Monday, 1 February 2010

Eastwood Interviewed # 04 Clint Eastwood on INVICTUS by Douglas Thompson 17th Jan 2010

Although this is a new Interview, I decided to merge all Eastwood Interviews together from now on, seemed to make sense, and easier for all Interviews to be located in one place.

'27 years in the slammer, and Mandela's still a step-up guy...' CLINT EASTWOOD on his inspirational new film
Exclusive: In his own words the Hollywood star tells how he filmed the inspiring story of Nelson Mandela and the rugby match that changed a nation

I guess I'm a lucky guy with talented friends. When I wanted a screen partner for the movies Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby I went calling for Morgan Freeman and it worked out pretty well [both films went on to win four Oscars each, including Best Picture and Best Director].

This time around Morgan made the running. He returned the compliment.

Morgan had been meeting Nelson Mandela since the Nineties, aiming to adapt his memoir Long Walk To Freedom for the screen. He'd spent time in South Africa, during and after apartheid, and he was often told that he looked like Mandela. Yet, because he felt it was just too huge a story to do it justice in one film, he'd set the idea aside.

Then he was given a screenplay about how Mandela, with his intuition and understanding, had united whites and blacks behind the South African national rugby team. He called me and said he had a good script he wanted me to read.
I liked the way the script was written and the book on which it was based: Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game That Made A Nation by John Carlin. All the material was new to me and I thought was a natural for a movie; it was also a chance to show an example of how one person can affect a whole country by using his creative powers.

I called back and said: 'I like this. Why don't I run with it for a while.' The proviso was that Morgan would play Mandela.
I went to Warner Brothers and they fell in love with it as well, so the whole thing went together. Everything I do is contingent upon the material. Sometimes you develop something you've read about or from a book and sometimes it all comes together as one piece. This is what happened with the Mandela film.
When Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and elected President four years later, he had the task of governing a nation that was extraordinarily fractured. It was a crucial moment.

The South African Sports Commission wanted to disband the country's Springboks rugby team because they thought it represented apartheid. Mandela's reaction was: 'No, no, no.'

Yes, the Springboks were a symbol of apartheid, but Mandela's magic was his creativity. He figured: 'I'll embrace this sport.'
It turns out he was a fan in a way, and he took this white team - which hadn't played an international game in some years due to boycotts - and inspired Francois Pienaar, the captain, and all the players to do their very best, to walk in his shoes.

It's one of the most creative things that I have ever seen in a politician. Politicians don't usually get that creative - especially when their country is on the verge of civil war. He could have easily gone for a more military solution.
Until I started working on the film, I didn't know much about this episode in South African history. I had some memories of Mandela's release and his election, but I had never heard about this incident with the rugby team.
I knew a little bit about Mandela and the struggles against apartheid and various political elements of South Africa, as most of us have through the news over the years.

But I didn't know about how he used the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa as his way of bringing about reconciliation. I think his approach could be used as a route map for other politicians to help them think outside the envelope. Politicians could learn a lot from Mandela.

Sporting events bring people who are rooting for the same team together. If 100 people are supporting the same team, they may have different beliefs and attitudes, philosophical thoughts, but while they are willing on their team, they don't: sport brings them together and creates a camaraderie that lasts a long time.
Mandela's vision in using rugby was extraordinary. Not only did he leave prison to become President, but he didn't hold a great sense of bitterness towards the people who had imprisoned him. That seemed to me to be almost against his nature. He even invited his jailer to his inauguration. It's hard to believe he could be this person after having been in the slammer for 27 years.

It was as if he had a plan, some vision for his life in the back of his mind, that he always knew he was going somewhere and would become something. It is so unique in these times. It's an interesting lesson for the world. When Mandela took over, people were surprised by how gracious he was and how he led by unification rather than fear.

He was also extremely pragmatic. He chose people for their talent, regardless of race, and he had a vision of how the rugby team could be a means to build reconciliation. He knew the players had been affected by the rugby boycott and that they were in the tournament only because South Africa was the host nation.
I had to wonder what he knew that made him believe it would work. What would have happened if the team, who had started the competition as underdogs, didn't go on to win? He could have come out of jail and started a civil war. Instead, he saw that rugby, the national pastime, could unite whites and blacks. It was a stroke of genius. And when I started seeing this event unravel, I knew just how special he was.

In making the movie, the biggest hurdle for me was that I didn't have a chance to talk to Mandela until halfway through filming.
I had an image, but we had to create an atmosphere for these milestones: at his release from prison, at his election and later, after he went against so much advice, as he reconciled the country.

He came to Cape Town for a day or two. It was a pleasant meeting, but he's 92, so he didn't want to stay around too long. I wasn't prying for any particular information, so I tried to have mercy on him.

He's a terribly charismatic person. When he walks into a room he grabs everybody's attention. I could see at once that very few people are as charismatic as he is.
You can see in his demeanour that he has been through a lot, but he is also receptive to so much. He came out of prison as a guy who would forgive. It's his unconquerable soul with the message that you should never give up on your inner self.

He has faults, as all men do, and it was a tough choice for me not to portray him as a kind of Christ-like figure. I took a look at him from the middle distance.
The key was his honesty. There's a scene in the film when the people around Mandela had doubts about his vision. Someone challenged him, saying: 'You've won an election, but can you run a country?'

He replied: 'That's a legitimate question.'

Mandela did not pretend to know it all. What he did know was how to get the best out of the people around him and in the process those people also became better. That's the whole point of this film. It's not the game, it's not the politics, it's about his power to inspire.

He did not use it as an expedient political platform. He sensed he should just allow the players to be the best they could possibly be. It's a philosophy I follow in my own life. I believe that if you strive to be the best you can be, you will find, in some way, that things will happen for you.

The quotes and statements Mandela had made in real life were all in the script. It was a question of making it accurate. Morgan had the advantage of having met Mandela on many occasions.

He also studied tapes to get the voice and cadence just right. We gathered what it was like for Mandela to be in prison for 27 years - you have time to think.
I've always thought Morgan was the perfect guy to play Nelson Mandela - and Mandela himself had told Morgan he wanted him to portray him. As an actor, Morgan has the same presence when he walks in the room that Mandela has as a politician. Morgan has a certain bearing and charisma. He was built to play this role.

But also, as a man, he is just as pragmatic and resourceful as Mandela. They are both intelligent men, and they both seem to have a great sense of humour. And they are both honest in and to themselves. Honesty is important.
I wouldn't have filmed the movie anywhere else than in South Africa. You need South Africa, you need the people, you need the faces. We used South African actors for the most part, along with a few English and American actors. All the extras were South African.

We shot in all the actual locations. The World Cup final was at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg between the Springboks and the New Zealand All Blacks.
This was the biggest physical aspect of the film. Sometimes manipulating the crowds or trying to move a camera around a crew, I'd think: 'My, this is going to take some time.' But it came together. We did it all very calmly.

I just had to plan the shots accurately, very distinctly, and get the sequences done so we didn't have to linger around. You can't sit there when it's freezing cold and there's iced water being poured on top of the actors' heads - to get the perspiration effect - and wonder: 'Should I film left, should I go right?'
Hey, you can't do that. Well, you can, but it could get you lynched.

The days we shot at Ellis Park, we had 3,000 extras and they all came in the souvenir jerseys they had worn on that day in 1995, with their faces painted. For three days they sang and shared their memories and they were wonderful.
It's because of the extras that we have songs such as Shosholoza (Zulu for 'go forward') and others on the movie's soundtrack. They sang them for us, over and over.

They chanted for everybody. We had all these people in the stands constantly singing. They had all sorts of chants, but the only one they had for me was: 'Clint, show us your haka! [the famous Maori dance performed by the New Zealand team before every match]'.

I did it for them. I did it as well as any of the others - but that's not saying much for the rest of the guys.

It was tough to portray the rugby scenes accurately while filming that final game. We had Chester Williams [the only black player on the original 1995 Springboks team] as our coach, and Francois Pienaar came out a few times. The actors really had to play rugby. You can't fake it. And it's a rough sport.
Matt Damon plays Francois, who is 6ft 4in and at the time he was a very fit 17st. When Matt met him he looked at Francois and then at me. I told him: 'You worry about the accent - I'll do the rest.'

I've always admired Matt as an actor and I thought he'd be a good choice as Francois. All I knew about Francois was from pictures of him. Matt piled in feet, no, head first, and got the man and his relationship with Mandela and the accent accurately.

I knew we had to get the accents right. Many actors who have made films about South Africa did not do that, and audiences noticed.

Francois was helpful to Matt on the rugby stuff and the accent. We just talked a little bit about it. Matt worked with a great dialogue coach and he really wanted to do the accent well.

The first indication we had that Matt's accent was good to go came from the South African boy band Overtone. My wife went to see them perform while we were on location in Cape Town and loved them. We ended up featuring the band in the film.
We flew the group to Los Angeles for the recordings and showed them the clips of Matt as Francois and they gave us the thumbs-up, so we knew we were OK.
Morgan and Matt are both step-up guys. They worked hard to make their scenes look natural - to be Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar. I wanted the film to be as true as possible. I do pride myself on that.

I believe in surrounding myself with the very best people. It cuts down the margin for error, it covers my inadequacies - and it lets me take the credit.

I like to feel a sense of calm on film sets. They haven't all been that way during my career, but that is the way I like it. I think one of a director's most important functions is to establish a relaxed atmosphere for people to work in.

If it's a dramatic scene it's up to the actor to build the drama - you don't have to have someone screaming in the background to achieve it. It has to be within you - you lead them into it in a certain way and it's just a question of keeping the security level very high and not giving the insecurities a chance to show.
One day, after the shoot, we were driving home from the township and there was an open space full of rubbish where black kids were playing rugby. If Mandela had not pushed for the Springboks team, those kids would not have been playing rugby - but there they were, barefoot, in cutoff jeans and torn T-shirts. I had to get a shot of it and it appears in the movie's closing credits.

People changing is the natural progression of things; when people stop changing or stop thinking and start becoming mired in one sort of philosophy, they can get bogged down and that's the decline of life. The Mandela situation fitted right into that. In life, you react according to the philosophies you hold at any given time. I don't regret my early pictures. That was one phase of life and now I'm in another.
My last film, Gran Torino, was certainly about racial tensions and how you're never too old to learn. I played a guy who was racially offensive, but learned to embrace people he didn't initially understand.

Various projects such as this are statements that I guess I'm interested in at this point in my life, and maybe I wasn't that interested in them before. In the movies The Outlaw Josey Wales and Unforgiven, I started delving into areas that were beyond the standard entertainment fare and tried to present some sort of a statement along the way.

The game, the sportsmanship and the Cinderella-ish nature of the story - it was an irony that Mandela's involvement with the Springboks came out that way.
I can't think of a game where there was so great a celebration, other than maybe the 1980 Winter Olympics when the Americans beat the Russians at ice hockey after they'd been so much the underdog.

We gave the movie the title Invictus after what seemed to be Mandela's favourite poem. It was the words of the English poet William Ernest Henley that gave him strength in prison: 'I am the master of my fate/ I am the captain of my soul.' I think we used the poem effectively in the movie.

Everybody was looking for a celebration in 1995, everybody needed it. But when Mandela says in our story that the country was in need of greatness, many people asked: 'What are you putting all your attention into this game for? They're not going to win, so it's not going to give you anything.'
Previously, he and others had cheered for the Springboks' opponents. But by the end of the World Cup campaign, he is wearing their famous green and gold jersey and rallying everyone to the national side.
As it turns out, Mandela was right - and he gave his team, and his country, a moment of greatness.

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