Clint Eastwood, left, and director Robert Lorenz. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
Mileage and misadventure leave their marks, but we don't always notice the damage right away. Last Monday, for instance, Clint Eastwood had a realization that stopped him in his tracks just outside his bungalow on the Warner Bros. lot.
"Son of a gun," the 82-year-old muttered as he leaned over his beloved 1992 GMC Typhoon and dragged an index finger over the mysterious inch-long scratch marring the forest-green paint just above the grill.
A little later, sitting among the brown-leather shadows of his office, Eastwood seemed considerably less concerned about any dents in his reputation after his eccentric, meandering speech at the Republican National Convention late last month.
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"I didn't want to do the usual teleprompter thing.... I didn't know what the hell I was going to do," the genial star said of his spur-of-the-moment decision to use an empty chair as a prop representing President Obama. "If I had more time I would have organized more. Maybe, but I don't know."
As Eastwood related his tales of Tampa he nodded to the couch cushion next to him for effect even though it wasn't empty — it was occupied by Robert Lorenz, the director and co-producer of "Trouble With the Curve." The two have worked together since 1994 and when Eastwood said the Republican leadership "probably had a little apoplexy" during the speech, a winking Lorenz said he could feel their pain.
"That kind of sums up what it's like to direct Clint Eastwood," Lorenz deadpanned. "You never know what's going to come out. But at least you have an advantage of having an editor afterwards."
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The two laughed together, but during the interview (and an earlier photo shoot) there were moments when Lorenz's tight grin looked suspiciously like the silver-medalist smiles you see at the Olympics. If that was indeed the case it would be understandable — Eastwood's screwball speech might be a strike against "Trouble With the Curve" before the movie even gets up to bat.
The movie, opening Friday in Los Angeles, stars Eastwood as the cantankerous Gus Lobel, a baseball scout who may be in the last inning of his storied career as his eyesight goes out. He needs help, but it comes from the most unlikely source: his estranged daughter, Mickey, played by three-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams.
The tightly wound Mickey is poised to claim a corner office in her elite Atlanta law firm, but she risks that by following her dad to the bleachers of a North Carolina ballpark; the risk might be worth it if she can finally unravel the reason her widower father abruptly exiled her from his life years earlier. Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Robert Patrick and Matthew Lillard also star in the film, scripted by newcomer Randy Brown.
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No one is swinging for the fence more than Lorenz. The Chicago native has been the good soldier at Eastwood's side since coming on as an assistant director on the "Bridges of Madison of County," and although he received two Oscar nominations as Eastwood's producer ("Mystic River" and "Letters From Iwo Jima" were both up for best picture), this new project is a special moment — "Curve" is his feature-film directorial debut.
For years, Lorenz has spied one thing when he's looked to the horizon of his career: a waiting director's chair. The 45-year-old Chicago native said this script, with a mix of humor and heartache as well as themes of career pressure and family fractures, was the ideal project.
Even better, Brown's script presented a central role for a maverick spirit of advanced age and chronically bad attitude — in other words, a fastball down the middle for Eastwood the actor. The star was once the rangy, grizzled symbol of the Old West loner and then later the scowling agent of urban-street retribution, but now he is the embodiment of coiled geriatric rage.
Eastwood last appeared onscreen in 2008 in "Gran Torino" as Walt Kowalski, another man staring into the twilight with a scowl and clenched fists. "Get off my lawn," Kowalski snarled, adding a surprise late-career entry to the Eastwood catchphrase collection.
"There are certain things people enjoy seeing Clint do on the screen," Lorenz said. "You can make the characters different — and they are different — but there is a quality to the character that people enjoy seeing up on the screen, of course, so you don't want to run from that."
Eastwood punctuated Lorenz's thought: "They enjoy my unpleasantness."