TORONTO — Screen legend Clint Eastwood unveiled his new drama Hereafter at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday, and recalled another premiere in the city over four decades ago.
“I came here originally (for) the first appearance I made for A Fistful of Dollars 46 years ago,” Eastwood said in an interview, looking trim and relaxed in grey pants and a light-coloured golf shirt.
“United Artists thought, at the time, that because Toronto (had) a large Italian population and (the film) was made by an Italian, Sergio Leone, that this would be a great place to come…. We opened it downtown in a theatre — I think it was probably about half full…. There’s a great nostalgia there.”
Eastwood, 80, has not premiered a film at the Toronto International Film Festival since 1990, when he was here with White Hunter Black Heart.
He said there’s no particular reason why he finally decided to return to Toronto, noting simply that the fest here is “well thought of” and that “it seemed like the thing to do.”
“I’m glad to be here because you do get a lot of people who are very interested in cinema here in Toronto and that’s nice,” he said.
Hereafter stars Matt Damon as a blue-collar worker with a special connection to the afterlife. Three parallel storylines unfold in London, San Francisco and France, all involving characters who have lost loved ones or had brushes with death.
The film opens with a spectacular rendering of a tsunami (Eastwood’s biggest foray into special effects to date), but after that mind-blowing sequence, the story unfolds at a slow and thoughtful pace.
Eastwood said he is drawn to that type of measured storytelling.
“In this MTV generation that we live in, I think it’s something that I still like to embrace,” he said.
“That we actually unfold the stories and get to know the people and get to know a little more detail about them, rather than play to the common denominator or the lack of attention span that sometimes people feel goes on now.”
Damon’s character is at the centre of the film — a no-nonsense psychic who regards his powers as a curse rather than a gift.
Eastwood and Damon forged a bond while filming the 2009 apartheid drama Invictus.
Asked why he wanted to work with the actor again, Eastwood joked: “I’ve asked myself that question many times,” before adding that he’s long been a fan of Damon’s work.
After a long and varied acting career, Eastwood, of course, has become a prolific director in recent years, helming Oscar contenders including Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby and Flags of Our Fathers.
Still, the plain-spoken movie-maker — who could be heard playing piano in the hotel lobby before a series of media interviews — gave little insight when asked how he creates such cinematic magic, chalking it up to “intuition.”
Damon said Eastwood just makes it look easy.
“I think it’s like any great artist or musician. It seems very simple and of course it’s not because it’s years of plying his trade…. Things feel intuitive but they’re not.”
Asked what he learned from working with Eastwood, however, Damon begged off.
“Too numerous to count,” he said. “TNTC.”
“The great thing about making movies is you can’t perfect it,” he added. “It’s like golf or one of those things. It’s just really fun because you learn something every single time out, whether it’s working with a great director or whether it’s working with a schmo, and you learn what not to do.”
The weighty subject matter of “Hereafter” has many observers suggesting that Eastwood is contemplating his own mortality. The director, however, said he doesn’t really have any theories about the afterlife.
“I’ve talked to people who claim to have had near-death experiences and they paint a similar picture, but I don’t know. I mean I just haven’t been there,” he said.
“And I don’t intend to go there before my time.”
“Hereafter” is slated for release on Oct. 22.