Clint Eastwood has been managing himself and others for longer than many of his colleagues have been alive. If you walk a little slower on the screen, you are entitled.
Eastwood’s first behind-the-scenes movie, “Play Misty for Me,” came out half a century ago, and it still is. At 91, with his new “Cry Macho” slated to open in theaters and on HBO Max on September 17, Eastwood, whose acting credits date back to 1955, is perhaps the oldest American to direct and star in a major. film. . But ask if there is anything different between then and now and you will get the verbal equivalent of a hilarious shrug.
“I never think about it,” says Eastwood, considering the question. “If I’m not the same boy, I don’t want to know anything about it. I may not like the new guy. You might think, ‘What am I doing with this idiot?’ ”. Smile at the thought.
Eastwood at 91 is like that, laid back and at ease. In tan pants and a blue patterned shirt, he settles in the sun in a secluded corner of Tehama, his 2,000-acre gated community with a golf club accessed by winding roads worthy of a land-grant ranch. He is willing to talk both about his new movie, “a strange movie in today’s world, something off the beat”, and about the career that led to it.
With a screenplay by Eastwood veteran Nick Schenk (“Gran Torino,” “The Mule”) and the late N. Richard Nash and based on Nash’s novel, “Cry Macho,” set in 1979, it tells the story of Mike Milo. – “unbroken – an ex-rodeo kid,” in the words of Eastwood, who, out of a combination of obligation and desperation, agrees to help his former boss (Dwight Yoakam) get his son out (newcomer Eduardo Minett) from Mexico.
Like all Warner Bros. releases this year, “Cry Macho” will be available to stream on HBO Max the same day it hits theaters, a situation Eastwood dryly dismisses as “not my favorite thing in the world. ”. How is that going to work? I do not know yet “.
Given that it is an Eastwood film, “Cry Macho” features a certain amount of action and danger, including the actor throwing a punch (“It may not be as good as I did in the past, but it was fun doing it”) and getting on. to a horse for the first time since “Unforgiven” three decades ago.
“The wrangler was worried. It said, “Be careful, be careful now.” He was afraid I’d end up on my butt, “Eastwood recalls.” But if you treat the horse like a friend, he’ll take care of you. “
Eastwood, who has never been a vain actor, doesn’t place much thought on playing a character old enough to be teased for napping, someone on whom the weight of years and injuries are always visible. “I don’t look like 20, so what?” he says. “That just means there are more interesting guys you can play with.”
Along these lines, and despite all its familiarity, “Cry Macho” has a different energy, sweeter and more serious than what is traditional for the filmmaker.
It’s a story that centers on a protagonist who is fed up with the macho stance as he grapples with age and the possibility of change and renewal, all within the classic Eastwood setting. (It also features a rooster named Macho, played by 11 different birds because, in the director’s words, “chickens are not the most versatile animals in the world”).
It is a sign of how different “Cry Macho” is from business as usual for Eastwood that an incident the director highlights on film does not involve a stunt or action piece, but the situation around a little girl who had been chosen as the granddaughter. of one of the main characters, only to get hit because he tested positive for COVID-19.
“But then the producer came to me and said the test was a false positive and that we could use the girl after all,” says Eastwood, smiling. “I was so elated it was one of the happiest days we had overall.”
One of the oddities of the project is that “Cry Macho” was originally offered to Eastwood by producer Al Ruddy in 1988, but Eastwood’s response was, “I’m too young for this. Let me direct and we’ll get Robert Mitchum, an older guy. “
Mitchum didn’t work out, and other filmmakers toyed with the story with various stars in the role, including Arnold Schwarzenegger before and after his stint as governor of California. , he played with history. “I always thought I would go back and look at that. It was something I had to grow into, ”says Eastwood. “One day, I felt it was time to visit him again. It’s fun when something is your age, when you don’t have to push yourself to be older. “
That feeling of trusting your instincts is a theme that comes up over and over again, both in terms of what projects to do and how Eastwood, the actor, tackles a role.
“I never thought of acting like an intellectual sport,” he says. “You don’t want to overthink something. You want it to be emotional.
“If you think about it too much, you can take it apart to the point where you don’t like it anymore. If you think about it four different ways, you forget what drew you to it in the first place. It’s like someone throwing a fast pitch through the plate. Just go around it, go in and get started. “
As for future projects, Eastwood admits, “I have nothing filtering at the moment,” but adds, “I had nothing filtering before this. If something comes up where the story itself, telling it, is fun, I’m open to it. “
While initially “the whole point of directing was something you can do as an older kid,” at this point, Eastwood says he keeps it up simply because “I just like it.” I have nothing against other directors, but I might have a completely different take on things and I don’t want to be thinking, ‘Why did I give it to you?’ “
When it comes to acting, Eastwood admits to being a bit conflicted, sometimes wondering, “What the hell am I still working for in my nineties? Are people going to start throwing tomatoes at you? I’ve gotten to the point where I wondered if that was enough, but not to the point where I decided it was. If you take out some turkeys, they’ll tell you very soon. “
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A child of the Depression, Eastwood has said that he is thankful that “I’m not still packing groceries at 37 cents an hour.” When I mention that line, the actor nods and says, “I still remember that job.”
“Throughout the Depression and the war, during my growing up years, my father had all kinds of jobs. He went from job to job and we traveled all over the state. He worked at a Standard Oil station on the corner of Sunset and Pacific Coast Highway, he’s not there anymore, and I remember telling my mother when I was a little boy that some old actor or another had come to get gas.
“I wonder if my dad would have liked to be an actor or a singer. He had a good voice. He and another partner would perform at parties, but neither of those breaks came their way.
“I remember when I told my father that I was leaving LA City College to train to be an actor at Universal with a six-month option. He said, “Don’t get too wrapped up in that, it could be really disappointing.” I said, “I think it’s worth a try.” But I always remember that it could have been the other way around. “