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EASTWOOD ON THE PITCH 

At 79, Clint tackles Mandela in Invictus

Thursday, Dec 10 2009
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Page 4 of 6

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.)

“It’s unexplored terrain,” Eastwood tells me when I ask what drew him to the material, and indeed, though he has twice cast himself as something like an angel of death, in the existential westerns High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider, he has never made a film on an overtly supernatural subject. “I liked the way Peter Morgan incorporates real events like the [2004 Indian Ocean] tsunami and the terrorist attacks on London into a fictional story,” he continues. “Also, there’s a certain charlatan aspect to the hereafter, to those who prey on people’s beliefs that there’s some afterlife, and mankind doesn’t seem to be willing to accept that this is your life and you should do the best you can with it and enjoy it while you’re here, and that’ll be enough. There has to be immortality or eternal life and embracing some religious thing. I don’t have the answer. Maybe there is a hereafter, but I don’t know, so I approach it by not knowing. I just tell the story.”

Two weeks later, early on a Friday morning, Owens has a batch of effects shots from Invictus’ climactic World Cup Final ready for Eastwood’s review, and as they look at the footage in a Warner screening room — Owens using a laser pointer to address certain details — what appears on the screen scarcely seems to be computer-generated at all. Mandela’s ghostly apparition on Robben Island does, of course, but most of what Owens has created, like the best film editing, will blend so seamlessly into the finished film as to never be noticed by the average filmgoer.

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Sweat and dirt have been added to the Springbok uniforms, as have blood and bruises to the players’ faces. “Grub ’em all up,” Eastwood says enthusiastically, noting that such digital wizardry has alleviated the need for time-consuming makeup touch-ups during shooting. In addition, a film-processing error that had caused the Springboks’ green jerseys to appear brown has been corrected, and Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium, site of the 1995 World Cup Final, has been digitally aged to remove all signs of the facility’s extensive 2008 renovation. Owens, a veteran of George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, who first worked with Eastwood on 2000’s Space Cowboys, acknowledges that there was a steep learning curve involved in bringing the director (who hadn’t made an effects-heavy picture since Firefox nearly two decades earlier) into the CGI era. Yet Eastwood has made the leap, and Owens has become one more indispensable player on team Malpaso.

“There’s a selfishness to it,” Eastwood says when I ask him about his well-known loyalty to his collaborators. “They’re all people I can depend on. They’re people I don’t have to start from scratch with just in order to be on the same wavelength with them. They know kind of where I’m headed, and so we just say a few things to each other and we can be sort of minimalistic as far as the intellectual discussion of things.”

The next time I see Eastwood is on a brisk, slate-colored morning in early November on Hereafter’s London set. A small auditorium in Red Lion Square, near Bloomsbury, has been converted into the fictional Center For Psychic Advancement, for one of several scenes in which Marcus, a 12-year-old boy from an inner-city housing estate, attempts to contact his twin brother, Jason, who is killed in a car accident earlier in the script. Although Eastwood seems his usually relaxed self, there’s a subtle tension in the air brought on by the tight time restrictions governing the use of minors on film sets. Marcus and Jason are played, respectively and sometimes interchangeably, by Frankie and George McLaren, identical twins who have a wise-beyond-their-years pallor reminiscent of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense — a film produced, like Eastwood’s, by the husband-and-wife team of Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy.

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