Thought-provoking supernatural drama Hereafter tells the story of three individuals linked by death and its effect on their lives. Starring Matt Damon, Cécile de France and newcomer 12-year-old twin brothers Frankie and George McLaren, and directed by Eastwood, the film reveals three very different encounters (and, in one case, interaction) with the afterlife and the resulting impact. Already released in the US, audiences have been polarised by the movie; you can make your mind up this week when it lands in UAE cinemas. Here, Eastwood takes us behind the scenes and talks about getting to grips with the project.
How did you initially become involved with Hereafter?
[Executive producer] Steven Spielberg called me one day and said, ‘I have a script I’d love to send over to you.’ And I said, ‘Fine, send it over.’ He and I had worked together on a few other projects. I read it and I liked it. So, I just called him back and said, ‘I’ll do it.’ There were a few little ideas I had, but I just put those in the back of my head. I thought it was good the way it was. Most religions seem to ponder the afterlife, but this was interesting because it wasn’t really a religious project. Whether you believe in the afterlife or the chance of this near-death experience and you come back and have some memory of it – whether that has happened or not, I don’t know, but certainly, I think, everyone’s thought about it at some point or another. And it’s a fantasy that if there is anything out there like that, it would be terrific. But that remains to be seen.
Within the film, there is an extraordinary tsunami sequence. How did you go about creating that?
It was very difficult to do. I kept having fantasies of huge hoses and people, thousands of gallons of water running down the streets and what have you. So, I figured that would be prohibitive. Where would we do that? In the old days, I suppose, you would have done that on a set and you’d have done little set pieces and turned a lot of water loose. But with today’s computer-generated elements, you could go ahead and do it, even though water is probably the most difficult thing to do on a CGI basis. But we went through it and figured out what shots we’d need to do live, then we did it, though it took a lot of different places. We had Cécile in a tank in London for nine hours without getting out too much and she had to have a skin replacement afterwards. [Laughs] But then we went to Maui and shot in the ocean and on the streets of Lahaina.
There are two young brothers in the film, one of whom plays a ghost. What was it like to direct children through what must have been quite traumatic scenes?
The interesting thing with child actors is that they are such naturals. Most kids are acting all the time. They’re imagining. They’re out in the yard playing and they’re imagining things happening and they can get very vivid. When I looked at the people for this picture, young kids, I picked the two that were the least experienced. In fact, they’d had no experience. They’d never been in film before. But they had the faces. I believe if you cast a film correctly – with professionals or with amateurs – you’re 80 per cent there. If you cast a film incorrectly, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.
As a director, you’re known to shoot rehearsals. Was it different this time, with some of the actors speaking French?
No. I love to shoot rehearsals because I’m always curious about watching actors the first time they run it across their mind, thinking it out. Actually, an actor learns all their lines at home and learns a certain approach to a sequence, but I still want to just see them run over it the first time. Sometimes I’ll try that, or I’ll tell them to rehearse it but don’t ‘do’ anything, just talk it. I love spontaneity. It doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes you need more time, depending on the performer.
Have you ever had any near-death experiences?
Everybody’s had some kind. I remember when I was very young, my dad was taking me into the surf on his shoulders and I fell off and I can still remember today, even though I was probably four or five years old, the colour of the water and everything as I was being washed around in the surf before I popped to the surface again. But at that age you don’t think too much [about whether you were close to death or not]. Years later, when I was 21, I was in a plane. We landed off the coast of California in the winter, and as I was going into shore I [couldn’t stop] thinking: should I be thinking about my demise? But, as I saw lights in the far distance, I thought: ‘Somebody’s in there having a drink and sitting next to a fireplace. I just want to be in there.’ [Laughs] So, I had this determination to make it there safe. I said no to death! But there was no sense of fate out there or anything like that. I don’t think you get a chance to think that much about [death, when it’s really upon you]. When you get that much of a chance to think, you’re usually going to be okay.
Hereafter is in cinemas now. Click here for our review.
Clint in numbers
We’ve got Mr Eastwood’s vital stats
2 Inches shorter after suffering back problems in recent years. He now stands at 6ft 2ins.
3 Number of films in which his character has died. Until 2008’s Gran Torino, he had only died in Honky Tonk Man and Beguiled.
10 Number of Oscar-nominated performances he has directed.
35 Number of films he has directed.
66 Movies in which he has starred since joining the film industry in the ’50s.