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Clint Eastwood's American Dream

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Is that when you realized that being introverted could be an asset for an actor? That you could play on it?
I don't know if I played on it consciously. I know that for many years before I became known for the way I act now, I played characters that were not terribly talkative. Economical characters. Some books – even Stanislavsky's people – discuss the fact that sometimes less can be best. Sometimes you can tell more with economy than you can with excess gyration.

The Rawhide series was a great training ground. All of a sudden, everything you ever studied about being an actor you could put into play every day. It's one thing to work for a week in a Francis the Talking Mule picture – which was how it had been going for me – and another thing to be doing it all day for eight years.

It's like the story of the great classical trumpet player they found one day playing in a baseball orchestra at Wrigley Field. Somebody recognized him and said, "My God, Maestro, what is the greatest classical trumpet player in the world doing playing in a baseball band?" He said, "You must play every day."

In Rawhide, I got to play every day. It taught me how to pick up and run, how to make things up, wing things in there.

The New York Review of Books recently ran an article about you that said, "What is most distinctive about Eastwood . . . is how effectively he struggles against absorption into mere genre, mere style, even while appearing, with his long-boned casualness and hypnotic presence, to be nothing but style." Do you want to comment on that?
Well, yeah, style. Take guys like Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. They're terrific actors, but their style is more aggressive. Both of them did some marvelous things and some films that weren't big hits but were great all the same: Douglas in Lonely Are the Brave and Paths of Glory; Lancaster in Trapeze. But their style was a little different than, say, Gary Cooper's or Henry Fonda's, because those guys were more laid-back, more introverted, and you were always leaning forward, wondering what they were thinking. With the Lancaster-Douglas school, there was never any doubt Fonda or Cooper: you were never quite sure with them. They had a mysterioso quality.

Which is something you strive for: that little taste of ambiguity.
Exactly.

Let's go over a few of your films. Dirty Harry.
There was something there I felt some people missed. One critic said Dirty Harry shot the guy at the end with such glee that he enjoyed it. There was no glee in it at all, there was a sadness about it. Watch the film again and you'll see that.

Every Which Way but Loose.
All of a sudden Norman Mailer comes out and says he likes this film, and because he's such a well-thought-of writer, people think, "Wait a second, maybe that wasn't such a bad movie after all." I thought it was kind of a hip script myself when I read it. Here's a guy pouring his heart out to an ape, and losing the girl. I like the correlation with some of my westerns, too. The guy purposely loses the big fight at the end because he doesn't want to go around being the fastest gun in the West.

Bronco Billy.
It's about the American Dream, and Billy's dream that he fought so hard for. And it's all in the context of this outdated Wild West show that has absolutely no chance of being a hit. But it's sweet. It's pure.

In the pivotal scene, Billy allows himself to be humiliated by the sheriff rather than allow his friend to be arrested. That played so against your established image: it must have been fun to do.
Really fun. It was suggested that Billy come back at the end and punch this guy out. That would have ruined the picture, the whole theme of loyalty. Billy doesn't approve of this kid being a deserter, and he doesn't know enough to intellectualize what his friend's feelings were about the war in Vietnam. He just knows he doesn't approve but he's going to stick by his friend. Now if Billy had come back and kicked the crap out of the sheriff at the end, it would have wrecked all that.

There's no real excuse for being successful enough as an actor to do what you want and then selling out. You do it pure. You don't try to adapt it, make it commercial. It's not Dirty Bronco Billy.

Honkytonk Man.
Red Stovall is based a bit on some self-destructive people I've known. He's wild and funny, but he's been a coward in his time. He won't face up to his ambitions. He's not that great a singer, but he writes some interesting things. When he gets his moment, he's already destroyed himself.

And the studio suggested that it might be a good idea if Red didn't die in the end?
I resisted that.

Your new one, Pale Rider.
It's a western. One of the earliest films in America was a western: The Great Train Robbery. If you consider film an art form, as some people do, then the western would be a truly American art form, much as jazz is. In the Sixties, American westerns were stale, probably because the great directors – Anthony Mann, Raoul Walsh, John Ford – were no longer working a lot. Then the Italian western came along, and we did very well with those; they died of natural causes. Now I think it's time to analyze the classic western. You can still talk about sweat and hard work, about the spirit, about love for the land and ecology. And I think you can say all these things in the western, in the classic mythological form.

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