By Amy Nicholson
By LA Weekly critics
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Anthony D'Alessandro
From behind the camera, Eastwood shoots his old friend, whom he has directed twice before, a sly grin.
When Eastwood gets the shot to his liking, the crew breaks for lunch, and I find myself seated opposite an extra playing one of the Robben Island jailers — a thick-necked man with an even thicker Afrikaner accent, who tells me he can trace his family’s lineage back to South Africa’s first Dutch settlers. Afterward, I hop on the wrong transport van and, instead of being taken back to the set, end up on the other end of the island, at the visitor’s center, where Freeman and his longtime agent, Fred Specktor, are cooling their heels until Freeman is needed for his next scene. (Specktor, a no-nonsense, old-school Hollywood type, wears a single gold earring in his right ear, similar to the one in Freeman’s own — the result of a promise the agent made to the actor when he was trying to sign him as a client.)
Courtly and charming, Freeman tells me about the protracted and ultimately fruitless struggle by which he, his producing partner, Lori McCreary, and a succession of writers attempted to distill Mandela’s sprawling 1994 memoir, Long Walk to Freedom, into a manageable screenplay. Then Freeman met John Carlin, when the reporter came to Mississippi (where Freeman resides) to report on American poverty for the Spanish newspaper El Pais. Carlin, who knew of Freeman’s desire to make a film about Mandela, told him the story of Playing the Enemy, which had not yet been published. Freeman, who clearly relishes being a step ahead of the game, had already read Carlin’s book proposal as it was making its way around Hollywoood. The South African–born screenwriter Anthony Peckham was subsequently hired to hammer out a script. When it came to choosing a director, “My first two choices were Clint Eastwood and Clint Eastwood,” says Freeman, who won the 2005 Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as a one-eyed ex-boxer in Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. Asked to elaborate, Freeman says that while many younger, less confident directors second-guess themselves and dither endlessly with their producers around the playback monitor, Eastwood simply “brings the actors in, figures out how to accommodate what they do, and that’s it.”
With that, we make our way back to the set for Freeman’s last shot of the day — another flashback, this time set in the massive limestone quarry where particle dust so deeply penetrated Mandela’s eyes that, upon his release, he had to have his tear ducts surgically drained. As the sun dips toward the horizon, Freeman climbs down into the quarry, picks up a shovel — a somewhat difficult feat given that the nerves in his left arm are still regenerating from injuries he sustained in an August 2008 car crash — and starts to dig. When Eastwood signals that it’s a wrap for the day, Freeman looks up, wipes his brow and says with a smile, “When you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing in life, you feel good. I’m supposed to be working with Clint Eastwood.”
By early August, barely two months after returning from South Africa, Eastwood and his longtime editor, Joel Cox (an Oscar winner for Unforgiven), have already finished a fine-cut assembly of Invictus, save for some 600 visual-effects shots that will be finessed by Michael Owens before the film’s December release. At the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, on the film scoring stage that bears Eastwood’s name, a large orchestra is recording the Invictus score — a simple piano melody, plus some traditional African choral music and a couple of original songs, most of it written by Eastwood’s son Kyle and his partner Michael Stevens (who have worked on the music for Eastwood’s last five features). In a testament to the literal and figurative family atmosphere that is a constant around Eastwood’s Malpaso Productions, the piano player in the Invictus orchestra is one Michael Lang, son of the legendary Jennings Lang, who produced Eastwood’s 1971 directorial debut, Play Misty For Me. (On the set in South Africa, I also learned that Eastwood’s focus puller, Bill Coe, is married to his boom operator, Gail Carroll-Coe, and that their son, Trevor, also works in the camera department as a loader.)
Toward the back of the stage, the senior Eastwood, flanked by Cox and his in-house producer, Rob Lorenz, gives occasional notes on the placement of a cue but mostly nods his approval as sound and image come together before his eyes. Already, there is much discussion about Eastwood’s next project, Hereafter, which he expects to begin shooting by early fall. Based on an original script by The Queen and Frost/Nixon writer Peter Morgan, the film links together three stories, each in some way about the border between life and death, this world and the next.(Reuniting with his Invictus director, Damon will star as an auto-factory worker who was once a spritual medium.)
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