The Eastwood Conundrum by Tom Junod
Published in the October 2012 issue of Esquire - September 19, 2012
Whilst things are a little quiet on the Eastwood scene, I thought I would post this Esquire article from 3 years ago which features some very interesting anecdotes. It also provides a great opportunity to post some very nice photos from the Archive to support the article.
Clint Eastwood has no ass. This is not a secret. He is known among his friends for having no ass, and his asslessness has contributed to the minimalist gait that has steered him through more than fifty years of climbing on horses and cold-bloodedly killing cold-blooded killers on camera. He has no ass like he has no gut and no pity. He is remarkably consistent, remarkably of a piece, and the only time his lack of ass presents any complications is when he's sitting down in his special place. Clint Eastwood has a special place. It's in his bungalow on the Warner Bros. lot. It's in the corner of the low couch outside his office. It is located directly under a framed letter from a script reader telling him that the script for "Cut-Whore Killing" — which became Unforgiven — was a disgrace. It's diagonally across the room from an out-of-tune upright piano. It faces a big flat-screen TV, and sits kitty-corner to a wall occupied by an enormous poster advertising Per un Pugno di Dollari — A Fistful of Dollars, his first movie with Sergio Leone.
Eastwood has occupied the bungalow since 1976. He and his fledgling production company, Malpaso, had just left Universal. He was making The Outlaw Josey Wales and incurred the wrath of the directors' union for firing the director and taking over himself. He wanted to make movies his way — he wanted to make what members of his crew call "Clint Movies" — and Warner Bros. wanted him to feel comfortable doing so. It gave him the bungalow, and with it a place where only he can sit.
It is not called a special place, and visitors who make the mistake of sitting in it are not kicked out, not exactly. They are only told, by his assistant, that they are sitting in the place where Clint Eastwood "feels comfortable." This is not a reference to the softness of the couch. This is the first lesson in how Eastwood does business: He does not do anything unless he feels comfortable. He does not make a movie unless he feels comfortable. He does not hire an actor unless he feels comfortable, and once he's on the set he sees to it that his actors and everyone else who works for him feel comfortable in return. He makes most of his movies about people in extremely uncomfortable situations, and the precondition for making them is a feeling of comfort that should never be confused with ease. He sees work as the necessary ingredient of comfort and comfort as the necessary ingredient of work. He draws no distinction between them, and makes his movies
— Clint Movies — as a way of demonstrating that they are the same.
Clint Eastwood does not, however, appear comfortable when he enters the room and begins to lower himself onto the couch. Though age has shrunken him slightly and he no longer stands six feet four inches tall, he still looks too big even for his special place, like an eagle consigned to a robin's nest. Because he has no ass, when he sits he has a long way to go, and his body folds upon itself. His ass sinks down; his knees rise up; he places both his hands palms-down on his thighs so that you can discern the almost mineral cast of their purple-veined backs; he turns the toe of his right foot in and sits slightly pigeon-toed in black lace-up shoes, like a Catholic schoolboy forced to wait for a nun's leave before going to the john.
At eighty-two, he has become an old man in classy clothes — a blazer, black trousers, and an open-collared shirt that bends open between the buttons at his solar plexus and shows in flashes the white of his skin. He has a frothy hairline and shadowy teeth; he is slightly hard of hearing and clears his throat a lot. His soft gargly voice has a kind of laconic driftiness, a rapt distractibility; he repeats "yeah...yeah...oh, yeah...sure..." And the most identifiable aspect of him on screen, his sound, becomes almost exotic in person — exotic because you've heard it before from a hundred men his age but not from him.
And then he turns into Clint Eastwood before your eyes. He takes his time; he is the most unhurried of men. First, he straightens out his right foot. Then he scoots forward to the edge of the couch and unhinges his back. Then he kicks his left foot onto the coffee table and spreads first one and then both of his arms over the back of the couch until he is all wingspan — a fighter who makes his living on his superior reach. He gets comfortable, and begins to perform. The wood-panelled room is dark, lit only via slatted wooden blinds, and against those stripes of magic-hour light he displays the whole catalog of gestures we have come to know of him. He stares. He squints. He winces. He crazes his forehead with suspicion. He sets his teeth on edge. He sets his teeth on edge and then slides his lower jaw off center. He narrows his eyes. He ends eye contact for long periods of time, turning his face in profile against the backdrop of light, and then resumes it swiftly and dramatically, with a glare or a smile. It all feels like an arrival of sorts, or maybe a return, and when he is asked how he likes being called an icon, he answers in a voice straight out of a Clint Movie:
"Well, I don't know. I guess it's better than being called Hey you."
He has made Clint Movies in four phases of his life. He has made Clint Movies as an actor, as an icon, as an artist, and now he is making Clint Movies as an old man. He has controlled both his career and his image through the making of Clint Movies; a Clint Movie is indeed the expression of his desire for comfort and control, and he is able to keep making them as an old man because of the choices he made as a young one.
He has starred in fifty-one movies and directed thirty-two. He also composes his soundtracks and pilots a helicopter. He works out every day and plays golf every weekend. He is husband to a woman thirty-five years younger than he is, and is father to seven children ranging in ages from forty-five to fifteen by five different women. He takes long family vacations. He is a famously loyal friend and the employer of sixty-odd souls. He served as a small-town mayor, claims to be a libertarian, and recently endorsed Mitt Romney's presidential run. He disparages Barack Obama every chance he gets and did a famous commercial for a car company he believes should have been allowed to die. He has survived one plane crash and didn't board a doomed flight that killed several of his friends. He is an Army veteran who never served in a war and possibly the most prolific cinematic killer of all time. He embodies ingrained American badassery and exists as a principle as much as he lives as a person; he also shows up as the reluctant supporting player on a reality-TV series starring his wife and daughters.
And yet for all that he has done and decided to do, he has lived a life of epic refusals. He has refused to stop working, but he has also always refused to work harder than he has to. He has made Clint Movie after Clint Movie, but the Clint Movie is itself defined by what he won't do. He won't go over budget. He won't go over schedule. He won't storyboard. He won't produce a shot list. He won't rehearse. He doesn't say "Action" — "When you say 'Action' even the horses’ get nervous" — and he doesn't say "Cut." He won't, in the words of his friend Morgan Freeman, "shoot a foot of film until the script is done," and once the script is done, he won't change it. He doesn't heed the notes supplied by studio executives, and when Warner Bros. tried to tone down the racial innuendo in Nick Schenk's script for Gran Torino, he told them, according to Schenk, "Take it or leave it." He won't accept the judgment of test screenings; as he once told one of his screenwriters, "If they're so interested in the opinion of a grocery-store clerk in Reseda, let them hire him to make the movie."
What he will do and has always done: use his leverage, in all senses of the word. He earned his leverage as an actor, as an icon, and as an artist; he is using it as an old man, with executives, with other actors, and with audiences. With executives, the Clint Movie exists as a form of leverage, because it exists as a form of thrift. With actors, he's leveraged both his artistry and his iconic status — his fifty years of stardom.
"His status as an icon is what attracts people to work with him," says Rob Lorenz, who has worked with Eastwood for eighteen years and is the director of his new movie, Trouble with the Curve. "Whether it's people who want a chance to work with him onscreen if he's acting or a chance just to work with him when he's directing. That's a big reason why Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, all these guys signed up for Mystic River. Because they want to pick up on the wisdom that he can impart. Not just as an actor but as a star."
And with audiences? "He's schooled them," says Meryl Streep, who starred with him in the movie he made from The Bridges of Madison County. "He banked an enormous amount of credit with the male audience in the early part of his career, when they were eager to imagine themselves as whatever character he was playing. And then he sort of brought them into material that they never would have gone to. Starting with maybe Unforgiven, he started bringing them along on a left-hand turn, where violence wasn't the thing you got your rocks off with. It was something horrible. And only he could bring them there."
Eastwood doesn't look at it that way, for among his epic refusals is a refusal to engage in over thinking. "I like Meryl. She's a smart woman and a pleasure to act with. But I don't know if I'm that aware. I'm not that self-examining. I've always felt that if I examine myself too much, I'll find out what I know and don't know, and I'll burst the bubble. I've gotten so lucky relying on my animal instincts; I'd rather keep a little bit of the animal alive.
"To me, it's all been extemporaneous. Something comes along: 'Oh, let's do that.' You haven't done a western in a decade? 'Oh, let's do that.' And it turns out to be a good one. It turns out to be Unforgiven."
And then Unforgiven won him an Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture, and launched the late phase of his career. "There was a coterie of hot directors that did not include Clint Eastwood for a long time," says Al Ruddy, who produced The Godfather for Francis Ford Coppola and Million Dollar Baby for Eastwood. "They didn't take him seriously. Then, bang — he does Unforgiven and all that changes."
Suddenly, he was in association with Steven Spielberg, who owned the rights to Bridges of Madison County and wanted Eastwood not to direct but to play the character of photographer Robert Kincaid. And when the director who had already started preproduction dropped out, Eastwood was left to direct himself as the character he regarded as a reasonable facsimile of himself.
And he made it no differently than he'd made any other movie. He made it into a Clint Movie, and when he got to the location in Madison County, Iowa, and saw that the previous director had been spending money to build bridges, he said, "Wait a second, doesn't Madison County already have bridges?"
Someone informed him that they were too dark to shoot inside. His answer: "Well, shoot outside, then."
|Bill Gerber (left)|
When Bill Gerber was running Warner Bros., he wanted Clint Eastwood to work with a director whose work he'd come to admire. The director also played golf, and so Gerber figured that he could get the two men together on the golf course. They played as a threesome one afternoon, and the next morning Gerber called Eastwood.
"Well, what did you think?"
"I liked him, and he's a smart guy. But if he directs anything like he plays golf, we'll be on the set for two years."
And that's how a Clint Movie doesn't get made.
He is well-known for his first takes — for expecting his actors and crew to be prepared for them and for moving on if he gets what he wants. He is well-known for not hurrying — "Nobody runs in a hospital, and they're saving lives" — and also for not wasting any time. He is well-known for letting the camera run until the actor breaks character rather than until he says "Cut." He is well-known for saying "Let's move on" instead of "Cut" and for saying "Let's move on" most of the time.
"You have to beg him for a second take," says Matt Damon, who starred in two Clint Movies, Invictus and Hereafter. "I did once, and he said, 'Why, so you can waste everybody's time?' "
He has his reasons, of course. "I try to do whatever it takes," he says. "If one take, great. If ten takes, that's what it has to be. Artistically, though, I like to see the person the first time the situation ever crosses their brain and the first time it goes through their eyes and the first time the words come out of their mouths. I've seen great actors do amazing things on the first take. Is there a Clint way? I guess the Clint way is just to realize you've got it when you've got it. And if you don't have it, realize you don't have it. And go accordingly."
"You know you have to be ready because it's one take," says Jeff Daniels, who made Blood Work with Eastwood in 2002. "And you can't believe it. You're told and you're ready and there it is. You get one take, and you move on. You're just like, 'Really?' And he goes, 'Oh, we're good.' And by the time you ran that little two-line exchange, the camera's already being moved and lights are being taken down. Lunch is being served."
He never raises his voice, and never has to. Nobody argues with him. Nobody challenges him. It's simply not done, and when it is, it is remembered. "Once," answered Jack Green, the cinematographer on fourteen Clint Movies, when asked if he remembered anyone arguing with Clint Eastwood.
"Find his extra," Eastwood said, "and put a shirt on him."
He wound up shooting the scene with the extra — with the extra walking through a field, and the camera so close to him he became a blur. Then Costner emerged from his trailer and announced that he was ready to work. "Never mind," Eastwood said, "we're moving on."
"You shot the scene with my extra?" Costner said, in what would be the first of several exchanges with his director.
"I get paid to burn film," Eastwood said.
There are two questions that come up about Clint Eastwood. The first: Is he really like that? The second: Has he always been like that? Here's a story — a little story — that proposes to answer both, as well as the question nobody ever asks: How does he make people do exactly what he wants them to do?
Lennie Niehaus met Clint Eastwood in the Army. He met him at Fort Ord, near Salinas, California. Eastwood served as a lifeguard of sorts, making sure the new recruits didn't drown in the pool when they had to prove they could swim. Eastwood was working when Niehaus tore his foot open on some broken tiles. A drill sergeant came along and told Niehaus to get moving. "Can't you see the man is hurt?" Eastwood said, and took him to the infirmary. "He stood there while I was getting stitched up. They used no anaesthesia and Clint stood there the whole time."
They became friends, with a common interest in jazz. Niehaus played sax in the marching band and oboe in the concert orchestra, and after his discharge he went back to playing with bandleader Stan Kenton. He met Eastwood again when Niehaus was conducting for Jerry Fielding, who scored Eastwood's films. They kept in touch, and in 1984 Eastwood called. "He said, 'Hey, Lennie, I have a little movie' — everything's little with him — 'and I'd like you to help me with something. I have a little movie, and I think you'd be good for it.' " The movie was Tightrope, and Niehaus wrote the score. He also wrote the score for Heartbreak Ridge, and became yet another person for whom Clint Eastwood has acted as friend, colleague, boss, benefactor, and paterfamilias.
How many are there? Well, twenty years ago, Jack Green went to Canada to do the cinematography for a movie being shot around Vancouver, and an official for a Canadian filmmaking union asked when Clint Eastwood was going to shoot a movie in Canada. "Never," Green answered, "because he can't bring his family."
"How big is his family?" the official asked.
"Fifty or sixty people who go everywhere he goes," Green said.
When the official understood that Green was referring to Eastwood's crew, he offered a deal: Anyone who could prove that they'd worked with Eastwood on more than five films could come up to Canada and get around the union's work rules.
"Well, that was everybody," Green says, "and that's how Unforgiven came to be shot in Canada."
Indeed, the question of exactly what constitutes a Clint Movie turns out to have an easy answer: A Clint Movie is a movie shot by Clint Eastwood's crew. He gives them more freedom than most other filmmakers give their crews, and they give him greater constancy. He waits on line with them at the catering truck instead of eating lunch in his trailer; he moves equipment with them; he generally starts the workday after nine and ends it before five so that they can have breakfast and dinner with their families. He readily admits that his method of making movies depends almost entirely on their experience and skill, and so in return, "They would jump into traffic for him," says Matt Damon. "They know that if they can do their jobs, they have a job for life," says Al Ruddy, who on this occasion has it right in spirit but wrong in fact.
|with Jack Green|
"He likes to move people up within the company when he knows that they are ready and that maybe somebody who is more mature is ready to move on and do other work," Green says. "He wanted to give someone else a chance, and I think I was also getting a little expensive."
Jack Green did not argue with Clint Eastwood when Clint Eastwood replaced him after a total of twenty-eight films. He simply accepted what everybody accepts, what every Clint Eastwood anecdote, performance, and movie is actually about: his authority. He was the first American authority figure to arise out of the era when American authority fell apart, and he figures to be the last. How did he accrue his authority? Well, those who work with him now that he's old — like Matt Damon — credit his experience. But those who knew him when he was young — like Lennie Niehaus — say he had it even then. Perhaps the simplest answer is that like Jack Green, we gave it to him. And he had the good sense both to take it and to wear it lightly.
"Oh, I think he's aware of the effect that he has on people, men and women," Meryl Streep says. "He's canny about that. And he's a modest person, you know? He's very humble. But he is, in a sense, savvy about his effect on people. And it's a useful, useful thing."
Clint Eastwood, of course, says that Meryl Streep is over thinking it again — and that in any case, he doesn't want to think about the effect he has on people, especially as an actor: "You try different things, you try to exercise every element you know how to do. But you don't want to try to figure out how you relate to people and how they relate to you, because then you'll be sitting there every scene, saying, Okay, I want the audience to... And then it's gone."
And yet he uses it. He uses it when he's acting and he uses it when he's directing and he uses it when he walks into the room. He uses it every day, and fifteen years ago he used it when he was in Savannah filming Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and a Georgia state trooper pulled over a member of his crew.
"We had just gotten in," says John Lee Hancock, who wrote Midnight as well as Perfect World for Eastwood and who calls his experience with Eastwood "my film school." "There's a limo and a van at the airport. Of course Clint gets into the van. And the driver's young, and he's driving pretty fast as we're heading to town. And so he gets pulled over. Georgia state trooper, with the hat and whole thing. And the driver doesn't want Clint to get involved, so he gets out of the van. Well, the state trooper doesn't like that, and starts reading him the riot act. He can't see inside, can't see Clint. And Clint just listens. Doesn't move. Finally, he looks at me and says, in that voice, I think I'll talk to him.
"And then he gets out of the van."
Don Siegel knew what he had when he made Dirty Harry. He had an actor he was determined to make into an icon. He had Clint Eastwood, whom everybody in the world thought of as a cowboy. Siegel didn't. He thought there was something Roman about him, something of magnificence. He called him "Clintus."
Clint Eastwood knew what he had, too. He had a script, and in the script he saw the rarest quality in Hollywood — something new. "Yeah, I knew," he says. "It was sort of a victims' rights movie. I thought it was a time in history for a victims' rights movie. All we heard in the media was all the haranguing about the rights of the accused. Everything was going that way. I thought, Maybe it's time to explore the rights of the victims."
The only person who didn't know exactly what was going on was Andy Robinson, the young actor brought in to play what Eastwood calls "the sicko."
"I came out of New York theater," Robinson says. "It was my first film. And then suddenly to be working with this presence, this guy who had his own field of energy without trying. He was genuinely supportive and collaborative, and yet there was this field of energy that he commanded. It wasn't just a sexual energy, although God knows that was there, too. It was just a presence, almost like a political presence as well.
"And Don Siegel knew exactly what to do with it. He framed the shots in an epic manner, building an iconic presence of Clint.
"And Clint was nobody's fool. He was co-creator of that presence. No doubt about it.
"All they needed was someone for him to play off of, and that was me. I was able to create a nightmare. I just went with my instincts and Siegel's direction. What are we scared of? What's the dark side of our collective consciousness? At the time, we were scared of that guy, the guy with the peace sign and the paratrooper boots. The Scorpio killer."
Don Siegel taught Clint Eastwood how to make Clint Movies. Clint Eastwood learned how to make Clint Movies so that he could control every aspect of his career, including whom he worked with. He never worked with Andy Robinson again.
"You know, Don Siegel told me, 'I'm sorry I ruined your career,' " he says. "I laughed. But he knew what he was saying. He ruined my career. "I used to call Clint and ask him for work. He told me no and he told me why. He said that he couldn't use me because the identification with the Scorpio killer was too strong.
"It's all worked out; it's all been for the good" — Robinson now directs a theater in Los Angeles and teaches acting at the University of Southern California. "But if I had a dollar for everyone who's come up to me and said, Do you feel lucky, punk? I've had it said to me while I'm taking a piss at a urinal, and I've had it said to me at the overlook of Rocky Mountain National Park. I've gotten anonymous phone calls — guys calling in the middle of the night. And it's always guys."
Do they use Clint Eastwood's voice?
What he has never played: a villain. What he has always played: a killer. The distinction is crucial to all the phases of his career. "I played characters with villainous aspects," he says. "But out and out villain? No. They tend to get it before the final reel. I tend to stick around."
He does not stick around to get the girl. He sticks around to kill the killer — to kill the character who is worse than he is, the character who likes it — and then to endure killing's cost. "You know, Dirty Harry is a guy who really didn't get any pleasure out of it. I played him with a certain sadness because I believe that if you really did kill all those people, there would be an effect on your soul or your psyche or whatever your beliefs are, however you want to phrase it."
Indeed, he never kills for himself in any of his movies. He kills for us; he kills because he is the only one who will, and so he has killed a lot of people. "Historically, sure," he says. "And so maybe it's some kind of catharsis. Or maybe it's some sort of sadistic pleasure. Or maybe it's nothing at all."
But here's the thing: He's sitting in his bungalow while he's saying that all that killing might mean nothing at all. He's sitting in his special place. He feels comfortable, comfortable enough to say, "I've had no problem harnessing anger," and then, at that moment, to look angry. He snarls; he even curls his lip the way he curls his lip in movies when he's finally been pushed too far, and he talks about how as an actor he would play the doctor victimized in "that horrible incident out east, in Connecticut" — how he would play Bill Petit, whose wife and daughters were violated and killed and eventually immolated while Petit was tied up downstairs.
"You imagine what must have gone through his mind. The hate that must be in his mind — he must want to kill everything living in his path. He must have at least thought that, even if he couldn't act on it. From an actor's point of view — I know how he thinks. It's not too hard to imagine that, so I wouldn't have to meet that person in order to portray that person. Just as a parent, this is just something you wouldn't stand for — you'd want to rip people's eyes out for that. How can you not be jaded morally or spiritually the rest of your life? How can you believe in any religious figures or anything? And our society, the pussy generation, is going to let [the killers] live for years before they start peeling them off and executing them. It should have been done in weeks, after you give them their due. But those are all things that would plague you. All aspects of it — that horrible thing.
"There's not a guy in the world that wouldn't want to drop the hammer on them. But in our society you have certain people trying to analyze what we give them for lethal injection. What's the difference? Battery acid would be fine."
Everybody who reads those words — battery acid would be fine — will think they know what Clint Eastwood sounded like when he said them. They will even think that they can make themselves sound the way they think he sounded — that they can do Clint Eastwood. It's not that hard: You set your teeth on edge, you draw your lips in a tight line, and you speak from some parched place at the bottom of your throat, the desert within yourself.
Most of the people who have told a Clint Eastwood story for this article have given it a shot, and Justin Timberlake, who co-stars with Eastwood in Trouble with the Curve, says that he started doing it after completing his first scene with Eastwood — a bar fight in which he has to pull Eastwood off a guy who hits on Eastwood's daughter, played by Amy Adams. "It was like, 'Holy shit, Dirty Harry.' You know what I mean? I just couldn't imagine what it's like to be Clint Eastwood every day. So I found myself going back to my cast chair after the cuts and impersonating his lines — like, Get the fuck away from my daughter."
Nobody, of course, really sounds like that, except Clint Eastwood. But there's something you need to know: He doesn't sound like that, either.
"It's not his voice," says Morgan Freeman. "The voice he uses when he's acting is not the voice he uses when he's not. It's because of the Man with No Name. He established that voice when he was doing spaghetti westerns with Sergio Leone, and he's used it ever since. People use it when they imitate him because it's the only voice they know. But it only comes out when you mic him up and he's on the set and acting. And then he uses this voice and I don't know why...."
At which point, Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood's friend since they co-starred in Unforgiven, does his best Clint Eastwood.
His new movie, Trouble with the Curve, is not a Clint Movie in that he didn't direct it. It is a Clint Movie, though, in that it was made with Clint's crew and directed by Rob Lorenz, with whom he has worked for eighteen years. When Gran Torino came out in 2008, he intimated that his role as cantankerous martyr Walt Kowalski might be his last turn in front of the camera. But he knew Lorenz was desperate to direct, and he knew that Lorenz's best chance to fulfil his dream was with a movie starring Clint Eastwood. So he acts in Trouble with the Curve. And yet it's still a Clint Movie, because in a scene shot at a cemetery, he made his crew cry.
He was alone in the cemetery. He was playing an old man who keeps a vigil at his wife's tombstone because the mute stone marker has become the last thing on earth he can talk to. But in the scene, he doesn't just talk. He sings "You Are My Sunshine" like a broken, desperate prayer.
Early on in his career, he'd found a character to play, and he'd played it again and again, in movie after movie, and he'd pushed it — he made Clint Movies as a way of pushing it. But in all the Clint Movies he's made, he didn't push it like this. He's played angry men and guilty men and vengeful men and heartbroken men, but he's never played a desperate one, and the crew was unprepared for the spectacle.
They stood around the tombstone, and Deborah Hopper, a costume designer who has worked for Clint Eastwood for twenty-five years, remembers this: "It was a big day. It was heartfelt and really kind of sad. There were tears."
There were also two takes. "We needed more than one," Rob Lorenz says. "His process is a little bit different than mine. His process is to sort of let things unfold organically, and just let them be. And I was willing to work at that a little bit longer, to take the time to pull more out of it." The takes went on for a long time, "and we were all really moved watching him get through that."
|Deborah Hopper (left)|
How did Eastwood get through it? "You're just watching a guy alone with no other figures in the scene," Eastwood says. "He's thinking a thought about somebody, and if you just think that thought about somebody, it works out. The only thing in your mind is Do I want to hide this within myself more or do I want to bring more of this out, because you have the freedom of being alone, and you don't have to suppress it. It's just basic acting. You can rehearse it a thousand times, or you can just do it. I'm probably one who is just going to do it.
"You can think of an imaginary figure who might be your wife, or your mother or your sister or your brother. You can think of a relationship along the way, the day when your dog got run over by a car when you were seven years old and how it affected you. For me, I think of an imaginary being — I get a face in my mind, and I think of what our relationship might have been like. The script tells me what our relationship might have been like."
He is not the kind of man who talks about his regrets. The only regret he admits to is the regret that he didn't take the piano more seriously as a boy. But he talks about being a better father as an old man than he was as a young one, because "when you're reaching for the brass ring, all you're really thinking about is the brass ring." And he talks about his mother. He was extremely close to her, and "she made me make a tough decision for her. She lasted until she was ninety-seven. She had a major stroke, but they could have resuscitated her. And she was conscious enough where I could say, 'They can resuscitate. C'mon, three more years, and you hit the century mark.' But the look on her face. And I said, 'Okay.' "
Was he thinking of his mother when he sang in the cemetery? Was he thinking of his young wife? He will never say. He will preserve that kind of mystery until his own end because it leads to where all Clint Movies have been quietly and invisibly leading to all along, because without the mystery, there is no authority, and without the authority, we wouldn't be watching him sing to his wife in the cemetery, alone and on his knees.
He has controlled both his career and his image since he turned down a television offer in order to go to Italy and make a new kind of cowboy movie with Sergio Leone. He has invented a genre all its own, the Clint Movie, to protect his right of refusal. And so it's not surprising that when he talks about the commercial he made for Chrysler to show at halftime during last year's Super Bowl, he talks about what he refused to do.
Sure, he did it — "They asked me to do it. I thought, It's a good message. The country needs the esprit de corps right now, and maybe if I can help out in a small way, I'd like that. I didn't mind doing it. And I didn't do it for nothing. I told them I wanted a certain amount for doing it, I'd be giving 100 percent to charity, and that'll be that.
"But I had input. I said, I don't want to come on and say, 'I'm Clint Eastwood' and do a pitch. Let's just do it, let it be there, let it hang there for a few seconds and leave. The ad agency wanted to go further and I said this is as far as I'm going and that was it."
So was "Halftime in America" a Clint Movie? It was, though he didn't direct or write it. It was, because the sound of his voice alone was enough to draw millions of Americans out of their kitchens and bathrooms and back in front of their television sets. And Mrs. Eastwood & Company? Is that a Clint Movie, too?
"I have nothing to do with that," he says. "My part of the deal is you do it if you want to do it, but you must leave me out of it. I'm not a reality-show guy and I don't want to be one. But it's fine by me — I'm a very libertarian soul. Leave everybody be. That's the way I am about almost everything. Leave everybody alone."
You want him to say those words through his teeth, with a throttled vehemence. But he doesn't. He says them in his ragged whisper, the voice of an old man with an ambitious young wife and a couple daughters who will light a $100,000 handbag on fire for all of America to see. And then he tells a story in the same voice, his real voice, the voice of a father whose authority is incomplete, about taking his daughter to her driving test.
"We were sitting there waiting for the examiner, and I said, 'Do you know your hand signals?' She had no idea what I was talking about. She said, 'What are hand signals?' So we went through them. And the examiner comes over. He's an old guy, like me, and he's in a bad mood. He says, 'Show me your hand signals.' "
He'd been failing people all day with that question, before they even got started. But Clint Eastwood's daughter knew her hand signals, and the examiner came over to the passenger side to get in. The last American authority figure got out and watched his daughter drive away.