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Invictus - Clint Eastwood interview

Invictus, UK premiere

Interview by Rob Carnevale

CLINT Eastwood talks about some of the challenges of directing his Nelson Mandela movie, Invictus, meeting the man himself and tackling the movie’s rugby scenes.

He also discusses why he is enjoying making movies more now than perhaps he ever has, what he considers to be his career achievements and why he likes to direct with a one-take approach where possible…

Q. You’re at an age where most of us would be taking life a little easier. Yet you continue to make excellent and challenging movies. Why do you continue to work so much and so well?
Clint Eastwood: I sort of planned on not working at his particular time of life but nobody can plan on what they are going to do when they reach my age of 49 … 39 [laughs]. I just feel that I’m enjoying the work now more than I ever have… or just as much certainly, and I’m at an age when I can take on more challenges than I have in the past because I know more. Also, at this age you can forget more – but I’m trying to avoid that [laughs]. But I just enjoy the process, I enjoy making films behind the camera equally to making them in front of the camera on all those years. I just enjoy it, that’s all. I’ve been lucky enough to work in a profession that I have really liked and so I figured I’d just continue until someone hits me over the head and says “get out”.

Q. After Gran Torino you said that would be your last acting job. Please say that’s not true?
Clint Eastwood: [Smiles] I said that when we did Million Dollar Baby. That picture turned out to be a success, so I figured maybe this would be a good stage to quit, while I was still on top – unlike most people who sort of drift down to the end or a prize-fighter who fights one too many fights or something. But Gran Torino. came along and it seemed an interesting part and was a man my age. I figured I wasn’t stretching that much so I decided to go ahead and give it another shot. I’m still saying that. If some great roles came up – and I don’t know how many great roles there are for a guy who’s 38… but you just don’t know. You just never say never… to quote advertising for another picture! But I had always planned when I started directing in 1970 that after a few years I’d get tired of looking at myself on the screen and say: “Hey, let’s not do that any more.” But then every once in a while something pops up. I’m not saying it won’t happen again but probably the odds get less as you set yourself for roles that fit your age group. Unless I do The Bucket List 2 [Laughs]!

Q. You did a fairly long apprenticeship at Universal. Did you learn anything apart from how to survive?
Clint Eastwood: You’re referring at being at Universal for quite a few years? I was there twice. I was there in the ’50s, when it was owned by a different company, and I was just a contract player and I didn’t get to do much. I played different parts that sometimes re-appear on television and I slide under the table. Some of them were respectable. But I learned a lot there. I spent most of my time… because I wasn’t employed in a lot of the pictures I’d go around to various sets to watch people and see how they worked, or watched how directors worked. But it was a different company then and later I came back, after doing the pictures with Sergio Leone, under different circumstances and it was owned by MCA and I was doing leading roles. It was a little bit different situation. But I learnt a lot then too. I learn a lot every day and even to this day. Going back to the other question, why do I keep doing it? Because I always learn something. Every picture you learn something, about people, about yourself, about what’s going on in the world, how the world’s changed, and how you’ve changed.

Q. You’re known for taking only one or two takes when you direct. Why is that?
Clint Eastwood: I don’t necessarily do one take but I’m always trying to do one take. If that one take works, I’ll print it. If the third take works, I’ll print that. But sometimes I will do quite a few set-ups but I try to make a decision at that time whether they’re good, bad or otherwise because I think if you start doing 30/40 takes you’re lost somewhere, you don’t quite know what you’re looking for and I like to think I know what I’m looking for, whether it’s right or wrong. A lot of time when a person has to do 20 takes on something it’s usually for one of two reasons. One is they don’t quite know what they’re looking for but also they don’t know what the next set-up is, so they’re just killing time and utilising the actors to kill time until some great idea comes to them. So, that becomes a bit of a problem.

They’re not abusing the actors because that’s what they’re their for. I’ve worked with people like that and it gives you a big 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 studio executives to come in and be able to re-cut their film and restructure everything, so they’d just give them only what they needed – so there was only one way to put it together. That was back in the ’30s and ’40s when the studio execs had a tremendous amount of power and directors just got out… they didn’t even stay to edit their films for the most part.

Q. What was meeting Nelson Mandela like?
Clint Eastwood: I thought he was equally impressive as he was 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 into a room and everybody else wants to smile with him. But I never got a chance to talk with him very much… he doesn’t get out much because he’s in his ’90s – but just being around him you get a feeling. I learnt most of it just studying various films, remembering the moments of history he was going through post-Apartheid, his election and also watching Mr Freeman.

Q. What impression did visiting Mandela’s cell on Robben Island make on you?
Clint Eastwood: 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 was very emotional when you go into a little cell that doesn’t even have a toilet in it. When you think a person spent 27 years of their life in there, just cracking rocks or digging in a salt mine is a little bit overwhelming. So, to come out and be as open and magnanimous and forgiving as he did is almost impossible to imagine.


Q. What were the particular challenges of capturing that last rugby match?
Clint Eastwood: I didn’t grow up with rugby but I went and saw a lot of games and talked to a lot of people. I talked to the coach at the university of California named Jack Clarke, who gave me a whole rundown of the game. Then I watched his practices and everything they did there and just got ideas. Then when I got to South Africa we had Chester [Williams, from the 1995 Springboks] and Francois [Pienaar] and various people who had been in the game. After you’ve talked to them you get a feeling for the game. We also hired rugby players to play all the rugby parts with the exception of Matt and one or two others. But they were all people who came up to the game real fast. So, we just had them play. Chester, who was our coach, he’d just tell the players to play proper rugby. So they’d be out there hitting really hard and our biggest challenge was to stay out of the way! So, we did… we got in there, our camera crew is used to working on the fly and that’s the way we approached it.

Q. Which film was the biggest challenge to make as a director and why? And which of your acting performances are you most proud of?
Clint Easwood: You know, when you’ve done as many films as I’ve done you just kind of keep going. I never look back and think too much about them. I’ve done some work I’ve been proud of over the years but which of them is my favourite I really don’t know. I could say the last one. I’ve had little jumps in my career like Unforgiven possibly… or I try something different, Letters From Iwo Jima was something I liked doing a lot. I’ve loved anything with Morgan Freeman, which is something I’ve done several times. Matt Damon, with whom I’m working for the second time [on The Hereafter]. So, I get the chance to work again with people I respect a lot and you never know what the favourite is.

Q. And a favourite performance?
Clint Eastwood: I don’t know. Once a film has done and once something has been performed it’s up to someone else to make a judgment. It has nothing to do with you. Maybe you had a good time or maybe you had a headache when making it, sometimes that leaves a lasting mark on your memory.

Q. Do you trust in your instincts when you chose a subject for a film?
Clint Eastwood: I do trust my instincts. But it’s a story that I liked. People say how do you feel about doing a picture about rugby and it wasn’t. I didn’t approach it as a picture about rugby. We wanted to make the rugby very good because obviously that was an inspiration to Mr Mandela to utilise it as an avenue to uniting his country. Mr Freeman called me up and said I have a really good script. He didn’t even tell me it was about Nelson Mandela! So, I read the script and liked it very much. 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 really in deep trouble. It was on the brink of civil war and Mr Mandela had been in prison quite a few years so nobody knew quite what was going to happen there.

So, to come out with this kind of imagination… I just thought this is something that politicians around the world today could learn a lot from as far as having a certain creativity and bringing people together instead of just talking about it and then not doing it. He [Mandela] seemed to be a rather unique person and that was my reason for doing the picture. The rugby was exciting and fun to have in there but if it had been Nelson Mandela and a Texas hold ‘em poker I suppose I still would have done it because I admire the man [smiles].

Q. You were raised in the Depression and yet with films like Letters From Iwo Jima, Gran Torino and now Invictus you’re taking a broader view of the world. Does that suggest you’re now less in love with the American Dream, and does this film have a relevance in the age of terror?
Clint Eastwood: Yeah, I was brought up during the Depression – those were bad years but as a kid you really don’t know. You only know what’s there at the time and if somebody’s feeding you beans and water that’s okay, because that’s what you know. If you get to know caviar, it’s tough to go back. Yeah, 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 it’s part of your travels through life. As for my feelings about 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 or whatever a person wants to accomplish in life.

Q. What do awards mean? How important are they?
Clint Eastwood: They’ve changed awards now. The statue goes to… they don’t say “wins” because actually you don’t really ‘win’. They’re voted on, so it’s not like a swimmer or track athlete who has to win the race. With awards, people vote on it and it’s their idea. But you’ve always got to remember that when anybody gives you an award, it could be wrong. You’ve just got to bear that it mind and go ahead and enjoy it. Like Morgan says, it’s a pat on the back, so great you’ll take it and then move on.

Read our interview with Morgan Freeman

Read our interview with Matt Damon