TIME Interview: Clint Eastwood Opens Up

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New York – Clint Eastwood, who is up for seven Academy Awards, sat down with longtime friend and biographer Richard Schickel—who is also a TIME movie critic—to talk about moviemaking, money and the advantages of being a slow learner. Eastwood tells Schickel how he found Million Dollar Baby: “I read the stories. (Producer) Al Ruddy gave me the book, Rope Burns, four years ago and said he had been talking with F.X. Toole, who’d written these great stories set in and around boxing. So I read them and particularly liked Million Dollar Baby. I thought it would be relatively simple. Mystic River had done reasonably well. So I went to Warner Bros., and they said, “We don’t think boxing movies are really that commercial now,” and I said, “Well, I don’t quite see this as a boxing movie.” I said it was a love story between a surrogate father and his surrogate daughter, and it’s the next picture I’m going to do. So we went out (to sell it elsewhere), and we had two or three little turn-downs. They all thought it was interesting material but not commercial, so …”

Highlights from the interview include:

Schickel: When I read the script (of Million Dollar Baby), and when it starts to turn dark, I was thunderstruck. I would have thought that would interest people.

Eastwood: I would have thought so too. Because it does hit you with sort of a left hook. But nobody seemed enthralled with that. Lakeshore Entertainment was always bullish but couldn’t afford the whole thing, so as we were talking Warners called back and said it would come in for half of it. And the half was $15 million. In today’s market, you know, 15 doesn’t buy you a lot, but Lakeshore raised the rest, foreign. So we went ahead and made it under the radar. Nobody knew we were making it, and nobody gave a damn that we were making it.

Schickel: You had a long apprenticeship—all those years on Rawhide and then working in the spaghetti westerns. Think that was good For you?

Eastwood: Overnight stardom can be harmful to your mental health. Yeah. It has ruined a lot of people. Like Orson Welles. He comes right out of the box with a project that everybody’s knocked out by, and then all of a sudden it’s like ... What do I do to follow that?

Schickel: There’s a notion that Clint Eastwood, the great American icon, has somehow disappointed a significant portion of his constituency with this movie.

Eastwood: Well, I got a big laugh out of that. These people are always bitching about “Hollyweird,” and then they start bitching about this film. Are they all so mad because The Passion of the Christ is only up for the makeup award and a couple of other minor things? Extremism is so easy. You’ve got your position, and that’s it. It doesn’t take much thought. And when you go far enough to the right you meet the same idiots coming around from the left.

Schickel: When I look back on all your films, every one of them, to me, is extraordinarily specific, by which I mean they’re always about people dealing nonideologically with some issue.

Eastwood: I don’t think I’ve ever done a project ’cause I said, “Geez, philosophically, I’m right in line with this guy. This is me.” I think I’m more apt to choose a role that isn’t me. If you think back on Dirty Harry, for instance, people saw him as just a rogue cop. But he’s a rogue cop who’s just lost his wife. He’s sort of a sad guy, and he’s equally saddened and angered by the bureaucratic nightmare he’s dwelling in while trying to apprehend a sadistic, psychopathic serial killer. If you showed him as a happy-go-lucky guy with no problems at all, you’d have no emotional excitement in the picture.

Schickel: Finally, How do you handle Oscars? I mean you’ve been there a few times.

Eastwood: You go. Sometimes you have the goods. With Unforgiven, we were kind of favored and we prevailed, at least as Best Picture, the nicest one to have. And then last year (with Mystic River) we got Hobbitized. Now, here I am back the second year in a row. It’s almost like the kid won’t go away. Maybe they’ll give it to him just to get rid of him.

The full story will be available on TIME.com

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