Smiling jovially and offering greetings as he saunters into a meeting room in New York’s Astoria Waldorf, Clint Eastwood conjures up none of the tough characters, most notably eponymous Dirty Harry, that he portrayed in so many movies. Slim and beaming with life, The 84-year-old Hollywood legend looks and sounds at least 10 years his junior. So what is his secret?
“Never let the old man in,” he laughs. “I think what keeps you going is just your interests in the work you are doing, and you are interested in the project you are working on at the moment, and if you don’t have that interest, you will find something else to do. If you stop living forward, there’s nowhere to go but living backwards and that becomes nostalgia maybe, but nostalgia sometimes you have to set aside and say okay, let’s just move forward now, and enjoy it.”
And moving forward is what he has been doing since the onset of his film career in the mid fifties. With a career spanning over 6 decades, Eastwood has starred in, directed and produced over 55 movies. And he is not planning to quit anytime soon. In fact, he has just wrapped his latest project “American Sniper,” and is releasing “Jersey Boys,” the screen version of the Tony Award-winning musical, which has been a hit for nine years on New York’s Broadway and 5 years in London’s West End.
Starring John LIyod, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, Vincent Piazza, and Christopher Walken, “Jersey Boys” tells the story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together in the early 60’s to form the rock group The Four Seasons, producing some of the songs that influenced a generation, including “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “I Can’t Take My Eyes of You,”, “Walk Like a Man,” “Dawn,” “Rag Doll,” “Bye Bye Baby,” “Who Love You,” and many more.
Eastwood is known for his music talent and for his particular affinity to jazz, having composed the original scores for nearly all his movies since Mystic River (2003), released records and directed music-centric narrative films, Honkeytonk Man (1982) and Bird (1988). Yet, he admits that, although he had known the Four Seasons and had liked their music, he had not seen Jersey Boys in theatre until he was asked to direct the film.
“I wasn’t a big fan of the generation that this was made in, but I did like this music particularly,” he explains. “I thought ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,’ was probably the closest thing to a classic song that I had seen out of the 60s and 50s era, which I didn’t think was a great music era. I think The Four Seasons did some great stuff, a lot of variety to it, and lost of spirit to it.”
So when he was asked to direct the Jersey Boys, he went out and saw the play three times before he responded with an enthusiastic “yes.” And having been impressed with the performances, he hired the play’s cast to reprise their roles in the movie. “It was a chance to work with people who had done over 1200 performances in some cases, and it was nice, new experience.”
The fact that those actors were virtually unknown to cinema goers didn’t worry the iconic director. “They were all unknown in the theatre, yet people love that play and so I just got to go along with that as a road map,” he stresses. “I have always been a believer that if a film works, it has to work as an ensemble, and you can have the biggest names, or the name of the moment, and it doesn’t make any difference if the picture doesn’t work.”
And when Eastwood makes a decision, no one, including the studios, who favoured having stars in the lead roles, can stand in his way. In fact, he has produced all except four of the movies that he has starred in or directed, under the umbrella of his own production company Malpaso, which he formed in 1967 to help him satisfy his drive to govern every creative aspect of films he has been involved in. His company’s motto has always been making films economically and efficiently, a trait Eastwood has been known for as a director. His film shoots invariably wrap on time and often under budget. “I do edit in my mind and I edit where it’s going, so I get a pretty good idea of where things are headed,” he expounds.
When I spoke to the cast members of the film earlier, they said that he worked exceptionally fast. Sometime shooting only one take. Eastwood confirms, attributing the paucity of takes to the experience and familiarity of the actors with their roles. “They certainly were well prepared, and they just got on with the job.”
Nonetheless, while many renowned directors, such as Orson Welles and Stanley Kubrick, he admits that he is not fond of abundant takes. In fact, he took the helm of movies he starred in early in his career because he couldn’t tolerate the slow pace of shooting of other directors, who kept demanding repeated takes, which he thinks stemmed from indecisiveness.
“I am always trying for it in one take, but I will do as many takes as it takes to get it done properly. I usually know what I am looking for, so I just make a decision. A lot of times, there’s a lot of reasons for people to do a lot of takes, and sometimes, they are not confident in where they are going with it. Everybody has their own style, but I find my style is no rules, it’s just what is right. The main thing is that you set an atmosphere that is comfortable for people to work in, and then they can come up with it right away,” The two time Oscar-winning director says.
Evidently, his methods have worked brilliantly for him, gaining him massive commercial success and critical acclaim. Two of his movies, “Unforgiven (1992)” and “Million Dollar Baby (2004)” were the recipient of the Oscar for best picture, and two more, “Mystic River (2003)” and “Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) “ were nominated for the accolade.
Having done two movies in a row in one year, Eastwood decided to take it easy and “smell the roses a little bit. I am reading a lot of material now, but if a good project popped up, I would probably change my mind and the adrenaline would get going,” he laughs.