Tending His "Garden"
An interview with Clint Eastwood.
By Peter Keough
NOVEMBER 24, 1997: Whereas sensational murder trials have electrified audiences from the days of Sacco and Vanzetti down to the O.J. Simpson case and that of our own British nanny, the trial in Clint Eastwood's adaptation of John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is just part of the local color of Savannah. According to Eastwood, the new film has nothing to do with the current rage for courtroom melodrama or inquiries into the validity of American justice. It's just good storytelling.
"Whether it has anything to do with other trials, I don't know," he asserts. "They are sensationalized at the moment, but I don't think they'll have any bearing one way or the other. You might compare the tampering of the evidence and the shoddy police work to the way the defense tried to handle the O.J. case, but that's about the only comparison I can see.
"I was trying to show the quirkiness of John's [John Berendt's] book and not make it into a trial movie. Today we're raised with a lot of quick images on MTV or stories that are totally subservient to special effects, so I thought it was nice to go back to old-fashioned storytelling where you deal with characters. And in the case of John Berendt's characters, he seems to have made everybody very curious about Savannah.
"I tried to talk to a lot of the people who were characters in John's book. For instance, the guy with the flies tied to strings, I got to meet him, and he no longer does that. We all change. But he did do that at one time, and those kind of oddities are what make the book unique. There's a worldliness that is kind of crazy. But there's also a tolerance, and that's interesting too."
Tolerance and serenity loom large in Eastwood's life these days. Does the fact that Dirty Harry has made a movie sympathetic to gays and drag queens indicate he's changing?
"You mean, am I wearing lip gloss and eyeshadow? I've always considered myself tolerant of other people's lifestyles. But it's also fun to tell stories about things you don't understand. And there's something about the kind of people in Savannah who do their own thing, whether it's wearing flies or whether it's being a drag queen, whatever you want to do."
With tolerance comes peace of mind, and in Clint's case, a new family -- he and his second wife recently had a baby. Perhaps that's part of the reason Eastwood cast his daughter Alison in a small but pivotal role in Garden.
"I did make her audition," he points out. "When I did Tightrope some years ago, I thought about what happens if your daughter wasn't good in the picture and you had to fire her? What effect would that have on a child growing up, or on the father-daughter relationship? But it turned out she was excellent in that movie, and I felt she would be good in this one, but I wanted to make sure she went through the ropes."
If firing her would have been traumatic, how was it directing her in a love scene with John Cusack?
"It's nice to be there to chaperone the whole thing. We did it all in one take. That's part of the chaperoning."
Not all is serene in Eastwood's life, however. Former girlfriend Sondra Locke lacerated him recently in a tell-all memoir. Eastwood shakes off this and other attacks.
"A friend of mine the other day, who is about my age, said, 'There's one great thing about being in your 60s -- what can they do to you?' It's like you've had good things said about you and you've had bad things said about you, and so at some point you become very philosophical and say that's an individual opinion. Even the people who said something good about you might be wrong, so you never know."
Like those who describe you as an icon?
"When you keep coming back after 40 or 50 years, I guess they figure they've got to call you something."
-- Peter Keough
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