In this in-depth interview, Sondra Locke talks about her life and career in a straightforward way. Why some things didn’t work out; Hollywood, directing, acting, her personal tastes in film, literature, her career choices, and the problems she faced when she chose not to walk away from a real life “showdown”. She also tells how she wrote her autobiography, The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly: A Hollywood Journey.
Although you don’t say it directly, many times you seem to find magic in the real world and not in movies, throughout the book. What’s your opinion?
I have certainly lived an unconventional life. For lack of a better word, magic has been a big part of it. When I was a child, movies seemed to provide that sense of magic. As time went on I began to see the magic in everyday life. Through my relationship with Gordon [my childhood friend and later husband] I witnessed many unexplainable and paranormal events, but also the very events of my life often seemed to defy the normal. I dreamed of being an actress in films and then one day WB held a nationwide talent search for an unknown actress to star in THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER, and I was swept away from a small town in Tennessee to Hollywood and an Oscar nomination. Even my relationship with Clint seemed for many years a product of magic. It was so unexpected. Even Clint himself was the last person I would have imagined myself romantically linked. It seems that all the big events in my life were not so much calculated and planned and pursued by me, but instead were dropped “on my doorstep.” It was up to me to respond… to be ready or not.
I am a big believer in “synchronicity.” I believe that signs and messages about life choices often appear to us in everyday ways. It’s up to us to “see” them and recognize their meaning. Often we are too preoccupied to pay attention. I have had more than my share of synchronicities, for which I am very grateful.
You worked with many talented people throughout your career. Is there someone you met and would want to work with, but for some reason or other, it never happened?
Most of the actors or directors I most admired were no longer working during the years of my active career and so I can’t say that there were missed opportunities I regret.
Who were the actors and actresses you’d like to work with?
I loved Ingrid Bergman, Vivien Leigh, Joan Fontaine, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart. It would have been amazing to have worked with one of them.
Which contemporary ones whose work you admire?
Today I really admire Ryan Gosling. He is incredibly versatile. Dustin Hoffman remains one of my favorites – from THE GRADUATE to MARATHON MAN to MIDNIGHT COWBOY, he remains brilliant.
You started your career when the studio system was crumbling and the seventies were arriving. The late sixties almost seem to be a marker. The seventies were much more open in terms of themes, creativity… did you notice this transition? What do you think about it?
My whole career was really tied to the studio system. Ironically I would have been more at home in the independent world, which didn’t exist at that time – at least not as we know it today. I think you are right that the 70s were years in which directors and producers had more power and control over the films made, but still the studios were the venues. I didn’t really experience Hollywood prior to the 70s and 80s so I didn’t note a difference in film production. After my first film, HEART, it was very difficult to find comparable roles. There were no real “youth market” films as there are today. The leading lady roles in screenplays were written for actress older than I. I was in my early 20s, but looked much younger and had just played a 14 year old. I was generally disappointed in the opportunities at the time.
Probably what most people want to know is what you’ve been doing professionally these last years. At the end of the autobiography, you mention you were about to direct a film with Rosanna Arquette, DO ME A FAVOR, and seemed to be in high spirits. You did direct it, and it was released in 1997. Then you didn’t direct again. By your own choice? You just wanted some peace and keep your distance from the Hollywood “game”? Or was there another motive?
DO ME A FAVOR [retitled TRADING FAVORS] was the last film I directed. I had hoped to continue my directorial career which had barely begun. I felt very at home directing, as if it were, more than acting, the thing I was best at. Unfortunately a combination of situations prevented that from happening. First, I was emotionally devastated from the years of fighting my legal battles, and had become somewhat jaded about the whole Hollywood political game: the endless, fruitless, meetings, the lunches, the general bs that rarely reflects the truth of what’s going on. Also, I realized that all scripts which interested me were not the films the studios wanted to make. My tastes were more geared toward the smaller, independent film, but I knew nothing about that arena as far as how to get a film made. As I said, I had “grown up” in the studio world. All my contacts were in the studio world. Raising money to make the smaller films is seriously challenging and something I knew nothing about. All this added to my difficulties in trying to move forward with my directing career.
However, most damaging to my future was the fallout with Eastwood. This was twofold. First, I had worked with him exclusively for so many years that I had not developed a network outside him and WB, his home studio. Second – and most important – was that his obvious enmity toward me had a surefire “blackball” effect. He didn’t even have to articulate that he didn’t want anyone working with me. They understood the situation. He was a very powerful figure in town and no one wanted to get on his bad side. Why bother? Why get involved? I will always believe that I had many fans in high places, but they were not willing to put themselves on the line. That is very expected in Hollywood.
There were a few scripts that came my way, but they were unable to get financed. Ironically, as I suggested earlier, my tastes leaned more toward the quirky, small film. That was one of the odd things about my career with Clint. His films were the opposite of the films I most admired or saw myself making. It’s apparent in my first directorial piece RATBOY. RATBOY should never have been a studio film. It should have been made for the indie market. When it came to the release and the marketing, WB did not know what to do with it. They felt I had done a good job as director and immediately put three other scripts in development for me, but RATBOY didn’t have a chance in the marketplace in the hands of a major studio. Actually RATBOY pre-dated the height of the indie market. It had not yet blossomed.
I still get scripts sent to me, but nothing extraordinary enough to motivate me to try and overcome all the obstacles to get the films made. And yet, I would say that today I feel unfinished professionally, both as actor and director. For many years I fantasized that a brave director would come along and offer me a role I couldn’t refuse, a role that would be as wonderful as the one that began my career. And, even more so, I fantasized about the perfect little quirky script with money attached that I would want to direct. Of course, neither has happened. At first, I felt very displaced, as if I had lost my identity. I had worked making films my entire adult life. It was work that I loved. It was my work as well as my pleasure. I was not a person who had other hobbies. Eventually I came to find the peace and beauty in my everyday life – my home, my gardens, my pets – and was able to walk away.
There seems to be a feeling of dissatisfaction with Hollywood at the moment, among some people, concerning the general quality of the films. They’re too “audience oriented”; too many remakes, super-hero adaptations, 3D, stupid scripts, and some pretty ridiculous films reaching theaters. It seems they’re recycling, over and over, for quite some years now. Do you agree? They just lost it? Why?
I agree with those who are dissatisfied with the films coming out of Hollywood. It is sad and disappointing because I love watching films nearly as much as I love making them. I think that it has become about “deals” and not about the material. There are no filmmakers running the studios – and few film lovers. It’s about the money – as if it couldn’t be about both. It seems many of the studio executives are lost when it comes to analyzing a script. Most of them only want to know what stars can be “attached.” And then, of course, they keep reaching back to what made money last year and the year before, and try to replicate. Never mind that it doesn’t work, even at the box-office.
Writer friends of mine tell me the worst stories about many of the executives they deal with. One friend is a great lover of old Hollywood films. He was talking about a few titles in a meeting with a studio executive. The executive hadn’t heard of any of them, but offered this, “I love old movies too. Did you see THE JUROR with Demi Moore!” That was an old movie to him, apparently. And it’s not about youth. There are many very young filmmakers and film lovers who know and love film history. It is hard to find art in the process anymore. For me, most of the best work is found on cable television nowadays. There are some incredible series: Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire.
If we look at your career, especially during the 70s, and even in the 80s, there were some roles in horror oriented films (in TV also). You mention you don’t like westerns. How about horror films?
I never thought of any of those films as “horror films,” although I can see why they might be considered so – especially Feast of Blood. I like horror films that are more psychological in nature. They are rarely made anymore. I thought the first Night of the Living Dead was terrifying – the group locked in the basement. Then the sequels lost that tension, because it became about MORE zombies and more blood. The horror film that haunted me the most was the original Exorcist; in particular, the scene in which the devil turns into the priest’s mother. That was so creepy to me. I had nightmares for a long time after seeing that film, and I’m a filmmaker who shouldn’t have been so susceptible! To the degree that I was in “horror” films, it was less about the choice of horror genre, and more about the individual role opportunity. I had high hopes for a little “horror” film I made, ultimately released under the title DEATH GAME. It started as MR. MANNNING’S WEEKEND. It was written by the screenwriter of PLAY MISTY FOR ME, and was meant to be another great psychological horror story. [The fact that Jo Heims had also written the Clint script was a coincidence; it was before I met or knew Clint].
My favorite horror film is Hitchcock’s PSYCHO. But my favorite genre in film is suspense. They are also rarely made. REAR WINDOW is probably my favorite. Another that I would want to mention is a little film, RETURN FROM THE ASHES, made by a director I admire, J. Lee Thompson. Its twists and turns are amazing.
I must mention THE INNOCENTS by Jack Clayton, the adaptation of Henry James’ TURN OF THE SCREW. This is perhaps my quintessential “horror/suspense” film. I am particularly attached to this one, because I actually played the little girl, Flora, on stage in Nashville Community Theater – before being discovered by WB – and Gordon played the boy Miles. It is strange, disturbing, horrifying, and suspenseful. All the great elements. I had so much fun playing the character. It was in a small “circle” theater [theater in the round] and so the audience was quite close. I could practically reach out and touch them.
The segment A Feast of Blood in Night Gallery is one of your favorites. It’s very short. Why did you like it so much?
I think that film remains dear to me because of the cast, Norman Lloyd and Hermione Baddeley. Norman is a wonderful actor who, for me, represented much of early Hollywood. He had worked with Hitchcock many times, and was a friend of his. I loved listening to his stories while we worked. I responded to all the settings in that film: the old restaurant bar, the dark back road I had to walk. Perhaps it was an early sign of my eye as a director that those aspects drew me.
Also, I enjoyed the opportunity to use an English accent. I recall the first day on the set when Ms. Baddeley said to me, “How long have you been in this country, dear.” I was thrilled to death. She mistook me for a fellow Brit! Then too, the character was a terrible “bitch” and I was rarely given the opportunity to play that sort of woman prior to the films with Clint. I was mostly seen as the fragile, sensitive type. Night Gallery also was one of my favorite series. It never achieved the fame of The Twilight Zone but is still loved.
About the “endless interviews” talking about yourself. You didn’t like them from the start. Why? What kind of questions made you so uninterested? Was it the general tone?
In those days I felt I had not experienced enough to merit discussion. I have always been naturally shy and don’t like talking about myself in general. I never minded when the interview was for the promotion of a specific film. Then, I could speak only of the film and my experience with the character, etc. Also, it seemed that I was always greeted with the same questions which didn’t interest me, or I felt silly answering.
I get a little embarrassed for actors who wax on and on about themselves, making their work and themselves seem so “important,” when it generally isn’t. So hyperbolic.
According to you, the book was “well suppressed by Clint Eastwood and Warner Brothers”. In what specific way (or ways) did they do this?
Several. First, I was shut out of most venues to promote the book, in particular the networks. Remember, Bob Daly [president of WB at the time] had, at one time, run CBS. The influence was there. I was told by my publisher that Oprah Winfrey wanted me to come on her show. As it was being scheduled, I was suddenly cancelled and Clint was set to appear on the show instead. At that time, and even rarely today, Clint had almost never appeared on such a talk show [or to my knowledge NEVER].
The gay magazine The Advocate was set to do a big article on my book, which was a natural because of Gordon being gay. Suddenly Clint was giving them an interview [never before had he even been open to such a magazine] and appearing on the cover and I was out ENTIRELY. Why could they not have run both pieces if indeed it was an innocent coincidence?
Liz Smith a very highly regarded and read NY columnist wrote a supportive rave review about my book – and me – in her column. When her column appeared in the LA Times [which it always did] the review and all references to my book were excised from it. The rest of her column was intact. WB had some sort of association [or certainly influence] with LA Times. I was told at the time what the connection was, but have forgotten.
E Magazine, a very well read entertainment magazine, also gave my book a rave review. It was pulled and a bad review appeared instead. I am fairly certain that WB had some financial involvement with E Magazine – perhaps they even owned it, I can’t recall. I actually read a comment about this by someone who had worked at E at the time. He or she wrote a review of my book on Amazon and mentioned knowledge of this happening. By the way, Gordon just told me that someone has currently posted a review on Amazon in response to that E magazine negative review of years ago. Synchronicity.
Then too, there was always the unspoken rule that most in Hollywood go with power. Don’t upset the apple cart. Stay out of the way of Clint or WB. Of course, this was always something I knew I had to contend with.
There may be other instances I don’t currently recall, but generally I was shut out of publicizing the book and so there was little awareness of the book to the buying public.
One would think that the publishing business has some sort of distance from the movie business. So how could they cross over and suppress a book? (Although WB has a publishing division of its own.)
I can’t say for certain how it works except as I mentioned above. Nothing in the entertainment world is completely separate.
How about translations and foreign markets? Europe, for instance. I think it would find its readers here. There’s a different perspective towards filmmakers. Was there any effort on your part or the publisher’s to have it translated?
Somehow there were no takers at the time on the foreign market. I’m not sure why but by then I was, in a sense, “done.” I had mostly written it for myself, which is one of the reasons I didn’t really consider “holding back” on everything that I felt. Also, I had accepted the fact that it was not going to get the readership that I had hoped, and my lack of knowledge of the publishing world kept me from knowing how to pursue it myself in any way. Then too, I was still preoccupied with the lawsuit against WB which was ongoing.
You mentioned in the previous article that you don’t really like biographies (just a few) and find them boring. Why? Is it because you know or knew the particular people these books mention and know firsthand it’s not authentic? Or is it a general boredom towards these books?
Perhaps it was an unfair comment. It’s generally the “auto” biographies which I avoid, because I suspect they were ghost written, and usually meant to glorify the subject. Biographies are often quite different. Of course, it depends on the author.
For instance, Richard Schickel has made a living off writing puff pieces and documentary films about Clint. As I know those times and that subject well, I know Schickel’s books are full of misstatements and downright fabrication, not only about me [with outrageous claims] but others. He glorifies, practically deifies, Clint.
You must have a good memory, as Joseph Strick said when you memorized the HUNTER script in 1968. You book is very detailed, the dialogues, everything. Did you keep a diary throughout the years? This is not a typical memoir. It really goes deep into everything.
I never kept a diary. I have a good memory, but especially for emotional or visual moments. Perhaps this again is the director/actor in me. I recall scenes as if they were in a film and can still see the actual staging in my mind. Of course, the dialog is paramount in my memory for the same reasons. I have forgotten many other details that were not accompanying powerful emotional moments.
Judging from your book, even actors mistake characters in films for themselves, it’s not only the audience who falls into this trap or ego trip. Do you agree?
Many actors, and even directors, see themselves as larger than life, can do no wrong. I think it often comes with the territory. I sometimes wondered if it is the egos that took them to the top, or being at the top, that turned them into ego maniacs! I recall having lunch with Robert Altman and a few other directors. I asked Robert if he always loved his films, or even the first cut of his films. He said, “Yes, always.” I told him that I could only see the faults and flaws in my work and his reply was, ‘Well perhaps you shouldn’t direct or act!”
I said nothing, only recalling the time I had visited George Miller on the lot at WB. I was editing RATBOY at the time and having a hard time liking my work [of course there were many reasons including the fact that I had not been “allowed” to make the film I wanted to make]. I asked him the same question as I later did Altman. Miller replied that he felt the same way as I do; he always hated his films, especially the rough cut. So, sometimes the ego is in check!
You mentioned, during an earlier conversation, that there was another “chapter of craziness” not included in the book. Chronologically, it’s at the end and involves more of those Eastwood maneuvers, after you settled out of court. Would you care to elaborate on that?
This is a little hard to remember, but here goes… First, they threatened not to give me the settlement check. I had agreed to one contingency ONLY and that is that I would not reveal the amount of the settlement. They tried to claim that I had broken my agreement, which, I think, was an oral agreement only. In any case, I did NOT break the agreement and have not to this day. Apparently some journalist guessed [and published] a figure that was close to the settlement amount and they tried to tie me to it. I believe this was nothing more than their attempt to harass and stress me at best. On the other hand, knowing Clint, it could have been an attempt to find a way to default on payment. I believe he will do anything for money.
After they finally acquiesced they then insisted that my attorney meet Clint’s attorney in some strange place in order to sign off and receive the check. I can’t recall the location but it felt like some scene in a spy movie.
I believe I was also referring to wishing that I would have waited to write my book until the WB lawsuit finished and settled, as that was an amazing journey in and of itself. I believe I did mention in postscript the fact that I won the appeal against WB in a unanimous decision by the appellate court. Also the three judge panel elected to PUBLISH their decision, which they don’t always do. Because it was a published decision it created new California law.
My favorite moment in this appeal litigation occurred when the court heard oral arguments from both lawyers. It was a solemn feeling setting. The courtroom was HUGE, and wood paneled. The three judge panel sat raised on a dais before us. They asked if anyone had anything to add – the lawyers were not required to give oral statements as the papers had already been filed with the written appeal arguments and had been studied by the judges. My attorney did NOT give an oral statement but the WB attorney did. My favorite quote from the WB attorney’s argument was, “You [the judges] CANNOT do this to Warner Bros!” WB above the law? The judges did not take well to his admonishing.
At the end of your book, you mention that you were in fact already writing it. And Eastwood’s lawyer knew about it and warned you it would be “libelous”. Which doesn’t make sense, as you state, because he didn’t know what you were writing. So you started it when you were still involved in that grueling court case. Was it by your own initiative, someone suggested you wrote it, or was it the publisher’s initiative?
He was only “fishing” to see if I would admit anything – as he did throughout the litigation. He knew nothing. As I recall, I had not started writing the book at that time. In any case, I refused to sign off on NOT writing one. I had started writing bits and pieces not knowing what I would do with them. It turned out that I eventually used this writing as a “proposal” to be submitted later to publishers.
I first took the “proposal” to a top book agent at William Morris Agency [my agency at the time, but also Clint’s agency]. She said she could not represent the book because of the agency’s tie with Eastwood. She went on to advise me NOT to write the book and said, “Sondra they will destroy you.” I replied, “They have already done that.” Later a friend read some of the proposal and said, “Sondra you are a really good writer. A friend of mine is a book agent. May I show it to her.” I said yes. I hired the agent, and a meeting was set up with Henry Ferris, a premiere editor at William Morrow, who was later the editor for Barack Obama’s book. He liked my proposal. We met and liked each other. William Morrow bought the book. They wanted it for Christmas release. I had 6 months to have it ready to go to press – with all corrections, photos etc. It was quite an experience.
Writing it was all I really did for those few months. I would get up in the mornings, head straight to my computer and write. As I have said before, the most difficult part was weaving together the two completely different parts of my life with two completely different men. Construction, construction, construction… emotion, emotion, emotion. Those were my guidelines. It was a VERY exciting time creatively and I enjoyed it almost as much as making a film.
You and Gordon Anderson liked Tolkien so much that you even called each other “Hobbit”. Tolkien was a big influence. Which other books have you read that influenced you? Throughout your life, I mean?
I loved the Tolkien books when I first read them. The images that dominated my mind were too powerful ever to have been captured in a movie and so I was disappointed with the films even though I think Peter Jackson is a very good director. HEAVENLY CREATURES is one of my favorite films.
I can’t say that my favorite books have actually influenced my life but I have been haunted by them. Growing up it was any and all fairy tale books that I loved. As an adult, Iris Murdoch is one of my favorite authors. Her The Sea, The Sea was the first I read and I was hooked. She had a rare ability to blend plot twists and turns with the most amazing psychological profiles of characters rich with texture. I could not wait to finish one before reading another. The Black Prince is my second favorite. Perhaps because I am an actress and director so concerned with detail and character. I love the depth of the psychology of the characters, all ringing true and never servicing the plot. Even though the plots in and of themselves are nearly unbelievable, she makes them believable almost magically.
Ann Tyler has also been one of my favorite authors. Her women protagonists are colorful and moving and very real.
I love Gabriel García Márquez. Magical realism is something I take as realism…. and I believe I have experienced in my own life. I believe in it and love exploring other stories based in that belief. Even Toni Morrison for me often falls into magical realism, and I love her writings.
Another side of me loves dark comedy – no matter how bad a situation, there is usually something comical about it, at least I find it so. And so, I love the writings of J.P. Donleavy. I especially loved THE ONION EATERS, and THE LADY WHO LIKED CLEAN RESTROOMS. There was much in “Lady” that I could relate to.
Did you ever feel you were bearing your soul or exposing yourself too much? Kris Kristofferson told Joni Mitchell when he heard the Blue album, “Jesus, Joni, keep something to yourself…” It reminded me of that, sometimes.
I didn’t think about it when I was writing, but afterward I had a few second thoughts – only briefly. Had I not told my whole truth what would have been the point? An acquaintance did say to me, “I learned more than I wanted to know.” But that’s okay. I considered it a compliment. Others who knew Clint said that I had been “far too kind” to him. That was also okay, as I had intended to paint pictures of the way things were at each given point in our relationship – mindless of what I KNEW was to come, putting away the feelings I developed out of the things that did eventually come. I wanted to portray the happiness, sadness, expectations of those moments in the time they occurred.
In your book, you say that, at a certain point, you felt the need for a more focused director than Eastwood. I wanted to know why specifically. It was his “cut, print” technique, this sometimes rushed way of filming?
Clint never really gave direction to the actors, certainly not to me. I was very much on my own. I always wondered how much better my performances might have been, had I had a director who really “worked” with me. Certainly Clint’s method of printing the first or second take didn’t give me time to “find” all the texture of the moment. Yes, very rushed.
On Sudden Impact I recall commenting to Clint about something in the decor of my character’s house. I felt it was out of character for her, and reflected a different sort of person. His response to me was, “If they’re [the audience is] looking at that, they are not following the movie.” To him, it was entirely unimportant. I disagree completely. To me – and perhaps this was another early sign of the director in me – a film is as good as EVERY detail put onto the screen. Like a painting, each and every detail adds up to create the total impression. Sometimes a thing works subliminally, but I believe it is all a solid and important part of the experience.
In my opinion, Clint does not so much “direct” a film as he “shoots a script.” He rarely develops or initiates a screenplay [perhaps never]. He buys a script and then shoots it literally. I would say it is not so much directing as “covering” the script. By that I mean he will “cover” a scene with all shots required to know what is going on, but doesn’t express an opinion or guide the audiences’ emotions or eye.
To my knowledge, Susan Sarandon was offered the leading part on Tightrope, but she questioned the sex and violence in the script as well as the mistreatment of women. Eastwood’s answer was: “I don’t think it’s my job to worry about that. I’m an actor.” She turned down the role. You suggested Geneviève Bujold for the same part. Some actors still object to his attitude towards women in some of his films, although most want to work with the “legend”. Any comment?
It is true that Susan was offered TIGHTROPE. I recall she did turn it down for the reasons you mention [sex and violence toward women]. But Clint was hardly considered a legend at that point. It was still during the years he was taken for granted as a good looking movie star, and a commercially successful producer, but no more. My thoughts about Susan are that she would have turned him down even if he HAD been a “legend.” I think she has made good choices in her career and believe she is a person of integrity.
I did suggest Bujold as I have always loved her work.
In what way do you think a director should be involved in the editing process? Marlon Brando said that a performance can be turned into “chicken feed” in the editing room.
In some ways the editing process is my favorite time. I can sit back and study each little nuance without production pressure. I like to feel the characters breathe. I cannot imagine a director not being involved in every moment of the editing process.
Actually I was not yet in court. I directed DEATH in the third and final year of my deal at WB . Of course DEATH was not a WB production at all. I was so depressed from not working for the two previous years that I hired a new agent. He suggested that I take a job in television, which I was allowed to do under my contract because it was not exclusive to WB. My agent came up with DEATH. I was so desperate to get back to work that I said okay. I filed my court case the following year in 1994 after going to WB and begging them to give me ONE film. They refused.
George Dzundza worked with you in Impulse (1990), with Eastwood in the same year, then we worked with you again in 1997. It must have been hard for him under the circumstances. He’s obviously a great actor.
I can’t say if it was difficult for George or not. It was certainly strange that Clint hired both him and Jeff Fahey right out from under me. As you say, they were both working for me when he cast them for his next film White Hunter Black Heart. He had never before hired them, nor had he even heard of them to my knowledge.
It was especially strange as Clint had bad-mouthed them to me when I originally cast them in IMPULSE. About George he said, “I don’t know why you want to cast him as a cop. He’s fat!” About Jeff he said, “Why would you cast that ‘pretty boy’.”
Your last credit as an actress was in The Prophet’s Game (2000). Do you have good memories of that? Why did you accept the role?
At this time I was very depressed as my career seemed over entirely. My feeling was that I was blackballed. The director David Worth is a friend of mine and he asked me would I consider taking the role as a favor to him. For both reasons, I agreed. It was not much of a role really, but it did have one good scene. I can’t say I have good memories. It was such a difficult time and I took the role for sad reasons.
OUR VERY OWN
There is actually a film about Sondra Locke, written and directed by Cameron Watson and released in 2005. The story is about five teenagers in Shelbyville, Tennessee who try to meet her when she’s returning to town for the local premiere of her big Hollywood movie. Although I didn’t ask anything about it, it came up during our conversation. I found it interesting. These are her impressions:
I was contacted by the writer director who asked if I would read the script and give my blessing which I did. I was very proud to have been such an inspiration to him. He also grew up in Shelbyville Tennessee. He was several years younger than I and was very affected by my “discovery” by WB as he himself had dreams. I became his inspiration. His film is about him and his group of friends who aspire to get out of the small town of Shelbyville and into the world. The story spins around the fact that “Sondra Locke” is rumored to be returning to Shelbyville for the local Horse Show Celebration. He and his friends spend the entire film trying to find me and see me, but always just missing me. In the meantime we learn all about their lives and dreams. It’s very sweet and charming.
I’m aware of the tremendous difficulties in independent filmmaking. Did you ever thought about going independent? What do you think about independent films?
Oh definitely. DO MY A FAVOR [or TRADING FAVORS] which I write about in my book was an independent made for under a million. There was one other screenplay that I really wanted to direct. It was brought to me by friends, Bill Teitler [producer] and Nancy Doyne [screenwriter]. I really loved the idea and the screenplay, but we were unable to raise the funds to make it.
It is a dark comedy about a couple in Southern California who go to a marriage counselor – when they don’t actually need one, it’s just the “thing” to do. The counselor herself turns out to be crazy and tries to break them up, ultimately kidnapping the husband! Very zany and funny but dark at the same time and a social comment on the mores of Southern California.
Do you like foreign movies?
Very much. Usually I like them better than American movies. My favorite films are either foreign or old Hollywood classics. I rarely love a current film. My two favorite directors are foreign.
Just to list some of my favorite films: I love George Cukor’s A STAR IS BORN. The opening sequence in the theater is as brilliant as any scene I’ve ever watched. Magnificently staged. Another brilliantly staged film is THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS by Orson Welles. The “dance” the camera does with the actors in the scene after the big party is breathtaking.
Other favorites are the recent LET THE RIGHT ONE IN [indelible], John Huston’s MOULIN ROUGE, Ingmar Bergman’s FANNY AND ALEXANDER as well as AMARCORD and NIGHTS OF CABIRIA. Hitchcock’s REAR WINDOW is absolutely one of my favorites. It’s perhaps my favorite Hitchcock – the setting, the sounds, the direction – the way it is always shot from Jimmy Stewart’s POV, keeping a distance from all the murder and horror. Very special.
I LOVE Kubrick’s LOLITA, and Mike Nichols’ THE GRADUATE. They are timeless.
Y Tu Mamá También is a film that has stayed with me.
I must mention a Magical Realism film I love, [the French film] HALF OF HEAVEN. (La moitié du ciel). And I can’t leave out BIUTIFUL directed by the brilliant Iñárritu and starring the gifted Bardem.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST by Cocteau is another of my favorite films in this category. I loved the Beast better than the Prince he turned into! The Beast seems to have so much more soul!
I cannot complete a list without the film that was the soundtrack of my life THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH by Cecil B. DeMille. It began in childhood when I saw this pure circus magic on the screen, and has followed me through symbols and synchronicities throughout my life.
Is there someone who influenced you as a director? Who are your favorites?
Probably my consistently favorite director is Krzysztof Kieslowski. I LOVE every single thing I have seen. His ability to tell a story classically, to use detail, to get inside characters is brilliant. He is never self conscious or pretentious, always emotionally engaging. He seems to know the exact place to put the camera and the editing is flawless. My favorites are RED [of course about the synchronicities that can guide life] and his DEKALOG. Naturally, I love THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE as well.
Perhaps my next favorite is Alejandro Iñárritu. His films BIUTIFUL, BABEL, and 21 GRAMS are stunning and unforgettable. [I would give my “eye teeth,” as they say, to work with him. My other choice to work with would have been Kieslowski, but sadly he has passed away].
Another favorite is Max Ophüls. My favorite films of his are LOLA MONTES, THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE, CAUGHT, and LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN.
My favorite currently working American directors are the Coen brothers. FARGO is pure and simply brilliant – my favorite of their films.
I’m a big fan of John Schlesinger. MIDNIGHT COWBOY, DARLING, and MARATHON MAN are my favorites.
Reading your book, sometimes it’s really like the expression Lock(e) and load. There are some powerful names in there which come out of it in shame. It must have been a big risk… it’s not gratuitous, they are part of the “story”. Did they react?
No one said anything to my face, but by the time the book came out I had mostly ended those relationships, or certainly understood their limitations and no longer cared what they thought. Like much in Hollywood, they were never “real” to begin with.
And how did readers and book critics react at the time it was published?
I’ve described a little about the critics. Generally I did get some good reviews, including some that were ‘pulled.’ The readers have been amazingly supportive. I received many letters thanking me and raving about the quality of the writing, many of them have posted beautiful reviews on the Amazon book site.
Another very important part of the book is the “omens”, your interest in synchronicity, Jungian philosophy and Gordon Anderson’s psychic abilities. Do these episodes still happen? Can you mention more recent ones?
Yes, they are ongoing. I would love to share something. It’s only that it is very difficult to extricate one “story thread.” The meaning is diffused without the context of the full tapestry from which the ‘story thread’ is pulled. Conveying these experiences was extremely difficult in my book, THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE VERY UGLY, but I knew I needed to try. It was, first of all, difficult to explain, and difficult to weave into my very different experiences with Clint. And second I didn’t want it to sound ‘New Age’ because it is far from it. Unlike New Age it is fact based – there is actual documentation of the happenings. They are actual and can be proven.
How do you view this image-oriented and superficial world we live in today? It seems to be getting worse by the hour…
I struggle not to be depressed by it. It seems that the faster we move, the more instantaneous the communication, the less we “feel.” There is little room for the long thought anymore. Everything is about the short headline. We jump from one thing to another without comprehending. In general, the intelligence level seems to be dropping. I have wondered if these thoughts I have are a product of my age, but I do not at all believe it is. Is it a product of how communication today, feeding us too much information to keep up? What I believe is that we are transforming our society into one similar to the one in the film THE MATRIX, a society that drains the humanity from us.
Is Gordon Anderson still active creatively? He comes across as very interested in the world around him, has all this talent. What has he been up to?
He is always creating something, but has been for years overloaded with the mystical phenomena that permeates his life. It carries a heavy toll. A book should be written. Unfortunately it is something so detailed, so personal, so Byzantine and nuanced that only he could write it properly. I had a similar problem with my own book. I knew it if were to be written I had to write it. The aspects that mattered, the emotional journey, could never be captured by a third party. The irony is that, because Gordon’s experiences are so visceral and draining, he is unable to experience it all and, at the same time, write about it.
His interest in the “world around him” has not changed. Although he lives much like a monk in that he doesn’t out into the world [his house is his monk’s cave], he is constantly immersed in it. His days are full of computer research on so many topics.
I noticed many people wanting to know what you have been doing, wishing you were still working. There was a documentary, Eastwood on Eastwood by Richard Schickel, where he took clips from the six films you made together, and you “disappeared” – editing does wonders – although obviously you are in the scenes. John Hartl from The Seattle Times said: “Clips from the Locke/Eastwood movies have been edited so carefully that she doesn’t appear to have been in any of them. It’s like making a documentary about Humphrey Bogart and failing to mention Lauren Bacall.” This is utterly ridiculous. Wouldn’t you think some people just become a joke trying to “impose” a distorted image on the audience… They’d be more sympathetic if they just let it go.
Yes, I heard about that. I wasn’t surprised. It is one example of the pettiness that is Clint. There is never a win win situation for him. There is only he wins, everyone else loses – that is if they challenge him, which I did. Throughout our split he could have resolved things easily. Initially all I asked of him was my house in Bel Air, which I had spent 3 years renovating and furnishing and which he had told me was mine…. and to help me get back to work, or at least to let me work without interference. He refused and therefore forced me to escalate the war. Finally sick and exhausted and depressed, I offered to give up my home in exchange for the WB deal to direct – just so I could work and get on with my life as by then I was diagnosed with cancer. But he arranged a fraudulent deal instead of an easy REAL deal. It seemed that he wanted to crush me for no reason other than I had not simply disappeared when he wanted me to. Instead, I had the audacity to expect fair treatment and promises kept. The fraudulent deal caused me to sue again – escalating the battle further. His pettiness is extraordinary. It reminds me of the old adage: cutting off the nose to spite the face.
What I “have been doing” is simply trying to live a normal life and enjoy it. I often worry too much about “doing” something, “accomplishing” something. I am learning to live without those inner admonishments. I think simply living and enjoying life is the greatest accomplishment. I once wanted to make a documentary on “happiness.” What makes someone happy. As I looked around me in life, I noticed the least likely people were happy. It was never the people with lots of money, or lots of “accomplishments,” and awards. It was more often the person who lived “to smell the roses.”
As far as working, I think I spoke to that elsewhere in this interview. I do feel unfinished and yet I am not pursuing. I am reconciled that I will probably not work again, but if I do it will be something “meant to be.”
I really can’t figure out why go to so much trouble when you’re already a “myth” and so on; go to such incredible length to shut up someone. It’s like the old phrase by Nathaniel Hawthorne: “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which one is true.”
Again, it is the petty mind and the belief that he must WIN every encounter no matter what is right or fair. I believe Clint knows who he is; he just doesn’t LIKE who he is. I do believe that Clint loved me as much as he is capable of love, and in the first 8 or so years together he really WANTED to be the man he knew I saw in him. I think he tried very hard, but eventually one’s nature cannot change.
Clint Eastwood comes across in a completely different way than his public image in the book. A question that people who didn’t read it may ask: They may think, “Sondra Locke doesn’t have any personal flaws”, “our nice hero”, that kind of thing from people who only want the image. What would you consider your personal flaws? (Sometimes, it seems that you were so busy with problems that you didn’t have much “time” to have “flaws”. You were busy living.)
I have many flaws, not the least of which is thinking too much of the other person’s feelings and not enough of my own. Because of this, I try to please too much. I hate conflict and so I avoid it until it is almost too late and then I have the battle of a lifetime. I am a terrible worrier. I have to some degree overcome this one, because I learned that the things we worry about are rarely the things that actually happen. It’s always something we never thought would or could happen – like what Clint did. Also, I had no breast cancer in my family so I didn’t worry about that, and of course it did happen to me.
Often it is hard for me to see the “glass half full” instead of half empty. I have found that the mystical experiences and the synchronicities always elevate, and put me in a place of peace and the positive. In their absence I can sometimes easily get “down.” I am by nature melancholic. And yet I have a strong streak of optimism thrown in. Perhaps I am a contradiction.
I tend to keep to myself too much. It’s not that I don’t trust, or have become jaded or judgmental, because of all that has happened. It’s just my nature to want few people in my life, but often this leads to living a life less rich in experience.
But all in all I am happy with myself. I feel that I have met the challenges meted out to me with as positive a face as anyone. I’m reminded of my high school album – the book published each year about the high school students. The senior students are asked to give their “ambitions.” Mine was “to accept disappointments with a smile.” It’s a bit heart breaking from that 17 year old girl that she should be thinking of “disappointments.” Perhaps that is my greatest flaw – I tend to expect too much of myself.
Thanks to Sondra Locke