Clint Eastwood’s career has come a long way since he made his film debut as a lab assistant in the 1954 horror movie Revenge of the Creature. His big break came when he was cast as cow wrangler, Rowdy Yates in the 1960s television series Rawhide, which led to his role as the silent, steely Man With No Name in the trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns, A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
In the 1970s while starring in a slew of successful movies, including Kelly’s Heroes, Dirty Harry and Escape from Alcatraz, Eastwood created his own production company, Malpaso, giving him the artistic control he so desperately longed for, and starting a new career as producer/director that would change his life forever. He directed his first movie Play Misty for Me in 1971, in which he played a disc jockey who his stalked by a crazed fan (Jessica Walters), which was critically acclaimed.
Eastwood has gone on to win Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture for Unforgiven in 1993 and Million Dollar Baby in 2005, and was nominated in both categories for Mystic River and Letters from Iwo Jima. He was also nominated as Best Actor for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby.
During the press junket for his movie Flags of our Fathers he was asked about how he balances his eclectic movies with the perception of his on-screen persona as a tough hero. “I don’t balance anything. I think I’ve matured, which is a [another] way of saying I’m aging. I’ve reached out to different stories that were appealing to me, and maybe they were appealing to me as a young man. I started out in movies with a lot of action, but as I got to this stage in life now where I’m sort of retreating to the back side of the camera, I just felt that it’s time to address a lot of different things that are closer to me than maybe fantasy characters that I might have been involved with.”
His movie Invictus opens this week, which tells the inspiring story of how newly elected President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) joined forces with the captain of South Africa’s ruby team, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), to win the 1995 World Cup, bringing the country together after years of being divided by apartheid.
Mandela called upon Pienaar to lead his team to greatness, citing a poem that was a source of strength to him during his years in prison. It was later revealed that the poem was Invictus by William Ernest Henley; the title is translated to mean ‘unconquered.’
“This story takes place at a critical point in Mandala’s presidency,” notes Eastwood. “I think he demonstrated great wisdom in incorporating sport to reconcile his country. He knows he needs to pull everybody together, to find a way to appeal to their national pride – one thing, perhaps the only thing they had in common at that time. He knows the white population and the black population will ultimately have to work together as a team or the country will not succeed, so he shows a lot of creativity using a sports team as a means to an end.”
In the movie, as in real life, the rugby team travel to Robben Island to experience firsthand, if only for a moment, what it was like to be in that terrible prison. It’s there that Francois Pienaar, sitting in Nelson Mandela’s tiny cell, is reminded of the poem and the call to leadership. Because the real cell was so small, a set was built to shoot the scene, but when Eastwood arrived on the island, he walked into the real chamber and announced that they would shoot it there. “When we went to Robben Island, everybody was struck by how tiny the space was,” Eastwood reflects, “And to spend 27 years there, maybe the best years of your life, and then to come out and still not be bitter is quite a feat.”
Eastwood turned 79-years-old this year, and once again in his career, Invictus is receiving kudos from the press, and it will undoubtedly be in the running for numerous awards this season, but the actor/producer/director must be used to that by now!