Clint Eastwood spoke at the Republican National Convention last night, talking to an empty chair on prime-time television as he chided President Obama, endorsed Mitt Romney as best man for the commander-in-chief job and summarized his positions by reiterating one of his signature movie lines: “Go ahead. Make my day.”
It was, as the Reliable Source noted, the “boldest backing of a Republican candidate by a Hollywood A-lister in a generation or more.” Given Eastwood’s insistence on not completing his sentences and speaking to an invisible Obama — which, naturally, now has its own Twitter feed — it also was one of the more bizarre celeb-political moments in recent memory.
Observers tweet-wondered what the heck was happening to the renaissance man whose films have earned 24 Academy Award nominations during the past decade alone. Broadcast commentators questioned whether Eastwood’s performance — which seems destined to be satirized by Bill Hader on “Saturday Night Live” — had overshadowed Romney’s big speech. And today, his fans and admirers — at least this one — may be pondering how this appearance will affect Mr. Eastwood’s image going forward.
Forget the rambling just for a moment and consider the politics. Eastwood is not known for being entirely, consistently aligned with the Republican Party throughout his career. While his words last night implied that he was one of those “close-to-the-vest” conservatives, his views have been more nuanced, with his political support having been thrown in the past behind both Republicans (John McCain) and Democrats (former California governor Gray Davis).
In an interview with GQ last year, in fact, Eastwood sat alongside his “J. Edgar” star, Leonardo DiCaprio, and sounded closely aligned with him on some, though not all, of his political views.
“I was an Eisenhower Republican when I started out at 21, because he promised to get us out of the Korean War,” Eastwood said. “And over the years, I realized there was a Republican philosophy that I liked. And then they lost it. And libertarians had more of it. Because what I really believe is: Let’s spend a little more time leaving everybody alone. These people who are making a big deal out of gay marriage? I don’t give a [expletive] about who wants to get married to anybody else! Why not?! We’re making a big deal out of things we shouldn’t be making a deal out of.”
“That’s the most infuriating thing — watching people focus on these things,” DiCaprio chimed in. “Meanwhile, there’s the onset of global warming and—”
“Exactly!” Eastwood broke in.
Frankly, Eastwood sounded more like Ron Swanson than Mitt Romney in that interview. Which is what has probably made it easy for his left-leaning actors to not be particularly concerned about the man’s politics. As DiCaprio said in that same interview, J. Edgar “Hoover allegedly belonged to no party. Just like us when we do movies — we belong to no party!”
Indeed, before Eastwood even uttered a word last night, a piece in the Atlantic warned us that whatever he said, “it would be wise not to take it too seriously.” Presumably his film industry colleagues will do the same, continuing to act like they all belong to no party when it comes to the business of making movies.
But the fact is this particular speech also comes at a moment when Eastwood already has hit some off-notes from an image-perspective. His last two directorial efforts, “J. Edgar” and “Hereafter,” have not been met with the same universal critical acclaim lavished on previous films such as “Gran Torino,” “Letters from Iwo Jima” and “Million Dollar Baby.” Some heads also were scratched when he decided, along with wife Dina Eastwood, to allow his family to become the subject of an E! reality show. He may not have lost respect on a significant level, but his choices may be inserting an Eastwood question mark into some people’s minds that didn’t exist there before.
Will any of these unconventional decisions affect the box office of his next film, “Trouble With the Curve,” or a studio’s interest in working with him on the Eastwood project that follows? Probably not. But then again, Eastwood is proving that it’s really hard to predict what’s around the corner for him.
Maybe that’s by design. Maybe more than anything else, he’s trying to demonstrate to the American public that he’s going to be whoever he wants to be and that we should spend a little more time leaving him, as well as everybody else, alone.
Given the social media response to his performance — which played like the weirdest buddy comedy ever (“Clint Eastwood and an empty chair star in “Every Which Way But Politically Savvy”!) — it doesn’t look like people are quite ready to leave him alone. Not just yet.