Clint Eastwood's appearance last month at the Republican National Convention will undoubtedly go down as one of the more amusing moments in the 2012 presidential campaign. His performance-art speech with an empty chair also qualifies as one of the most unusual methods employed by a film star to get himself in front of millions of viewers just weeks before his new movie is set to open in theaters.
Was the timing coincidental? Maybe. Either way, the move has put Eastwood's name on everybody's lips, and what do you know, this week the modestly scaled film "Trouble With the Curve" arrives with Eastwood channeling a grizzled Major League Baseball scout who reconnects with his estranged daughter, played by Amy Adams.
The movie is notable for the fact that Eastwood is not directing this one — the first time the 82-year-old has appeared on film for another director since 1993's "In the Line of Fire." Instead, the job went to his longtime producing partner and Chicago native Robert Lorenz.
After a long career working his way up through the ranks, Lorenz joined Eastwood's team nearly 20 years ago as an assistant director on "The Bridges of Madison County," and the pair have worked closely together ever since and share Oscar nominations for "Mystic River" and Eastwood's two Iwo Jima films. "Trouble With the Curve" marks Lorenz's debut as a director.
"It really wasn't my intention to make a movie with Clint starring in it," he said over lunch last week. "I want to set myself apart and set up my own style. He's let other people in his organization direct before and some had their own vision. In other cases it felt like, well, we'll just let someone else drive for a while. I didn't want to be locked into that category. And there was also the concern that he might want to — or insist on — imposing his own style."
Lorenz has a very calm, measured way of speaking that has probably made him well-suited to collaborate with Eastwood's unflappable king-of-the-hill mentality. "He's a fun guy to work with," Lorenz told me, "but I often say, it's not that there's no ego on Clint's set, it's just that everybody knows who's at the top, you know?"
You can see why Lorenz might want to move out from under Eastwood's shadow for his first project as a director. And yet there, in his hands, was a script with a role that Eastwood could actually play. And really, if you have a special in with Clint Eastwood anyway, wouldn't you at least try to get the guy for your movie? "It's so perfect for him, and not many other actors could be in that role and attract an audience. And he liked it. I can't say that he would have made it if I wasn't involved. Maybe he wouldn't have. I don't know."
Born in the city but raised in Rolling Meadows (where he attended high school in Palatine), Lorenz said he knew as a teenager that he wanted to make movies and studied film at the University of Iowa before returning home to Chicago the summer after graduation. "I knew I had to go to Los Angeles. So I worked for the summer here downtown in a lot of these buildings as a janitor to make money. And then I packed up my car and drove out there. I chose Los Angeles because I thought, if I run out of money, I can sleep on the beach."
His first paying gig was as a production assistant making $250 a week on a Roger Corman movie called "Watchers II" in 1990. Today he is one of the key people running Eastwood's production company. "It's a low-key organization. There's not many people there. We've got an assistant. Then the two of us. And that really makes up the core of the company, with his agent and his attorney. Clint is very much his own man, his own artist.
"We don't agree on everything. We don't agree entirely on film styles or politics or those sorts of things. But we both love moviemaking, that's where we bond. I knew exactly how I wanted to shoot this. If I had shown any uncertainty, he might have felt compelled to step in. And I don't fault him for that. There were a couple moments where he had an idea and I had a different idea and everybody was sort of looking back and forth at us. But we worked it out. We did it my way."
And what did Lorenz make of Eastwood's speech at the convention? "I heard some rumors around the office that he was going to speak. I finally had to ask him about it because he didn't bring it up. I think he was afraid I'd talk him out of it, which I would have. It didn't surprise me that they were leaning on him to participate. And there were a lot of thoughts running through my mind watching it, let's just put it that way. I just hope the movie doesn't get hijacked into something else, because it wasn't meant to be political in any way. Everybody involved — Amy, Clint — we've all got very different political ideas, and yet we all came together and worked successfully together. Just keep in mind that we're all Americans and enjoy it for what it is. I didn't want to take too much on for my first project. I wanted to focus on making an entertaining, satisfying movie. That's all I wanted to do."
"Trouble With the Curve" opens in theaters Friday.
Analyzing an Oscar nominee
Aurora University's 2012-13 film series opens this week with a screening of 2011's "The Tree of Life," director Terrence Malick's expansive look at fatherhood, the meaning of life and the universe at large — a film tailor-made for a post-screening discussion led by a member of the university faculty. Admission is free. 7 p.m. Monday at Perry Theatre, 1305 Kenilworth Place, Aurora.
Born and raised in Chicago, actor Michael Madsen (brother of actress Virginia Madsen) comes to the Hollywood Blvd. Cinema in Woodridge and the Hollywood Palms Cinema in Naperville this weekend to host screenings of three of his films: "Reservoir Dogs," "Vice" and "Strength and Honour." Go to atriptothemovies.com.
Second City alum Antoine McKay and a team of fellow Chicagoans are looking to raise $75,000 on Kickstarter for a new comedy series called "Written Off" about "two newspaper writers who find themselves laid off, in debt and struggling to get back on their feet. It is hilarious, trust me," McKay says in the pitch video. The money will help fund the filming of a pilot that they hope will catch the eye of a network. I've seen McKay during his Second City days, and he is a proven comedic presence. Go to kickstarter.com and search "Written Off."
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