Sunday, October 12, 2003

Legendary Eastwood just thinking about his future

By Marshall Fine
Gannett News Service

An action-movie icon for almost 40 years, Clint Eastwood is thinking about the great film directors whose careers never intersected with his, when he remembers one that almost did.

"Alfred Hitchcock and I talked about doing something one time in the '70s," Eastwood says by phone from his office in California, pausing for a moment to consider what that would have been like.

"Someone at Universal called me and said Hitchcock had a project he wanted to talk to me about. But the guy said, 'It probably won't get made. Do you still want to talk to him?' It was toward the end of Hitchcock's career. I said I'd meet him any day, just for the historical value of sitting across from him. And so I met with him although nothing ever came of it."

New movie opens Wednesday

It is early evening in California and Eastwood is taking time at the end of the day to talk about his career and his new film, Mystic River, opening Wednesday.

Eastwood's been busy of late. Earlier this month, Mystic River opened a film festival in New York, and PBS began airing his segment of a documentary series, The Blues, in which he focuses on great blues and jazz pianists.

But, at 73, with Oscars to his credit and a career that has stretched over 50 years, he's not caught up in notions of film-festival cachet or its effect on his movie.

"I'm not smart enough to worry too much about that," he says with a chuckle. "You put the movie where it can get seen and hope the audience will like it."

The film is based on the best-selling mystery by Dennis Lehane, a story of childhood friends whose lives are changed when one of them is abducted by molesters. They reunite as adults, when the teenage daughter of one of the men is murdered. Eastwood, who had been a Lehane fan for several years.

"I started reading what it was about and I'd always been interested in that subject matter," he says. "You started from the child molesting and follow the victim's life and the way it affected other people's lives as well. You're robbing someone of their innocence, of their youth.

"That's something I was just very curious about when I picked it up. I'm always intrigued by the way we're affected by fate and the way that travels, the way the past comes back."

For the central roles of the three friends, Eastwood cast Sean Penn, Tim Robbins and Kevin Bacon. Laurence Fishburne, Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney also star.

All are actors he'd admired, but never worked with.

"Sean was my first choice and everyone else seemed like they wanted to come on board," he says. "Everyone seemed to want to be in it."

Filmed principally in Boston, the film was shot in 39 days, three days less than scheduled. But Eastwood bristles when it's mentioned that he is known for working fast.

"I never liked that reputation," he says. "I work as quickly as I need to. When a film takes on a life of its own, I don't cut it short. It's not like I'm racing against the clock. But I do like working efficiently. I like the cast to feel like we're going somewhere, that we're breathing life into this thing."

Eastwood, who has been lauded many times, says the frequent opportunities to reflect on his career - rather than look to the future - make him feel "old, like I've moved into the senior category. At some point, you start to wonder if they're trying to tell you something, like maybe you should retire.

"But it doesn't bother me; that's not in the cards. I've got a lot of good things to come if I can keep growing."

As for the secret to his longevity as an actor, he says, "I haven't the foggiest idea. It's probably because I moved on at the right times in my life. I stopped doing Westerns at one point and started doing other kinds of films, other genres, so I didn't get stuck. I could be doing Dirty Harry 12... . I knew when to get off and let somebody else take over."

No plans to act again

Still, he likes to think his acting days may be behind him. Though he starred in his last few films, including True Crime and Blood Work, he doesn't appear in Mystic River and has no plans to work as an actor - at least at the moment.

"A while back, I thought that I ought to start concentrating on being on the other side of the camera, but it took a few years to sink in," he says. "I guess I'm tired of looking at myself on screen. I'm going to try and stay away from it, unless something really good comes along.

"I enjoy acting; it's great fun. But I never felt comfortable with being a quote-unquote movie star. I enjoy watching other people work, and setting an environment where they can work. Even the movies I acted in, there are long periods where I wasn't in scenes and I had the luxury of working with the actors."

As an actor who has held political office (he was elected mayor of Carmel, Calif., in 1986), he laughs again at the notion of offering advice to California governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"When Arnold was talking about running, someone asked me what I thought and I said, 'It may be a question of be careful what you wish for.' But when he decided to run, I thought that, if he felt that strongly about it, he should do it."

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