Pienaar went to Robben Island. What impression did that make on you?
“I was looking at it very technically, so I was crying for another reason. I was trying to figure how to get the cameras in the building. It’s very emotional when you go into a little cell that doesn’t even have a toilet in it – to think that people spent 27 years of their life in there just cracking rocks or digging in a salt mine is a little bit overwhelming , and to come out and be as openly magnanimous and forgiving as he did is almost impossible.”
When you choose the subject do you trust in your instinct?
“Yes I do. It was a story that I liked – it wasn’t like people say-how do you feel about doing a picture about rugby. I didn’t approach it as a picture about rugby. We wanted to make the rugby very good as obviously that was an inspiration to Mr Mandela to utilise this as an avenue to uniting his country. Mr Freeman called me up and said “I got a really good script”. He didn’t even tell me it was about Nelson Mandela. So I read the script, liked it very much, and I’ve always admired Mr Mandela and I was amazed at reading the script and John Carlin’s book about this incident because it seemed so creative; such a creative way to unify a country that was in really deep trouble on the brink of civil war. Mr Mandela had been in prison for quite a few years so nobody knew what was gonna happen. But to come out with this kind of imagination I just thought this is something politicians around the world could learn a lot from – bringing people together instead of just talking about it. He seemed to be a rather unique person. That was my reason for doing the picture.
“The rugby was exciting and it was fun to have that in there. But if it’d been Nelson Mandela and Texas Hole & Poker I suppose I still would have done because I admire the man.”
So do you believe there is a connection between sport and politics?
“Yes. Also there’s also the underdog factor that the Springboks hadn’t played in an international rugby contest for a while because of apartheid; they were not favourites to win at all, and they were in the game because they were the host nation which gave them a by – a pass – there. The New Zealand team was very powerful so they were definitely going in as the underdog. The fact was that Mr Mandela became so engrossed in this and put so much of his political capital on the line for this team and for this result, it’s almost like he was clairvoyant in some way. His assistants keep telling him that he was wasting his time – it was just a long shot, why was he wasting his time. But he was obsessed with this and we’ve seen politicians become obsessed with things but not sport as a rule.”
Revenge and retribution have been recurrent themes in your career. Now you’ve turned to forgiveness…was it a change of heart?
At which point Matt Damon interjected “You should see Invictus 2”. And of course Morgan Freeman couldn’t leave it at that, directing his question at Eastwood, “Are you going soft?”
Once all the laughter had died down, eventually Mr Eastwood got to respond...
“Dirty Harry would never be forgiving like that, that’s what makes Nelson Mandela a superior person. He had other pragmatic ideas too; he needed the total population – every building block possible to build a nation – even sometimes people who had been prior enemies.”
There were rumours last year that you said this would be your last movie – is this true?
“I said that back when we did Million Dollar Baby, so I figured it would be good to quit while we’re on top. But then Gran Torino came along playing a man my age not stretching so I decided to go ahead and give it another shot. It depends on if any great roles come up; there aren’t that many great roles for a guy who’s 38! You just never say never. I had always planned when I directed my first film in 1970 that after a few years I’d get tired of looking at myself on the screen, but every now & then something pops up.”
Your penchant for one scene – one take – how does that impact the actors?
“I don’t necessarily do one take, but I’m always trying to. If one take works, I’ll print it. Sometimes I’ll do quite a few set ups but I’ll make a decision right at that time whether that’s good, bad or otherwise. Because I think if you do 30-40 takes, it’s your loss because you don’t quite know what you’re looking for.
“I’ve always felt that when a person has to do 20 takes it’s usually one of two reasons: one, that they don’t know what they’re looking for, but also because they don’t know what the next set up is so they’re just killing time; they’re utilising the actors to kill time until some great idea comes to them. That becomes a bit of a problem. It does give you a sense of insecurity when that happens. In the old days a lot of people did it defensively because they didn't want to leave a lot of extra film because they didn’t want the studio executives to come in and recut their film and restructure everything, so there was only one way to put it together. So back in the 30s and 40s when the studio execs had a tremendous amount of power and the directors came in, directed and got out; you didn’t even stay and edit your film for the most part. “
Are you less in love with the American Dream than you might have been as you’re a product of the era of the Great Depression?
“Yes I was brought up during the Depression-those were bad years, but as a kid you only know what’s the at the time. If someone’s feeding you beans and water that’s OK because that’s what you know. If you get to know caviar then eventually it’s tough to go back. It was a tough time and I’ve learned a lot from that. But I’ve learned a lot from every age. I love telling stories about that because its part of your travel through life. Whether I have feelings for the American Dream – I still think it’s there for people who want to embrace it. I still think there’s a great energy in the country when it wants to have it, and I think that inner energy does allow for entrepreneurial feelings of whatever a person wants to accomplish in life.
“Invictus” is nominated for 24 awards including 2 Oscars and 3 Golden Globes, how important are awards?
“They’ve changed awards now so now so the statue “goes to” – they don’t say “wins” because actually you don’t win, its voted on. Not like a track meet when you actually have to win the race. It’s always better to remember when someone gives you an award they could be wrong – you just have to keep that in mind then you go ahead and enjoy it. And then move on.
Which of your films as a director were the biggest challenge and why?
“When you’ve done as many films as I’ve done you just keep going. I never look back and think too much about ‘em. I’ve done some work I’ve been proud of over the years but which is my favourite I don’t know - I could say it’s the last one. I’ve little jumps in my career like “Unforgiven”, then I try something different like “Letters from Iwo Jima” which is a film I like doing a lot. I like doing films with Morgan Freeman which I’ve done several times. I like working with Matt Damon which I’m doing for the second time. I get the chance to work with people over again that I respect I lot – you never know what’s the favourite. Once a film is done and something’s been performed it’s up to someone else to make a judgement on it, it has nothing to do with you. Maybe you had a good time or maybe you had a headache when you were making it – sometimes that leaves a lasting mark in your memory.”