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By early August, barely two months after returning from South Africa, Eastwood has already finished a first cut of Invictus, save for some 600 visual-effects shots that would be finessed before the film's release earlier this month. At the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, on the film scoring stage that bears Eastwood's name, a large orchestra is recording the Invictus score — a simple piano melody, plus some traditional African choral music and a couple of original songs. Toward the back of the stage, Eastwood gives occasional notes on the placement of a cue but mostly nods his approval as sound and image come together before his eyes.
Already, there is much discussion about Eastwood's next movie, Hereafter, which began shooting in early fall. Based on an original script by The Queen and Frost/Nixon writer Peter Morgan, the film links together three stories, each in some way about the border between life and death, this world and the next. (Invictus costar Matt Damon will play an auto factory worker who was once a spiritual medium.)
"It's unexplored terrain," Eastwood tells me when I ask what drew him to the material, and indeed, though he has twice cast himself as something like an angel of death — in the existential westerns High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider — he has never made a film on an overtly supernatural subject. "I liked the way Peter Morgan incorporates real events like the [2004 Indian Ocean] tsunami and the terrorist attacks on London into a fictional story," he continues. "Also, there's a certain charlatan aspect to the hereafter, to those who prey on people's beliefs that there's some afterlife, and mankind doesn't seem to be willing to accept that this is your life and you should do the best you can with it and enjoy it while you're here, and that'll be enough. There has to be immortality or eternal life and embracing some religious thing. I don't have the answer. Maybe there is a hereafter, but I don't know, so I approach it by not knowing. I just tell the story."
Two weeks later, early on a Friday morning, visual effects supervisor Michael Owens has a batch of effects shots from Invictus' climactic World Cup Final ready for Eastwood's review. What appears on the screen scarcely seems to be computer-generated. Sweat and dirt have been added to the Springbok uniforms, as have blood and bruises to the players' faces. "Grub 'em all up," Eastwood says enthusiastically, noting that such digital wizardry has alleviated the need for time-consuming makeup touchups during shooting. In addition, a film-processing error that had caused the Springboks' green jerseys to appear brown has been corrected. Owens acknowledges that there was a steep learning curve involved in bringing the director into the CGI era. Yet Eastwood has made the leap, and Owens has become one more indispensable player on the filmmaker's team.
"There's a selfishness to it," Eastwood says when I ask him about his well-known loyalty to his collaborators. "They're all people I can depend on. They're people I don't have to start from scratch with just in order to be on the same wavelength with them. They know kind of where I'm headed, and so we just say a few things to each other and we can be sort of minimalistic as far as the intellectual discussion of things."
The next time I see Eastwood is on a brisk, slate-colored morning in early November, when I drop by Hereafter's London set. A small auditorium in central London has been converted into the fictional Center for Psychic Advancement for one of several scenes in which Marcus, a 12-year-old boy from an inner-city housing estate, attempts to contact his twin brother, Jason, who was killed in a car accident earlier in the script. Although Eastwood seems his usually relaxed self, there's a subtle tension in the air brought on by the tight time restrictions governing the use of minors on film sets. Marcus and Jason are played, respectively and sometimes interchangeably, by Frankie and George McLaren, identical twins and screen newcomers who have been learning as they go on the set. Eastwood, who has directed children many times before, confides that some days have gone more smoothly than others, and in contrast to the taciturn, hands-off directing style he favors with stars like Damon and Freeman, these nonpros bring out another side of the actor turned director: the patient, nurturing mentor. It's a curious sight indeed, the gruff septuagenarian legend with his arm around the diminutive preteens, literally walking Frankie through the paces of one shot and, a bit later, standing just off camera, breaking down the emotional beats for a close-up in which Georgie must show, without the aid of dialogue, that he is losing faith in yet another sham psychic. "You're starting to think this guy's another phony," Eastwood whispers, then, after getting a reaction he likes, "You're feeling like you want to get up and leave."
As the day nears its end, Eastwood and producer Rob Lorenz stand around a computer watching QuickTime videos of the latest effects shots emailed by Owens from L.A., where Invictus is being fine-tuned for its first media screenings.