The Hollywood Master: Clint Eastwood

9 - The Hollywood Master: Clint Eastwood

Before Clint Eastwood got his big break as a lead cast member in Rawhide, he made a living by primarily digging swimming pools. Pictured here with The Hollywood Reporter’s executive features editor Stephen Galloway. Photo by Juan Tallo

Hollywood’s living legend Clint Eastwood stopped by SFTV for a special edition of The Hollywood Masters series. Eastwood sat down with Stephen Galloway, executive features editor at The Hollywood Reporter, to talk about his extensive career in film.

Eastwood’s Near-Death Experience

Clint Eastwood’s career as one of the most well-known actors and directors in Hollywood may never have happened had he not survived a near-death experience. While serving in the military in the 1950s, his plane unexpectedly started to lose control and go down. “What was going through my mind was just a stark fear, a stark terror because [in the] first place, I didn’t know anything about aviation at that particular time – I was just hopping a ride. In those days, you could wear your uniform and get a free flight on any other branch of the service. So if I went out to the naval base in Monterey which I did at that time, and I took a flight to Seattle I could go for free,” he said. “Everything went wrong. Radios went out, oxygen ran out and they finally… The pilot flew it around for quite a while and we ran out of fuel up around Point Reyes, California. And went in the ocean. So we went swimming.”

Big Break 

After finishing his time in the military, Eastwood attended Los Angeles City College. While Eastwood had starred in a few small movies here and there, for a period of time in the 1950s and 60s, Eastwood’s primary job was digging swimming pools. He would spend his breaks using nickels and dimes to pay for telephone calls to his agent, who usually had nothing to offer him.

After seeing Ambush, a small film he had starred in, Eastwood questioned whether he wanted to continue to pursue acting or not. One day, by complete accident, Eastwood ran into someone who worked at CBS on Beverly Boulevard. CBS was working on a western called Rawhide, and Eastwood was cast in one of the lead roles. He ended up working on Rawhide for six years, which jump-started his career. “I always tell people it takes just a little bit of skill and a heck of a lot of luck,” he shared. “I kept wanting to give up but you never quite give up. You always kind of hang in.”

The Importance of Casting 

Eastwood expressed his belief in the importance of casting. As a director, he feels the most valuable preparation he can do before shooting is finding actors who will effectively deliver the message he seeks to get across. “If you cast a picture really well, a lot of things take care of themselves. You get actors that like to give a lot to the role and who appreciate the role on the same level that you do. If you miscast it, you’re working an uphill battle a little bit and maybe you can come out okay but you can’t always come out great,” he said. “Sometimes you get somebody that doesn’t really warm up until four or five takes or maybe later. So you have to adjust everything. Directing is more like you’re being a psychologist and you’re kind of analyzing the situation and evaluating each person for their idiosyncrasies.”

Million Dollar Baby 

One of Eastwood’s most well-known films is Million Dollar Baby, in which Hilary Swank stars as a female boxer and Eastwood as a professional boxing trainer. According to Eastwood, Warner Bros. originally turned down Million Dollar Baby. Eastwood explained that Warner  Bros. saw it as simply a female boxing film, and that they didn’t want anything to do with it. “I said well, it’s not a woman’s boxing picture, that’s what goes on, that’s the vocation. It’s a father/daughter love story. It’s the daughter he never had and the father she never had and they get together and it’s as simple as that.”

As for the pessimistic ending of Million Dollar Baby, Eastwood noted that many people suggested that the movie take a different turn. “There’s no way to make it less pessimistic. Well you can… You bring it up a little bit, you kind of see where, but there’s no way to make it a happy thing. People suggest a lot of things but you have to stick by what you think the story is. Whatever the drama of the story is, you have to be true to it,” he said.

American Sniper

American Sniper, which was directed by Eastwood, became the highest grossing film of 2014. While Eastwood did not have the opportunity to meet Chris Kyle before he passed away, he did meet with Kyle’s wife and kids. He explained how Kyle’s wife helped bring their entire relationship to life in preparation for the film.

Eastwood also responded to the controversy surrounding American Sniper. While many people believe that the film glorifies war and American snipers, Eastwood disagrees. Rather, he believes the film is anti-war, as it illustrates Kyle’s struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as his visits to the psychiatrist. “I think it’s nice for veterans because it shows what they go through, you know, and that life [of] wives and families of veterans. It has a great indication of the stresses they are under. And I think that all…adds up to kind of an anti-war.”

Working with Talent

During the Q&A, a graduate student in the film production program was curious as to what Eastwood had learned from his long career working with different people in Hollywood. Eastwood said he learned a little something from everyone – from executives, to the actors he cast, to the crew. He also said he cherishes every piece of advice he receives, and then he went on to offer a piece of his own to SFTV students: “Always keep your ego in check and not be afraid to listen. Listening is a great art form as I always like to say.”

The Hollywood Masters interview series examines the careers of Oscar-winning filmmakers, major artists and successful executives, with The Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Galloway and presented by LMU School of Film and Television.

To see a piece of Clint Eastwood’s interview, click here.