LOS ANGELES (October 17, 2006) — By 76, most directors have put their heavy lifting behind them, their pace slowing, the quality of their films waning.
Not Clint Eastwood.
For the follow-up to his 2004 Academy Awards champ “Million Dollar Baby,” Eastwood chose the World War II epic “Flags of Our Fathers,” chronicling the Iwo Jima invasion and the convoluted drama behind the legendary photo of troops raising the U.S. flag there.
Shot throughout the United States and at Iwo Jima and Iceland, the film has a scope that might exhaust a director half his age.
The film comes after a remarkable resurgence that began with 2003’s morality play “Mystic River,” launching Eastwood into the ranks of Hollywood’s most revered directors after an early career built on low-budget Spaghetti Westerns and the “Dirty Harry” vigilante-cop thrillers.
Why is Eastwood at the top of his game at an age when most directors slow down, lose their edge or simply retire?
“Genetics, I don’t know,” Eastwood, whose mother died this year at 97, told The Associated Press. “My father always said you’ve got to keep learning, keep expanding or you will decline the other way. I’ve always adhered to that.”
Eastwood’s “Flags of Our Fathers” cast — which includes Ryan Phillippe, Barry Pepper, Adam Beach and Jesse Bradford — said they were amazed at the fitness and stamina of a director 40 years or more their elder.
“The guy’s not supposed to be that limber. He’s like a 30-year-old carrying this big camera like it was nothing,” said Beach, who plays Ira Hayes, one of the troops in the flag-raising photo. “I don’t think people understand how healthy he is, how strong he is. He’s really taken care of himself.”
Saying he has no thoughts of retiring, Eastwood hinted at a work-till-you-drop career like that of John Huston, the inspiration for the macho filmmaker Eastwood played in “White Hunter, Black Heart.”
“Even though he was in ill health, he was never a physical-training type of guy, he held on, and his last films were quite good,” Eastwood said. “`The Dead,’ his last film, he was on oxygen bottles and in a wheelchair part of the time. It shows you can do it.
“I’m fortunately, knock on wood, in good health and I feel fine. I know more now than I did 30 years ago, I think. There’ll come a day maybe when I forget more now than I did yesterday. But right now, I’m enjoying it, and I’m more patient, and it’s more fun for me to watch actors perform and watch younger people come along, and be behind the camera than it was in the past.”
Eastwood follows “Flags of Our Fathers” with next year’s “Letters From Iwo Jima,” the story of the battle from the perspective of Japanese soldiers defending the island. After editing “Flags of Our Fathers,” Eastwood shot “Letters From Iwo Jima” in a six-week flurry while finishing touches were being applied to the first film.
Eastwood does not appear in “Flags of Our Fathers” or “Letters From Iwo Jima,” which stars Ken Watanabe as Gen. Tadamichi Kuribayashi, who led the Japanese defense of the island.
After “Mystic River,” in which he also does not appear, Eastwood began thinking he would prefer to remain behind the camera.
“Then all of a sudden, `Million Dollar Baby’ comes along, and there’s a great part in it there for a guy my age,” said Eastwood, nominated for best actor as a crusty boxing coach. “So I’ll never say never, because somebody maybe will come up with a good role someday, but I’m not out looking for it. I’m not out soliciting.”
One new role he could not resist was reprising Harry Callahan, providing the voice for an upcoming “Dirty Harry” video game.
“I get to be me as a young guy again,” Eastwood said. “Revisit my youth.”