The acclaimed actor/director is surging in popularity after his speech at the recent Republican convention. As Trouble With the Curve hits theaters this weekend, Ramin Setoodeh argues that Eastwood is Hollywood’s biggest red-state superstar.
Trouble With The Curve picks up right where Clint Eastwood’s recent speech at the Republican National Convention left off. No, he doesn’t talk to a chair, but one of our most enduring movie stars does have a brief chat with his penis.
“Take your sweet-ass time about this,” Eastwood’s character says at the beginning of the movie, while he’s using the toilet. Eastwood then proceeds to step into his kitchen and talk to a can of Spam. And, as Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum points out, he serenades a tombstone and has a heart-to-heart with his car. By the way, his car, naturally, is red.
Beyond these interactions, The Trouble With the Curve is a reminder of Eastwood’s association with the Republican Party for another reason. Movies, of course, don’t have political affiliations. But Eastwood’s latest film, a drama about an aging baseball recruiter trying to hold onto his job, plays like a valentine to classic Americana. It’s the kind of movie that, like The Blind Side, seems especially manufactured to draw audiences in the heartland, a population underserved by liberal Hollywood.
Eastwood, 82, is among a small group of actors, including Chuck Norris and Jon Voight, that appeals to conservatives, which is one of the reasons he landed such a plum role at the convention last month. In political circles, the jury is still out about how much he actually helped Mitt Romney. Then again, Clint Eastwood’s speech definitely helped Clint Eastwood. Warner Bros., the studio behind his new film, hasn’t publicly commented on his politics, nor has it changed the film’s marketing—which includes nostalgic shots of a baseball field. But if Robert Pattinson parading at the MTV Video Music Awards helps boost his films, the same holds true for Eastwood at the Republican National Convention, a place where his core demographic gathered.
According to Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the Q Scores Company, Eastwood has “developed into one of those icons that stand the test of time.” In a poll conducted last March, 82 percent of Americans said they recognized him and he has a Q score of 50—half the people who know him say he’s one of their favorite personalities. That makes Eastwood one of the most liked stars in Hollywood, along with Tom Hanks, Robin Williams and Denzel Washington. The average celebrity Q score is much lower—at only 17.
Among older audiences, Eastwood’s popularity surges even more. Among those 50 or older, he has 96 percent awareness, and a Q score of 57. He does well in all economic groups, especially for those earning $75,000 or more. Schafer doesn’t anticipate a drop in Eastwood’s approval rating in the wake of the convention speech. “Whenever we measure him, he scores extremely well,” Schafer says. “He doesn’t fluctuate much from year to year.”
“He’s gone through a very late-in-life surge where people really trust him,” says Phil Contrino, the editor of BoxOffice.com. “At this point, he’s an American institution.” Contrino projects Trouble With the Curve opening No. 1 at the box office this weekend, above House at the End of the Street, a Silence of the Lambs rip-off starring Jennifer Lawrence, and End of Watch, Jake Gyllenhaal’s cop drama with Oscar buzz. Even though Eastwood’s character hates technology in the film, 76,318 people have already liked Trouble With the Curve on Facebook, 8 percent more than Brad Pitt’s baseball crowd-pleaser, Moneyball, prior to its release last year.
In recent years, Eastwood has knocked out one movie home run after the next—Space Cowboys, Million Dollar Baby, Gran Torino—often surprising Hollywood, despite his hot track record. Trouble With the Curve is the first time Eastwood hasn’t directed himself in almost 20 years (he hands the reigns to his producer friend, Robert Lorenz), but it marks Eastwood’s return to familiar conservative themes.
Eastwood’s character, Gus, is a lovable baseball recruiter for the Atlanta Braves. He hates computers so much, he doesn’t even own a BlackBerry, a message no doubt friendly to the AARP crowd. He’s also a wholesome family guy. We know this because with his eyesight fading, his daughter (the wonderful Amy Adams) drops her career as a powerful attorney to come help dad on his last recruiting trip. (Although the movie is set in present times, her old, white bosses are right out of the 1980s, suspiciously blinking at the thought of promoting a woman to partner.) She has no problem chugging a beer with dad, all the while staying chaste. During what should be a skinny-dipping scene with a cute younger recruiter (Justin Timberlake), Adams dives into the lake mostly clothed.
Eastwood essentially plays the same character in the movie as he did on the Republican stage, a more exaggerated version of himself. He says exactly what he thinks—and he draws a lot of laughs. When asked about Eastwood’s red-states appeal, former Republican top aide Brett O’Donnell says, “I think it’s pretty obvious.”
“First of all, conservative Republican believes in gun rights,” says O’Donnell, the president of O’Donnell & Associates, a communications strategy firm. “He wields this enormous weapon and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. And the movies he makes have these themes: he’s usually somehow able to conquer [all] even though he’s the underdog. Certainly, the Western tough-guy image has a huge appeal to conservatives.”
Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist, remembers the deafening applause for Eastwood at his convention speech. “I thought he did a great job,” she says. “He certainly attracted more conservative viewers and fans based on what he said. More than anything, it’s refreshing to see someone take a stand knowing he’s going to take some heat in Hollywood for what he did.”
Eastwood did take some heat, but he’s been adept at brushing off any criticism. As he embarked on a limited press tour, he walked a fine line, keeping conservatives happy while not alienating Democrats. He almost sounded like a presidential candidate at times. With his sneakers propped up on a table, he chatted with Ellen DeGeneres about his libertarian values—he supports small government and gay marriage—and cheerfully talked about the convention without a hint of remorse.
“It was an interesting reaction,” he said. “The Democrats who were watching thought I was going senile. The Republicans knew I was.” But Eastwood is crazy like a fox. “In the last few years,” he said, “both sides have spent like drunken sailors.”
“Not to insult the Navy.”