Clint Eastwood has spent most of his latter-day career behind the scenes as a director and producer. But after a four-year break from acting, the Hollywood legend will finally appear in front of the cameras once more. Here’s a look at the film which inspired both his center-stage return and a joyous fan response.
Born in San Francisco, California, in 1930, Eastwood first caught Hollywood attention playing Rowdy Yates in the 1950s TV western Rawhide. He then landed his first major role in A Fistful of Dollars in 1964. The star’s performance as The Man with No Name character in two further Sergio Leone classics, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly further cemented his international success.
In 1968 Eastwood starred in Hang ‘Em High, the first movie produced by his very own company, Malpaso. Three years later he took on his most iconic role, the eponymous cop in Dirty Harry. Other success stories included Play Misty for Me, High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales, all of which he also directed.
Eastwood showed his more comedic side in the 1980s in films such as Bronco Billy and Any Which Way You Can. In the following decade he won a Best Director Oscar for western Unforgiven and enjoyed box office success in The Bridges of Madison County. He also starred in In the Line of Fire, Absolute Power and True Crime.
But Eastwood’s second resurgence came in the 21st century, with the award-winning adaptation of novel Mystic River in 2003 beginning the renaissance. And 2004 boxing drama Million Dollar Baby ensured that success continued, giving Eastwood an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. The star then switched his attention to World War II with two acclaimed movies, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.
Hollywood star Eastwood then helmed and took the leading role in another critical hit, Gran Torino. Directorial efforts in The Changeling, Invictus and J. Edgar maintained his winning streak. And in 2014 he proved he could tackle pretty much any genre by adapting the Broadway musical biopic Jersey Boys for the big screen.
Now well into his eighties, Eastwood showed no signs of slowing down. He directed Oscar contenders American Sniper and Sully, produced Indian Horse and chose the real-life heroic trio of a 2015 train attack to re-enact their courageous behavior in The 15:17 to Paris. However, by this point Eastwood had become notably absent from the screen himself.
Indeed, Eastwood had made an uncredited appearance as a church goer in 2014’s American Sniper. But his last major acting role had been in sports drama Trouble with the Curve two years previously. However, just as fans began wondering if they would ever see their Hollywood hero on the big screen again, news emerged of Eastwood’s acting comeback.
The film in question is The Mule, a crime drama inspired by the fascinating true story of the oldest drug mule in the world. Authorities arrested 87-year-old Leo Sharp when he tried to smuggle 200 pounds of cocaine into the state of Michigan. The senior citizen had been working for the Sinaloa Cartel at the time.
Sharp later received a three-year jail sentence before being granted an early release after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. He passed away in 2016. Before becoming embroiled in the drug world, Sharp had been a WWII veteran and a horticulturist renowned across the globe.
Eastwood signed on to play Earl Stone, a character based on Sharp who becomes an unlikely drug mule after taking on a seemingly innocuous driving job. The Hollywood star also proved once again that he’s a triple threat. Indeed, not only did he take center stage in The Mule, he also produced and directed it.
And several cinemagoers were excited to hear about Eastwood’s on-screen return. One Twitter user commented, “Wow Clint Eastwood is acting again. My day has been made.” Another tweeted, “Yes! I knew Clint Eastwood would make a comeback in acting! Can’t wait to see his latest film when it’s released.”
And the public response has been just as positive following the film’s trailer release in October 2018. One fan tweeted, “I’m very surprised but I am kind of excited for Clint Eastwood in #TheMule, it’s great to see him playing someone that’s not a tough guy. You can see him actually acting.”
The Mule features a screenplay penned by Nick Schenk, inspired by an article about Leo Sharp in The New York Times Magazine. Schenk had previously worked with Eastwood on Gran Torino. The latter, so impressed by the script for the 2008 drama, implored the studio not to change a single word.
The first shots of Eastwood on the set of The Mule appeared in the summer of 2018. Photographers captured the star sporting a long-sleeve shirt, trousers and straw-hat combo while carrying a flower during one particular scene. Another shot saw him getting behind the wheel of a truck.
Eastwood would be joined by some pretty prestigious company for his acting comeback. Bradley Cooper, who was directed by the Hollywood legend in American Sniper, played Colin Bates, a DEA agent on the trail of Stone. Cooper’s character was also based on a real-life figure, Jeff Moore.
The film also featured Dianne Wiest as Stone’s ex-wife, Laurence Fishburne as a special agent for the DEA and Michael Peña as a drug cartel enforcer. Ignacio Serricchio played Stone’s cartel handler and Taissa Farmiga his granddaughter. Other cast members included Loren Dean and Manny Montana.
Eastwood’s real-life daughter Alison also played his on-screen daughter in The Mule. This isn’t the first time the pair have worked together. Alison made her acting debut at age seven in her father’s comedy Bronco Billy. And she later appeared alongside him in Any Which Way You Can, Tightrope and Absolute Power.
As well as taking on acting, producing and directing roles, Eastwood could also choose The Mule’s release date. Warner Bros. chairman Toby Emmerich told Variety the film would only hit cinemas when Eastwood was ready. He said, “We’re waiting for [Eastwood] to show us the movie, and the way that’s worked for 25 years is whenever and wherever [he] says.”
Eastwood and Warner Bros. eventually settled on a release date of December 14, 2018. Following the premiere of its trailer two months before, several experts began touting The Mule as a possible Oscars contender. Eastwood’s Academy Awards tally at the time stood at 11 nominations and four wins.