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Changeling - Clint Eastwood interview

Clint Eastwood

Compiled by Jack Foley

CLINT Eastwood is a living legend. On screen, he is famed for his role as the Man With No Name in the spaghetti westerns, A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

He also made the Magnum of the best known weapons in the world when he created the iconic lawman in the hit series of Dirty Harry movies. Then he proved to be just as talented behind the screen as Eastwood won the Oscar for his iconic western Unforgiven and boxing drama Million Dollar Baby.

Eastwood’s latest film, Changeling, which stars Angelina Jolie, is a thought-provoking true life drama. Set in 1928 it tells the engrossing story of home a mother’s search for her missing son exposed corruption in Los Angeles, unearthed horrific crimes and led to a change in the law. He talks about some of the challenges involved in making it.

Q: Changeling has been described as one of your most ambitious films. Do you agree?
Clint Eastwood: Well, I think all of them are ambitious in some way or another. But I guess you could describe it as that.

Q: Was it your intention to have the audience think they were watching one kind of movie and then as the story develops, give them something they possibly didn’t expect?
Clint Eastwood: I think that is the nature of the material. It does that, it makes you follow the woman’s story and her dilemma and then, all of a sudden, after they have humiliated her as much as they can, then we bring in the whole mystery of what has been going on.

Q: Do you think in a way the film Changeling shows that corruption is a constant factor in our lives?
Clint Eastwood: Yes, it is a constant, and it’s not an irony lost on me that Los Angeles has had corrupt moments in its history. For some reason, I think that’s the inspiration for Film Noir films that were made in those times and there were so many kind of bizarre incidents. But for some reason, because Los Angeles was left out there by itself in those days on the West Coast, it became a world of its own and I don’t know why this happens, and corruption is always there.

I don’t know how to relate it to the current economic crisis, but there is definitely corruption there, not only from Wall Street. Everybody’s blaming it on Wall Street, but there are people who think they can just take a plastic card and charge the world on it and not really pay attention to what they can afford, and live within their means. We’re all living in a kind of a dream world, including Wall Street, and including the politicians who are afraid to institute an economical restraint.

Q: How do you decide that you’ve got the people that you really have at the top of your list for characters?
Clint Eastwood: It’s just a matter of how you feel at the time. When I was first given this script, I was told that Angelina had read this and liked it, so I told Brian Grazer that I didn’t see any reason to look further. I liked her very much, I liked her as an actress and she is a mother and a famous mother now, but I figured that she would just know all the proper things about this character. And the others were cast the same way.

I do a lot of casting by videotape of people coming in and reading scenes and what have you, because I’ve been turned down for so many parts over the years in my early career. I hated to be like one of those guys sitting there smoking a cigar and blowing smoke in the actors’ faces as they came in to read and so I figure if they come in and casting can give them a read, you just give them a look, how they look, how they sound, how they feel, and then if you get close to casting them, then you maybe meet with them and talk further, or maybe not at all, sometimes just a reading, like Jason Harner who plays Northcott. He just did a brilliant reading on tape, you just could go: “Yeah! Too bad the regular camera wasn’t running at all.” It just that he is the guy. So we didn’t go any further.

We’ve done that on other pictures. I remember with Bird years ago with Diane Venora, we had a whole tape of about five different actresses I was supposed to look at. She came on first and she got about halfway through the scene and I said: “That’s the girl. Okay.” And then everybody said: “No, don’t you want to look at the rest of them?” And I said: “For the next picture. For this picture, this is her.”

Q: Have you talked to your children about the danger of strangers – since this is a movie about serial killers?
Clint Eastwood: I grew up in a time that was similar to this picture. But by the same token, kids went out and played. There was no television, everybody played outdoors and your parents always told you to beware of strangers – and to be aware of that old gimmick – which is used in the picture – of somebody coming up and telling you: “You’re mother’s in the hospital, you must jump in the car and come with us now.”

That is one of the oldest ploys in the book, and was used by Northcott and other people over the years. I think your parents have to instill that in you and we have to instill in our children that not everybody has their best interests at heart, and there are a lot of motivations out there.

It’s hard for kids not to know that today, with all the great information age we live, plus watching all the mayhem on television all night, just by watching the news, not even the fictional stories. So, I think it’s up to parents to do the educating on that on that level and naturally, a person of higher profile is probably a little more diligent about that than somebody who is not a public figure.

But by the same token, you want to give the child a normal life, you don’t want to scare the child and have them going around thinking that there’s somebody waiting around the corner to hit them with a club or something. So it’s a fine line and you have to work that out in your family, and what your philosophies are and I suppose the adults at least have to build up a supposing situation.

Q: One of the most chilling scenes in the film is the execution. Why did you decide on showing such detail?
Clint Eastwood: I just felt that it deserved to be told in detail. Northcott was convicted and then spent two years in solitary confinement and was then taken out to be hanged.

Q: How do you get the energy to direct so many movies at such a pace?
Clint Eastwood: Well, I don’t know. I guess that I am not in front of the camera as much as I used to be. I suppose I feel like it is a good time to be doing it.

Q: Did you do the music for Gran Torino, as you did for Changeing?
Clint Eastwood: Well, I did some of the work on Gran Torino and my son [Kyle Eastwood] also worked on it and we got Jamie Cullum to do some lyrics.

Q: Music appears to be a passion for you?
Clint Eastwood: Music does have a very special place in my heart. I enjoy it very much. I suppose it is my first love and I do a lot of it. It seems to be when you are making a project it inspires you sometimes to jot down something that you think fits the situation.

Q: It is also very evident that you do not follow fashions. Instead you set trends as you did with Unforgiven when they said Westerns were finished?
Clint Eastwood: I think it is more important to tell a story rather than follow any trend; that is a less bold way to go. If you do that [follow trends] you are just trying to ride on the coat tails of someone else’s success. I could certainly do another Western film if I found a script. But I have never found a script that was as good as Unforgiven. In my mind, Unforgiven was to be my last Western.

Q: What about The Human Factor, your film about Nelson Mandela? How far are you on the plans for that?
Clint Eastwood: I’m not planning anything right now. Right now, I’m taking it easy. I am doing the Mandela film in March. But I’m taking a break between now and then. We are in slow gear right now.

Q: As you said you are not on screen as much as you once were. Obviously you are in Gran Torino but do you miss not acting as often?
Clint Eastwood: I enjoyed acting in Million Dollar Baby and in Gran Torino I play a character who is my age and it is a character that I enjoyed playing. But I’m not looking for it [acting roles]. I’m more interested in staying behind the camera.

Q: Were you at one time asked if you would play James Bond?
Clint Eastwood: I was, yes at one time. This was after Sean [Connery quit]. I had the same attorney as the Broccoli family.

Q: Any regrets about not having been 007?
Clint Eastwood: I thought that James Bond should be British. I’m of British descent but by the same token I thought that it [Bond] should be more of the culture there and also, it was not my thing, it was somebody’s else’s thing.

Q: How involved are you in the DVD of films like Changeling?
Clint Eastwood: You want the DVD to be as close as it can be to the original film. Nowadays people have nice television screens, High Definition and all that and it is nice for them to have the same experience or something close to as you have in the theatre.

Read our review of Changeling