Trevor Hogg profiles the career of Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood in the fourth of a five part feature (read parts one, two and three)...
“What I liked about this script is that it is faithful to the book, contrary to some previous versions, which had eliminated elements that in my opinion had to be preserved,” stated Clint Eastwood who chose to cinematically adapt White Hunter Black Heart (1990); the fictional tale was inspired by experiences of screenwriter Peter Viertel during the production of The African Queen (1951). “He told me that during the filming, Huston became hostile to Sam Spiegel, though he’d worked with him before. In his autobiography Huston says he was searching for a period of three weeks he could use to go on safari while in Africa. That’s what gave Peter Viertel the impetus to write his novel. He was in the presence of someone surrounded by all his technical crew, who was suppose to be scouting locations and getting ready to direct a film, and who left in search of elephants to kill! What happens when this tragedy takes place and how does it affect this group of people?”
“I liked the role and as soon as I read the script I immediately thought of playing it,” remarked Clint Eastwood. “It was afterwards that I considered directing it.” As for what attracted him to the part, the moviemaker explained, “It fascinated me, as obsessive behaviour always does. Here was a personality that offered a real dichotomy. He could be full of charm and generosity, concerned with the down and out, and at the same time cruel to the people in his entourage, if that was his mood. It was a very interesting character to explore.” Though John Wilson is a literary creation, he is based on reality. “I never knew someone like Wilson, who’s an amalgam of several people. I never knew John Huston either, so I don’t know what he was really like. According to the testimonies of those who knew him, I suspect that Wilson is very close to him in many areas. I admire Huston’s work a lot and I think he directed some marvelous films. Sometimes it’s preferable not to know someone, in order to have more distance with regard to the topic you’re dealing with.”
“The screenwriter in the film is playing the role of a conscience,” observed Clint Eastwood. “He has his own philosophy and sticks to it even though the director, Wilson, sweeps everyone away in his wake, inasmuch as he’s the commander-in-chief of the project. That’s what I liked about this story, that it didn’t confine itself to one character expressing his ideas. Everyone has their reasons.” Eastwood could relate to his cinematic persona. “Wilson is at a stage of his life as an artist where he believes he must be completely honest with regard to the subject he’s dealing with, and whether or not people will want to see his film is not his department.” The native of San Francisco revealed, “A lot of people advised me not to make White Hunter Black Heart because it didn’t correspond to the marketing studies on public tastes.” The filmmaker makes an analogy, “I’m like a guide. I lead the tour and if people don’t like it they can leave along the way.” The drama which stars Clint Eastwood, Jeff Fahey (Machete), Charlotte Cornwell (The Krays), Norman Lumsden (A Handful of Dust), George Dzundza (The Deer Hunter), Edward Tudor Pole (Sid and Nancy), Clive Mantle (Casualty), Boy Mathias Chuma, Timothy Spall (Secrets & Lies), and Jamie Koss grossed $2 million domestically and received a Palme d’Or nomination at the Cannes Film Festival. “I constantly quote John Wilson who says, ‘You can’t let eight million popcorn eaters pull you this way or that.’ I have no idea what makes a film commercial. I don’t think anybody does. Just when you think you’re an expert someone comes along with something out of the blue, and you have no idea why it works, but it does.”
“I don’t believe you can label me, pigeonhole me in one style or another,” said Clint Eastwood who decided to helm and act in the action comedy The Rookie (1990), which was originally intended to be a Dirty Harry sequel. “My films all have a different look. It depends on the story, on its progress, on the relationships that develop among the protagonists and the way I feel about the subject.” Veteran police officer Nick Pulovski (Eastwood) partners with a novice detective Dave Ackerman (Charlie Sheen) to bring a German crime lord Strom (Raúl Juliá), operating in Los Angeles, to justice. The role of the no nonsense Pulovski resembles previous characters portrayed by Eastwood. “A man who thinks on a very simple level and has very simple moral values, appeals to a great many people. I think that’s one of the great frustrations in the world. People see things as becoming more complicated.” The Rookie features Clint Eastwood, Charlie Sheen (Wall Street), Raúl Juliá (Presumed Innocent), Sônia Braga (The Milagro Beanfield War), Lara Flynn Boyle (Men in Black II), and Tom Skerritt (Alien) along with more stunt performers than cast members; it earned $22 million domestically and garnered mixed reviews. “An entertaining buddy-cop movie with some exciting action sequences and some great lines,” wrote Chuck O’Leary of Fantastica Daily. “Eastwood and Sheen are an amusing odd couple.” John J. Puccio of DVDTown.com was of a different opinion and wrote, “The Rookie may be the weakest, most-implausible, most-formulaic film Eastwood ever directed.”
“Unforgiven  was a screenplay that seemed perfect when I read it – I owned it for quite a few years and then decided to make it into a film,” stated Clint Eastwood. “I started making quite a few changes, realized I was wrecking it, and I stopped, went back and just filmed it in its original form.” A group of prostitutes seek to avenge the mutilation of one of their own by putting out a bounty on two cowboys. “It contains two stories that coexist in parallel, the one of the journalist who wants to print the legend of the West and the one that runs through the film and contradicts it completely. The meeting of these two stories was what I liked about the script. Everyone changes in the course of the story; everyone starts out from one place and finishes somewhere else.” Though the genre is familiar to him, Eastwood found the tale to be unique. “What makes this Western different from the others is that the film deals with violence and its consequences a lot more than those I’ve done before.” The filmmaker explained, “If the Little Bill character [Gene Hackman] had granted justice to those women in the beginning, that would have changed the whole story. His lack of concern in the face of an act of violence, or even his indifference to it, actually sets the story in motion – straight towards his own death.”
“When I asked Gene Hackman [The French Connection] to be in the film, he answered before reading it that he didn’t want to make any more violent pictures,” remarked Clint Eastwood. “He thought there was too much violence around us and he had been taken in by a number of films where the sole concern was to outdo the competition or find unheard of ways of killing. I insisted he read the script all the same and I told him maybe we had a chance here to deal with the moral implications of violence.” There is a fine line separating the two adversaries. “The only difference between William Munny and the sheriff Little Bill [Daggett] is that Little Bill has as his excuse, pretext or justification, the fact that he’s on the side of the law. But Munny has only his demons to be accountable to.” Eastwood does not see Little Bill as being evil. “He’s deeply convinced he’s doing right with his decision to have total gun control and he believes that the acts of violence he commits for the sake of setting an example are a lesson that will discourage everyone else from coming to town to make trouble.” Starring with Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman are Morgan Freeman (Se7en), Richard Harris (Gladiator), Jamiz Woolvett (The Lazarus Child), Saul Rubinek (True Romance), Frances Fisher (Titanic), Anna Thomson (The Crow), David Mucci (For Love of the Game), Rob Campbell (Rabbit Hole), Anthony James (In the Heat of the Night) and Beverley Elliott (2012). “In Unforgiven, there is this storm that becomes almost a character itself, a determining factor: the three protagonists, as they approach, seem to be bringing the storm along with them. This sort of thing isn’t written in the screenplay, it gets inserted later on. But the basis of drama, the question of justice and violence, all that was already present.”
“No one wins anything at all in this story; everyone suffers some sort of a loss, whether it’s a part of themselves or their life,” reflected Clint Eastwood. “That’s what happens when people indulge in violence in order to obtain justice.” William Munny reverts back to his old ways when he causally kills a dying man. “At that moment Munny is almost on a suicide mission. Except for the sheriff, he doesn’t give a damn about anything; his friend Ned has been killed, he feels guilty about having dragged him along on this job, and he’s gone back to being what he was – a killing machine.” Addressing the scene where Munny is severely thrashed by Little Bill, Eastwood stated, “I only see the actor who’s playing a role. If the character has to be beaten up or crawl in the mud, there’s no place for vanity, you do what the role requires.” The Western is dedicated to Sergio and Don. “I spent some time in Rome with Sergio Leone, just before he died. When I came back, Don Siegel was already ill. I’d written a preface to his memoirs and I encouraged him to finish them. It’s sad that he died, it’s also sad that he couldn’t go out with a great film.”
“When Unforgiven came out and started doing business, I was shocked because I never try to romance the audience,” confessed Clint Eastwood, as the Western grossed $101 million domestically and became an awards circuit darling winning Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman), Best Editing, and Best Director at the Oscars, while receiving nominations for Best Actor (Eastwood), Best Art Direction & Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Sound and Best Original Screenplay. At the BAFTAs, Unforgiven won Best Supporting Actor (Hackman) and contended for Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film, Best Original Screenplay, Best Sound; while the Golden Globes handed out awards for Best Director and Best Supporting Actor (Hackman) and nominations for Best Picture – Drama and Best Screenplay. The Western won Best Foreign Language Film at the Mainichi Film Concours, a Directors Guild of America Award, an Eddie Award from the American Cinema Editors, Film of the Year at the London Film Critics Circle Awards and received a Writers Guild of America Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. In 2004, Unforgiven was inducted into the National Film Registry. “The Western brought me a certain amount of notoriety,” admitted Eastwood. “It’s also a film genre that leaves you room for an original analysis of certain subjects or moral principles.”
“A Perfect World  takes place at one precise moment of one precise year, just on the brink of a great turning towards the void that will take hold of America,” remarked Clint Eastwood who did not cast himself as the escaped convict who develops a friendship with the young boy he has kidnapped in 1963 Texas. “The character could be any age but it seemed that a man of 60 who goes off in search of an 80 year old father would be ridiculous. I thought it was better if Butch were about 30.” Kevin Costner (Dances with Wolves) was chosen for the part. “I rarely indulge in sentimentality and Butch couldn’t be completely a hero. I tried to preserve a certain toughness in Kevin. I didn’t want him to have a ‘paternal’ attitude towards the kid. Butch doesn’t know anything about children; he’s spent too much time in prison.” Contemplating the cinematic subject matter, Eastwood observed, “It’s a crime drama that’s also about the family unit and how it has changed.”
“Butch is in search of freedom – even though he doesn’t have any illusions about his ‘new frontier,’ Alaska,” said Clint Eastwood. “He only knows it from a postcard sent long ago by a father who probably doesn’t exist and who, if he exists, doesn’t have anything to do with him. Then there’s Red in his steel shell, who maybe, at an earlier point in time, could have helped Butch, but he’s messed up a number of things in his own life among which, specifically, is fatherhood. The two characters have their attractions, but also their limitations.” The movie features Kevin Costner, Clint Eastwood, Laura Dern (Jurassic Park), T.J. Lowther (Mad Love), Keith Szarabajka (The Dark Knight), Leo Burmester (The Abyss), Paul Hewitt (The Player), Bradley Whitford (Scent of a Woman), and Ray McKinnon (The Blind Side). “I wanted her [Laura Dern] to actively participate in the investigation; I didn’t want her to be a jellyfish, or a decorative element, or the gal on the job who adds to the mistakes or gets into situations that only men will be able to get her out of. I wanted her to have a point of view, opinions, a more open conflict with me, and above all not [involved in] a love story.” A Perfect World grossed $135 million worldwide. “People were expecting Kevin Costner and me to do more fighting, make it more of a Western, but it worked very well in Europe. What matters is to have done what you wanted to do, to be happy with the film, to know you didn’t cheat.”
Next on the cinematic agenda was an adaptation of The Bridges of Madison County (1995), a story by novelist Robert James Waller about an Italian war bride who had a four day affair with a photographer. “I read it and thought, ‘There’s a good idea here but it’s written flowery. How do we pare it down into a screenplay?’ In the case of a book, the big question is, ‘Can you convert it into a filmable script?’ Then you decide if you like the story and if it’s one you’d like to see as a film. Then you decide if you also want to act in it,” stated Clint Eastwood who cast himself as the male lead in the romantic drama that also stars Meryl Streep (Doubt), Annie Corley (Monster), Victor Slezak (Salt), and Jim Haynie (Pretty in Pink). “Meryl’s used to working with directors who do a lot of rehearsals, take a lot of preparation time. In this case, she didn’t have time to think, she couldn’t do anything but concentrate on her character and play it, nothing else.” It is important for the man behind the camera to be creatively flexible. “The main thing for the director to do is to set up an atmosphere to work in, move on, and keep everybody involved with the plot. Some scenes I’ll rehearse quite a bit, if they’re technically complicated, but others I’ll improvise.” The Bridges of Madison County which had a production budget of $24 million grossed $182 million worldwide. Meryl Streep received nominations for Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards, Best Actress – Drama at the Golden Globes and Outstanding Performance of a Female Actor in a Leading Role at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. The movie contended for Best Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes and won the Readers’ Choice Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the Mainichi Film Concours.
“With Absolute Power , I liked the whole setup and the characters,” explained Clint Eastwood of the crime thriller by author David Baldacci, “but the problem was that all those great characters were killed in the book; my question was, ‘How can we make a screenplay where everyone that the audience likes doesn’t get killed off?’ So [screenwriter] Bill Goldman came in and wrote it, put in the quest to reconcile Luther and his daughter, and really explored that whole relationship.” A career thief witnesses the American President committing murder. “He’s obviously a thrill criminal who does it for the kick of it, running the numbers down in the end – and then he gets caught in this wild situation with the president. I tend to pick offbeat characters like that because they’re fun to play. But he has some real concerns in his life, such as his relationship with his daughter. He has his own code and in his own way he’s a moral person. He’s a thief but not a murderer.” Eastwood performs along with Gene Hackman, Ed Harris (Pollock), Laura Linney (The Truman Show), Scott Glenn (The Silence of the Lambs), Dennis Haybert (Heat), Judy Davis (A Passage to India), E.G. Marshall (12 Angry Men), Melora Hardin (17 Again), Kenneth Welsh (The Aviator), Penny Johnson (Molly & Gina), and Richard Jenkins (Let Me In). “The big problem was finding locations that looked like Washington, D.C. because shooting there is so tough. There are a lot of streets you can’t use because of all the security.” The film crew had to improvise. “We ended up getting our establishing shots in D.C. and then moving to Baltimore. The rest of the logistics were pretty straightforward.” Absolute Power earned $50 million domestically, and Judy Davis received a Blockbuster Entertainment Award nomination for Favourite Supporting Actress – Suspense.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997) which is based on the book by John Berendt about a reporter who befriends a millionaire on trial for murder, combines elements of crime, thriller and comedy. “The characters are interesting because they’re so diverse,” stated Clint Eastwood who was also attracted by the setting of the story and then there was Savannah, a very unusual city, which we wanted to make into a character in its own right. This isn’t the South the way it’s portrayed most of the time, with an overabundance of clichés.” Cast in the $35 million production are John Cusack (Grosse Pointe Blank), Kevin Spacey (L.A. Confidential), Jack Thompson (The Good German), Irma P. Hall (The Ladykillers), Jude Law (Contagion), Alison Eastwood (Once Fallen), Paul Hipp (Face/Off), Lady Chablis, Dorothy Loudon (Garbo Talks), Anne Haney (Psycho), Kim Hunter (Planet of the Apes), and Geoffrey Lewis (Double Impact). “If the script is good and the casting is right, you’ve only got to stay on course. On the other hand, if the casting is wrong, you don’t have a chance to achieve your goal,” remarked Eastwood. “I’ll let the actors create their own roles and find what it is in the material that means something to them, what connects for them emotionally.” Commenting on the picture which earned $25 million domestically, the filmmaker said, “Some spectators got it, others didn’t get it at all. Sometimes I think Americans don’t have much of a sense of subtlety and that they overlooked this story of tolerance, of very different sorts of people who know how to live together.”
Turning to another literary source, the Californian moviemaker adapted the novel True Crime (1999) authored by Andrew Klavan; the story centres around a journalist who Clint Eastwood describes as having “all the faults a man can have, he smokes, drinks and womanizes; he’s known better days, he’s worked for The New York Times, now he’s writing for a small paper and he finds himself in a spot where he has to try to save a condemned man he knows is innocent.” The $55 million crime mystery features Clint Eastwood, Isaiah Washington (Romeo Must Die), Lisa Gay Hamilton (Jackie Brown), James Woods (Salvador), Denis Leary (The Ref), Bernard Hill (Gothika), Diane Venora (Heat), Michael McKean (This Is Spinal Tap), Michael Jeter (The Green Mile), Mary McCormack (1408), Penny Bae Bridges (Nothing to Lose), and Francesca Fisher-Eastwood (The Stars Fell on Henrietta). “I prefer to be drawn to it on an emotional level; if you start on an intellectual level, I think you’re starting without the nucleus. The instinct and the motivation is the thing that will tell you whether it’s going to be successful or not.” Contemplating his behind the camera attitude, Eastwood stated, “If I have any qualities that work as a director, it’s that I try to stimulate everybody to be as creative as they possibly can. I like them to contribute to the film and not just do their jobs by rote; it makes for a better atmosphere and ultimately for a better film.” True Crime earned $17 million domestically and Penny Bae Bridges and Francesca Fisher-Eastwood competed for Best Performance in a Feature Film – Young Actress Age Ten or Under at the Young Artist Awards. “If I don’t take chances, then I don’t deserve to be where I am because what’s the point of getting into a position where you can make certain films and not make others?”
To welcome the twenty-first century Clint Eastwood ventured out into a new frontier – outer space.
Continue to part five.
For more on the legendary actor and filmmaker, visit Clint Eastwood.net and ClintEastwoodSite.com, along with the Dirty Harry fan-site The-Dirtiest.com.
Five Essential Films of Clint Eastwood
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.