To mark the release of the Dirty Harry Ultimate Collector’s Edition set of the five movies staring screen icon Clint Eastwood in one of his most famous roles as Harry Callahan, the 77-year-old four time Oscar winner talks about his relationship with Warner Bros., new movie Changeling and, of course, Dirty Harry.
Q: How far back does your association with Warner Bros. go?
A: In 1970 they asked me to do Dirty Harry and we made it in 1971. I was still at Universal at the time, making pictures for them, but Id go back and do a sequel every now and then for Dirty Harry. So after about the third or fourth sequel I remember I had a western called The Outlaw Josey Wales and I remember I liked the story very much and I called up Warners and I said: “Look, I’d like to do that, and I’ll move over there if you want me to.” So I did. And that was the first picture I did when I actually moved on to the Lot and I stayed there ever since.
Q: So you obviously like their ethos and way of doing things?
A: Yes, it’s different administrations now. That was John Calley running it then and there have been others since. It’s different but the Studio is the same and the distribution guy I like very much. But working for Universal this time on Changeling was fine too, it was fun to be back there but it’s a whole different regime there.
Q: Your new film, Changeling, is classic storytelling but at times complex. But you obviously expect an audience to have the intelligence to go along with it…
A: It is kind of complex and it’s made for people who want to think along with you and people who dont want to think along with you then they should see something else. Theres always a good show for everybody, there’s something for everyone (laughs). And at this stage in life I’m doing stories that I want to tell. I guess it’s always been that way, Im doing stories that I would like to see myself. I’ve done the genre pieces and the Dirty Harrys and the westerns and all that and those were all fun. But this is fun too, doing different stories and Changeling was amazing because it really happened, the people were all real, and it’s hard to believe that something like that would happen. And I’m particularly appalled by crimes against children and that had something to do with it.
Q: It seemed for a while that your persona off screen was defined by what you were doing on screen.
A: I think so, yeah. I think mistakenly so. I think people wanted it. Like the kids who liked Dirty Harry when it first came out were disappointed that I didn’t pull out a .44 Magnum and wave it around and the people who didn’t like what I was doing and tried to put political connotations to it were probably disappointed when they found out that I wasn’t like the character and a renegade personality. But you can’t satisfy everybody so what the hell. You don’t even try, you just do the best you can and people have two choices — one is to embrace the idea or ignore it.
On every picture I’ve ever done I’ve felt instinctively that there was something worth telling.
Q: It always seemed that you knew when the time was right to move on in your career - whether it was from the westerns or the Dirty Harry movies…
A: Yeah, I don’t know why, it’s just an instinctive thing. It was like “OK, I’m at a certain age now than I was when I was that guy.” So I’m looking at it from a different standpoint. I’ve played more things and I think I probably know more now.
Q: When you got involved with Dirty Harry did you know immediately that it was going to be special?
A: Obviously I felt that way because I went ahead and did the project. I felt there was something that would make an exciting police drama. Yeah, I felt there was something there. On every picture I’ve ever done I’ve felt instinctively that there was something worth telling but whatever height they reach as far as public appreciation is strictly up to the public and sometimes they haven’t been appreciated as much and sometimes they are appreciated more than you expect. That part of it is a crapshoot. But I’m not a judge of that — you only do the best you can and then it’s up to someone else to make the judgement on it by going to see it or not going to see it.
Q: Do you think that the Dirty Harry series could have been made by another studio? Because at the time they seemed very much to fit in with the Warner Bros. ethos.
A: Yeah it could have been. Originally when it was offered to me at first I was working at Universal. And I told Universal yes, I would do the project if they could buy the script. But they promptly went out and blew the sale so they didn’t get the script so it ended up through a long circle of events at Warner Bros. and Warners came to me again and I was familiar with the material. So it could have been made at Universal and it would have been made in the same way, because it was Don Siegel (director) but whether it would have been handled as well I don’t know. I remember one of the reasons I moved over to Warner Bros at that time was because a fellow named Dick Ledderer was the head of promotions and sales and marketing and he was kind of brilliant. He was the inspiration for the film, he loved the film and he went out and marketed it in such an aggressive way and an imaginative way so that’s why I stayed at Warners, because of him.
Q: Would you ever pick up a Magnum and play Dirty Harry again?
A: You know I would go out to a range and target shoot with somebody but I don’t think the San Francisco Police Department would have a 77 year old man on the police force so it would be highly unrealistic. People have asked me over the years “would you like to re-visit Dirty Harry?” and everything would have depended on a script. But, really, no, there’s a time to leave things alone — you do a few sequels and have a good time with it, but my brain is in another place right now. But I love looking back on it.