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Hereafter – Clint Eastwood ponders the afterlife

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Hereafter - Lyndsey Marshall and Director Clint Eastwood
Lyndsey Marshall and Director Clint Eastwood on set © 2010 Warner Bros

Almost every movie Clint Eastwood directs ends up being nominated for the Academy Award, and some win. His movies Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven have won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director,

His new movie Hereafter tells the story of three people who are haunted by mortality in different ways – George Lonegan (Matt Damon), a disillusioned psychic who is running away from his gift of speaking to people who have passed on; Marie (Cecile de France) a French journalist who has a near-death experience during a tsunami and Marcus (George and Frankie McLaren), who loses his twin brother, Jason, in an unnecessary accident. As their lives intersect, they are all searching for the truth of the afterlife.

How did this project come together?

Hereafter - Director Clint Eastwood
Director Clint Eastwood on the set © 2010 Warner Bros

Steven Spielberg called me one day and said, ‘I have a script that I’d love to send over to you.’ I said, ‘Fine, send it over.’ He and I had worked together on a few other projects, and I read it and I liked it. So I call him back and I said, ‘I’ll do it.’ He was going through a minor divorce with Paramount Pictures, so it became a little confusing as to where this would have its life. But I have a relationship with Warner’s. I said, ‘Let me take it to Warner’s,’ they liked it and so there we were.

Most religions seem to ponder the afterlife but I thought this was interesting because it wasn’t really a religious project. It had a spirituality about it, but it was not necessarily tied in with any particular organized thought.

Can you talk a little about George’s psychic abilities?

Hereafter - Director Clint Eastwood with Frankie/George McLaren
Director Clint Eastwood with Frankie/George McLaren on the set © 2010 Warner Bros

We try to show the legitimacy of what he does as opposed to the charlatans out there. Whether there are some who are legitimate and others who are not is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak, but the story does touch on the existence of people that take advantage of those who want to make contact with what might be out there.

Can you talk about the concept of doing the tsunami sequence?

I thought the unusual aspect of the script was taking actual events and placing them into a fictional story, and so the tsunami of four years ago out in the Pacific was one, and then the London bombings of course. I thought that was a unique thing to do.

How hard was it to shoot?

Hereafter - Director Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon
Director Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon on the set © 2010 Warner Bros

The tsunami was very difficult to do. I kept having fantasies of huge hoses and people and thousands of gallons of water running down the streets. I figured out how to do that, but I figured it would be prohibitive, where would we do that? In the old days I suppose you would have done that on a set, and turned a lot of water loose.

But with computer generated elements, you could go ahead and do it, even though water is probably the most difficult thing to do in CGI.  I have a fellow named Michael Owens who has worked with me on Letters from Iwo Jima, Flags of our Fathers, back as far as Space Cowboys. He’s kept very hip on the technology as it’s been improving over the years, and we went through it and figured out what shots we would need to do live and then we did it.

We had Cecile was in a tank in London for nine hours without getting out too much. She had to have a skin replacement afterwards! Then we went to Maui and shot in the ocean, and on the streets of Lahaina on Maui. We had to pre-plan it in order to piece all the elements together with the connective shots. If you don’t pre-plan CGI it’s the most expensive thing in the world, so you have to plan every single shot and that’s not normally the way I shoot. But in this it worked out rather well.

Can you talk about casting George and Frankie McLaren as the two young brothers?

Hereafter - Director Clint Eastwood and Cécile de France
Director Clint Eastwood and Cécile de France on the set © 2010 Warner Bros

The interesting thing with child actors is kids are natural actors, they’re wonderful actors. Most kids are acting all the time; they’re out in the yard playing, imagining things happening. But unfortunately once they’ve been organized into acting, then you get a stage mother sitting there saying, ‘No, do it this way.’

So when I looked for young kids for this picture I picked the two that were the least experienced. They had the right faces. I’m one of those guys that believes if you cast a film correctly, with professionals or with amateurs, you’re probably 80 percent there. With these kids, I just figured I could pull things out of them without them knowing it, better than trying to get a child actor.

Have you had a psychic experience?

I remember when I was very young my dad was taking me into the surf on his shoulders and I fell off, and I can still remember today, even though I was probably 4 or 5 years old, the color of the water and everything else, as I was being washed around in the surf, before I popped to the surface again.

When I was 21 years old, we ditched a plane off the coast of Northern California in the winter time, and I must say that as I was going into shore, I kept thinking about my demise. But I saw lights in the far distance and I said, ‘Somebody’s in there having a beer and sitting next to a fireplace, and I just want to be in there. So I’m going to make it.’ There was no sense of fate.

We don’t know what’s on the other side, but on this side it’s final. People have their beliefs about what’s there or what’s not there, but those are all hypotheticals, nobody knows until you get there.