From the archive: Norman Mailer meets Clint Eastwood in 1984

The novelist writes admiringly of the actor – even suggesting he’d make a good politician

On 29 January 1984, Norman Mailer met Clint Eastwood for the Observer Magazine (‘Mailer Meets His Macho’) and you know what you’re going to get when the pugilist of prose fesses up at the start: ‘I rarely liked a man so much on first meeting.’

Mailer had wanted him to play Gary Gilmore – the first man to be executed in the US after the death penalty was reinstated – in The Executioner’s Song (Tommy Lee Jones was cast instead). The pair met again during the filming of Eastwood’s latest Dirty Harry film, Sudden Impact – his first since 1976. After the critical and box-office failure of Honkytonk Man in 1983, which Eastwood directed and starred in, there was pressure for a safer bet.

Mailer defended Eastwood against criticism that he doesn’t really do much in his films – ‘A river-bank must brace itself to support the rush around a bend.’ Explaining how he arrived at his signature laconic style while working with Sergio Leone, Eastwood told Mailer: ‘I guess I finally got to a point where I had enough nerve to do nothing.’

Presciently, Mailer had Eastwood down as a potential politician. ‘I’ve seen an awful lot of presidential candidates,’ he told him, ‘and you’re one of the few people who could go far that way.’

Eastwood laughed it off, saying he couldn’t make promises he knew he couldn’t keep. He was elected mayor of Carmel in California two years later.

Perhaps in a sly reference to himself and his debut novel, The Naked and the Dead, Mailer wrote admiringly of Eastwood: ‘We are not supposed to get better once we are very successful.

‘He portrayed psychopaths who acted with all the silence, certainty, and gravity of saints. Or would it be closer to say that he played saints who killed like psychopaths?’ That’s the genius of Eastwood – you can project what you like on to him.

Contributor

Chris Hall

The GuardianTramp

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