Clint Eastwood directs and stars in Space Cowboys, but itís hard to imagine how he
gets anything done when you meet him in person, heís so relaxed and laid-back. In
fact, you may even forget how accomplished he is, until the 70-year-old filmmaker begins
speaking so articulately and passionately about his latest big-screen challenge, which
also contains the most special effects heís ever had to work with. Eastwood called on
James Garner, Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee Jones to play fellow airforce pilots
reunited after fifty years to go to space for one mission that will fulfill all their
How did you wind up directing this film when you were originally just going to produce
and star in it?
I talked to a few directors about doing it and they all talked about the difficulties
about it and I started thinking, Ďwhy does everybody think itís so
difficult?í Then I talked to ILM (Industrial Light & Magic special effects house)
and they said it could be done, so they showed me mock-ups and things and the more I
thought about it, the more I thought I could get into it and it could be done. Iíve
been working on this thing almost a year and a half and considering that part of it, by
the time I did the conventional part of the film it was no problem at all. And I still had
to wait for effects and didnít even get the last ones in until 30 days before the
first press screening!
How were you able to focus on the human elements of this story with so many special
I believe it is the human element that sells it. You can have a lot of special effects
movies but I still have an old-fashioned theory that the story is king and the
relationships are the most important part of that. Without the story, the effects become
like a tour of a national park or something. To me the relationships are what intrigues
people over a long period of time. Maybe thatís not the case, maybe times have
changed but weíll find out with this movie, I guess.
It must have been a treat to work with another three great actors in such great roles?
They are all such pros so it was very easy. You could come in and shoot right away with no
fooling around. Well I canít say there was no fooling around, actually. There was a
lot of joking and fooling around but everybody knew when you yelled Ďroll
Ďemí, everything stopped and everybody got back to business.
I believe you have a very streamlined style of directing?
Yeah, I go right to it. The film is the cheapest commodity of the whole process. Time is
very important and expensive but you can rehearse things on film and see what happens and
that way, good things can happen right away when you donít know whatís cooking.
Many of those scenes were improvised in this film. Iíd say, Ďcome on in,
weíll walk into this room and talk about thisí and Iíd signal to the
cameraman and heíd be rolling. A couple of times, Donald would say, Ďare we
rehearsing now, what are we doing?í and Iíd say, Ďno thatís ití
and heíd say, Ď Oh, I can do it much better!í and Iíd say, Ďno I
donít want it better, thatís good!í Itís just kind of spontaneous and
helps that camaraderie aspect that works so well in the film.
Has space travel always intrigued you?
Itís always been intriguing, as a kid looking at Buck Rogers, but itís always
been for someone else. Itís always been someone elseís profession, not mine. I
never even thought in my lifetime weíd see people on the moon so who knows what will
happen in the next 40 or 50 years Ė it will be very exciting for you to
visualize Ė I wonít be around!
The characters struggle through the physical part of the preparation to go into space.
How taxing was it for you as an actor?
You struggle along with it. It may not be that taxing but you portray it like that. Like
In The Line of Fire I had to be out of breath running alongside the presidential limousine
and I wasnít really out of breath because it wasnít that far. I only had to run
about a block so thatís called acting!
How much training did you do to familiarize yourself with space apparatus?
We started working at the Houston Space Centre learning everything we could, working with
astronauts and they were very nice giving us their time and expertise. They would tell you
what it was like out there and we learned how they moved around the cabin in
weightlessness and we learned what it is like when you re-enter the atmosphere when it
gets to thousands of degrees outside and theyíre frying this thing up and it all
helped us portray it.
Donald broke his knee. James broke his shoulder. What were you doing to these guys?
With these damn space suits, they were so damn heavy and Donald had to do a thing where he
was holding the suit and he fell back and cracked his knee. And Jim had his shoulder pop
out of the socket . . . but I once played a role in 1973 where I had chronic shoulder
dislocation so I was familiar with how to put the shoulder back in and we went about it
and it worked. We finished the day and that was fine. Jimmy didnít play golf for a
The film has a lot to say about aging. What is your own attitude to aging?
Everything has been a ball and Iíve just enjoyed it all. Whatever happens, there is
nothing you can do about it except take care of yourself and age gracefully or smoke and
drink and go into a decline. I take reasonably good care of myself and enjoy the process.
Age makes you more appreciative of family and a lot of the things you take for granted as
a younger person. And youíre not as driven. As a young person, you get depressed with
your career when you hit a rough spot because you donít know what is around the
corner so when you get work, you take it all. I was an incessant worker in the 60s and 70s
and all through the 80s but in the 90s, where I think I did some of my better work, I was
not driven very much but I was just working along at a good pace. This picture will be my
first picture out in the year 2000, my fifth decade of releasing films and that is a
pretty long time.
Any plans to retire?
Iíll keep doing it for a while but Iíve got other interests and one day I may
just say to hell with it. Then again I may not. It depends on what roles come up and if
they capture my imagination or not.
Publication date: 29/9/2000