Clint Eastwood is watching the contemporary superhero craze in Hollywood with a bit of generational relief. “Thank God that I didn’t have to do that,” says the the 80-year-old star.
The Oscar-winning actor and filmmaker is best known to moviegoers as a cowboy or a cop, but during a recent interview in Carmel, the Hollywood icon said that in the 1970s he was an early candidate to play the Man of Steel. He added that, a few years before that, he was approached with an offer to join her majesty’s secret service in the role of suave spy James Bond.
“I can remember — and this was many years ago — when [Warner Bros. President] Frank Wells came to me about doing Superman. So it could have happened. This was when they first started to think about making it. I was like, ‘Superman? Nah, nah, that’s not for me.’ Not that there’s anything wrong with it. It’s for somebody, but not me.
“I was also offered pretty good money to do James Bond if I would take on the role. This was after Sean Connery left. My lawyer represented the Broccolis,” who produce the Bond franchise, “and he came and said, ‘They would love to have you.’ But to me, well, that was somebody else’s gig. That’s Sean’s deal. It didn’t feel right for me to be doing it.”
In December 1978, the same month that a relatively unknown actor named Christopher Reeve soared to fame in Richard Donner’s “Superman,” Eastwood had a new comedy hit on his hands with “Every Which Way but Loose,” which did not bring with it the indignity of wearing tights but did pair the tough-guy icon with a saucy orangutan named Clyde. The Superman film had taken a number of years to reach the screen, and Eastwood was 48 by that point, so he was too old to play the superhero. Still, had he been 30, the star said his answer would have been the same: “No, thanks.”
Eastwood explained: “I always liked characters that were more grounded in reality. Maybe they do super things or more-than-human things — like Dirty Harry, he has a knack for doing crazy things, or the western guys — but, still, they’re not caped crusaders.”
For most of Eastwood’s time in Hollywood, comic-book roles were career kryptonite. That’s changed now, certainly, with Jack Nicholson, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., Christian Bale, Michael Keaton and Hugh Jackman as just a few of the leading men who have played costumed heroes or villains and avoided the typecasting that haunted actors of the past, such as Superman stars George Reeves and Christopher Reeve.
“That was part of the consideration, a big part,” Eastwood said. “Look at Reeve, he was excellent. That was a big factor. You get a role like that, and it locks you in a bit. True, I had the western genre and the ‘Dirty Harry’ role, but everybody made westerns and did cop movies; they didn’t seem as bad,” as far as typecasting.
I told Eastwood that, after watching him dispatch criminals as San Francisco cop Harry Callahan, he was probably a better fit for the alleys of Gotham City as opposed to the skies of Metropolis. Eastwood surprised me by, with a wink, boasting that his funny-book allegiance was to Namor, Bill Everett’s imperious sea prince.
“Hey buddy,” Eastwood said with a thumbs-up gesture, “the Sub-Mariner, that’s the one I always liked. I had all of those comics when I was a kid.”
As for Bond, no American has played Ian Fleming’s spy. Connery is a native of Scotland, and Roger Moore and Daniel Craig were born in England. Pierce Brosnan was born in Ireland, Timothy Dalton is from Wales and George Lazenby hails from Australia. Though it’s hard to imagine Eastwood in the coolly ironic mode most associated with 007 of the 1970s, it’s interesting to note that the two most recent films in the venerable series have taken the secret agent to a gritty, stoic style with Craig that has far more in common with Eastwood’s signature screen personae than, say, the safari-suit work of Moore.
I was in Carmel to interview Eastwood about “Hereafter,” which he directed. The film, a tender story about three broken souls and their lurching quest to understand the great beyond, hits theaters on Oct. 22, and we spent more than three hours together talking both on and off the record. We chatted about the Superman and Bond roles for all of three or four minutes, but, later in the day, I joked to Eastwood that I was having trouble shaking the image of him in blue tights.
“That was a long time ago. I was a little more pumped,” Eastwood answered with a wink. “But believe me, I can get it out of my mind. I got it out of mind back then. It was easy.”
— Geoff Boucher
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FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post misstated the birthplace of Timothy Dalton.