Dirty Harry as a gentle, sensitive mentor? Well, that’s how a generation of young actors sees the gruff, grizzly, monosyllabic guy.
Four-time Oscar winner (and Thalberg recipient) Clint Eastwood may have given them plenty of lessons in tough love onscreen, but on the set his most recent crop of proteges, ages 11-31, learned to have nothing but respect and admiration for their boss.
“I thought he would be a real taskmaster, a real badass. Not at all. He’s the most laid-back person ever. His energy is like an old jazz cat,” says Jesse Bradford, who played the real-life soldier Rene Gagnon in “Flags of Our Father.”
“He didn’t treat me like a little kid like other directors do” says Gattlin Griffith, the young lost boy in “The Changeling.” “He made me feel like I was a grown-up, and that made me feel really cool.”
“At first I was intimidated by ‘that look,’ but after a couple of days, I realized ‘that look’ wasn’t intimidating at all,” says Yuki Matsuzaki of “Letters From Iwo Jima.” “He was much warmer than that.”
On set with Eastwood, how did his young guns make his day?
Eastwood, for years, has worked with the same crew, and follows a simple set of rules: Cast off the tape. Shoot the rehearsal. One take. Maybe two. Max: three. Direct only if the actors are screwing up. And no coddling.
“He doesn’t really seem to be interested in directing you, or whispering in your ear,” says “Gran Torino’s” Christopher Carley. “It’s a little jarring at first, but then you realize the reason he’s not getting in your space is that he likes what you’re doing.”
One camera operator offered the reassuring line, “If he’s talking to you a lot, there’s a problem.”
Matsuzaki admits he, too, did not get any special direction from Eastwood. Finally, he asked, “I am assuming the script does not tell everything?” The director’s Zenlike response: “The script is like a river flowing. As long as the river gets to the ocean, it doesn’t matter if there are a few obstacles on the way.”
Matsuzaki reveals that Eastwood said to him that his helmer job is 80% done when he finishes the casting. The actor concluded that it was this director’s way of telling him, “I trust you.”
Emmy Rossum found comfort in Eastwood’s standing right next to the camera in “Mystic River.” “He’s right in your eye line. There’s this communication that you have with him. It’s unlike any other films that I’ve been on,” says the actress.
Eastwood may give his actors plenty of room to develop their characters, but along with this creative freedom comes a considerable amount of pressure. “He puts a lot of faith in his actors to show up knowing what they’re doing,” says Bradford. “There are no kid gloves.”
The star admits that Eastwood’s fast-paced style “forced” him to do his homework “more than usual, and to pay close attention. His crew just works on the fly. If you’re in your trailer, there’s literally a chance — if you weren’t an integral part of the scene — – that they’ll shoot it without you. We used to joke that the Steadicam operator would just reframe a little bit and now he’s just got a two shot instead of a three shot.”
Griffith got his “two takes” lesson from Eastwood when he was 8 years old. “He taught me was that more takes doesn’t make it a better movie.” The 11-year-old veteran adds, “Now that I’ve worked in a couple of more movies, I use that. It really does help.”
“Million Dollar Baby” co-star Anthony Mackie recalls doing his first take with Hilary Swank and Michael Pena. “Clint was like, ‘That was great. Let’s do something else,'” says Mackie. “I was like, ‘Whoa, Clint. Do you think we could do one more?’ Clint was like, ‘Everybody take a break. Anthony, come here.’ I said to myself, ‘Damn! Clint’s going to shoot me with his 45 or he’s going to fire me!'” Instead, Eastwood told Mackie, “I cast you ’cause you’re a good actor. So if you’re bad, it’s my fault. Let’s move on. Next shot.”
“Gran Torino,” was Ahney Her’s first acting role. “It was the gang scene and I was scared because I didn’t know what to do,” Her recalls. “I didn’t know how strongly to come off. Clint told me to try to be the character but, at the same time, to be myself. He allowed me to be free. I could finally let all the nerves go.”
During the filming of “Gran Torino,” Eastwood asked Carley what he thought of the process.
“It’s great,” the actor replied. “Everybody’s so relaxed.”
“Well, I’ve been working with these guys for years,” said Eastwood. “We’re just making a movie. What’s the big deal?”