CLINT EASTWOOD - ENIGMA
Clint Eastwood is one of Hollywood’s most legendary stars, and though his talents are widely multi-faceted, the world often still sees him as his original character of Dirty Harry spouting the iconic line: “Go ahead. Make my day.”
The fact is that Eastwood is anything but the one-dimensional police inspector “Dirty” Harry Callahan. And though the 6’ 4” charismatic Californian may have been a late bloomer, (at age 34 appeared in his first major film, waited till age 38 to start a family, directorial debut at 41, and received his first Oscar nomination at 63), Eastwood has given the world a lifetime worth of cinematic pleasure. First starting in the industry as an actor, then as an award-winning director, at the age of 74, he became the oldest in his field to win an Oscar for Best Director for the 2004 film, Million Dollar Baby. It’s actually been much of Eastwood’s behind-the-scenes talent that has made films shine. It’s been his direction that captured the Oscar-nominated performances of 11 different actors: Meryl Streep, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, Gene Hackman, Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Matt Damon and Marcia Gay Harden, as well as himself, when he starred in the 1992 film, Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. Eastwood also adds extra sparkle to movies through music as an accomplished jazz pianist. He has written for both the soundtracks (31 credits) and musical compositions (8 credits, one of which was on his Oscar-winning direction for Million Dollar Baby).
Eastwood’s unique style of direction is well-known throughout the Hollywood community, insisting his actors wear as little makeup as possible, printing first takes, resulting in quick turnarounds that stay on schedule and on budget, and absolutely no test screening of his films before release. His approach is even as different as his command of saying, “Okay” to start and stop each take, rather than the traditional “Cut” and “Action!” The legendary movie great is semi-fluent in Italian and credits Marilyn Monroe as his inspiration for his distinctive voice. He felt the temptress’s breathy, sexy whisper made a great signature, and decided to create his own male version, which was just as successful at capturing the hearts of fans across the world. Yet when it comes to his personal life, Eastwood keeps it private, never having discussed his two previous marriages, nor that he has eight children by six different women, one of them being his son, Scott Eastwood, who made his film debut in 2006’s Flags of Our Fathers, (directed by his father), and more recently has been seen in Fury, Suicide Squad, and Snowden.
Eastwood sat with us to discuss his newest endeavor, the heroic yet controversial story of the “Miracle on the Hudson”, made into the film, Sully. With his traditional stern demeanor speckled with his warm smile, Eastwood revealed his motivation for taking on the screenplay by Tom Komarnicki, based on the book, “Highest Duty”, by the real-life pilot himself, Capt. Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, and co-writer, Jeffrey Zaslow, working with the talented Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart, and shares his own personal story of landing on the water on an aircraft.
STRIPLV: What did you think when you first heard the real “Hudson Landing” story?
EASTWOOD: Well, I was fascinated by it, as were most people—but especially, that iconic picture of the plane floating on the Hudson River and all the people standing out on it, or a good portion of them out there standing on the wings. And I thought: ‘That’s an interesting, great shot.’ And the fact that nobody perished in the landing was great, and it was kind of a good news program all-around.
STRIPLV: It was at a time when there was so much… well, other kinds of news.
EASTWOOD: Yeah. Well, there was—especially for New Yorkers. It became a subject of discussion, because it was not too long after 9/11, and the economy was bad there at the time, and everybody was slightly on a depressed thing… kinda (chuckles) like they are today. Anyway, it was a fascinating story and I didn’t know that there was a conflict to it. So when it came up, it was presented to me as the idea for a movie, and I thought: ‘Well, it was such an uplifting story—where is the conflict of it to give it the drama?’ And later on there is a conflict to it, as we find out in the plotline. I read that and then I realized: ‘Well, I want to make this now.’ It’s got good dramatic to it and it’s got good human factors.
STRIPLV: Tell us about going up to meet the real Sully and his wife, Lorraine.
EASTWOOD: (chuckles) Well, he was pretty much like the news coverage. The news portrayed him as a very low-key, sort of humble gentleman, but a very efficient man with a great history in aviation. And he was like that. I went up to Danville [California], and met with both he and his wife. And it was great, because he was exactly like I always kinda pictured him. In fact, we sat there, and my first questions to him were: “How did you like the script?” And he said, “Oh, I think it’s a good script.” And I said, “Oh, you think it portrays things accurately?” (Because I wanted to see if there was anything that he thought was made up that didn’t look right.) And he was extremely pleasant and very supportive of the deal. So I said: “Who do you see playing you?” And he said, “Well, I don’t know. We’ve talked about that a little bit and a couple things…” I said: “What about Tom Hanks?” And he said, “Yeah!” He thought right away and said: “He’s terrific!” And so that’s what happened. We came back and made an overture to Tom Hanks. And at first Tom wasn’t sure about the timing and everything, because he’d been doing other projects. But he did read the script and liked it a lot. So, he found that he wanted to be participating.
STRIPLV: What was it about Tom that he was your first choice from the beginning?
EASTWOOD: Right from the very beginning. It never was offered to anybody else. Well, Tom has a certain presence, and a certain humbleness in his presence. He’s not an extrovert-ish… I mean, he can be. But he comes across as a reserved type of guy. And he just seemed like he’d be able to get his arms around the character. I can’t think of any downside to him. He’s the exact same age in real life as Sully was when the incident happened. Everything fell into place.
STRIPLV: Aaron Eckhart is a huge fan of yours. What made you cast him in this role?
EASTWOOD: In fact, when the real Sully saw the picture, he thought that Aaron had captured the first officer in a very great way. He thought it was very much like the guy—the same sense of humor, the same kind of playfulness, prior to of course, the incident. And Aaron was just about the same age. Everything fit. I always believe that one of the most important things in making a film is casting it correctly. And sometimes you’re very elated when that happens and it turns out to be just right. And sometimes when it turns out not just right, you’re figuring, well, what other gimmick can I put here to cover up the fact that this is nothing like the person that you’re portraying there?
STRIPLV: Why was it so important to be truthful and authentic in telling this story?
EASTWOOD: Well, I think it was important to be authentic because it isn’t that long ago, you know, we’re talking seven years. If it’s something that’s historical or centuries back or half a century or century back, it’s not such a big deal, but you try to get it accurate there, too. There’s still a ton of people that were standing there on either the street when they saw all this happen, or they were in office buildings or hotels, or whatever, and they looked out and saw this plane hit the water, and then all the people out on the wings, and everything. And all the newscasters were covering it. It was covered worldwide pretty well. I was talking to some people from China the other day. They knew all about it. It’s still in the memories of everybody—the real event.
STRIPLV: I understand you had your own brush with a water landing?
EASTWOOD: I did. It was something similar, except it was a military plane. It was a Douglas AD. I was in the army at 21. I was drafted at age 21. At that time, during the Korean War, if you wore your uniform, you could fly free on any other branch of the service. So I wanted to go back, after basic training to Seattle, where my folks were living at that time. So I went out to Monterey Airport and got on a free flight to Seattle. But nothing comes for nothing, sometimes, anyway. When coming back on that Sunday night, I called up San Pointe out of Seattle and asked if they had any openings on a plane. They said, no, they didn’t have any—nothing was going there. Then they said, “Well, wait a minute. We do have two Douglas AD’s, and they’re taking off, and it does have a compartment in the back.” It’s used for radar and various things, because these things were used during the Korean War and WWII as torpedo bombers. And they said: “You’re not claustrophic, are ya?” I said: “Oh, no. I’m not claustrophic. No problem.” Because these compartments are tiny, and you can’t see out much. You’ve got a little, tiny porthole on the side. We took off from there and we had all kinds of bad weather. Had to change course and had all kinds of problems, oxygen running out...and then finally we got to San Francisco. We were going to Alameda Air Base, and it was all stormy. Very stormy. And so I began to wonder: ‘Maybe we’re going to end up landing on Mount Tamalpais or something.’ But the radios didn’t work, so he went out to sea and finally found a hole through the clouds. And they got down under the clouds, and you could see the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, and the last word I hear on the radio before it went out is: “Two hours estimated gas,” or something like that—some ridiculous amount. So he went up the coast by Point Reyes, Northern California, and we were off several miles. We landed it in the water, and the same thing—the engine gave out. The same thing as in the movie. Nobody told me anything because I couldn’t hear anything. So I tightened my seatbelt down so much I was getting gangrene. And we hit the water, and bounced along pretty good, much like the plane does in Sullenberger’s case. And then the plane went up [vertical] and started sinking. Meanwhile, I’m unbuckling and getting out, and the plane is facing downwards, but it had big flaps. So I’m standing on the flap. The pilot comes down from the cockpit and says: “What do you think?” I said, “Looks like we’re going swimming.” And so we jumped in the water and started moving toward shore. Now this was late afternoon, and it turned dark as we went. But you could see the shore, because it had phosphorus in the water, and very eery, because phosphorus makes the water all kinda glow all around. And you could see by the way that it was crashing on the shore, that it wasn’t gonna be a good place to land. So we made it, crawling over kelp beds and doing all kinds of stuff like that, and finally made it in. He thought I had drowned. I thought he had drowned—because we had lost touch with each other because of the waves. I started hiking South. He hiked North. Finally I ended up at a RCA Relay Station up on the cliff, near Bolinas, California.
STRIPLV: That is an amazing story! When is that movie coming out? (laughter)
EASTWOOD: Well, it has to do with nothing really today—except that it was an interesting choice that I’m given a movie about a water landing that was successful to direct. So I guess, (smiles) I’m as knowledgeable as anyone they could have gotten.