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Mystic River - Clint Eastwood Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. You found this novel, what single thing particularly attracted you to it?
A.
There was no single thing, it was just reading the whole book. I read a synopsis, loved the idea, had liked Dennis Lehane's writing before, and detective novels, but this was a whole other ball game, as far as I was concerned. I just liked the story, so I figured I had to do it.

Q. It seems to me that this film is almost like a companion piece to Unforgiven, in that it talks about the consequences of violence?
A.
I didn't purposely try to find a companion piece to that, but I guess I'm, without thinking about it, equally interested in the results of violence, and the effects of it on the perpetrator, as well as the victim. So, it was just a great story, with a lot of layers to it; every role was really good, and Laurence came in to be the guy who is, if you like, voyeuring for us in this neighbourhood.
As for Tim's role, I guess it was unusual casting, because I imagine it would have been tempting to cast a smaller, more vulnerable looking man in the part, but I think it worked in opposite, because he was so very effective in the way he submerged himself in this particular role.

Q. How do you find it when you direct actors who have directed films themselves? And Eli Wallach in a small role, that was very interesting, was that deliberate?
A.
It had been 37 years since we worked together, so there is a little history there, but I think the fact that these fellas, the four principle men, had all directed films before, is actually an asset, because I've always felt that every actor should direct at some point in their life, and that every director should act.
This way it makes everybody understand what the process is; you hear about actors being late, but you never find that with an actor who has directed [laughs]. An actor who has directed understands all of the problems that the production is going through and these fellas have all done it, and done it very well, so it was great for me; they understood the language; there was very little discussion before everyone was on the page.

Q. You also wrote the music for this film. If you could go back and decide again about which career path you followed, would you have made a different choice?
A.
It's very difficult, but I think I was in the right career; I certainly enjoy motion pictures, but I did grow up with a great interest in music, and studied it for a few years, but sort of left it, but I think every film has its rhythm.
In the case of this film, it had two rhythms; the Kevin Bacon/Laurence Fishburne rhythm, and the rhythm that Tim, Sean and Marcia Gay and Laura Linney. It was blending those as these stories all converged on one another, and I just think music is a great example of, if you go to a music session, for example, the musicians can all walk in, sit down and start playing straight away; the conductor can almost start playing straight away, and everyone knows what to do. Of course, they had rehearsed, but they're not guessing, they kind of know, and then the conductor can tweak little things, and that kind of goes back to the directing of motion pictures. You're either directing a motion picture, or you're a guesser, and a guesser figures maybe I've got to do it 20 times, and I'm hoping it falls into place; but at some point in your career, I think you've got to believe and make those decisions there.
Sometimes you'll look back and say, 'Jeez, if only I'd done that'... everybody does that. But I didn't have that on this picture, because I had absolutely the best cast I have ever assembled, and they were so professional, and so good, that it made it easy for me. I didn't feel like I was doing anything, except enjoying myself.

Q. Do you write the music for the film before you start filming, or after you have finished shooting?
A.
In the case of Unforgiven, it was before the film. It was written on piano, for a guitarist, and with Laurindo Almeida in mind, because I'm an admirer of his and his ability to be extremely simple.
This film, I wrote it afterwards, during the editing process, cos as the film was coming together, editorially, I sort of took a try at it, on the piano, representing the three guys, and built it out from there.
I played it into a computer and then a friend of mine, a wild Russian, classical piano player, had this computer that could bring in all kinds of synthetic instruments, so we sort of mocked it up, using oboes, and cellos. We then put it in, as I was editing the film, so that as it was going together, we were laying the score and trying it out. The we took it to Lennie Niehaus and he sort of arranged it for a 19-piece orchestra.

Q. The ending of the film, and particular Laura Linney's Lady Macbeth sequence, raises some very interesting issues of morality. Had you and Mr Helgeland discussed the impact this might have had on the audience, some of whom may feel that it is wrong for evil-doers to go unpunished?
A.
From the very beginning, Dennis Lehane's approach to it was an Americanized Greek tragedy, or Shakespearean tragedy. For sure, the name Anna Beth came from Lady Macbeth, so there is that story, that sort of moral ambiguity. It's sort of philosophized upon there, and how she helps cover up his guilt, that he's talking about.
But I think that you know who's in charge, and it's not Alexander Hague, you know. You know it's going to be Lady Macbeth, she's going to be pulling the strings.
You see, when they go out onto the street, the almost kind of contempt she has for her own cousin, and it's just too bad that this is the way life has come together. Whether it's the proper thing to do, that's just the way the story led out.
Relating back to the prior question, that Tim was talking about being asked to go to Toronto to save money, because Americans might have frozen money there, or the Canadian dollar is more appealing, it was suggested that this could be made there. But on the spot, like this, I can save them money shooting on the real location, rather than going out of the country and spending days added to the schedule adjusting things, and gerry-rigging everything around, and trying to get everything to look like Boston.

Q. Richard Burton once commented that your acting represented a sort of 'dynamic lethargy'. I wonder whether you agree with that, and whether, as you get older, the acting will take a back seat to the directing?
A.
[Laughs] Whatever Richard says is absolutely true. That was his impression at the time; Richard Burton has always been fascinated by American actors' style, Robert Mitchum in particular, and the type of people that could do an understated type of thing.
I'm not very objective about myself, I'm just kind of hanging out, and whatever I do is strictly on the spare of the moment, or the instinct of the moment.
As I'm maturing, I'm more interested in directing. I've always been more interested since 1970, but I stayed with both in order to get the films done. Now, I'm letting other, younger players take the limelight.

Q. Do you ever show the ending to a test audience and let them decide, or do you believe your version is the one that goes out, no matter what?
A.
This film, definitely has a lot of audience conclusion, when Kevin points at Sean, and cocks his finger, a lot of people have asked me what that means, and I always say, 'what do you think it means?' And they tell me, and I tell them 'that's perfect' [laughs].
It's what you want it to mean. It could mean a variety of things, from this is knowledge that we share together and hold beyond this, or I'm going to get you, or whatever it is, it's up to the audience to participate in that a little bit.
But in terms of test audiences actually dictating how a film should end, I don't do that. I make the film that I want and if people like it or don't like it, then that's something they're going to have to deal with.
If I go out and start fiddling with it, I don't want to put the audience on the spot. If you go into a preview being told that you're going to get asked a lot of questions about this film, all of a sudden, the audience is looking at it from a different perspective; they're not enjoying themselves. They're thinking that they have to think up something intelligent to say about it, even before the picture is even over, so I don't think that's fair to the movie.
You should make the film the way you intended, the way the writer intended, your interpretation of what the writer has intended, and you go from there.
If something doesn't work, as historically there have been great films like Sunset Boulevard and Lost Horizons, have been changed around due to a revamping sort of after their testing, but by and large I've got to go with the hand that was played.

Q. What do you think about the new governor of California?
A.
[Laughs] I didn't know until a minute before we came in here. We all suspected that Arnold might become the governor, because there was a great deal of dissatisfaction, obviously, with the current governor, but it's going to be interesting now that he's got what he wants. Now the nightmare begins! Be careful what you wish for.
More power to him, I wish him good luck. The state of California could certainly use it right now; he's going to need it, but he may just be brilliant, and I'm sure we're all hoping that.

Q. With Ronald Reagan, yourself and now Arnie, why do actors want to become politicians?
A.
Well, most politicians want to be actors [laughs] it seems like a logical tool for a politician, especially in this electronic media age that we live in. A charismatic performer, like Arnold is, who is definitely a strong presence, that's a great advantage. It was an advantage that the former governor didn't have. Ronald Reagan was a good example, they called him the 'great communicator', he made you feel very homy, and very comfortable, even if he agreed or disagreed with a decision, or some political position. It is an advantage to have a little bit of celebrity, but like Tim was saying, a lot of politicians do everything by focus groups - they call up focus groups and find out what the general population wants and then go ahead and vote for it. Sometimes, in order to be a really good politician, you have to go ahead, even if it's not terribly popular. You have to make decisions that you believe in, and this will be a big challenge for him and I hope he does it well.

Q. The past plays a big part in the story, as it does in a lot of your roles, do you think it mirrors your own real life? Do you think decisions you made then helped to shape what has happened now, or decisions you make now?
A.
I've always been fascinated with the stealing of someone's life, of innocence, and think that it's the most heinous crime, and certainly a capital crime if ever there was one. I think anything to do with a crime against children is something that is very strong in my mind, and that's what attracted me to this story; that here, in adulthood, these people are still having problems and how fate takes this journey. Things keep coming around, ironies keep coming around, that bring us to the conclusion it has.

Q. People are already rating this work as your finest since Unforgiven and talking about Oscar nominations. Is that the sort of thing you take any notice of?
A.
I can't speak for everyone else here, but I would prefer not to think on that level. I'd like to see the picture go out and have a nice life, and if that includes anything else, or if someone else suggests that, then fine. The picture was made to go out and hopefully be provocative in people's minds, and that's as far as I can take it.

Q. Why did you choose to speak at Oxford tomorrow night?
A.
[Pause] It seemed like a decent university. [Laughter].
It might be like LA City College, which is a school. But it's very nice and I'd like to go up there and see it. It just seemed like a nice thing to do.

Q. You have always said you wanted to work with Sean Penn, because you had a very high opinion of him. What was it like actually working with him and how did your opinion change, if at all?
A.
Every one of these actors, I'd never worked with. I'd worked with Laura Linney and Marcia Gay and knew they were great. I was a great admirer of Tim, Laurence and Kevin Bacon. So when people ask me about Sean, I say, 'well, he's highly rated and he's better than he's rated', so that's the only way I can say about it. But then I'd have to say the same about the whole cast - they're all highly rated and they're all better than their rating.

Q. What keeps you so young?
A.
If you feel young and think young, and fortunately I have young children, which keep you young, and take reasonably good care of yourself and enjoy life. And keep learning something new every day. I learn something new every picture and in everyday life.. that keeps you young. If you level off, then you just sort of vegetate.

Q. If you could work with a former colleague, living or dead, one more time, is there anyone that would spring to mind?
A.
That's a hard one, cos I'm sort of living in the present. I've worked with some really nice actors in the past, who are deceased, but Eli, we worked together on the plains of Spain 37 years ago, and had a great time as the only two gringos in the country. So it was great to see him again. We didn't work as actors together, but it was great to see him from behind the camera with this senior station he has in life.

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