Growing up, Alison Eastwood says, she saw her dad mostly on sets. When she was 11, her father, Clint, put her in one of his movies, a substantial part as his daughter in the seedily gripping "Tightrope," in which Clint was a New Orleans cop and single dad with a taste for working girls who's on the trail of a serial killer who rapes and murders them.
The cop is both drawn to the sex trade in the French Quarter and a doting father at home. In a tense scene late in the 1984 film, Alison's character is found by her dad gagged and handcuffed on a bed, her legs bare. It's a sexualized shot, a slow pan over her prone figure, suggesting the possibility of a rape.
Alison Eastwood says her mother didn't read the script for "Tightrope" until after the film was made, and when she did she was horrified.
"She called my dad and said, 'What kind of movie did you put her in?' "
"I said, 'Well, she wasn't exposed to anything crazy,' Clint Eastwood recalled over the phone last week. "And it was a wonderful opportunity for me to be with her a lot."
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, October 27, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 53 words Type of Material: Correction
Eastwood films: A story in Thursday's Calendar section about Alison Eastwood's directing debut, "Rails & Ties," gave the first name of Clint Eastwood's producing partner, Rob Lorenz, as Bob. The article also said that Clint Eastwood and Lorenz won an Oscar for "Letters From Iwo Jima." They were nominated but did not win.
Eastwood's parents divorced when she was 6. Her mother is Maggie Johnson, whom Clint married in 1953, before he was famous, and divorced in 1980, when he was cranking out the vigilante films and had costarred with an orangutan in "Every Which Way but Loose."
"The one thing about him at that time, you know -- you say the word 'crap' -- but I think he was just more about cranking them out," Alison said last week. "And it was more about the quantity. And now he's all about the quality. And that's great."
Thus it made sense that when Alison was on the verge of directing her first feature, "Rails & Ties," opening in limited release Friday, she went back to one of her father's sets.
In this case it was in Barstow, where Eastwood was shooting "Letters From Iwo Jima."
"He said, 'Why don't you come out and watch your old man work?' And that was it -- I went out there for three or four days. . . . And instead of being the daughter who comes to visit the dad, or the actress who shows up to do a film, I got to just go out there and watch him work and focus on what he was doing."
"Rails & Ties" is hardly a light film, nor prosaic; much of its drama lies in the unsaid. It is also, conspicuously, a family affair -- released by Warner Bros., her father's studio, and produced by Bob Lorenz, who shared an Oscar with Eastwood for "Letters From Iwo Jima." Moreover, the film's co-producer, cinematographer, production designer, editor and costume designer all worked on her father's most acclaimed films, including "Letters," "Flags of Our Fathers," "Million Dollar Baby" and "Mystic River."
"And that's bad?" Alison said, with a defensive laugh.
She was sitting on a sofa in the empty, swank lobby bar at Casa del Mar in Santa Monica on a gray Monday afternoon at the beach. Her dog Bean was in the car, adopted from a litter at the ranch outside Los Angeles where Eastwood keeps three horses.
At 35, the daughter has the father's gait -- lanky and unhurried, self-possessed, the girl she was in "Tightrope" all grown up. Her scrubbed look is East Coast boarding school, though she's earthier than that, warmer; the boarding schools were in Monterey and Carmel.
Her Wikipedia entry suggests Paris Hilton light; a drunk-driving arrest is made to sound like an accomplishment. She dropped out of Santa Barbara City College and has been a Paris model and a film actress. At age 30 she posed nude for Playboy.
The director title before her name now conjures up a different kind of Hollywood privilege: adult daughter of royalty who's flamed out on screen and trades up on the Eastwood name to get a kick-start as a director.
"She found her own feet, but I just tried to recommend the people," Clint said. "She was free to hire whoever she wanted."
Eastwood, for her part, understands the nepotistic undertones of the project but says: "I'm not ashamed of using whatever resources I have. Because that's how a lot of people get their foot in the door."
Indeed, she is hardly the first, nor the last, offspring of the establishment to use her considerable connections as a wedge. It's the quality of the films that have ultimately become a gauge of Sofia Coppola, who began to erase the taint of being daddy's little girl (vilified as Mary Corleone in "Godfather III") by directing her first feature, "The Virgin Suicides," on which her father, Francis, was on hand as a producer.
Clint Eastwood's name does not appear on the credits of "Rails & Ties"; Alison said his only involvement was to help her arrange for the inclusion of people who were drawn to the project anyway.
"Marcia and Kevin didn't get paid much, not close to their normal fee," she said, referring to costars Marcia Gay Harden and Kevin Bacon. "They believed in me and my vision. . . . They weren't doing Clint a favor; they were coming on because they thought it was worthwhile and a good project for them."