Interviewees rarely intimidate me, but Clint had me stammering, at first. Maybe it's his shyness, coupled with absolute power. It wasn't long, however, that I discovered a very human being, humble at times, humorous, and even self-effacing.
There is much to admire about this man, whose life wasn't handed to him on a silver platter. A working-class boy, he supported himself at such jobs as hand digging swimming pools and working on a conveyor belt at a pulp mill. The risk he took to follow his dream and study acting, in a feast-or-famine industry, is truly inspirational.
There's no need for universal update to this interview, although it took place in 2002. His continual trajectory among the stars is well-publicized in the news. He's the most visible star in our firmament.
Did he know he'd win an Oscar and be nominated for another at the time we spoke? Maybe. But what is most inspirational about his man is that he seems more interested in advancing his craft than accolades; and rather than slowing down at his age, he's speeding up.
Original interview conducted Jan. 20, 2002.
Former President Clinton called Clint Eastwood a "star for the ages." The Oscar winner has been called an icon. He also has been called thoughtful, ponderous, vaporous, sly, extremely shy, intensely private, brilliant, indolent as a cat, self-absorbed and even sweet.
In his early days, he played a brooding, fresh-faced youth on TV's "Rawhide." In films, he has played a tough cop in the "Dirty Harry" films, a grizzled avenger in "Unforgiven," a gentle, amorous drifter in "the Bridges of Madison County" and a geriatric astronaut in "Space Cowboys." It's tempting to imagine that Eastwood is any of these personas. But his genuine essence probably lies somewhere else since, after all, he was only acting in those roles.
The former mayor of Carmel, who now is one of the principal owners of Pebble Beach and chairman of the board of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, took time recently from a Hawaiian vacation with his extended family to do a telephone interview.
His voice isn't characteristically whispery and sandpapery, it's light and youthful. He spends nearly an hour answering questions thoughtfully, without missing a cue. He doesn't respond to being interrupted by new questions but leisurely finishes what he has to say about each.
But, after all — he's operating on Aloha time.
He says he's been on the phone all morning negotiating a new film but says he played golf the day before. "I'm mostly playing with the kids," he says as 8-year-old Franny begs daddy to return to play.
During the interview, he jokes often, sometimes self-deprecatingly, pauses to consider questions, and then speaks quickly and voluminously about subjects ranging from Sept. 11 to his shyness.
His response to, "Your voice is so young"?
"I am young," the 71-year-old says.
Q: When are you shy?
A: All of my younger life.
Q: Did something cause that, or were you born that way?
A: I was born that way. My family moved a lot. My father worked selling stocks and bonds, and with Bethlehem Steel and California Container. He even sold jewelry. He took jobs that were available. You've gotta get used to moving. In a way, it's nice, the family stays close together. We moved from San Francisco, where I was born, to Redding, Sacramento, Hayward and Oakland. I went to a lot of grammar schools.
Q: What kind of role model was your dad?
A: He was a good role model, a good guy, very personable. People liked him a lot. He was much more outgoing than I am. He was a terrific guy. He worked a lot. He believed in honesty and had pretty good values. He would like to have been an actor. When I was on "Rawhide" and had a steady job, he joked that he was the guy who advised me not to become an actor.
Q: What other career would you choose?
A: I don't know. I had no idea I'd end up being an actor in films or a director. When I was a younger person, I would like to have pursued music, but I was never disciplined enough to stay with it. I wish I'd had a little more fortitude when I was younger. I was always interested in science, especially medical science. It's probably a good thing for a lot of patients that I became an actor! (laughs)
Q: What does it take to be an excellent film director?
A: I think you just have to like storytelling in a visual sense. Not only the visual aspect, but sound and effect. But the visual effect is the primary way of storytelling. You have to have a decent eye for what you want to tell and visualize things prior to them happening. To be an excellent director? I don't know. Every director has their project that works in varying degrees. Sometimes it's an experiment that comes out better or less than you think. It's difficult, but you try to make them the best you can.
Q: In what ways are you a "candy ass"? How did you coin that term?
A: I think I was doing it a few years back when I was frustrated with the bad weather at the AT&T Pro-Am. They were calling the tournament because of rain. But the amateurs had all gone out and played. I said, "I'm wondering if, in the old days when Ben Hogan, etc., were having a tournament, would they have quit at the smallest amount of rain?" I said, "Maybe they weren't candy ass." In those days, they were just struggling people who loved the game. Pro golfers weren't even looked upon with great admiration. They couldn't go into country clubs where they were playing. They were considered a subgroup. Things have changed a great bit nowadays. As for myself, I don't think people ever think of themselves as candy ass. They have some idiosyncrasy they baby themselves in. I'm probably just as guilty as anybody else. It's strictly subjective. Dina (his wife, Dina Ruiz Eastwood) might be able to fill you in.
Q: What alternative medicine modes do you use? Are you squeamish about acupuncture?
A: I've never had acupuncture, though I know people who have. I know people who have had great results and lesser than. I like alternative medicine. I think it's best when there is discipline within the diet. The things they're finding out nowadays are nothing new. I attended classes at NYU 25 years ago, and they were talking of the same things as today: lowering fat, upping intake of vegetables and fruit, and not so much meat.
Q: Do you eat meat?
A: When I was younger, eating meat was a sign you were doing well. Nowadays I realize overindulgence can take you down. I love soybeans. They're anti-carcinogenic. I drink soymilk.
Q: Ever eat desserts?
A: Only occasionally. I like the bread pudding at Mission Ranch.
Q: Do you drink?
A: I'm a beer and wine guy. I started before my 20s and kinda never past that. I like a beer now and then, or a glass of wine. I don't drink to any great excess.
Q: What's the most enlightened belief you practice?
A: I don't have any New Age answer to that that is astounding in any way. I believe in diet and exercise. Most people are given a brain and body to work with. The best you can take care of it is your most important function. I think fate plays a hand in it, but you've got to take good care of it. You're only handed one, unless you came back as a lizard or something.
Q: Last mistake you admitted?
A: I never admit mistakes. (pause, laugh) When you get to my age, they become so numerous you just kind of say, "OK, we'll try not to do that again." The difference is, when you're older, past 60, you can always ask yourself, "What can they do to me?" You know you're gonna make mistakes, so you just do 'em and try to be gentle with the people around you and move on.
Q: Biggest risk you've taken?
A: I guess, just the decision to become an actor. Back in the '50s, when I was going to L.A. City College on the GI bill, I studied acting in the evenings. I told dad, and he said, "That's all dream world stuff." The risk is, it's a very sort of feast-or-famine profession. Sometimes extremely talented people don't get the breaks. If you love something, you have a better chance.
Q: What do you fear?
A: I don't know offhand. I guess, like everyone else, you hope the world is going in the right direction these days. About our country or political process, I fear the complacency, the complacency we were in before Sept. 11. And we could be doomed again if we don't remember it. It's the old thing of, if we don't pay attention, we'll repeat it. Look at the history of mankind on the planet, and it doesn't paint a pretty picture. You hope Americans are smart enough to keep an eye on their politicians and everything so they don't fall into the place of being vulnerable to the lunatic fringe out there.
Q: Does this statement ring your chimes: "There's no accounting for the stupidity of people in large groups"?
A: (Laughs) Right now we are dealing with a sort of mob mentality. In the case of this terrorist activity in Afghanistan and elsewhere, we've got a bunch of old guys telling young guys to go kill themselves to make a statement. Personally, if some old guy asked me that, I'd say, "Go ahead. I'll be right behind you."
Q: How do you know who your friends really are?
A: I guess when you're bitten by a rattlesnake in a vulnerable place you find out who your friends really are. You go instinctively. Your friends will usually stay with you in your bad times as well as good times.
Q: People always want something from you, right?
A: That happens in any profession if you have something. For every buck you have, there's somebody who wants to take it away from you … Real friends like you for what you are, not necessarily who you are.
Q: When did you dig swimming pools for a living?
A: While I was going to L.A. City College. Actually, I was managing the apartment I lived in, and I worked at a Signal Oil station. After I'd been a contract player at Universal, when hard times set in, I went to work digging swimming pools. I hand dug them.
Q: Hard labor, huh?
A: There were some pretty hot days. It wasn't exactly the most scintillating job, but it tided you over. I worked in a pulp mill, and that was a hard job. I stood on a conveyer belt all day, and there was a huge blade saw right above with a small red button to push or you could get sawed in half. Sort of like "The Perils of Pauline."
Q: Do you read much, and what genre?
A: Any genre. Usually most things are based upon material I'm looking for. I just started reading "Sea Biscuit," a book for pleasure. That's the way I bought "Mystic River." Nobody recommended "Mystic," I just liked the writer.
Q: What are your latest passionate ventures?
A: Let me see … A couple books I want to develop and do, one starting at the end of February. I'll act in, direct and produce "Bloodwork" as a movie … I'm very enthusiastic about going on the state parks board. I've been honorary spokesperson for the commission in past years, and it's something I'm always interested in. Other than that, um, just kind of hanging out with kids and appreciating life.
Q: What are your character flaws and strengths?
A: It used to be impatience. I think I'm growing more patient by the day. Either that or you're tired of arguing. I'm much more tolerant. There are lots of different points of view, but yours isn't necessarily the right one. If you don't progress or develop, you have no other place to go but back. That isn't very stimulating. A lot of people think you have to take up something new every five or seven years, take Spanish lessons or pick up sewing. New interests king of keep your head going. The brain is really very much like other muscles in the body. The more you use it, the more functional it will be. If you don't tax it much, it probably just atrophies.
Q: How far did you go in school?
A: A year and a half in college.
Q: So you believe in formal education?
A: I think education is the answer to everything. A lot of things are stressed differently now. Everybody talks of science and math. Currently I'm disappointed about the lack of emphasis on the King's English. It's your first line of offense or defense in life. It's your first presentation when you go out and hunt for a job. If you're in high school or college and go, "He and I are going to town. And me and Joey are going to the park," you're in trouble. I see kids who are in very good private school and they're still talking that way. A lot of language is perverted due to slang. If it's not the redundancy of a preposition at the end of a sentence, it's the improper agreement. If I'd said, "That's where it's at," my dad would slap me. He'd say, "It's behind the 'at.'" He'd explain that it was a redundancy.
Nowadays, nobody pays much attention to grammar. Instead of Ebonics or multiple language, they ought to teach one good language and then work on secondary ones. We started as an English-speaking country, let's make sure everybody does that one pretty good. Er, well. I was just going to correct myself. (laughs)
Q: What does it take to maintain a happy extended family, which includes your ex-wife Maggie Eastwood?
A: Having a wife like Dina who encompasses everybody and treats everybody, whether biologically related or not, with the same enthusiasm. She's embraces my whole family and keeps everybody together. She's the genius behind it all.
Q: How do you intend to keep love alive with Dina?
A; So far, it's been no problem.
Q: What would you want your eulogy to say?
A: "I told 'em so!" That's the hypochondriac.
Q: How about, "Look! I saw him move"?
A: (Laughs) Or maybe, "Don't bury him! He's still breathing."
This and other interviews can be found in the author's book StarWords: Inspirational Conversations with Extraordinary Monterey Peninsulans.