NEW YORK - As one of Hollywood's most honored figures, Clint Eastwood can be selective about his on-screen company - and for "Gran Torino," which opens Christmas Day, he didn't choose a group of people making their film debut. He chose a group of people making their acting debut.
Eastwood went with a group unknown, untrained actors for his latest film (with a screenplay by first-time scriptwriter Nick Schenk).
The Oscar and Golden Globe winner also stars as Walt Kowalski, a bigoted retiree who has trouble accepting his changing Detroit neighborhood, but is forced to reassess his prejudices when he becomes a hero by defending the family next door from a Hmong gang.
Like his character Walt, Eastwood said he, too, is ever-changing and learning.
"The real lesson that you learn is that it is amazing that you still can learn," the 78-year-old actor explained. "Aging can be fun if you lay back and enjoy it."
Eastwood spoke about "Gran Torino," Angelina Jolie, the election and his recent war of words with Spike Lee.
Q. The principal actors in "Gran Torino" were first-time actors. Did you feel you were taking a risk casting them?
A. Yes, I was taking a chance. I felt that was the only way to do it. There certainly weren't many Hmong actors. There was only one that I know of.
It is very obscure for us. We don't know a lot about that group of people and that is what made it interesting for us.
Q. Is "Gran Torino" your last acting film?
A. I don't know. I never think of retirement, really. The only reason I ever thought about retiring from the front part of the camera as opposed to the back is sometimes you think, "How many roles are there for someone my age?" I enjoy working. . . . I keep working because I learn something new all the time.
Q. Have you ever felt pressure to have plastic surgery?
A. I think being able to age gracefully is a very important talent. It is too late for me. The horse is out of the barn. We don't need to worry about that [plastic surgery]. . . .
In past generations, people would try to play younger than they really are. My trick is, I don't try to play younger than I really am.
Q. You've seen firsthand the paparazzi that surrounds Angelina Jolie. If you were coming up in this time, would you have gone into acting?
A. I suppose. I like doing the process. Of course when you get to the franticness that she [Angelina] is at, at this present time, it is out there. It wasn't that way when I got in. . . . It has always been a little different for guys than it is for girls. Girls get in the glamour aspect of it. They get more attention.
Sometimes people get attention who haven't even done anything.
Q. Did you feel that Spike Lee's criticism for not having any African-Americans in "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Letters From Iwo Jima" was to gain attention for his own World War II movie?
A. Probably. I like him. I don't know him well. He did that a little bit when "Bird" came out. He said, "Why is this white guy making this picture about Bird [Charlie Parker]?"
The answer to that was because I was the only one who wanted to make it. Later he told me, "I didn't mean to say anything about that because I like your work."
Q. So, were you surprised when he criticized you again?
A. I just kind of thought, "What the hell?" Go ahead and promote your film and good luck with it, but don't try to make a racial thing out of it . . .
Yes, there are stories of black military in Iwo Jima, but this was a story about the guys who raised the flag and they happened to be white.
Q. You supported John McCain. Were you disappointed when he lost?
A. I met him years ago when he first came back from Vietnam. This was back when [Ronald] Reagan was the governor of California and he had a big function for all of the prisoners of war who were released. I thought he was a terrific guy, a real American hero. I didn't dislike the other man either.