Clint Eastwood has directed 10 films in the last decade. He talks to The Daily Beast’s Nicole LaPorte about his latest, Invictus, and the secret to his productivity: Never, ever waste his time.
Clint Eastwood doesn’t like to think too hard about things, a tendency he traces back to working with composer Jerry Fielding. “He always used to tell the orchestra, ‘You’ve come this far, let’s not ruin it by thinking.’"
“There’s something to that,” Eastwood said the other day, sitting in a hotel suite at the Four Seasons, dressed sensibly in a navy sweater, dark pants, and black sneakers, an ensemble that offset his pale, pretty blue eyes. In person, his face bore more crow’s feet than the screen reveals, and although he is lanky and muscular, a barely perceptible paunch has crept up around his middle. “If you didn’t know where you wanted to go, then you shouldn’t be there,” he continued, applying the metaphor to directing movies. “You should be ready to pull the trigger when you see what you like.”
It’s this anti-obsessive, no-fuss mentality that has made Eastwood, at the ripe age of 79, not only the most prolific director alive (he’s made 10 films in the last decade, some of them Oscar winners, and some of which starred him), but one who is churning them out with seeming effortlessness. While other Hollywood elder statesmen, such as Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg, are spending their more mature years making highly mediated political statements ( Munich) or gangster epics ( The Departed), Eastwood is busying himself with modestly scaled stories—such as last year’s Gran Torino and Changeling—which he imprints with his signature, subtle touch.
It is exactly this quality that caused actor Morgan Freeman and his producing partner at Revelations Entertainment, Lori McCreary, to call on Eastwood to direct Invictus, a film about Nelson Mandela and his role in the reconciliation-inspiring, 1995 World Cup rugby match in South Africa. The film, which is based on the book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation, by John Carlin, opens December 11.
“This could be a film that could be [handled] very heavy-handed, black and white—forgive the expression—very cut and dry. But the story is much more complex than that,” said McCreary, who, along with Freeman and producer Anant Singh had spent years trying to adapt Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, ultimately finding it too cumbersome for a film. “And Clint is genius, really, at that.”
Indeed, Eastwood did not come to Invictus—which means “unconquerable” in Latin, and is the name of a poem by William Ernest Henley—with any agenda other than to tell a compelling and entertaining story, and in the process, present a man and part of his story. ( Invictus does not delve into Mandela’s past, aside from one scene when Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), the captain of the Springboks rugby team, visits his prison cell.)
There are no weepy soliloquies, no hoary flashbacks. Much of the second half of the film takes place on the rugby field. If anything, some of Invictus’ most poignant scenes—and those which are the most telling about Mandela’s character—come by way of throwaway lines delivered by Mandela’s bodyguards, and in very small, quiet moments: Mandela’s daily regimen of waking at four, putting on a track suit, and going for a walk in the early-morning darkness. Eastwood beautifully captures the loneliness of the act, and, in effect, of Mandela’s life, both as a new president trying to unite a bitterly divided country, and as a husband and father. ( Invictus also steers clear of Mandela’s personal life; the tension between him and Winnie Mandela, whom he divorced in 1996, is touched on only subtly in an exchange between Mandela and his daughter.)
Eastwood didn’t have politics in mind with Invictus. He said he’d never thought about making a film about Mandela until Freeman sent him the script, and even then, the decision to do it wasn’t based on anything other than that he thought it would make a good movie.
“Morgan said, ‘I got a good script.’ He didn’t say it was about Mandela,” Eastwood said, sitting erectly on a sofa, at a near-perfect 90-degree angle. “I read it. I thought, 'This is an amazing sequence. It’s almost like it’s fictional.' I called him back, I said, ‘I like it. You play Mandela.’ He said, ‘That’s something that a lot of people have thought is a logical thing.’"
“So I went to Warner Bros., I took it to them, and they were as enthusiastic as I was. So I came back, I said, ‘Warner Bros. wants to do it. Now we’ll just find all the other characters and be ready. And he said, ‘Great.’"
“Obviously, somewhere in the back of my mind, I have some admiration for the creative leadership abilities of Mandela for that moment in time,” Eastwood allowed. “And it was something I thought I’d be able to do.”
“If you didn’t know where you wanted to go, then you shouldn’t be there,” Clint Eastwood said of directing movies. “You should be ready to pull the trigger when you see what you like.”
When Eastwood met Mandela for the first time, three weeks into shooting Invictus, “We all hung out for a few minutes, but I had nothing to say, really, except, ‘Hi, how ya doin’’, and ‘I’m a great admirer,’ or whatever people say, and that was it,” Eastwood said. “I had already pulled the trigger in my mind, how we were going [to make the movie]. When I saw him it just reconfirmed that Morgan was the right guy to play him, and there we were.”
The entire process of making Invictus is a study in Eastwood’s uncanny efficiency, and the degree to which he loathes lingering on details. (According to Damon, the most frequent thing out of Eastwood’s mouth on the set is, in a slight tweak of Fielding’s line: “Let’s move on. Let’s not fuck this up by thinking about it too much.”)
The shoot was supposed to take 55 days. Eastwood shot it in 49. Days began sharply at nine, and ended just as sharply at five. In the process, Eastwood made another movie— Gran Torino was shot, in the fall of 2008, between Invictus’ prep and shoot schedules—and decided to do yet another one. While at the Cannes film festival that year, Spielberg gave him the script to a supernatural thriller called Hereafter, which Eastwood is currently working on.
Robert Lorenz, Eastwood’s producing partner (who produced Invictus along with Eastwood, McCreary, and Mace Neufeld) , says of Eastwood: “He’s had so many years of experience, and he’s very confident about his own directorial [skills]. He knows he can walk onto a set and make it work. Even if it’s not exactly what he had in mind, and the weather starts to change, and the actor isn’t giving him the performance he expected, he knows he can make it work.”
As a rule, there’s no rehearsing and “you’re lucky to get more than two takes,” said McCreary, who recalled that when Freeman once asked for another take, Eastwood replied, “Well, if you want to waste my time we’ll do another one. I don’t want to waste my time.”
“You don’t want to go to Clint and say, ‘I’d like to talk a little bit about the character,’” Freeman said at a press conference, going on to do an impersonation of what Eastwood’s, deep-voiced, breathy response would be to that question: “ Why?”
“He expects you to know what you’re doing,” Freeman said. “And he’s going to take two giant steps back and let you do it.”
The directorial binge that produced Invictus, Gran Torino, Changeling, and Letters From Iwo Jima dates back to Flags of Our Fathers, which was released in 2006. Lorenz said that after Hereafter, no other films are on his or Eastwood’s plate. “I’m reading, but I’m really hoping that I don’t find anything for a while,” he said. “Because I’m exhausted. Clint won’t admit it, but I know he’s tired, too.”
Eastwood actually admitted as much. “I’m going to stay at home for Christmas with my family,” he said. “I’ve been away for the last month in Europe, and I’ve got a little girl who wants her dad around, so I’m gonna be there. She turns 13 on December 12, and I want to be around her. I just want to cool my heels for a little bit.”
Nicole LaPorte is the senior West Coast correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former film reporter for Variety, she has also written for The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The New York Times, The New York Observer, and W.