Mon, Aug. 12, 2002

By Glenn Whipp

Now that his long-awaited film of Michael Connelly's ``Blood Work'' is in the theaters, we caught up with Clint Eastwood at his Malpaso Productions office on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, where he is casting his next movie: ``Mystic River,'' an adaptation of a thriller by Dennis Lehane.

Eastwood -- who at 72 still represents ``lonely, stubborn individualism'' in American film, as Newsweek once put it -- was in great spirits, enthusing about the ways he can use his maturity to his advantage and reminiscing about some of the more-storied aspects of a career that has included 44 starring roles and 23 stints behind the camera.

Q The character you play in ``Blood Work'' is a retired FBI agent who has had a heart transplant. Throughout the movie, everyone's telling him, ``You don't look so good.''
A Yeah. ``You look like crap.'' ``You oughta go home and take a nap.'' I was joking around while we were making it that a guy could get a complex playing this role.

Yet ever since ``Unforgiven'' (1992), you've played men who, in one way or another, are facing the limitations brought on by time.
A You know, what the hell. When you get to a certain age, you just gotta make fun of it.

Not every actor wants to take that kind of honest look in the mirror, though.
A Yeah, most everybody gets the old Shinola out for the hair and tries to play it younger. But you can't do that. You've got to be what you are. And that can open a lot of opportunities. You can play things you couldn't have played 20 or 30 years before, roles that have a person facing up to the choices he has made over the course of his life.``Unforgiven'' had all that built in. ``In the Line of Fire'' (1993) followed that with a guy toward the end of his career, facing his demons from past mistakes and missed opportunities. It's a lot of fun to explore.

Q Paul Rodriguez, who has a part in ``Blood Work,'' was the latest to marvel at how fast you shoot a film. You've always been a man of economy, going all the way back to ``A Fistful of Dollars'' (1964), where you actually fought Sergio Leone to give you fewer lines.
A That was all about economy of character. In the original script for that movie, the character explained everything. There was no mystery to him, and that sense of mystery is essential in creating good stories and good characters.As for shooting the films fast, I learned that from Don Siegel. If you average 15 takes per shot, then pretty soon you find that actors don't really act the first five or six takes because they know you're just cruising around. Try it the other way, and it keeps actors stimulated.

Q Does that method ever put people off?
A I remember some studio guys coming up when we were shooting ``Dirty Harry.'' I had a shot where I had to come down some stairs really quick and then run across a quarry. Don says, ``OK. Action!'' So I came running down and zipped across this deal, and he said, ``Print.'' And they were astounded! ``That's all you're going to do with that?'' They were used to somebody finicking around and the assistant director coming up, saying, ``I've got an extra 35 miles back there who blinked wrong.'' That's nonsense. You've got to take all the fussiness out of it and make it more like real life.

Q How did that work with Meryl Streep on ``The Bridges of Madison County''?
A When I showed her the rough cut, she said, ``Gosh, that's just wild. You even printed my mistakes.'' And I said, ``Yeah, but your mistakes are better than a lot of people's good takes.''

Q What's the worst thing you've had to do for a movie?
A You know, I'd have to say those cigars I smoked for Leone (in ``A Fistful of Dollars,'' ``For a Few Dollars More'' and ``The Good, the Bad and the Ugly''). Those cigars were so ugly. I didn't smoke; I just picked them because they looked right. Boy they were godawful. They'd gag a maggot.

Q And you couldn't blame the director, either.
A (Laughs) I had no one to blame. I'd cut them in pieces and carry about three or four in my pocket so I'd have different lengths at all times. Whatever the scene called for, I'd have it. But as soon as the take was over, you can bet that cigar was under my foot.

Q What are you listening to these days?
A Last night, we went to a church in Carmel where a guy named Jim Martinez was playing very contemporary jazz versions of religious hymns. They were great.You've got to seek these people out. They're not making music for adults any more. The kids get the Pink and Britney Spears kind of stuff.

Q Do your daughters like Pink and Britney?
A Oh, they love all that crap

Q So, next up for you is ``Mystic River.'' And this time, you'll just be directing?
A Yeah, there was nothing in it for us senior guys. And with ``Blood Work,'' I was in almost every sequence, so I could never really wander off and have a little break.

Q A good reason just to direct this time out.
A You bet! (Laughs) I think the days of doing both are coming to an end. It's a lot of work.

Q Do you ever wonder, ``Why am I still doing this?''
A You always have those moments. But I still love telling a good story. Putting all the elements together -- a good script, a solid group of actors, a talented crew -- and trying to make it work. You always need a little luck. And I guess that's the beauty of it, trying to make it all come together and have luck smile on you one more time.

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