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ON LOCATION : One Directs, the Other Doesn't : Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner both have Oscars for directing, box-office muscle and the Hollywood clout that goes with it. So what made them want to share the chores--and the spotlight--on an upcoming thriller?

July 11, 1993|JOE LEYDON | Joe Leydon is the film critic for the Houston Post

BASTROP, Tex. — The scorching Texas sun is merciless, but Clint Eastwood isn't complaining, not as long as it remains unobscured by the bruised-looking clouds drifting ominously nearby.

In the middle of a rolling field a few minutes out of Austin, beneath a picturesquely crooked tree that suggests Mother Nature is one terrific art director, Eastwood is focused on a fake-bloodied Kevin Costner, who's half-sitting, half-reclining against the trunk. Costner is supposed to appear gut-shot and has been generously daubed with enough sticky liquid to make a visitor wonder if George Romero, not Eastwood, is the director in charge.

"I think I'm stuck to this tree by now," Costner cracks. "I think when I get up, I'll just carry it with me, like I'm on my way to the 12th Station of the Cross."

Eastwood responds with a tight-lipped smile and a sympathetic nod to indicate that he, too, would like this arduously long scene, the emotional climax of "A Perfect World," to be over. But the scene is much too important to be rushed, even if taking enough time to get just the right take means risking yet another rain delay.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 18, 1993 Home Edition Calendar Page 87 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 17 words Type of Material: Correction
John Lee Hancock wrote the screenplay for "A Perfect World." An incorrect name appeared in some editions last Sunday.

And besides, even if both men wanted to hurry, there would still be the matter of Costner's young co-star, newcomer T. J. Lowther, a fresh-faced, Utah-born 7-year-old with an attention span that can be measured in nanoseconds.

"You're walking too far away, pard," Eastwood tells the youngster, doing his level best to sound more cheery than admonishing. Then, to lace the understated criticism with humor, Eastwood adds, with just a hint of a smile: "Did you have a vodka and tonic for lunch or something?"

T. J. giggles, and, just a few feet away, his mother smiles. The mounting impatience--Eastwood's, Costner's, just about everybody's--is palpable, like the sudden chill of a summer breeze. But no one gives voice to it; everyone smiles.

Next take: Costner speaks to his young co-star, pointing off to a helicopter that's supposed to be hovering in the distance. "See, Phillip," Costner says, using the name of T. J.'s character, "dreams do come through. There's your rocket ship."

In actuality, the helicopter (which will be filmed much later) contains not friendly aliens, but Texas militia. Costner's character, Butch Haynes, is an escaped convict who has taken Phillip hostage during his fugitive flight.

After a series of sometimes humorous, sometimes harrowing misadventures, Butch now lies seriously wounded in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a small army under the command of Texas state lawman Red Garnett (Eastwood himself, in a key supporting role). Phillip stands by him, still wearing a Halloween costume--Casper the Friendly Ghost--that he swiped from a dry-goods store while on the run with Butch. With his mask on, the boy looks like some benign nether-worldly messenger, come to carry away the fallen convict.

What Eastwood is shooting right now is meant to be a tearful parting. T. J. is supposed to walk away, hands raised, off into the direction of the waiting lawmen, leaving Costner behind to crawl away in a last desperate bid for escape. The emotions of the scene might make it a daunting challenge for even the most experienced actors. For a newcomer like T. J., it's even more difficult. And more time-consuming.

Eastwood tries giving direction ("OK, put the mask back on! Slowly! Yes!") while the camera is running. T. J. does what he's told, well enough for some of the take to be usable. But Eastwood wants to try again.

"You just need a little bit more enthusiasm than that," Eastwood tells the boy in a calm, encouraging voice. "Not a whole lot. But a little bit."

With that, Eastwood walks around the tree, making his way back toward the camera. Unfortunately, he's not quite careful enough to avoid-- wham! --a low-lying branch that smacks him right in the forehead. Suddenly, he lets loose with an enraged roar of R-rated expletives that makes everyone on the location snap to attention. Then, an awkward silence.

It's quickly ascertained that Eastwood isn't seriously hurt. Better still, he isn't even scratched, meaning there will be no editing-room problems matching scenes he'll be in tomorrow with scenes he was in last week. Costner takes the cue and tries to defuse the situation with a wisecrack: "Wow!" he remarks with deadpan ingenuousness. "We nearly had a continuity problem with Clint!"

No one laughs louder than Eastwood.

"A Perfect World," which Warner Bros. has tentatively slotted for a December release, has been filming in and around Austin since late April. According to producer Mark Johnson--who, along with Baltimore Pictures partner Barry Levinson, first optioned John Lee Hancock's screenplay--shooting was originally slated to begin in February.

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