He’s the Godfather of Hollywood who at 87 years old
is still going strong. We look back on the astonishing
career of Clint Eastwood and discover a man still
shooting from the hip on every level.
As Clint Eastwood eases his long, lean frame back on to a sofa and stretches his legs on the coffee table before him, he looks like a man at peace.
He’s inside The Bungalow, his inner sanctum, where the paraphernalia of a remarkable life surround him and the place where he’s happiest.
Included are framed photographs of a much younger Clint pictured with his children, an original Italian poster for A Fistful Of Dollars and a shelf buckling under the weight of countless awards including Golden Globes and Oscars (he has won four Academy Awards so far, Best Picture and Best Director gongs for both Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven).
The Bungalow is the nickname for Eastwood’s office on the vast, sprawling Warner Brothers lot in Burbank, California, where, professionally, he’s been based for the past 42 years.
“I’ve been here since ’76 – 1776!” he drawls in a husky, instantly familiar voice pitched a little above a whisper.
Aged 87, he is the undisputed Godfather of Hollywood, but when you’re as successful as Clint Eastwood, age doesn’t really come into it.
With a good head of steel-grey hair and a tanned, lined face, he still works like a man half his age.
He has just finished promoting his latest movie The 15.17 to Paris, an extraordinary movie, not just because it recounts the incredible bravery of the three off-duty American soldiers, Spencer Stone, Alex Skarlotos and Anthony Sadler, who thwarted a terrorist attack on a train bound to Paris three years ag, but because Eastwood took a gamble by casting the heroic trio as themselves.
Known for pushing the boundaries, Eastwood boldly claims “you never learn unless you accept challenges” – an adage that has been the blueprint of a remarkable career.
When he first told studio bosses he planned to use the real guys instead of actors, an understandable panic filled the room.
Eastwood recalls: “They weren’t happy, no. I think it was the last thing they wanted to hear coming out of my mouth. But they trusted me, trusted where I wanted to go with this and nervously agreed.
“I’d been speaking with actors, good actors who would have served their story well, but this is their story. And who better to tell their own story then the men who actually went through it and lived it.
“You can produce that level of reality, but
I DON’T FEAR DEATH, I’M A FATALIST.
I BELIEVE WHEN IT’S YOUR TIME, THAT’S IT.
IT’S THE HAND YOU’RE DEALT.
sometimes you’re putting actors into a level of reality that they can’t possibly imagine and conjure those emotions and I wanted this story told with the most precise accuracy there could be.
“By having the guys involved telling their own story, takes it to another level instead of having it simply acted out.
“There were four, five hundred people on that train that day. The terrorist had nearly 300 rounds of ammunition, this could have been a horrific, unprecedented attack.
“But thanks to the actions of these boys, it was prevented – these were ordinary people doing extraordinary things and only they could truly portray that on film and I’m thankful and grateful they agreed to it.
“I don’t know if I could claim to do the same in real life. I think like most people, I probably would have jumped under my seat. So what made our boys run at a terrorist who was pointing a gun at them? That’s the story I wanted to get across and they did it brilliantly.”
You sense such actions put life and death into context for everybody. Eastwood is no exception and he admits thoughts of mortality are never far away these days.
“You’re forced to think about death a lot at this age,” he says, “because you’ve lost a lot of people. Let’s put it this way, there wouldn’t be much point in me attending a highschool reunion now because there wouldn’t be anybody there. We’d struggle to raise a quorum.
“I picked up the paper the other day and another two were gone – people I’d grown up with.
“Whether you like it or not, you’re forced to come to the realisation that death is out there. But I don’t fear death, I’m a fatalist. I believe when it’s your time, that’s it. It’s the hand you’re dealt.
“I don’t feel any different to how I did when I was 60 or 70. I felt good then, and I feel good now.”He does, however, believe in fate. When he was just 21, Eastwood had his first brush with death. He was waiting to be dispatched to the front line in Korea in 1951, and was being flown back to his base in California when the aircraft ran out of fuel and crash-landed off the coast.
“If the plane had spun out of control it would have been a different ending,” he says. “But the pilot made a really good landing and we both got out into the water. I started swimming and, luckily, I was a pretty good swimmer and got to the shore.”
The irony is that the crash probably saved his life – instead of shipping out to Korea with his unit, he was ordered to stay behind while there was an investigation.
“It left me haunted for a while and a little hollow. My company went on to Korea and it suffered heavy casualties. Fate pulls you in different directions. I was all ready to go but then things took a different turn and I had a different life. I’m a fatalist that way.’
After leaving the army, he enrolled on a business administration course at LA City College and then an old army friend helped him get seen at Universal Studios, where it was suggested he take acting lessons.
When he got his big break on the Western TV series Rawhide he rubbed shoulders with a crop of young men trying to make names for themselves. “I remember Elvis would be working on the next stage. He always had an entourage of about 15 guys and they’d all laugh at his jokes, but he was a good guy. Jimmy Dean was around. We all knew each other and were on the brink of going somewhere.
“I remember that everybody was doing fast draw – that was the gimmick then. Who was the fastest gun. I was particularly good at it and I can remember taking on Elvis.
“Steve McQueen used to joke, ‘If you weren’t so damn tall, we could work together.’”
His six years on Rawhide led to him working for director Sergio Leone in a series of Westerns – A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. And then, with director Don Siegel, he became Dirty Harry – Harry Callahan, the hard-boiled cop who dispensed justice with the aid of a .44 Magnum.
‘I’ve had people on the street disappointed that I don’t have a .44 Magnum on me and asking when I’m going to bring back Callahan,” he smiles.
“What are you going to have him do? Drive along the highway with a trailer and an OAP sticker on the back and a sign that says, ‘I’m spending the kids’ inheritance?’”
Eastwood also revealed how he once nearly swapped his Magnum for a Walther PPK after movie bosses approached him to play British super sleuth 007.
He recalls: “When Sean Connery left the James Bond pictures the producers contacted me and asked if I would like to play 007. “It was flattering to be asked, and they offered quite a bit of money. But I told them I thought they should have a Brit because I was so associated with Americana. It would have been fun to do it once but it would have been a very bad move – a gringo going ‘My name is Bond, James Bond. Stir but don’t shake…’”
As for the future Eastwood has no intention of rolling over just yet and rumours recently surfaced that he might even appear in front of the cameras again for the first time in six years.
Hollywood insiders say he has been approached to star in a film about the world’s oldest drug mule Leo Sharp. who was arrested for smuggling 200 pounds of cocaine into Michigan, aged 87.
Whether that happens or not remains to be seen but the thought of Eastwood packing it all in, is certainly not on the horizon.
“What would I do?” he says, “Sit by a stream and drink beer all day? No, thanks. If you’re able to enjoy your work and you feel you can still be productive then why should you stop?
“I’m lucky in that directing doesn’t require me to jump or leap out of trains or do anything other than read scripts, talk to the actors and think of creative ways to tell a story.”
Another one of the compensations of ageing, he adds, is the freedom it gives him. “A friend of mine said to me that the great thing about being in your 70s and 80s is that nobody can do anything to you. “There’s something to be said for that. You know, what have you got to lose? Freedom is another word for having nothing left to lose.”.
words | Mark Bowness
pics | Rex Features