As you may have read elsewhere, Clint Eastwood recently spoke at the Republican National Convention. He spoke from the heart, he was funny, honest, and blunt—and then got immediately bludgeoned all over the world by that most dangerous weapon of mass destruction: Twitter.
By why was everyone so surprised?
This wasn't about party lines or the national health-care system, it had no real bearing on Romney the candidate or Obama's record as president. It was merely the latest confluence of a couple that has been dating for years, with very little reason or success: Hollywood and politics. Over the years, politicians that were aligned (intentionally or not) with their more famous, attractive brethren have yielded decided mixed results. Charlton Heston was an iconic Moses on screen, a rabid NRA supporter off. Bo Derek and Tom Selleck bucked the liberal Hollywood trend and publicly supported the Republican Party, though both were known more for their looks than their words. During Obama's run to the presidency in 2008, so many actors came out to support him that they could have cast Ocean's Eleven sequels for the next decade. And of course, in perhaps the most famous Hollywood/political association of all time, Marilyn Monroe backed John Kennedy both, um, publicly and privately.
Actors are not trapeze artists, they have a very specific safety net created just for them. It's called a script and generally the bigger the actor, the more expensive the writer. The words they speak when they're in front of the camera—on film, talk shows, red carpets, public events, social media, etc.—are almost always, with few exceptions, not of their own making. When they go off-book, as it's known in Hollywood parlance, all bets are off. They join the rest of us mere mortals and reveal their inner civilian, foibles and all. There are no second takes in real life.
When actors go off-book, as it’s known in Hollywood parlance, all bets are off.
Mel Gibson was a movie star for years, aided by some of Hollywood's finest writers. When he was arrested for drunk driving a few years back, there was inconveniently nobody present to feed him lines in the back of the police cruiser. Had there been someone—or a publicist/manager worth their salt—he would have said something clever and charming, like his characters always do, and everyone involved would probably have laughed about the whole thing on the way to his house for cocktails. Instead, he created his own dialogue—known in non-Hollywood circles as "being yourself"—and came up with a misogynistic, anti-Semitic, racist rant.
Tom Cruise, too, was a huge movie star for decades. He appeared everywhere, one of the most recognizable actors in every country, at once both accessible and yet strangely inscrutable. The world at large never really knew about his personal convictions until he suddenly fired his long-time publicist and hired a family member to "represent" him. Then he jumped on Oprah's couch, recorded a wild-eyed video for Scientology and now we have Tom 2.0. Unhinged, perhaps, but definitely being himself.
Now we add Clint Eastwood to this tradition. We have the empty chair meme and "Eastwooding," endless talk show fodder and a Republican campaign desperate for this news cycle to pass. But really, this is simply an actor being his true self. What you saw on Thursday night in Tampa was the real Clint Eastwood—not a legendary film icon or Dirty Harry or Josey Wales or even the guy with an orangutan for a best friend. This is who Clint Eastwood has been all along, minus the pages or TelePrompTer or spokesperson. This was strange bedfellows writ very, very large. The only difference in this particular instance was that Clint was being Clint on the single biggest political stage.