Legendary actor-director Clint Eastwood can be compared to a bottle of fine wine — he just keeps getting better with age. Eastwood won over audiences and critics alike with the movie "Mystic River," directing both Sean Penn and Tim Robbins to Oscar-winning performances. “Today” host Katie Couric talked to the Academy Award winning film icon about his latest project, "Million Dollar Baby," that is currently in the running for five Golden Globe Awards.
Katie Couric: Congratulations. You must be pretty thrilled that this movie has been so well received, on the heels of "Mystic River," which was another huge critical success.
Clint Eastwood: Well, you're always glad when it's well received because you spent a certain amount of effort on these films.
Couric: And I was surprised to hear that this is based on a short story, that you could extrapolate such a textured film from something so short, actually.
Eastwood: Yeah. Well, it was a series of short stories by a fellow named F.X. Toole, who wrote a book called "Rope Burns," [which] has six short stories in it. And this is just one of them, "Million Dollar Baby." But this was the best one, at least the best one for a film.
Couric: You play Frankie Dunn, and he is — well, I guess you don't call him a coach. What do you call him, a trainer?
Eastwood: Yeah, a fight trainer in a beat up old gym in downtown Los Angeles. [He] loves poetry [and] is kind of very old-fashioned in a lot of ways. In fact when this young girl comes along and wants him to train her, he wants nothing to do with that because he doesn't approve of women fighting. He's sort of set in his ways, he and his partner, Morgan Freeman. So that's sort of the set up to the picture. And from there on, it goes into a story that it's quite uplifting and quite down-lifting at times.
Couric: I don't want to give too much away, but it does takes a very shocking turn, I think, because you do think it's going to be almost "Rocky”-esque in what happens to her. He does eventually agree to train "Maggie" and then something happens to her, which is well, indescribable, really.
Eastwood: I think it's kind of searching for families, people with dreams of success and trying to claw their way to the top.
Couric: And failures and disappointments.
Eastwood: And then failures, yeah.
Couric: I think it's a story of redemption, really.
Eastwood: Yeah.Couric: Because I think the thing that really ties the story together or gave it some meaning for me was a relationship that is so unfulfilled and unfulfilling for your character, which is he's estranged from his daughter. So I think Maggie, in many ways, becomes his daughter, right?
Eastwood: Yeah, she becomes his daughter, right, or his surrogate daughter. It's a love story, father-daughter love story. When I tried to sell the idea of making this film, everybody said, “Well, a boxing film, and a lady boxing film?” I said, “No, no, it’s not a boxing film, it's a love story.”
Couric: Tell me about directing this movie. I know you always get asked, you know, how hard is it to direct yourself and to kind of wear two hats?
Eastwood: I've been doing it since 1970, when I first started out. My thoughts then were I would do it, act a few more years, then maybe it would give me a certain...
Couric: Fall-back position?
Eastwood: Fall-back position, exactly. So the years have gone by and I've just done it quite a few times. So I'm still there, still there doing it.
Couric: The music, I mean, you composed the score, right?
Eastwood: Yeah, yeah. I wrote the score.
Couric: What don't you do?
Couric: We don't have to get into that right now. I want to read one review from the Los Angeles Times:
"Eastwood, despite his legendary no-nonsense style, has become a gift to director of actors. It's not just the exceptional work by co-stars Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman that stands out here. It's Eastwood's own performance, in some ways the most nakedly emotional of his 50-year career."
Do you feel kind of liberated that you can be, as an actor, almost freer to expose that side of you, or is that the most ridiculous question you've ever heard?
Eastwood: Well I think what happens, as you mature, you look great in glasses, by the way.
Eastwood: Yeah, very good.
Couric: It's that sort of naughty, secretary-librarian-teacher look you know, and the hair up and you think when I take them off and take my hair down, how naughty I look?
Eastwood: Maybe that's it. It's just a little thing.
Couric: Thank you. Thank you.
Eastwood: At this hour of the morning, naughty may not fit, but what the heck.
Couric: Okay. Hey, it works for me. Go ahead anyway.
Eastwood: Yeah. I think as you get older, you find you can play more things because you're moving to a different category. You play a certain thing as a younger man, playing action roles like I did. Then I moved out, and I kept trying to do different things all the time.
Couric: Well, it's great to see you, Clint. Again, congratulations on everything. Thanks for coming by.
Eastwood: Thank you, Katie.
"Million Dollar Baby" is playing in selected cities and opens nationwide on January 28th. And you can see if Clint walks away with a Golden Globe for Best Director Sunday night, on NBC.