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87 And Not Out

Almost ninety and with no plans to retire, Clint Eastwood is Hollywood’s very own runaway train. We chatted to him about his latest film, charting a tale of extraordinary bravery told by the heroes themselves.

When interviewing Clint Eastwood, it’s very important to avoid all bullshit. Eastwood is not one for shooting the shit, he’s sharp and to the point. He’s got that look about him that says fools will not be suffered lightly. Not that he isn’t accommodating and friendly, well-mannered, showing glimpses of humour when he talks about bending the rules (mostly when the rules are bullshit). His tone is unsurprisingly grizzled, but there’s still a warm edge there.

We’re here today to chat about his latest movie, The 15.17 to Paris. A pretty extraordinary film, not just because it recounts the extraordinary bravery of three off-duty American soldiers, Spencer Stone, Alex Skarlotos and Anthony Sadler, who thwarted a terrorist attack on a train bound to Paris three years ago. But because the Oscar-winner took a gamble by casting the heroic trio as themselves.

Known for pushing the boundaries, Eastwood boldly claims ‘you never learn unless you accept those challenges.’ A courageous endeavour, the Hollywood legend explains the reasons for his maverick decision and why Warner execs were more than a little concerned. Eastwood also talks bravery, retirement and being proud of his children’s own acting endeavours.

So when you told studio execs your plans to use the real guys instead of actors, what was the reaction?

EASTWOOD: They weren’t happy no. I think it was the last thing they wanted to hear coming out of my mouth [laughs]. But they trusted me, trusted where I wanted to go with this and nervously agreed.

Why did you decide to do this?

It just hit me one day. What if? And it seem to make sense to me.

But what was the motivation?

I’d been speaking with actors, good actors who would have served the story well but this isn’t their story. And who better to tell their own story than the men who went through it and lived it. You can produce that level of reality, but sometimes you’re putting actors into a level of reality that they can’t possibly imagine and they’re unable to conjure those emotions. I wanted this story told with the most precise accuracy there could be. By having the guys involved, telling their own story, takes it to another level. Instead of having it simply acted out.

Quite a risk though to have non-actors with no experience. Yes, they went through it but they had no experience of a set and how it all works.

You sound like [a Warner exec] [laughs]. It was a big risk, I know that. And I knew that going down this road, I had a few say to me, ‘what are you thinking?’

Wasn’t this traumatizing for them? To relive this event?

I think it was more cathartic than traumatic for them. Helping them breakdown what happened and what it could have been. There were four, five hundred people on that train that day. The terrorist had nearly 300 rounds of ammunition, this could have been a horrific, unprecedented attack. But thanks to the good fortune with these weapons jamming and the quick thinking and actions of these guys, they saved a lot of lives. One man was shot, and thankfully survived, due to the actions of these boys. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I don’t know if I could claim to do the same. I think like most people, I probably would have jumped under my seat. So what made our boys run at a terrorist who’s pointing a gun at you?

How did you broach it with them? And did you think they’d refuse?

I thought maybe some would say no. I didn’t believe all three would agree, I wasn’t expecting that. I met them and asked straight out, no messing around, ‘would you play yourselves?’ They sort of said yes straight away, I know they were a little shell shocked by the question but they got with it. And I felt they had a natural gift and I wanted to see what they could do with it. They had charm and ease, and I wanted them to go into this without too much contemplation or thought. I just wanted them to live it as they did, tell their extraordinary story.

What advice did you give them?

They asked me if I they should take acting lessons and I said no. I didn’t want them to look like they were acting. They had this. They lived through it, I knew they could do it. I wasn’t smart enough to know for sure they could but they had good attitudes. They had good egos about it. I didn’t want them to train or prepare, I wanted them to be themselves. Just be yourselves, that’s all I asked.

You shot this on an actual working train, didn’t that make life harder for you?

I didn’t want guys on either side of the train, rocking it on palettes, that wouldn’t have worked. But its’ tight on those trains. And they go fast, 160, 180 mph. The space to shoot is narrow but those were the challenges presented. It was all very experimental. But you never learn unless you accept those challenges. There were people getting on and off. We had six-minute windows to do these scenes and I don’t think anyone knew we were shooting anything, it was an operation in stealth [laughs].

You are in your late eighties now and are constantly working, how do you keep going and do you ever think you’ll retire?

I think I assimilate and absorb that energy from the people around me [laughs]. That’s how I keep going. I enjoy doing it. I’ve had suggestions I should retire from enemies as well as friends, why don’t you quit this. It’s what I do, why would anyone want to quit what they do. What am I going to do if I retire? How will I fill my day? Play golf? I like to play golf but I won’t like it if I have to play it to fill my day. I’ll start to resent it. I don’t want to resent golf, I want to keep enjoying it.

Scott [Eastwood’s son] is enjoying great success, going from strength to strength, are you proud?

Yes, I am. He’s going great. He’s working, consistently it seems and that is success right there, in this industry. Consistency.

You’ve worked with all your kids who are actors, how is it directing them?

They listen. I think because they’re related, they have to work even harder. But they listen, they take good direction, they’re good actors. I’ve probably demanded more of them than I do of other actors because you demand more of your children. You don’t want them slacking off. I’m very proud of what they’ve done and continue to do. Very proud.

The 15.17 to Paris is out now in cinemas

Words By Miles Kenney