Clint Eastwood is without a doubt the fittest and most active octogenarian on New York’s Park Avenue as he climbs spryly out of his black SUV and strides into the Regency Hotel, acknowledging the greetings of the staff with a friendly wave.
“He can’t be 80,” someone whispers in amazement. “No way.”
It’s hard to believe, but, as he enters his ninth decade, Eastwood is as focused, ambitious and driven as he was when he directed his first film at the age of 41. He has been racking up lifetime achievement awards since the Nineties, before he had even embarked on this late stage of his career – one that many consider to be his most creative and productive.
He is in New York to attend the premiere and party for his latest film, Hereafter, a drama written by the British screenwriter Peter Morgan and starring Matt Damon, who was also in his last movie, Invictus.
In his most recent films – Mystic River, Flags of Our Fathers, Gran Torino, Invictus – Eastwood has been pushing audiences to think about difficult and sometimes uncomfortable themes. This time he is posing the question of what happens after death: Hereafter is a drama that explores three characters’ search for answers about their own lives in the face of what lies beyond.
In San Francisco, a reluctant psychic (Damon) tries to break free from the bereaved people seeking help in contacting loved ones; in Indonesia, a journalist (Cecile de France) has a near-death experience in a tsunami; while, in London, a twin loses the brother who has always guided him.
Eastwood, who filmed in Paris, London, Hawaii and San Francisco, says: “We don’t know what’s on the other side. People have their beliefs about what’s there or what’s not there, but nobody knows until you get there.”
It is not something he thinks or worries about. “Whatever’s out there is out there,” he says with a shrug as we talk in a hotel suite a couple of hours before the premiere. “I don’t think much about the hereafter because I feel you’re given one opportunity to live in this world, and you have to do the best you can with the life you’ve got.”
Morgan, who has been Oscar-nominated twice – for writing The Queen and Frost/Nixon – wrote Hereafter four years ago after a 40-year-old friend died suddenly in a ski-ing accident. “He died so suddenly and violently and his spirit was still around us,” said Morgan. “All his friends were thinking, ‘Where has he gone?’ ”.
The script eventually found its way to Steven Spielberg, who passed it on to Eastwood.
“I liked the way it was laid out,” said Eastwood. “It has such great dilemmas and dimensions, and I liked the fact there are three stories that stand alone but at the same time are connected.”
As usual, Eastwood filmed at remarkable speed. Having directed more than 30 movies, he is a master of the art of economical shooting. He limits rehearsals to a minimum to achieve a more authentic feel in the performances, and he rarely does more than one take.
“Everything I do as a director is based upon what I prefer as an actor,” he says.
Wearing a dark jacket and slacks and a grey golf shirt with his bushy grey hair brushed back, Eastwood is clearly in a good mood. Although known as a man of few words in his younger days, he now talks freely and at length about himself, his work and his family, demonstrating a keen sense of humour and a sharp wit.