Clint Eastwood, 88, on making his return to acting as a drug mule in thrilling new crime flick: ‘They just don’t write that many good roles for older actors’

2019-01-18 08:19
Clint Eastwood

Cape Town - The Mule is the story of Earl Stone – a 90-year-old horticulturist and Korean War veteran facing financial ruin. 

He inadvertently gets roped into driving drugs up from the Southwest to Chicago.  At first, he doesn’t know what he’s transporting but by the time he finds out what he’s carrying, it’s too late, he’s making so much money doing it. 

He knows he should stop but instead turns into a Robin Hood of sorts who gives money to people who really need it. Earl feels stuck between doing what’s right and doing something good for others.  

The film, based on The New York Times article The Sinaloa Cartel's 90-Year-Old Drug Mule by Sam Dolnick, is produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, 88, who also plays the role of Earl.

In this Q&A Clint talks about returning to acting and how he approached the tricky task of directing himself in his dual roles behind-the-scenes.

Was it tricky for you to decide to act again?

I got to the point where I enjoyed as a director how you can do a lot of different subject matter, whereas an actor, you have to only do things that suit you. They just don’t write that many good roles for older actors as a rule, and so you have to kind of learn to pick and choose. 

You just don’t want to do stuff for the sake of doing it. You want to make sure it’s something where you think you can say something new or take a new tack on a certain subject matter.  You can’t just manufacture it. There are not that many writers who know how to write for that sort of thing.  

You know, in the old days – well even in the old days, they had trouble, but they did more roles for people like Walter Houston and people like that – Walter Huston, not John, though I met John, too, when he was older.  Back then they did more of that stuff.  They did more of a variety.  

I’m not interested in doing fantasy stuff, so I just have to kind of wait until good things come along, like Gran Torino. And American Sniper, just as the director only, but it was a subject matter that was a true story and had some values to it.  It’s hard to find that.

And directing is just as much fun [as acting] – it’s actually more fun because you don’t have to look at your own face all the time [Laughs].  You don’t have to switch back and forth, you just stay with the characters that you’re guiding along.

How do you approach directing yourself?

Oh, it’s easy because I’ve been directing since 1970 and Play Misty for Me. I directed myself then, and eventually directed other people only, and it would just vary on the subject matter; if there was a role for me, I did it, if not, I directed somebody else was more suitable for that particular part.

When you know you’re going to start a new movie, what frame of mind do you usually have?

The pleasure is watching people, how other people do it, you know. The people are doing the same thing you’re doing, but they’re just doing it at different times in their life. And how they approach things, or when they don’t approach it properly you try to guide them into it.  

That’s properly in your brain, in your interpretation. It could be proper in their interpretation, but somehow you have to hire people that understand what you’re trying to get. And usually the scripts are pretty well clear. If somebody comes in and has an interesting character thing, okay, if it’s good, you like it. If it’s not, you say, “Do mind trying it the other way?” just to see what it gives you.  

Somebody like Bradley Cooper, was it an immediate choice for you for the part of Colin Bates?

Well, Bradley and I had worked successfully together in Sniper and I admire his talent. So, he was working on A Star Is Born and he finished that, and I said well come over and do this. He was the right age, the right everything for the part.  

Did he ask you questions about directing? Did he ask your advice?

Maybe at times. But I think he pretty well had a good line on what he wanted to do with it. And it was his idea to cast Lady Gaga, that was his idea exclusively. And he was right. It turned out she did a wonderful job in it [A Star is Born].

Bradley as an actor, what do you like about directing him?

He’s very understanding. He’s got very good instincts, knows what’s right for him. And I just kind of worked along with him and suggested things. And he would come back and suggest things and I’d say great, that’s a good idea, or maybe that doesn’t work so well here, or what have you.  But he’s very good, very smart. He’s got a good feel for drama.

Do you think about your legacy as a filmmaker in the history of cinema?

I don’t know. What about it? [Chuckles] It isn’t for me to judge my legacy as a filmmaker. It’s not for me to say because I don’t think about that. I think of just what I’m doing at the time and where I’m headed on individual projects. I don’t have four or five projects and think in terms of categorizing them. It’s so hard to find material that’s suitable, in my opinion. When you find something good, you put all your efforts into it. Then when you don’t have anything, you have to just kind of be patient and wait and find something.  

Is it important for you to see what’s being made in Hollywood, the current movies?  Are you interested?

Well, I would love to see more films, but when you’re making them, you don’t really have a lot of time to go see other people’s films.

Clint Eastwood

(THE MULE: Clint Eastwood in a scene from The Mule. Photo: Supplied)

You filmed on location and then you had to drive for several days to film portions of The Mule, correct?  

We were in Georgia, in the Atlanta area, Rome and Augusta. Then we went over to Las Cruces, New Mexico for about five days, and then to cover the driving shots, where the character I play is actually on the road, we went on a road trip to Colorado. 

And how was it for you to see America like this?

Well, I’ve done it before. I mean, I’ve driven across the country before. But to work there and exist there, it was good. It was fun, and all those places are different, had different things going for them.  

The Mule is your 37th film as a director/producer. What does that evoke for you?

Thirty-seven? Is it? [Chuckles] I have hung out a long time. I’ve thought about it a few times, and you never know what gives you a certain longevity. And when you all of a sudden get there, where you’re in the longevity period, then you kind of go, “How long do I want to stay?” But it’s not an intellectual debate, it’s an emotional debate. I’m sure I’ll know someday when I’m tired of doing it, of working. I have never seen that day and never come to that kind of conclusion. But, I think that I would notice it when it came.

The Mule opens in South African cinemas on Friday, 18 January.  

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