GOOD MORNING: “He’s three days ahead of schedule.” Those were the words with which Jack N. Green greeted me as I readied to enter Stage 21 at WB early Wednesday morning. Green is d.p. on “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” the 26th film on which he has worked with director and producer Clint Eastwood. On stage, I found Eastwood awaiting the arrival of the actors, looking ramrod tall, clean-shaven, hair tousled, dressed in spotlessly white sweatshirt, neat slacks and sneakers. This is the 20th film he’s directed and only the second in which he has not also appeared (after “Bird”). Eastwood smiled and corrected me when I congratulated him on again being ahead of schedule; he modestly said he wasn’t ahead, just on sked. “When we started, they (whoever ‘they’ are) gave me a ‘loose’ schedule, but I said ‘Tighten it up.’ ” They did –but he’s doing even better! He was shooting a scene in the pic version of John Berendt’s bestseller, the crucial courtroom sequence where closing arguments were being given in the murder trial of Jim Williams, played by Kevin Spacey. Oscar-winning (“The Sting”) production designer Henry Bumstead has created one of his signature sets for the courtroom and Eastwood was using two cameras for the sequence. As usual, Eastwood uses no monitors to long-distance the takes. He looks in the viewfinder before the scene and then stands alongside a camera. “He looks at the actors — he looks in their eyes,” said Green. “He trusts us (the cameramen)” Eastwood said, “Ten years ago, I would not have thought I would be directing a movie about a cross-dresser,” referring to Spacey’s character, who’s accused of killing his live-in lover Billy Hanson (played by Jude Law). But Eastwood says he saw a great chance to tell a story of “real people — real people of today,” in a very special place, Savannah. He was very complimentary of the screenplay by John Lee Hancock, which added the role of John Kelso (John Cusack) and melded four court trials into one.
“I’M GLAD I DON’T HAVE TO suit up,” smiled Eastwood as he awaited the arrival of his actors from makeup and wardrobe. He was relieved not to be doing double duty on this film and isn’t sure if he will act-direct together again. He laughingly said, “I may be getting too old to do it!” No one, of course, believes that. I told him Sidney Poitier, to whom I spoke earlier this week, had sent compliments to Eastwood on his ability to perform both roles. But Poitier, too, told me he’s gotten beyond that status. (Sidney is, however, six years older than Clint.) As a matter of fact, Eastwood has no immediate plans for a film to follow. He’s enjoying his new life: his new marriage to Dina and their baby daughter Morgan. He flies home to Carmel soon as filming winds on Friday evenings. Eastwood’s also busy up there readying the bow of his golf course for next year. He reminded that he and Poitier are golf addicts as well! Eastwood’s other love, of course, is music, and he asked us to look for the upcoming TV special “Eastwood After Hours,” the Carnegie Hall jazz concert taped last fall in which “I play a few licks,” he smiled. A CD will follow via his Malpaso label. … While awaiting the scene’s start, Eastwood also amiably chatted about the state of the business and the plethora of movies majoring in special effects and the high costs. He said prefers to deal in stories about real people and real costs — like this one, reportedly in the $35 million class. He doesn’t know when “Garden” will be released, but he hopes it doesn’t come out against some blockbuster sequel. When I asked his feelings about actors getting $20 million a picture, he smiled and asked, “What about the executives?” He decried the current “sound-bite” reporting in the so-called showbiz coverage in both print and TV. He’s proven his worth in suing tabloid reportage — and winning.
WHEN I ASKED KEVIN SPACEY his feelings about playing the homosexual Jim Williams in the “Garden,” he answered, “The film’s really about tolerance — as a matter of fact, it’s what Clint is all about in all of what he does.” Spacey wears a menacing mustache and black contact lenses to effect the description in the book: “like a black limousine — he can look out, but you can’t look in (to him).” Spacey admitted it is difficult playing a real person, someone who died only seven years ago. He did tremendous research into Williams and into Savannah. “The rest of the cities in the country are all homogenized, but not Savannah,” he observed. Cusack noted, “If you took away the autos, and replaced them with horses and carriages, it would be exactly the same city.” Cusack said about working with Eastwood: “There’s no silliness on the set — no chaos, no shouting, no standing around. It’s as happy an experience as working with Woody Allen” … Also on the set and beaming about the pic’s progress were producer Arnold Stiefel and exec producer Anita Zuckerman. “Garden” is a Malpaso production in conjunction with Silver Pictures. Zuckerman and Stiefel bought the Berendt book in its galley forms; it’s now in its 154th week on the N.Y. Times non-fiction bestseller list. Stiefel and Zuckerman will follow with the film version of another “Garden” lead character, drag queen Lady Chablis with her “Hiding My Candy” autobio (Pocket Books). It, too, will be for WB. Meanwhile “Garden” will make her a star, the producers promise. She’s been tickling the fancy of “Garden’s” cast and crew with her outrageous ad libs — some of which will end up in the final print. At the outset of her career, Chablis was nixed on many top talkshows. Now, she’s being talked for a talkshow of her own. … Aussie actor Jack Thompson is playing defense attorney Sonny Seiler in the film, while Seiler himself is playing the judge. But Seiler asided to me, “I think I’ll keep my day job.”