Invictus Interviews: Eastwood, Freeman & Damon Talk
Invictus, the story of how Nelson Mandela inspired a victory for the Springboks in the rugby world cup and helped unite a country, has been nominated for three Oscars and three Golden Globes.
We caught up with director Clint Eastwood and stars of the film Morgan Freeman (who plays Nelson Mandela) and Matt Damon (who plays Springboks Captain Francois Pienaar who also makes a surprise appearance) to talk about making the movie.
Q: Morgan, you’ve wanted to play Mandela for many years. How does it feel to finally play your friend on the big screen?
Morgan Freeman: It feels rather terrific. This is a situation that was meant to and I know that it was a situation that was meant to happen because I got Clint to direct it.
Q: Mr Eastwood, you’re at an age where most of us would be taking life a little easier, yet you continue to make challenging movies. Why do you continue to work so much and so well?
Clint Eastwood: I sort of planned on not working at this particular time in life but nobody can plan when you’re going to do when you reach my age of 49…39…whatever. I just feel that I’m enjoying work more now than I ever have or just as much certainly. And I’m at an age where I can take on more challenges than I have in the past because I know more. Of course at my age, you can forget more, but I’m trying to avoid that. I figure I’ll just continue till someone hits me over the head and says “get out”.
Q: Matt, you always look very handy when you’re fighting in your other films but how does that compare to the game of rugby?
Matt Damon: There was a whole physical challenge for me getting ready for the role, simply because I was playing a very famous man who everybody knows and so it’s like any job, it’s a magic trick. Francois is a big guy…and I’m an averaged sized guy, so people know what I look like and they know what he looks like, so how’re we going to get around this?
And Clint said, “well, maybe you won’t look 6’ 4” but maybe people won’t say, oh he’s 5’ 10”, maybe we can get people to just not ask the question”. So little tricks like putting the camera a little higher in framing, looking a little larger in the foreground or putting an insole in my shoe to give me another inch of two of height. Little things like that. And obviously a lot of work in the gym and the accent in order to be believable.
Q: From the filmmaker’s point of view, what were the particular challenges of staging a rugby match as opposed to a dramatic scene?
CE: I didn’t grow up with rugby but I spoke to a lot of people. I spoke to the coach of the University of California, Jack Clark and watched his practices and watched everything they did there. And then when we got to South Africa, we had Chester [Clark – former Spingboks winger] and Francois, so players that had actually been in the game, so after you’ve talked to everybody, you get a feel for it.
We hired rugby players to play all the players’ parts with the exception with Matt and one or two others, but they came up to the game real fast and we just had them play. So our biggest challenge was just to stay out of the way.
Q: After Gran Torino last year, we read very often that that would be your last time on screen. Please tell us that that’s not true.
CE: I said that back when I did Million Dollar Baby. I knew it would be a success to I figured that that would be a good film to quit on top. Then Gran Torino came along and it seemed like an interesting part. It was a man my age, I figured, I wasn’t stretching that much, so thought “yeah okay, I’ll give it another shot”.
I might again if some great roles came up but there aren’t many great roles for a guy who’s….38…so you don’t know, so you just never say never.
Unless I do Bucket List 2!
Q: Did Nelson Mandela see the film and what was his reaction?
MF: He smiled a lot and nodded. When I first came on screen, he leaned over to me and said, “I know this fellow!” I got the impression that he wasn’t embarrassed.
Q: If you weren’t talking to him, how did you research the part and what was the most challenging part? The posture? The accent?
MF: The most challenging is the voice. Everything else was easy and fell into place. I’ve been watching him for years. Once I got the notion that one of these days I’d be playing him on screen, it became a case of just paying close attention to him every chance I got.
Q: You’re known for using very few takes in your movies, can you tell us a bit about that? And Mr Freeman, you’ve worked with a lot of directors, could you tell us who is your favourite?
CE: I don’t necessarily do one take, but I’m always trying to do one take. If that take works, I’ll print it. I think if you start doing 30, 40 takes, usually you’re lost somewhere and you don’t know what you’re looking for. And I like to think that I know what I’m looking for, whether right or wrong.
MF: I think Clint to be my favourite director because I respond very well to a one or two take director and he’s the most consistent in that area.
MD: Yeah, some people just collect a bunch of footage and then they edit it later and you definitely feel more protected when a director is moving on when you actually feel something happens and they’re watching intently.
Really cutting in camera is what Clint does and I’ve worked with few guys who do that and it gives you this real feeling of, as Morgan said, security because you know that you’re in very able hands and the director is watching the movie unfold and he’s getting what he needs to get and he doesn’t need to take 17 hours to do it.
Q: We were hearing what Morgan Freeman thought of Mandela earlier. Mr Eastwood and Mr Damon, did you meet Mandela and if so what did you make of him and if not, have you had any contact with him making the movie?
MD: I did meet him while we there and incidentally I heard him lean over to Morgan and say, “The guy playing Pienaar is fantastic!”
My wife and I bought our three kids with us and spent 10 minutes watching him bounce our babies on his knees and he was just absolutely wonderful with them and we have wonderful pictures to prove it.
CE: I met him on the same occasional Matt did and I thought he was equally as impressive as his was on film. He’s an extremely charismatic man and he had that million-dollar smile when he walks in the room, everybody else wants to smile with him. But I never really got a chance to talk to him very much.
Q: Looking back at your films to date, which was the biggest challenge as a director to make and why? Which of your acting performances are you most proud of?
CE: You know when you’ve done as many films as I have, you just keep going. I don’t look back and think too much about them. Unforgiven possibly, Letters From Iwo Jima is a film I like doing a lot. I loved anything with Morgan Freeman, which was several times, Matt Damon which is now for the second time.
Favourite performance, I don’t know. Once something’s done, it’s up to someone else to make a judgement on it; it has nothing to do with you. You can feel good, maybe you had a good time or maybe you had a headache. Either way, sometimes that leaves a lasting mark in your memory.
Q: Do you trust your instincts when choosing the subject for a film?
CE: Yes I trust the instincts. It was a story that I liked and it wasn’t people saying, “How do you feel about doing a picture about rugby?” I didn’t approach it as doing a picture about rugby. It was such a creative way to unify a country, a country that was in really deep trouble, on the brink of civil war. The rugby was exciting and it was fun to do, but if it had been Nelson Mandela and Texas Hold ‘Em poker, I suppose I still would have done it because I admire than man.
Q: Congratulations on the Golden Globe and Oscar Nominations. Could you tell us how important are these awards are to you?
MD: Well awards are really the only reason to make movies.
MF: Awards are just pats on the back. The main thing about awards and movies is the economic surge for the film.
CE: You’ve always got to remember when someone gives you an award that they could be wrong. And like Morgan says, it’s a pat on the back and you’ll take it and move on.
MD: But it is a good point that Morgan said. There is a lot of money in them.
Ten years ago to be one of the five Best Picture nominations meant $50 million dollars because people would look through the paper and look at which films had been nominated and go see those films, so there is a huge percentage that does actually matter in the real world for our jobs, I’m sorry to say.
Q: One of the biggest turning points in the film is when Pienaar visits Robben Island. I was wondering what effect that had on you?
MD: Francois might be a better person to answer this question. But I asked him exactly what he did – holding his arms out and hopefully that was exactly how it happened.
Q: Francois, would you like to comment?
Francois Pienaar: When I watched the movie with my two boys at the premiere, that scene where Matt walks into the cell, it is almost 100% how it happened for me.. I was the last guy to file past. And I walked into the cell and got this enormous emotion…I touched the walls and looked out of the bars and it dawned on me how generous Nelson Mandela was and is and his humility because he sat there for 17 years and he came out and embraced everyone in South Africa.
So when I watched that scene, my two boys looked at me and said, “Daddy, are you ok? Daddy, are you ok?” – There were so many emotions.
CE: It’s very emotional when you go into a little cell that doesn’t even have a toilet in it. To think that someone spent 17 years of their life in there, cracking rocks or just digging in salt mines out there is a little bit overwhelming. And to come out and been as open, as magnanimous as forgiven as he did is almost impossible to fathom that. In the spirit of Josey Wales, I could never have been like that.