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:: Spotlight :: Mystic River: The Clint Eastwood Interview

By: Carmine Pascuzzi


With the release of the film MYSTIC RIVER, we have a rare Q & A with the film’s director, the legendary CLINT EASTWOOD.

Q: WHAT MADE THE STORY OF MYSTIC RIVER CLICK FOR YOU?

CLINT EASTWOOD: I read a synopsis of the book. I knew about Dennis Lehane, the author, because I had read other things by him. I said: “Gee. I like that story. And I have always been curious about that lost innocence – somebody you know loses his or her own childhood. It sounded like Shakespeare: fate is driving it and there is nothing anybody can do to stop it.

Q: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE MOVIE?

CE: It is sort of an American tragedy really. It is not a specific genre and I don’t know what to call it – maybe American Shakespeare. Hopefully, the story comes first, but we’re trying to be a little more stylised in some ways because we are bouncing back between 25 years ago and today. It is a bit reflective of the events that took place 25 years ago, the incident that caused all those guys to be where they are emotionally today. And so you have to try to remind the audience of these things along the way without putting them too far ahead of it.

Q: WHAT ABOUT THE SCRIPT WRITTEN BY BRIAN HELGELAND?

CE: It is very intelligent writing so I always figured that I had to get really good actors for the material. I am the only one who can really screw it all up! (Smile)

Q: THERE IS SADNESS TOO AS AN UNDERCURRENT TO THE WHOLE STORY…

CE: It’s about loss…it is not just a murder and a mystery, but about how everybody loses something in different way. How one incident in their childhood changes their lives forever – and there is no way of escaping destiny and the way that your lives intercede.

Q: WHAT WAS THE PROCESS FOR THE CASTING OF MYSTIC RIVER?

CE: I thought the material was really good – the book was strong, the script was strong. I just felt it needed some really good people. Some actors had read the book. When it was announced that I was going to direct the movie, a lot of people were calling me and asking to be in this movie. So I sent it to Sean Penn and told him to give a look at the script and see what he thought. He called me back and said, “Boy this is a killer.” Kevin Bacon and Tim Robbins had expressed interest in the past in working with me, and it fell into place. Each one of them brings something different.

Q: HOW WOULD YOU CHARACTERISE SEAN PENN AS AN ACTOR?

CE: He is very good, very instinctive. He prepares well in his mind but he doesn’t overwork the script. He is adaptable and he is ready to work – as soon as he comes to the set, we can shoot the first take. I saw The Pledge that he directed. Once in a while we philosophise about the script.

Q: AND TIM ROBBINS?

CE: A totally different actor. I think when actors have directed before, it makes them easier to direct because they know what you are doing and also have acquired a certain sympathy after having been on the other side of the camera. Laurence Fishburne wants to direct soon.

Q: THESE ACTORS HAVE DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO THE FILM. DO YOU HAVE TO ADAPT TO EACH OF THEM OR DO THEY HAVE TO ADAPT TO YOU?

CE: No, they adapt to the story even though they have their own idiosyncrasies. These guys all belong to the same school – they are well prepared, ready to go, have their characters worked out, and they are just great. The good thing also is that most of them knew each other beforehand. Sean and Kevin worked in a play together 25 years ago. Sean has worked with Tim who directed him in Dead Man Walking. When they got the script, they all went to readings on their own and went through it. I was up to my neck in preparation and they took it upon themselves to read and work on the screenplay. A lot of actors would never do that and see the script as only their part, their own element, because they don’t work together. It was a chance for them to build a nice camaraderie, as a tribute to their mutual admiration for each other. They also consider Laura Linney and Marcia Gay Harden as some of the best American actresses and those ladies think the same of them.

Q: THE FEMALE CHARACTERS HAVE MORE DEPTH THAN ONE MIGHT EXPECT?

CE: They are not just there to be thrown intact at the end. That is why it was fun to watch Laura’s performance at the end: she becomes Lady Macbeth. I think that is why the author named her Annabeth. We just talked and philosophised a little bit about it. She came onto the porch and I said to her, “You are in command.” She had that look and she was in command. She is so intuitive.

WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGE DID THE PARADE SEQUENCE AT THE END REPRESENT FOR YOU AS A DIRECTOR? BECAUSE SO MANY THINGS HAPPEN AT THE SAME TIME AND IT HAS TO BE INTRICATE AND SUBTLE…[b/]

CE: An awful lot of stuff is happening. The challenge is to try to get all the pieces in, to make sure I got all of it because everybody is physically far apart. Even though I managed to tie in Marcia Gay and Kevin Bacon’s characters on the sidewalk, it was not in the script. I added a little vignette of Marcia Gay calling her son Michael who is passing in front of her on the float and she’s running up along the float. I always liked that moment in the book. It had certain pathos. And I wanted to see that character resolved. There are a lot of things that are not said. Even Sean’s character, Jimmy Markum, is sort of always ambiguous.

Q: THE THREE MAIN CHARACTERS ARE BROKEN MEN IN DIFFERENT WAYS…

CE: They are scarred. One incident has affected these three characters in different ways and though they went into totally different directions in their adult lives, in different professions, they still have a lot of things hanging them up. It is powerful material – it has a lot of depth to it.

Q: DID YOU HAVE A VERY CLEAR VISION OF THE MOVIE YOU WANTED TO ACHIEVE BEFORE STARTING AND IS IT EVOLVING?

CE: You have a vision of what you want to do but it is always evolving, it is never cast like an architectural drawing. It is more like a schematic thing and some things happen during the process – actors come in and all of sudden, things start to happen. Going back to the book, I am trying to get everything the author had within a reasonable length.

Q: WHAT ABOUT THE VISUAL STYLE OF THE MOVIE?

CE: I wanted mainly to do the characters’ study and as for the visual style, to capture Boston and the sort of atmosphere that is she. But I changed the Whitey character to Laurence Fishburne, because I wanted somebody who is an outsider to get the outsider point of view on what is happening, to see through his eyes because he is not in the relationships. No character is really extraneous. In some movies you have a lot of characters that don’t reveal much. Every character here has a tie-in, maybe with the exception of a few small one-day players. And even they have their importance for that moment. But the rest all tie back in to one another.

Q: CAN YOU TALK OF THE PATHOS YOU WANT TO CARRY FROM SCENE TO SCENE?

CE: In this thing, every scene has a certain connection. There are not a lot of people who come in and talk about something totally different. Whatever red herrings there are in the story everybody is telling the story – there is the Brendan story, the Silent Ray story, Sean and his estranged wife story and his relationship with Whitey. Whitey is sort of the alter ego, watching over, and sort of the dogmatic professional detective. Tim Robbins is the character that is emotionally vulnerable and then has an emotional breakdown.

Q: DO YOU NEED TO HAVE SEEN ALL THE MOVIES OF THE ACTORS YOU WORK WITH AND DIRECT?

CE: I don’t. I’d rather not see too much. I have seen a few along the way. The last picture of Sean Penn I saw was Sweet and Lowdown, where he was playing a jazz guitarist. I liked it. It was an uncompromising performance. Kevin, Tim, Laurence – these guys are all in their early 40s. They are in that area where they are very experienced; they should be in the absolute prime of their life because they have a lot of experience but at the same time, they’ve got a lot of energy. I think they are the best around in their age group today and the two actresses are the best around, maybe in any age group, of American actresses.

Q: HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE MOOD OF THE MOVIE?

CE: It’s got a pretty good pace. The detective-investigative part will go kind of fast, but the emotional parts of the story will be slower, but I’m not letting any of it go sluggish!

Q: YOU ARE ONLY THE DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER THIS TIME…

CE: It’s a more intricate script but at the same token, it is easier because I don’t have to worry about somebody pulling my hair and brushing my jacket as when I am acting as well.

Q: MYSTIC RIVER IS YOUR 24th FILM AS A DIRECTOR. CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR PLEASURE BEHIND THE CAMERA TODAY?

CE: It is nice today and it is especially very nice not to be in it I don’t think I’ll ever do one where I am in it and do both. I think it’s too hard.

:: Mystic River has just opened in Australian cinemas on general release.