Santa Barbara fest honors actor/director

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — “I’m just telling people I’m 78. I’m only 38,” Clint Eastwood quipped as he took the stage to receive the aptly named Modern Master Award at the Santa Barbara Film Festival.

It was lost on no one in the crowd that at an age when most stars and directors have long since had their day, Eastwood is at the top of his game. One woman in the aud at the Arlington Theater even reassured him, “You’re still hot!”

During the Q&A Thursday evening with Leonard Maltin, Eastwood spoke about his career with uncommon verve and droll, often self-deprecating humor.

The multihyphenate has been particularly prolific of late: He made “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters From Iwo Jima” back-to-back in 2006, and had two pictures released in 2008, “Changeling” and “Gran Torino,” the latter of which looks to become Eastwood’s biggest B.O. hit ever.

Eastwood plans to make two pics this year. The first, about Nelson Mandela’s idea to move South Africa out of an apartheid mentality through a rugby tournament, is set to begin lensing in March.

Before the event, Eastwood was dropped off by his driver about a block from the theater. He strolled down the street surrounded by hundreds of onlookers, and then, finding himself stuck behind barricades, hopped the fence with a little assist from cheering fans.

“He is the director actors dream about,” said Sean Penn in presenting the kudo to Eastwood, who directed Penn’s Oscar-winning perf in “Mystic River.” “His career is one of continuing jazz.”

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