'Million Dollar Baby'

THESP FILE
What actor/actress would you most like to work with?
“I don’t think in terms of who I’d like to work with.”
What’s your favorite film from the past five years?
“Election.”
Which character in a film have you watched and wished you could’ve played them?
I don’t like to think of roles I could have played; only ones I’d like to play coming up. I suppose I could go back in time, and say I would have liked to have played Fred C. Dobbs (in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”).
What are you doing next?
“I’m doing a film for Dreamworks. It’s based on a book titled “Flags of our Fathers”, by James Bradley. It was a bestseller about the battle of Iwo Jima, Steven Spielberg is producing. Paul Haggis is writing the script. I’m directing.

In a career that now dates back an astonishing half-century, it’s astonishing to think Clint Eastwood has been nominated only once for his acting.

As William Mummy in 1992’s “Unforgiven,” for which he won director and picture, Eastwood lost out to Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman.”

But now, with “Million Dollar Baby,” Eastwood finds himself back in the ring where his forceful yet low-key on-screen presence is generating a fair amount of attention.

While critical reaction to Eastwood’s 25th feature as a director has been rapturous, and he is a leading contender to pick up picture and director noms — as he did last year with “Mystic River” — his acting is also being discussed as a key ingredient to the film’s emotional resonance.

The notices for Eastwood’s behind-the-scenes talents have been accompanied by equally effusive praise for his portrayal of veteran boxing trainer Frankie Dunn, with some industry observers making Eastwood a triple threat to repeat the hat trick of Oscar nominations (actor, director, picture) he corralled for “Unforgiven.”

Los Angeles Times critic Kenneth Turan wrote that Eastwood’s performance is “in some ways, the most nakedly emotional of his 50-year career,” labeling a scene between Eastwood and Morgan Freeman “a master class in how understated acting can be used to magnificent effect.”

Eastwood the actor appreciates Eastwood the director’s legendarily spare approach and desire to work quickly.

“Acting has to have an organic feel to it. It can’t be intellectually thought out,” he says. “It’s like the ad says, ‘Just do it.’ Or you could put it another way: Just give yourself over to the part.

“Actors are intelligent people, as a rule. You have to turn yourself over to the role and go with it,” he continues. “Acting is trying to make the dialogue sound like it’s the first time it’s been spoken. Sometimes, directors insist on doing a lot of takes, and the actors are stuck trying to make each take sound like it’s fresh. The wonderful thing about film is that if something’s wrong with it, you can redo it.

“Many times, though, I’ve seen actors do a brilliant rehearsal and then do 15 takes trying to recapture that original moment. So I like to grab that fresh moment when it happens in rehearsal. … Concentrating on the very first take keeps everybody in front of and behind the camera on their toes.”

Eastwood has kept movie audiences on their toes since the 1950s and delivers what, for most actors, would be thought of as a career-crowning achievement in “Million Dollar Baby.” With Eastwood, it’s hopefully merely a prelude to the next chapter.

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