Clint Eastwood has played cowboys and cops but turned down the biggest superhero and spy franchises in movie history. Incredibly, he was also the original inspiration for an iconic Keanu Reeves role.
The star’s extraordinary Hollywood career is examined in Clint Eastwood: A Life in Film on Sky Documentaries tomorrow. He’s also an Oscar-winning director and acclaimed composer and lyricist. It’s hard to imagine Cool Hand Luke himself ever losing his, well, confidence even when he was flatly rejecting two of the biggest and most iconic roles on the silver screen. In later years, the actor has shared his reasons for turning both down and, refreshingly in an industry with so many missed opportunities or bad decisions, his complete lack of regret. He also drily added: “That was a long time ago. I was a little more pumped.”
Eastwood said: “I can remember – and this was many years ago – when [Warner Bros. President] Frank Wells came to me about doing Superman. So it could have happened. This was when they first started to think about making it.
“I was like, ‘Superman? Nah, nah, that’s not for me.’ Not that there’s anything wrong with it. It’s for somebody, but not me.”
However, the Hollywood hard man had no issue with the genre and happily revealed his own love of comics and favourite character is Marvel’s Namor: “The Sub-Mariner, that’s the one I always liked. I had all of those comics when I was a kid.”
Even so, Eastwood happily admitted his reason for turning down the role was also motivated by protecting his own career.
When Superman eventually hit the big screen with Christopher Reeve, Eastwood was enjoying major success away from his cowboys and cops projects with the light-hearted Every Which Way But Loose (alongside orang-utan Clyde).
But, at the time and later, his main reservation (apart from the tights) had been that any such role risked overshadowing an entire career.
He said: “That was part of the consideration, a big part. Look at Reeve, he was excellent. That was a big factor. You get a role like that, and it locks you in a bit.
“True, I had the western genre and the Dirty Harry role, but everybody made westerns and did cop movies; they didn’t seem as bad.”
The star also explained that confessed he preferred more gritty roles, albeit with a large dose of superhuman flair.
Eastwood told the LA Times: “I always liked characters that were more grounded in reality. Maybe they do super things or more-than-human things – like Dirty Harry, he has a knack for doing crazy things, or the western guys – but, still, they’re not caped crusaders.”
Yet he also rejected a role that sounded exactly what he was looking for: “I was also offered pretty good money to do James Bond if I would take on the role. This was after Sean Connery left.
“My lawyer represented the Broccolis and he came and said, ‘They would love to have you.'”
Eastwood said he didn’t turn out down through fear of typecasting this time, or because it wasn’t his type of film: “To me, well, that was somebody else’s gig. That’s Sean’s deal. It didn’t feel right for me to be doing it.”
Sean Connery had actually announced he was walking away from James Bond after 1967’s You Only Live Twice.
Notoriously, George Lazenby stepped in for one film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, before shockingly quitting, partly through fear of typecasting and an inflated sense of his own career prospects.
Five decades later, when screenwriter Derek Kolstad originally wrote John Wick, the plan was for the retired assassin being really of retirement age.
Details were revealed in Edward Gross and Mark A Altman’s book They Shouldn’t Have Killed His Dog: The Complete Uncensored Oral History of John Wick, Gun Fu, and the New Age of Action.
In it, franchise producer Basil Iwanyk said: “The lead was a 75-year-old man, twenty-five years after being retired. It was the fun of watching Clint Eastwood kick ass.
“I thought, ‘Okay, there’s probably one or two names you could do this with: Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford.’ Other than that, I’m not sure how I put this movie together. But the tone of the script for John Wick was subversive and really fun. It has a very clear emotional through line and a great premise for an action movie.”
It’s a tantalising thought but then Keanu Reeves came into the picture and the rest is history.
It’s unlikely that would make Clint lose his cool either…