Clint Eastwood, an actor and director whose body of work encompasses some of the most enduring and iconic films of all time, has not been in front of the camera since his 2004 Oscar®-winning film, Million Dollar Baby.
"I hadn't planned on doing much more acting, really," he says. "But Gran Torino had a role that was my age, and the character seemed like it was tailored for me. And I liked the script. It has twists and turns, and also some good laughs."
For his moving performance in the film, Eastwood recently won the Best Actor prize from the prestigious National Board of Review.
Warner Bros.' Gran Torino centers on Walt Kowalski (Eastwood), a bigoted, cantankerous man. He lives alone with his dog in a neighborhood that has gone from middle-class and lily white to working class and Hmong—the little-known culture from Laos and other parts of Asia that allied with the U.S. during the Vietnam War. One such immigrant family lives next door to Walt and he is far from happy—especially when their sixteen-year-old son Thao's involvement with local gang bangers disturbs Walt's routine. After the teenager tries to steal his vintage car, Walt takes action.
Screenwriter Nick Schenk says the character of Walt Kowalski wasn't written with a specific actor in mind, noting, "Walt's a little bit of everybody's shop teacher, or even your dad when he's watching you reassemble your bike and screwing it all up. I think everybody knows someone like that."
Walt, who slings racial slurs like most people use nouns and verbs, appears to be an unrepentant racist, but as he makes tenuous human connections with the Hmong people that have moved into his neighborhood, the layers of hostility peel away. "Walt did things in Korea that haunt him, and he sees those faces in his neighbors," Schenk remarks. "To Walt, all Asians are the same, all mixed in a blender. And so it just happens that here's another culture that has no face, and as he learns more about them, he begins to reflect on what happened to him in his own experiences in Korea."
Producer Bill Gerber notes that Gran Torino bears echoes of the relationships explored throughout Eastwood's body of work. "Clint has always dealt with complex issues of race, religion and prejudice in an honest way, which can sometimes be politically incorrect but is always authentic," he says. "But because of your familiarity with Clint, you understand that there's more to Walt than what's on the surface. You start in a fairly dark place, and then you begin to see who he is underneath."
With Gran Torino, Eastwood adds Walt Kowalski to his legacy of indelible characters. "Clint is always interested in progressing and not doing something that he has already done," producer Robert Lorenz reflects. "This script seemed to offer just that. It suited him in terms of his age and his character, and it seemed to draw from his past, his life as Dirty Harry and the outlaw, the hard-edged, uncompromising character. And yet it advances further. It takes him into a little bit darker territory, but also allows him, through his character's redemption, to explore something new."
Opening soon across the Philippines, Gran Torino is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.