Variety November 27th 2009
A Warner Bros. release presented in association with Spyglass Entertainment of a Revelations Entertainment/Mace Neufeld and Malpaso production. Produced by Clint Eastwood, Lori McCreary, Robert Lorenz, Neufeld. Executive producers, Morgan Freeman, Tim Moore, Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Screenplay, Anthony Peckham, based on the book "Playing the Enemy" by John Carlin.
Nelson Mandela - Morgan Freeman
Francois Pienaar - Matt Damon
Jason Tshabalala - Tony Kgoroge
Etienne Feyder - Julian Lewis Jones
Brenda Mazibuko - Adjoa Andoh
Linga Moonsamy - Patrick Mofokeng
Hendrick Booyens - Matt Stern
Mary - Leleti Khumalo
"Invictus" is a very good story very well told. Shortly after Nelson Mandela emerged from 27 years in prison and became president of South Africa in 1994, he seized upon using a rugby World Cup the following year as an opportunity to rally the entire nation -- blacks and whites -- behind the far-fetched prospect of the home team winning it all. Inspirational on the face of it, Clint Eastwood's film has a predictable trajectory, but every scene brims with surprising details that accumulate into a rich fabric of history, cultural impressions and emotion. The names of Eastwood and stars Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon should propel this absorbing Warner Bros. release to solid returns Stateside, with even better prospects looming in many foreign markets, where an unfamiliar sport and South African politics may pose less of a potential B.O. hurdle.
Once again in his extraordinary late-career run, Eastwood surprises with his choice of subject matter, here joining a project Freeman had long hoped to realize. In fact, the filmmaker has frequently dealt with racial issues in a conspicuously even-handed manner, most notably in "Bird," and his calm, equitable, fair-minded directorial temperament dovetails beautifully with that of Mandela, much of whose daily job as depicted here consisted of modifying and confounding the more extreme views of many of his countrymen on both side of the racial divide.
Mandela is the lynchpin of "Invictus," whose title is Latin for "unconquerable" and comes from a stirring 1875 poem by British writer William Ernest Henley. Although far from a conventional biography, Anthony Peckham's adaptation of John Carlin's densely packed book "Playing the Enemy" commences with Mandela's extraordinary transition from imprisonment to the leadership of a country that easily could have fallen into a devastating civil war.
As he takes office, Mandela allows that his greatest challenge will be successfully relaxing the tension between black aspirations and white fears. Pic adroitly avoids becoming mired in the minutiae of political score-settling by summing up racial suspicions through the prism of the new president's security detail. Mandela's longtime black bodyguards are shocked when their "Comrade President" forces them to work with some intimidating Afrikaners, experienced toughs who until very recently were no doubt striking terror into the hearts of the black population.
Directed by Eastwood with straightforward confidence, the film is marbled with innumerable instances of Mandela disarming his presumed opponents while giving pause to those among his natural constituency who might be looking for some payback rather than intelligent restraint. Freeman, a beautiful fit for the part even if he doesn't go all the way with the accent, takes a little while to shake off the man's saintlike image, and admittedly, the role of such a hallowed contemporary figure does not invite too much complexity, inner exploration or actorly elaboration. That said, Freeman is a constant delight; gradually, one comes to grasp Mandela's political calculations, certitudes and risks, the troubled personal life he keeps mostly out of sight, and his extraordinary talent for bringing people around to his point of view.
Where the rugby match is concerned, that talent is manifested by how, over tea, Mandela personally appeals to the captain of the South African team, the Springboks. A blond Afrikaner with no discernible politics, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) would just like to lift the squad from its present mediocrity. But Mandela quotes inspiringly from the poem -- "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul" -- speaks of leading by example and exceeding expectations, and leaves Pienaar astonished at the idea that they can dare to dream about winning the World Cup.
Just as it's disinclined to offer a primer on South African politics, the film refrains from outlining the rules of rugby; the viewer just has to jump in and surmise that it's something like a cross between soccer and American football. What the film conveys with tart economy is that rugby was a white game, scorned by blacks; as one man puts it, "Soccer is a gentleman's game played by hooligans, rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentlemen."
In a magnificent irony, the team the mostly white South African squad ultimately faces in the title match is a mostly white New Zealand team called (because of their uniforms) the All Blacks. The climactic faceoff, played in front of 62,000 fans at Johannesburg's Ellis Park Stadium roused by the presence of Mandela himself, lasts 18 minutes of screen time; when such an event plays out like this in real life, it's often exclaimed that it could only have been scripted for the movies. Here, it's real life dictating the incredible scenario.
With the exception of the meeting with Mandela and a couple of family scenes, most of Damon's screen time is spent in training or on the field, and it's meant as highest praise to say that, if he weren't a recognizable film star, you'd never think he were anything other than a South African rugby player. Beefed up a bit (or, perhaps more accurately, slimmed down somewhat from "The Informant!") and employing, at least to an outsider's ear, an impeccable accent, Damon blends in beautifully with his fellow players.
Some of the most amusing and telling scenes throughout involve the bodyguards, whose body language, facial expressions and intonations of minimal lines convey much about the uncertain state of things in the country.
Shot entirely on location in South Africa, "Invictus" looks so natural and realistic that it will strike no one as a film dependent upon CGI and visual effects. In fact, the climactic match would not have been possible without them, as virtually the entire crowd was digitally added after the action was filmed in an empty stadium. You really can't tell.
Tech contributions are solid down the line and local tunes fill out the discreetly supportive soundtrack.
Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Tom Stern; editors, Joel Cox, Gary D. Roach; music, Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens; production designer, James J. Murakami; supervising art director, Tom Hannam; art director, Jonathan Hely-Hutchinson; set decorator, Leon van der Merwe; costume designer, Deborah Hopper; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS/SDDS), Walt Martin; supervising sound editors, Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman; sound designer, David Farmer; re-recording mixers, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff; visual effects supervisor, Michael Owens; visual effects, CIS Visual Effects Group; assistant director, Donald Murphy; casting, Fiona Weir. Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, Nov. 10, 2009. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 134 MIN.
Invictus: A Whole New Ballgame by David Ansen | NEWSWEEK
Film opens Dec. 11:
A number of sports movies have one-word titles (Rocky, Hoosiers), but they're not usually in Latin. Clint Eastwood's Invictus is not your ordinary sports movie, though it comes to a rousing climax at the 1995 Rugby World Cup match between South Africa and New Zealand. The stakes are higher: a nation's unity hangs in the balance. Invictus (which means "unconquered") takes place at the intersection of sports and politics. Its hero is Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman, naturally), who, in the aftermath of apartheid, has just been elected South Africa's president after serving 27 years in prison.
During his incarceration, Mandela studied his Afrikaner enemies and was wise to the role sports played in the national psyche. South Africa's less-than-sterling rugby team, the Springbok, was as beloved by whites as it was despised by the black population, to whom it had become a symbol of oppression. Yet Mandela, taking a huge political risk, refuses to give in to his supporters' demand that the team be dismantled and renamed. To do so, he sees, would only stoke fear and racial paranoia in the Afrikaner population. Enlisting the team's captain (Matt Damon) to his side, Mandela challenges him to turn its losing ways around. His goal is to use rugby to bridge the racial divide in his country.
Invictus is not a biopic; nor does it take us deep inside any of its characters—Eastwood views Mandela from a respectful middle distance. It's about strategic inspiration. We witness a politician at the top of his game: Freeman's wily Mandela is a master of charm and soft-spoken gravitas. Anthony Peckham's sturdy, functional screenplay, based on John Carlin's book Playing the Enemy, can be a bit on the nose (and the message songs Eastwood adds are overkill). Yet the lapses fade in the face of such a soul-stirring story—one that would be hard to believe if it were fiction. The wonder of Invictus is that it actually went down this way.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
By Kirk Honeycutt, November 27th 2009
Nothing speaks so dramatically about Clint Eastwood's recent and remarkable burst of creativity as a director of awards-worthy films than the appearance of "Invictus," a historical drama that few if any filmmakers could have launched within the studio system. Here is a movie about Nelson Mandela, South Africa after apartheid and, of all things, the sport of rugby. None is high on any list of topics that studio suits crave, which tend more toward vampires and superheroes. Even the title -- that of a Victoria-era poem -- is obscure.
When released during a December storm of Oscar contenders, "Invictus" will pull its audience from adventurous, older moviegoers. Even the presence of Matt Damon, along with Morgan Freeman, will bring in only a small number of younger people. But for those who do buy tickets, it will be a pleasure for them to encounter a movie that's actually about something.
The downside here is a certain trepidation on the filmmakers' part to dig very deeply into what is still a politically sensitive situation. Then too, the real-life protagonists are very much alive and one an iconic figure. That's always a problem for any film that wants to deal with such personalities as flesh-and-blood characters.
The opening scene brilliant sets the stage. Released from prison on February 11, 1990after 27 years, Mandela (Freeman) travels in a motorcade that passes between two fenced sports fields. On one, white youths in spiffy uniforms play rugby. On the other pitch, black kids kick a soccer ball. The black kids rush to the fence while the white kids' coach tells his charges to mark the day when their country went to the dogs.
At once, Eastwood and South African writer Anthony Peckham deliver a metaphor for a nation divided along racial lines and a hint that sports will be one of Mandela's strategies for bringing South Africans together.
Four years later, Mandela is the country's first black president. Many white citizens fear black rule just as many black citizens look to Mandela for revenge. It's a prescription for social instability and political disaster.
Mandela hits upon an ambitious plan to use the national rugby team, the Springboks, long an embodiment of white-supremacist rule, to grip the new South Africa as the team prepares to host the 1995 World Cup. So he begins to woo its Afrikaner captain, Francois Pienaar (Damon), to his cause.
In the beginning, the Springboks are portrayed as the rugby equivalent of the Bad News Bears. But a string of improbable wins brings them to the finals against a New Zealand team that is an overwhelming favorite.
The film, based upon the book "Playing the Enemy" by John Carlin, has an understandably narrow focus of 1995 South Africa. Mandela is seen only in the context of a sudden rugby convert. He signs papers and greets international delegations between matches. Francois is glimpsed with a family and wife --or girlfriend, even this is unclear -- but he exists solely to play his sport.
The film enters neither of their lives. It's a film about a nation's psyche, not its individuals. Where you would love a vigorous portrayal of two larger-than-life personalities, the film tiptoes through polite scenes where everyone speaks and acts with political correctness.
Likewise, the actors stick close to the surface. Freeman gives you a folksy yet sagacious leader. He ambles rather than walks and peers at people with sly wisdom gleaming in his eyes. He doesn't try to plumb the depths of a one-time rebel or a man struggling to keep both his nation and family together. Indeed the film writes his former wife, Winnie, out of the picture altogether and a daughter is seen glaring at him or the TV whenever rugby gets mentioned. Why is she so angry?
Damon has taken the flabby dough-boy body from "The Informant!" and chiseled it into pure muscle. He looks like a rugby player. What he thinks about apartheid or Mandela or anything else you never learn. He certainly respects the nation's president but their relationship is largely ceremonial.
The film's title stems from a short poem by the British poet William Ernest Henley, first published in 1875, that Mandela often recited to himself while imprisoned on Robben Island. The key final lines are: "I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul." Francois finds meaning here too as he seeks to lead his team to victory.
So this is a conventional film that takes the measure of a country's emotional temperature but not its individual citizens. The game scenes are skillfully done -- the sound of the body hits lets you know why rugby is an orthopedist's delight. CGI shots and other effects seamlessly fill the stands with thousands and convert contemporary South African locations back 14 years.
The film's money shots come at the end when blacks and whites cheer and embrace. For once a sports victory is something more than just another win. What's missing though is a human relationship to carry you through to this end. Mandela maintains convivial, even humorous relationships with all his staff and advisors and Francois seems to have a loving family -- and a black maid who shrewdly watches everything in the household.
Somewhere here, even among the president's bodyguards who are portrayed in surprising detail, there may have been a few people who could carry the emotional ball, so to speak. As it is, we applaud the final game but must leave the cheering to the on-screen fans.
Clint Eastwood's "Invictus" Is a Movie That Matters
ROLLING STONE Magazine
That noise you hear at the multiplex this holiday weekend is the gobbling of turkeys from New Moon to Old Dogs. To boost morale, mine and yours, I want to point to a genuinely inspiring movie event opening next month. It’s called Invictus (Latin for unconquered). Clint Eastwood directed it so you know the scaffolding of this tremendously exciting true story will be sturdy and artfully presented with humor, heart, rich characterization and a notable absence of bullshit. Invictus is about a newly elected black President struggling to unite citizens divided by racism. The name Obama never comes up — it couldn’t since the time is 1995 and the place is South Africa. The President is Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) who was voted into office the year before in the country’s first free election. The challenge facing Mandela is to find a way to make peace with the apartheid forces that put him in jail for three decades. Mandela figures that battle should take place on, of all things, the rugby field. A little background here:
For the blacks in South Africa, rugby was a symbol of the Afrikaners, the white forces behind apartheid. Mandela believed that if he could harness the power of the Springboks, the South African team captained by François Pienaar (Matt Damon), and host the 1995 rugby World Cup games, he could cross a racial and cultural divide and unite a nation.
The source material for Eastwood's exceptional film is John Carlin's book Playing The Enemy: Nelson Mandela And The Game That Changed a Nation. That subtitle is pushing it since the factors that have separated powerful whites and justifiably angry blacks for centuries in South Africa can hardly be reconciled by one game. But there's little doubt that the game pitting the Springboks against New Zealand's team was a major start in the healing process.
Eastwood, shooting on location in Cape Town and enlisting Chester Williams (the single black player on the Springboks team) to coach Damon, lets action define character. The rubgy action electrifies the movie. But the performances make Invictus a movie you bring home with you. Damon may be shorter than Pienaar's 6'4" Afrikaner god. But he brings athleticism and grace to the role and a sense of burning conscience. Freeman seems born to play Mandela, and he never delivers a false note. Even when the script nudges him toward sainthood, Freeman makes us see the wily politician always percolating inside Mandela and his indelible, bone-deep performance ranks with the year's best. Freeman reads the poem by William Ernest Henley that comforted Mandela in prison and gives the film its title. The final line sums up the man: "I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul."
Eastwood's modest approach to these momentous events shames the showboating that passes for filmmaking in today's Hollywood. Invictus reveals a master at the top of his game. Eastwood's achievement is something rare: he's made a film that actually is good for the soul.
LA Times Interview Dec 6th 2009
Reporting from New York - Real Hollywood tough guys can wear Nike trainers or tasseled loafers.
Tough guys -- the old-school variety, that is, as opposed to today's preening, pumped-up action heroes who yell out for a digital avatar when the going gets sticky -- don't bark their thoughts in drill-sergeant cadences. They speak them in low, self-assured tones, befitting their muscular résumés.
Tough guys, at least those of a certain age, can be very mellow cats, sitting in the bar of the Carlyle Hotel, listening to jazz and munching peanuts. That's where Clint Eastwood, 79, and Morgan Freeman, 72, could be found one afternoon earlier this week, the former attired in casual wear, the latter decked out in a trim pinstriped suit, his long legs stretched across the seat of a corner booth.
Collectively, in the course of distinguished careers, they've played geriatric astronauts and battle-scarred Secret Service agents, no-name cowboys and a San Francisco cop nicknamed "Dirty" who taunted criminals he'd cornered at the business end of a .44 Magnum (Eastwood), as well as ruthless pimps, kick-butt high school principals, a cool-under-fire president staring down a killer asteroid and the almighty himself (Freeman).
Last seen together on film putting a buffed Hilary Swank through a brutal regimen in "Million Dollar Baby" (2004), they reteamed for "Invictus," a drama about a landmark South African rugby tournament directed by Eastwood and starring Freeman in a different sort of tough-guy role: Nelson Mandela, South Africa's benevolent but steely first post-apartheid president.
Comfortably, they nodded at each other's blunt opinions and cracked up at each other's punch lines.
"I liked him as a person the first time I ever met him, because he was a fan of 'The Outlaw Josey Wales,' " Eastwood said. "With Morgan Freeman, it's just a pleasure to watch every scene, every nuance."
Freeman paused before calling Eastwood's gambit. "Working with Clint is like every actor's dream who knows anything at all about what he's doing," he said. "A lot of actors think that they want strong directing. I can never quite figure out what that means. I don't want strong directing, except from the writer. And then I don't want the writer writing emotional reactions."
"Invictus," which opens Friday, is their third joint outing, and award-season hopes at Warner Bros. are running high. They first paired up on "Unforgiven" (1992), galloping toward bloody revenge as aging, unreconstructed outlaws with a deep-seated bond. "And the fact that they don't talk about the bond is what makes it good," Eastwood said. The film earned him an Oscar for best director; it also won the best picture award.
Twelve years later, in "Million Dollar Baby," he cast Freeman as the wise, humanistic Eddie "Scrap Iron" Dupris against Eastwood's obsessive, pugilistic Frankie Dunn. The movie hauled off the Academy Award for best picture as well as Oscars for best director, lead actress (Swank) and best supporting actor (Freeman).
Ask them what makes for good filmmaking, and these strong, silent types will turn downright loquacious. Leadership, they'll tell you. Dependable, talented colleagues. Creative risk-taking. An eye for spotting talent and knowing a good story. Above all, perhaps, the will to hold fast to one's core convictions.
Those also rank among the principal themes of "Invictus" (the Latin word for "unconquered"), which takes its title and philosophical cues from an 1875 verse by British poet William Ernest Henley that concludes with the lines, "I am the master of my fate: / I am the captain of my soul." Mandela has said that the poem helped sustain him spiritually during the 27 years he spent imprisoned at Robben Island after being convicted for his anti-apartheid activism.
"How can a man spend 27 years in prison, then come out and forgive his jailers?" Freeman asked. Because "they forgave him too. He was convicted primarily not because he was treasonous in his speech, but he was head of Umkhonto we Sizwe, which was the Spear of the Nation," the military wing of the "He was a terrorist, as far as they were concerned," Freeman said. "But he understood how to work kindness."
Indeed, "Invictus" quietly posits the radical idea that empathy, reconciliation and forgiveness can accomplish more in life than any amount of macho posturing or bullying, violent behavior.
Set mainly in 1995, the screenplay by Anthony Peckham recounts a pivotal event that unfolded during the intense opening months of Mandela's presidency. The country still was struggling to master the abrupt transition from a society based on apartheid, or legally enforced racial separatism, to a color-blind "Rainbow Nation" (in Mandela's formulation), in which all would feel welcome. Meanwhile, South Africa's fledgling democracy was shaky, and many feared civil war might break out. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
Sensing the potential symbolic healing value of the upcoming rugby World Cup tournament in South Africa, Mandela worked to get the country's black majority to rally around the nearly all-white Springboks national rugby team. Although blacks largely regarded the team as an odious legacy of the former white-minority ruling class, they ended up embracing Springboks and cheering it on to a stunning upset victory in the final against New Zealand's ferocious All Blacks (so named for their monochrome uniforms).
To achieve his national unity ends, Nelson also had to inspire the Springboks players to stretch beyond their customary mediocrity. He did this in part by forging a friendship with team captain Francois Pienaar, played by Matt Damon. The film thus becomes, among other things, a study in leadership styles.
Yet while "Invictus" chisels its way through several profiles in courage, one hovers over the film: that of wily, charismatic Mandela. "He has some kind of brilliance that we don't know about that would make him take a long-shot bet and take big swings at the bat, and make things happen," Eastwood said. "And he didn't seem to let anything get in his way. He just did what he felt was right."
Freeman's humanizing portrayal of Mandela attempts to allow the extraordinary but flawed man to step out somewhat from his long shadow. The actor had plenty of personal observation to draw on: He first met Mandela in the early 1990s and has remained in touch through the years and considers himself a friend of the man black South Africans affectionately call Madiba, a sort of grandfatherly honorific.
"He's easier to play for me than it would be to play Clint Eastwood, whom I also know and have studied really closely," Freeman said in a voice suggesting the verbal equivalent of a wink. "Because he isn't anything special outside himself, you know what I mean? Not himself. He's not on any pedestal. When I talk about him, this is one thing I remember him saying: He can't forgive himself for his failures, as a father, as a son. So that's very informative in terms of who the man is. Yeah, he responds to people, but he doesn't strut."
Freeman also brings to the role an imposing knowledge of southern African regional history, politics and culture, which he first honed while shooting his directorial debut, "Bopha!" (1993), starring Danny Glover as a conscience-stricken South African police officer.
"Invictus" was shot on location in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Casting the movie wasn't difficult, Eastwood said. The hard part was finding a script that didn't sprawl all over Mandela's entire life. He finally found it in an adaptation of John Carlin's book "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation."
"I always felt that Morgan was the ideal guy and should play Nelson Mandela, even before there was a script," Eastwood said. "Everybody thought that. It was kind of a conversation piece around the world. But nobody ever came up with it."
The only point about "Invictus" on which Eastwood and Freeman differ is whether South Africa's extraordinary, albeit still incomplete, racial and social rapprochement could offer a lesson for the U.S. Eastwood, grimacing, registered his doubts about the current state of the union.
"Everybody's divided, and everybody talks about going across party lines and doing this and being this," he said. "But we're all just full of. . . . And we're fooling each other. You're talking to kind of a disenchanted guy. I don't think much of the Republicans in recent years, and I don't think much of the Democrats in recent years. And if a third party came along and they did the right thing, I would certainly be right there with 'em. That's what attracted me to this story, because this is about somebody who moved beyond that crap."
Freeman, taking all this in, offered a more upbeat assessment.
"I think in one position, one place in our minds or in our souls or in our psyches or whatever it is that makes us Americans, we're mired somewhere in the Dark Ages in terms of race," he said. "But on a completely other level, we're not at all. We have completely transcended all of it. We are a completely integrated, multiracial, multicultural society. We really are."
The captain of his soul Dec 6th 2009
Director Clint Eastwood chats exclusively to Barry Ronge about accents, Invictus, Mandela and the bringing together of a divided nation
I meet with Clint Eastwood at a gala at the presidential palace in Paris the day after President Nicolas Sarkozy had awarded him France's most coveted prize, the Legion of Honour. It's typical of Eastwood, however, that the next day he was up early to do interviews with journalists, which he does with great courtesy and minimum fuss.
He ambles into the room without an entourage, his hair tousled, wearing well-worn denims and sneakers, and shakes my hand. A pert young makeup artist bustles up, but he gives her a wry smile and says: "At my age, there's not much you can do about this face." And then we begin. It is a reminder that the really big stars show up on time, give you their full attention and say "Thank you for coming such a long way to see me" at the end of the interview.
That kind of relaxed but direct, total attention radiates from every frame of his latest creation, Invictus, and instead of talking about himself, Eastwood keeps drawing attention to the other people in the film based on Nelson Mandela's life during the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa.
He admits that he "knows a little bit about Mandela but not a lot. I had some memories of his release and his election but I had never heard about this incident with the rugby.
"I was sent a script that interested me, then I read the book by John Carlin on which it was based, and what struck me was that Madiba's vision of this rugby incident was such a creative thing for him to have done. Not only did he leave prison to become president, but he did not hold a great sense of bitterness towards the people who had imprisoned him. That seemed to me to be almost against nature, but it was as if he had a plan, some vision for his life in the back of his mind. He always knew he was going somewhere and would become something," says Eastwood.
"But he was also extremely pragmatic and amazingly he did not hold grudges. He chose people for their talent, regardless of race, and he had a vision for how the rugby team could be a means to build reconciliation. He knew that the players had been affected by the rugby boycott and that they were in the tournament only because South Africa was the host nation.
"I had to ask myself, 'What did he know in the back of his mind that made him believe it would work? What would have happened if they didn't win?'" he ponders.
"He did not use it as an expedient political platform. He sensed that he should just allow those players to be the best they could possibly be. That's a philosophy I follow in my own life," says Eastwood. "And I've probably bored my kids to tears by telling them that over and over, but I believe that if you strive to be the best that you can be, you will find, in some way, that things will happen for you."
The original script was sent to Eastwood by Morgan Freeman, with whom he has made two movies: Unforgiven, for which the former won an Oscar, and Million Dollar Baby, which scored Freeman an Oscar. Before that, Freeman had visited Zimbabwe to direct his first film Bopha! and he had spent time in South Africa - both during and after apartheid - and he was often told that he looked like Mandela.
When Freeman and his production partner Lori McCreary received a script outline based on Carlin's book, Playing with the Enemy, he sent it on to Eastwood, who was intrigued. On the proviso that Freeman would play Madiba, Eastwood undertook to direct it from a script written by another South African living and working in Hollywood, Antony Peckham. And that's how it all clicked into place.
"Morgan had met Madiba on many occasions and he also studied tapes to get the voice and movement just right," says Eastwood. "As an actor, Morgan has a certain bearing and charisma. He was built to play this role. But also, as a man, he is just as pragmatic and resourceful as Madiba. When I met Madiba, I could see at once that very few people are as charismatic as he is. You can see in his demeanour that he has been through a lot, but he is also open to a lot. He has faults, as all men do, and it was a tough choice for me not to portray him as a kind of Christ-like figure," he tells me. "But the key was his honesty.
"There's a scene when the people around him had doubts about his vision of the rugby. Someone challenged him, saying 'You've won an election, but can you run a country?' And Madiba replies, 'That's a legitimate question.' Most people would go: 'Are you kidding me? Of course I know what I'm doing'," says Eastwood. "But Madiba did not pretend to know it all. What he did know was how to get the best out of the people around him and in the process those people also became better and that's the whole thrust and point of this film. It's not the game, it's not the politics, it's about his power to inspire."
As Eastwood says, Freeman was born to play Madiba, but when it was announced that Matt Damon would be playing Francois Pienaar, eyebrows were raised.
"I knew we had to get the accent right," he says.
"Many actors who have made films about South Africa did not do that, and audiences picked up on it. Francois was very helpful to Matt on the rugby stuff and also on the accent. Matt worked with a great dialogue coach and he really wanted to do the accent well," explains Eastwood.
"The first indication we got that Matt's accent was good to go came from the group Overtone. My wife spotted them while we were on location in Cape Town," he says, "and we featured them in the film. We flew them to Los Angeles for the recordings and we showed them the clips of Matt as Francois and they gave us the thumbs up on his accent, so we knew we were okay."
Eastwood is full of praise for all the South African talent, both the actors and the production services.
"The days we shot at Ellis Park, we had 3000 extras and they all came to work in their souvenir jerseys they had worn on that day, with their faces painted and for three days they sang and shared their memories and they were wonderful.
"We only brought in our core production team. Everything else we sourced in South Africa and it's because of the extras that we have Shosholoza and the other songs on the soundtrack and they sang them for us, over and over," he said.
Eastwood also shares an incident that tells me a great deal about how he works.
"One day, after the shoot, we were driving home from the township, and there was an open space full of garbage on which a bunch of black kids were playing rugby," he says. "My host pointed them out and remarked that that if Madiba had not pushed for the Springboks, or if they had not won the World Cup, those kids would not have been playing rugby. But there they were, barefoot, in cut-off jeans and torn T-shirts, and I said: 'We have to get a shot of this'."
So in the middle of a township, with no security detail beyond a couple of bodyguards, they unpacked their cameras and filmed the impromptu game and that footage became the closing credit sequence of the film.
It wasn't just a bit of atmospheric local colour. Eastwood, with his spontaneous, instinctive skill as a director, saw its value. It wasn't in the script and nobody had even thought of the idea, but Eastwood looked through the car window after a long day's shoot and knew exactly what to do with those images.
This unplanned footage provides the perfect closing to the film and it's emotionally resonant and politically true.
That's why Clint Eastwood, who turned 79 this year, is still considered one of the most dynamic and impressive directors in the business. And if Invictus happens to collect a couple of Oscars next year, which is highly probable, it would not be because Eastwood had intended it, or even that he hoped for it, but that they would be richly deserved.
An Actor Nails the Cadence and the Charm
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Dec 2nd 2009
Morgan Freeman Interview
MORGAN FREEMAN has been cast as God — twice — so he evidently has no trouble projecting moral authority. The challenge of portraying Nelson Mandela, then, was not the size of the halo, but knowing the performance would be measured against the real, familiar Mandela, and his myth. “If we can say any part of acting is hard, then playing someone who is living and everybody knows would be the hardest,” Mr. Freeman said in a phone interview.
The role has defeated actors as varied as Danny Glover (the 1987 TV film “Mandela”), Sidney Poitier (“Mandela and de Klerk,” 1997, also for TV) and Dennis Haysbert (“Goodbye Bafana,” 2007), in vehicles that were reverential and mostly forgettable.
But as someone who studied Mr. Mandela over the course of three years while he replaced an apartheid regime with a genuine democracy, I found Mr. Freeman’s performance in the film “Invictus,” directed by Clint Eastwood, uncanny — less an impersonation than an incarnation.
He gets the rumble and halting rhythm of Mr. Mandela’s speech, the erect posture and stiff gait. There is a striking physical resemblance, enhanced by the fact that Mr. Freeman, 72, is just a few years younger than Mr. Mandela was in the period the film covers. More important, Mr. Freeman conveys the manipulative charm, the serene confidence, the force of purpose, the hint of mischief and the lonely regret that made Mr. Mandela one of the most fascinating political figures of his time. This is not, as the film’s screenwriter, Anthony Peckham, put it, “Rich Little doing Mandela in Vegas.”
It’s hard to say whether Americans at this moment in their history crave a 130-minute parable of racial reconciliation built around a 1995 World Cup rugby match in South Africa. Audiences and movie critics will render their verdict on “Invictus,” which reaches theaters Friday.
But we could probably do worse, as an antidote to the cynicism on the noisy margins of our political life, than spending a couple of hours watching Mr. Mandela calculating how to knit together a grotesquely divided society.
The story of “Invictus,” drawn from John Carlin’s book “Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation,” begins with the newly inaugurated president of post-apartheid South Africa looking for ways to enlist his fearful white minority — with its talent, wealth, resentment and capacity for insurrection — in the business of governing a democracy. His inspired stratagem is to embrace the Springboks national rugby team, the darlings of the formerly ruling Afrikaners and, for most nonwhite South Africans, a symbol of brutal and humiliating repression.
The new president sets the team’s captain (François Pienaar, played by Matt Damon) the improbable goal of winning the World Cup; the tournament is to be held in South Africa in a year, and the Springboks are given little chance. Mr. Mandela sets himself the considerably more improbable goal of uniting country behind the team.
So loathed were the Springboks that those few blacks who showed up for matches rooted loudly for the other side. So the rugby campaign was one of Mr. Mandela’s boldest strokes of statecraft, no less impressive for the fact that the euphoria he achieved could barely begin to extinguish three centuries of racial antagonism.
Mr. Freeman’s occupational association with South Africa began with a role in the 1992 film “The Power of One,” the pious tale of a white boy coming to enlightenment in apartheid South Africa. Soon thereafter Mr. Freeman made his directing debut with a more tough-minded film, “Bopha!,” the story of a conflicted black South African cop, played by Mr. Glover. (Lori McCreary, who was a producer on that film and is a producer of “Invictus,” said she tried to lure Mr. Freeman for the lead part in “Bopha!,” but was told he “doesn’t do accents.”)
According to Mr. Freeman, his mission to portray Mr. Mandela on the screen began with a public invitation from the subject himself. At a press conference to promote the publication of his 1994 memoir, “Long Walk to Freedom,” someone asked Mr. Mandela who should play him in the movie.
“And he said he wanted me,” Mr. Freeman recalled. “So it became. That was the whole sanction, right there.”
The South African film producer Anant Singh, who bought the movie rights to “Long Walk,” arranged for Mr. Mandela and Mr. Freeman to meet.
“I told him that if I was going to play him, I was going to have to have access to him,” the actor said. “That I would have to hold his hand and watch him up close and personal.” As president Mr. Mandela could be surprisingly approachable — he once allowed me, the New York Times correspondent in South Africa at the time, to shadow him during a day of his presidency, something I can scarcely imagine an American president allowing. But since stepping down in 1999, and especially since his memory began to fail him, he has become more reclusive, protected by a staff that worries he might embarrass himself. But he obliged Mr. Freeman.
“Whenever we’ve been in proximity in one city or another, I have had access to him,” the actor said. Their encounters ranged from tea at Mr. Mandela’s home in Johannesburg to a charity fund-raiser in Monaco. But through multiple screenplays Mr. Mandela’s sprawling memoir proved too unwieldy for a film, and Mr. Freeman abandoned the project.
“There’s just too much to whittle down to movie size,” Mr. Freeman said.
Then, in 2006, Mr. Carlin, a British journalist who had covered Mr. Mandela in the 1990s, was in Mississippi to write an article on poverty in the American South for El Pais, the Spanish daily that now employs him. He ended up in the Clarksdale living room of Mr. Freeman’s business partner. When the host went to the kitchen for a bottle of wine, Mr. Carlin recalls, he turned to Mr. Freeman.
“This is your lucky day,” he said. “I have a movie for you.”
“Oh, really,” Mr. Freeman replied. “What’s it about?”
“It’s based on a book I am writing about an event that distills the essence of Mandela’s genius, and the essence of the South African miracle.”
“Oh,” Mr. Freeman replied, “you mean the rugby game?”
Mr. Carlin’s proposal for his book had already been circulating in Hollywood, and it had caught Mr. Freeman’s eye.
Mr. Freeman sought Mr. Mandela’s blessing, bought the rights and persuaded Mr. Eastwood to direct. (Their two previous collaborations, “Unforgiven” and “Million Dollar Baby,” both won best picture Oscars.) They hired Mr. Peckham, a South African émigré, to write the script.
Mr. Freeman insists that if the portrayal transcends impersonation, that is largely Mr. Peckham’s doing.
As an actor, “you’re looking for the physical: how he stands, how he walks, how he talks,” he said. “Nuances he has in terms of tics or movements. Things that sort of define him. The inner life has to come off the page. Whatever he’s thinking, I don’t know. You have a script, and you stick to that script, and the script is going to inform you of everything.”
While Mr. Freeman brought to the project a decade of firsthand observation, Mr. Peckham, who left South Africa in 1981, had never — and still has not — met Mr. Mandela.
“He was a nonperson for my entire growing up,” Mr. Peckham said in a phone interview from his home in California. “You weren’t even supposed to have pictures of him. Everything I learned about him I learned from a distance, after I came here.”
For the feel of Mr. Mandela’s everyday speech, the screenwriter mined written documents, especially transcripts of a 1998 court case in which the South African president was subjected to a hostile grilling by lawyers for the national rugby hierarchy. (It tells you something about the incompleteness of the redemptive turn depicted in “Invictus” that, three years after the famous rugby match, Mr. Mandela appointed a commission to study whether the powerful rugby union was thwarting the advancement of black players.)
Mr. Peckham’s main difficulty in writing a script, he found, was to do justice to such a familiar and beloved figure without tipping into idolatry.
“It was extremely difficult, because in the period I write about he was in many respects at his most saintly — leading the country the way he did,” Mr. Peckham said. The danger of hagiography “was something we all knew was an issue and that I struggled with every day while I was writing it. With the additional complication that we didn’t want to be offensive and disrespectful either. It’s easy enough to kind of show someone’s feet of clay if you’re prepared to be brutal about it, but it’s not so easy when you want to be respectful without hero-worshiping.”
The notion they settled on to humanize the hero was that while Mr. Mandela was making a nation he was neglecting his own family. It is certainly true that Mr. Mandela’s marriage to the cause contributed to his two divorces and his estrangement from some of his children. In the movie there is a scene of Mr. Mandela, who could always summon the words to move a crowd, failing to connect with his resentful grown daughter Zinzi.
“Knowing what I know of Madiba personally,” Mr. Freeman said, using Mr. Mandela’s clan name, “his real concern is not for what he did, but more for what he didn’t do. He had family obligations that he couldn’t live up to, one, because he was in prison, and they just wouldn’t allow it, and he had so many other obligations. The father of the nation is usually less than the father of his family.”
South Africans listening to Mr. Freeman’s rendering may agree that he “doesn’t do accents.” (He says “Spring-BAHK” where Mandela would say “Spring-BOHK.”) But Mr. Mandela’s distinctive voice is less about accent than cadence, and Mr. Freeman gets that precisely right.
Mr. Carlin, who covered Mr. Mandela in his political prime and spent many hours with him for the rugby book, said Mr. Freeman “channels Mandela beautifully.”
Most important, Mr. Carlin said, Mr. Freeman, abetted by the screenwriter, “impressively conveys the giant solitude of Mandela.”
Though an admirer of Mr. Freeman, Mr. Carlin has seen Mr. Mandela gotten wrong often enough that he braced himself for disappointment. After attending a screening in Paris last month, he sent an ecstatic e-mail message: “They didn’t screw it up!” he wrote. “WHAT a relief!”
For me the realization that Mr. Freeman had nailed it came as the film ended. Alongside the closing credits came still photos of the actual rugby match, and the actual Mandela. And for a second I wondered, “Who is that impostor?”
Eastwood, Freeman back in saddle for `Invictus'
MY WAY Dec 9th 2009
Eastwood Freeman Interview
By DAVID GERMAIN
Nelson Mandela made it clear that Morgan Freeman was the man he would want to play him in a film.
When it came time to play Mandela in "Invictus," Freeman told producing partner Lori McCreary that he had two men in mind to direct the film, which dramatizes Mandela's partnership with a South African rugby star (played by Matt Damon) to rally their post-apartheid countrymen behind the team's underdog quest for the 1995 World Cup.
"I said, 'I can only think of two. Clint Eastwood, and then there's Clint Eastwood.' He's the best director I know," Freeman says of the filmmaker who gave him a plum role in "Unforgiven" and an Academy Award-winning part in "Million Dollar Baby."
Freeman's comment comes moments before Eastwood enters the room for a joint interview, amiable banter and wisecracks ensuing as the two longtime friends and colleagues talk about their third collaboration.
"Are you supposed to be here?" Freeman demands of Eastwood.
Informed of the compliment Freeman had just paid him as his only choice to direct "Invictus," Eastwood shoots back: "That's very kind of him. He's obviously a man of very good taste and selectivity in life."
Freeman follows with a reminder that Eastwood had once "stood up in public with a microphone and called me the best actor in the world."
The exchange continues:
Eastwood: "That was right after I told Matt that he was the best actor in the world."
Freeman: "Doesn't matter. ... You always go for the best."
Eastwood: "I do pride myself on that. I believe in surrounding myself with the very best people, and that cuts down the margin for error, and that covers my inadequacies."
Freeman: "And he says, he can stand back and let them do their thing, then take all the credit."
Their give-and-take reflects the camaraderie that Eastwood, 79, and Freeman, 72, captured on screen as hired mercenaries in 1992's Western "Unforgiven" and as ringside pals in 2004's boxing drama "Million Dollar Baby." Both films dominated the Oscars, their wins including best picture and director for Eastwood.
With both movies, Eastwood came calling for Freeman. With "Invictus," Freeman was the first man on board, sending the script Eastwood's way, hoping his friend would want to direct.
Freeman had been meeting with Mandela since the 1990s with the idea of adapting the jailed-activist-turned-president's memoir "Long Walk to Freedom" for the big-screen. The actor eventually set it aside, finding Mandela's life story too expansive to fit into a film.
"How can you take all that and put it into a movie?" Freeman says. "Even if you condensed it down to a three-hour movie, how could you do it justice?"
Then journalist John Carlin told Freeman about his book, "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation," recounting the new South African president's cheerleading that united whites and blacks behind the national rugby team.
The effort defined the healing spirit Mandela brought to the nation, Freeman says.
But "Invictus" is not being embraced by all South Africans, who complain that South Africans should be starring in movies about their own stories rather than American actors. South Africans do, however, have key roles in the film, including Patrick Mofokeng as Mandela's chief bodyguard.
Eastwood sees a lot of similarities between Mandela and Freeman.
"I've always thought he was the perfect guy to be playing Nelson Mandela," Eastwood says. "Morgan has the same presence when he walks in the room as an actor that Mr. Mandela has as a politician walking into a room. ... They both are intelligent, and they both seem to have a lovely sense of humor and a lot of life. They both get in trouble in the same way, sometimes."
"Ssh," Freeman interjects.
"Invictus" marks the first time Eastwood worked with Freeman as a director only, not as a co-star, too.
Eastwood jokes that he's been trying to give up acting for the last decade, but roles keep coming along that he feels are right for him, among them the racist widower who becomes unlikely defender for his young Asian neighbors in last year's "Gran Torino."
"I read it and I liked it. I said, 'Gee, I know this guy,'" Eastwood says. "I've seen this guy many times. And sometimes, these guys will grow at an older age and become more open, and sometimes they don't. But it was fun to talk about racial relations by playing a guy who doesn't want any part of anybody and is bitter because his neighborhood has all died off."
Eastwood wants to stick solely to directing, though he doesn't rule out going in front of the camera again.
"I'm perfectly willing and happy to have him direct from here out, and if he wants to step in front of the cameras again, that's fine, and I'm hoping I can be there with him when he does," Freeman says. "But you know, I think he's hellbent on becoming another (famed Japanese filmmaker Akira) Kurosawa, if he isn't already. I think he already is."
BY ROGER EBERT / December 9, 2009
Morgan Freeman has been linked to one biopic of Nelson Mandela or another for at least 10 years. Strange that the only one to be made centers on the South African rugby team. The posters for Clint Eastwood's "Invictus" feature Matt Damon in the foreground, with Freeman looming behind him in shadowy nobility. I can imagine the marketing meetings during which it was lamented that few Americans care much about about Mandela and that Matt Damon appeals to a younger demographic.
Screw 'em, is what I would have contributed. The achievement of Nelson Mandela is one of the few shining moments in recent history. Here is a man who was released after 24 years of breaking rocks in prison and sleeping on the floor to assume leadership of the nation that jailed him. His personal forgiveness of white South Africa was the beacon that illuminated that nation's Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, one of the very few examples in history of people who really had much to forgive, and forgave it. Let us not forget that both black and white had reasons to grieve, and reasons to forgive, and that in many cases they were facing the actual murderers of their loved ones.
Compared to that, what really does it matter that an underdog Springbok team, all white with one exception, won the World Cup in rugby in the first year of Mandela's rule? I understand that in a nation where all the races are unusually obsessed by sport, the World Cup was an electrifying moment when the pariah state stood redeemed before the world -- even if soccer is the black man's game there, and rugby is the white's. It was important in the way the Beijing Olympics were important to China.
Clint Eastwood, I believe, understood all of these things and also sought to make a film he believed he could make, in an area where he felt a visceral connection. Eastwood is too old and too accomplished to have an interest in making a film only for money. He would have probably read the screenplays for the previous Mandela projects. They all had one thing in common: They didn't get made. It was universally agreed that Morgan Freeman was the right actor (Mandela and he met and got along famously), but the story, financing and deal never came together. Eastwood made the film that did get made.
It is a very good film. It has moments evoking great emotion, as when the black and white members of the presidential security detail (hard-line ANC activists and Afrikaner cops) agree with excruciating difficulty to serve together. And when Damon's character -- Francois Pienaar, as the team captain -- is shown the cell where Mandela was held for those long years on Robben Island. My wife, Chaz, and I were taken to the island early one morning by Ahmed Kathrada, one of Mandela's fellow prisoners, and yes, the movie shows his very cell, with the thin blankets on the floor. You regard that cell and you think, here a great man waited in faith for his rendezvous with history.
The World Cup was a famous victory. The Springboks faced a New Zealand team so dominant it had crushed every opponent -- Japan by around 90 points, which in rugby is a lot. South Africa won in overtime. About that team name: The South African national teams have been called the Springboks since time immemorial (New Zealand is known as the All Blacks). A springbok is on the tail of every South African Airlines airplane. It's the national logo. Would Mandela change the name to one less associated with the apartheid regime? He would not. Join me in a thought experiment. An African American is elected mayor of Boston. He is accepted, grudgingly in some circles. How would it go over if he changed the name of the Red Sox?
Freeman does a splendid job of evoking the man Nelson Mandela, who is as much a secular saint as Gandhi (who led his first campaign in Durban, South Africa). He shows him as genial, confident, calming -- over what was clearly a core of tempered steel. The focus is on his early time in office. I believe there may be one scene with a woman representing Winnie Mandela, but the dialogue is vague. Damon is effective at playing the captain, Francois Pienaar, an Afrikaner, child of racist parents, transformed by his contact with "the greatest man I've ever met." Clint Eastwood, a master director, orchestrates all of these notes and has us loving Mandela, proud of Francois and cheering for the plucky Springboks. A great entertainment. Not, as I said, the Mandela biopic I would have expected.
3 December, 2009 | By Mike Goodridge
An old-fashioned crowd-pleaser which is both a rousing sports movie and a testament to the nobility of Nelson Mandela, Invictus is another strong entry in Clint Eastwood’s fast-growing body of work. Boasting a finely controlled central performance from Morgan Freeman as Mandela, the film details how South Africa’s first black president used the 1995 Rugby World Cup to unite the black and white populations in his country.
South African stories have failed to perform at the box office of late (Catch a Fire, Country of my Skull), but Invictus benefits from the Eastwood stamp, the clout of Warner Bros as a studio distributor and two big stars – Freeman and Matt Damon (who is the focus of the key art for the film). The sports component might be a problem in a rugby-phobic nation like the US but it will be an added benefit in bringing out international audiences, especially younger men who recall the upset of South Africa beating New Zealand in the dramatic final.
If the film might appear self-important or didactic going in, that would be to underestimate Eastwood’s skill at using humour and humanity to take any hot air out of his own sails. Nelson Mandela is portrayed not as a saintly figure but as a smart operator, a playful, warm man with his own longings and shortcomings. He even defies his own cabinet and supporters by urging them to support the Springboks, the country’s predominantly white rugby team whose green and gold colours have acted as a taunt to the oppressed black population for decades.
Mandela, newly sworn in as president, believes that forgiveness is key to the country’s progress; he rejects proposals to change the name of the team from Springboks and befriends its captain Francois Pienaar (Damon), encouraging the side to coach young black kids around the country as a PR exercise to help sport heal the rifts of apartheid.
Although the team has been performing badly, he rallies them to up their game for the upcoming World Cup and they begin an unlikely winning spree that takes them all the way to the final. But, once there, they must face the “unbeatable” New Zealand side the All Blacks and their formidable star player Jonah Lomu.
Eastwood ambles into the story at a leisurely pace, introducing Mandela’s divided security team – half black and half white – led by Jason Tshabalala (Tony Kgoroge) and his personal staff (including Adjoa Andoh as Brenda Mazibuko, his chief of staff) who are all bemused at their leader’s interest in the white sport of rugby union. Eastwood also subtly weaves in a few moving moments referring to Mandela’s 27 years in captivity.
The final 40 minutes leave any such subtlety behind, however, detailing the bone-crunching action of the match with heart-thumping manipulation. It’s a brilliantly shot and cut section which will move the hardest of audience members.
The film is not the best-looking of the year, and some of the interior scenes are unnecessarily murky. Eastwood also goes overboard with the music - some score by Kyle Eastwood and Michael Stevens, some songs by South African group Overtone - although the combination of the national anthem followed by the World Cup song World In Union help stir up the emotions effectively in the finale.
EASTWOOD ON THE PITCH
By Scott Foundas
LA WEEKLY Dec 10th 2009
On a late March morning, the sun sits high in the Cape Town sky, illuminating the trapezoidal monolith of Table Mountain in the distance, while down by the city’s busy waterfront, the players of South Africa’s national rugby union team — the Springboks — go for a training run. Only the careful observer might notice that, on this particular morning, the team’s signature green-and-gold uniforms aren’t of the most recent design, and none of the cars passing by on the waterfront thoroughfare bears a model year newer than 1995. Upon closer inspection, he might also notice a familiar if incongruous figure standing off to one side, tall and slender in a golf shirt and chinos, watching the scene transpire on a small, handheld video monitor. After a moment, the figure looks up and almost imperceptibly signals his approval, not with the traditional “Cut! Print!” but rather a small nod of his head and a whispered “that was good. Let’s move on.”
It’s the 24th day of filming on Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, the 30th film he has directed in a career that now spans more than a half-century — and, as usual on an Eastwood set, if you didn’t know they were shooting a major Hollywood movie here, you’d be none the wiser. No trailers and equipment trucks line the streets — they’re parked at a “base camp” a few miles away — and by the time a small crowd of onlookers begins to form, Eastwood has gotten what he needs and is on his way to the next location. Of his storied speed and efficiency — the discipline of a veteran actor who knows that long stretches of waiting around can wear out a performer — Eastwood says it’s simply a matter of trusting his instincts. “If you have five answers to choose from on a multiple-choice test, usually your first choice is the right answer,” he tells me during a break between shots. Later in the day, Matt Damon, who sports a prosthetic nose, heavily muscled-up physique and a spot-on Afrikaner accent to play the Springboks’ captain, François Pienaar, says that working with Eastwood is “the top of the mountain for every department.” Then he jokes that he’s having such a good time he feels guilty about cashing his paychecks.
“I’ll be waiting for my kickback,” Eastwood grumbles good-naturedly from his director’s chair.
The pace at which Eastwood moves through a movie is the same one with which he greets life itself, as if mindful of the old adage that an idle mind is the devil’s playground. In January of this year, on the eve of his 79th birthday and less than two months before starting the Invictus shoot, he was busy promoting Gran Torino, which became the highest-grossing film of his career as actor or director. When I showed up in South Africa this spring, Eastwood was several days ahead of the planned Invictus shooting schedule. Before postproduction on Invictus wrapped earlier this fall, he was already shooting a new film on location in Paris and London. Keeping up with Clint Eastwood, I discover, can be an exhausting task for all but Eastwood himself.
Based on journalist John Carlin’s superb nonfiction book, Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation, Eastwood’s film returns us to a moment in South Africa’s recent past, when the country was taking its first steps as a free nation after 46 years of segregationist apartheid rule. It was a moment, symbolized by the 1994 election of Mandela (who is played in Invictus by Morgan Freeman) as the country’s first freely elected president, celebrated the world over. At home, however, there was much work to be done. As Carlin explains in his dense and deeply reported account, Mandela’s election was the culmination of a decadelong series of secret negotiations between the future president, the reigning National Party government of F.W. de Klerk, and the leaders of the pro-black African National Congress, designed to bring an end to apartheid while forestalling the civil war that threatened to erupt between extremist groups on both ends of the political spectrum. Still, as Mandela took office, there were those members of the former ruling class who suspected him of being a “terrorist” who wanted to “drive the white man into the sea.” Similarly, certain Mandela supporters wished he would do exactly that.
“Don’t address their brains, address their hearts” had long been Mandela’s personal credo when it came to dealing with his jailers and political opponents. While incarcerated at Pollsmoor Prison in the 1980s, Mandela had boned up on the predominately Afrikaner pastime of rugby in order to work his patented charm offensive on one of the prison’s senior officers — a strategy that resulted in Mandela getting a much-desired hot plate for his cell. Now, in a display of the uncanny prescience and insight into human nature that defined his political career, Mandela would again turn to the secular religion of sports as a way of unifying his nascent “Rainbow Nation.” With the Rugby World Cup scheduled to be hosted by South Africa in little more than a year’s time, he became convinced that the Springboks — who had been banned from international tournament play during the apartheid era — could win the World Cup and, with it, the hearts and minds of the country. The result was an intersection of athletics and politics as dramatic as Jesse Owens’ performance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, or the U.S. hockey team’s defeat of the U.S.S.R. in 1980’s so-called “Miracle on Ice.”
“He just had some instinct — almost like somebody touched him on the shoulder and said, ‘This will work,’ ” says Eastwood with the awe that seems to creep into people’s voices whenever Mandela is mentioned. “How the hell he figured that, I don’t know.”
Seen from the Cape Town shore, Robben Island might be mistaken for a nature preserve (indeed, it is home to several thousand indigenous penguins, rabbits and feral cats) or a rustic tourist retreat. As you draw near, however, there is something forbidding about the former leper colony and the jagged limestone rocks that form a natural barricade around it.
The day after my initial visit to the Invictus set, the tourist ferry transporting Eastwood and the crew from the mainland is painted with brightly colored human figures raising their hands in gestures of freedom, but the two dozen extras seated nearby, costumed in Robben Island’s apartheid-era prison khakis, offer a vivid reminder of the enemies of the state who made this very journey in the hold of the ship, blacked-out portholes obscuring their view. Decommissioned now and preserved as a historical museum staffed mostly by former inmates, a small primary school offering the only evidence of the dwindling local population, Robben Island exudes the haunted air of a Civil War battlefield or a Nazi concentration camp — a monument to inhumanity. It is here, in one of the long, barrackslike buildings dotting the arid landscape, that prisoner number 46664, a.k.a. Nelson Mandela, spent two-thirds of his 27-year incarceration.
The first of the day’s scenes to be shot dramatizes an actual visit to the prison made by the Springboks in May 1995, the day after they had vanquished defending champions Australia in the first match of the World Cup. As the actors file in — most, except for Damon and Eastwood’s 23-year-old son, Scott (who is playing the fly half Joel Stransky), actual rugby players cast locally — no acting is needed to express their astonishment at what they see. The spartan cells where Mandela and his fellow prisoners were held measure about 50 square feet — barely large enough for a man of Mandela’s size (more than 6 feet tall) to extend fully his arms. Mandela’s cell, which has been kept in its original condition, contains only a small table, some metallic bowls, a bucket toilet and a folded blanket. (Beds were not introduced until 1974, a decade into his stay.)
Outside in the prison yard, Eastwood, his cinematographer Tom Stern (an Oscar nominee for his work on 2007’s Changeling) and visual effects supervisor Michael Owens stand in a semicircle discussing several approaches to filming a scene in which Pienaar sees a transparent, ghostly image of Mandela, sitting alone in his cell, reading the William Ernest Henley poem that will eventually give the movie (at this point known only as Untitled Mandela Project) its title. Meanwhile, the production designer James J. Murakami (also a Changeling Oscar nominee) is dressing the prison yard in sand and limestone for a flashback scene in which Mandela and other prisoners sit chiseling the large rocks into smaller ones — the bane of many a Robben Islander’s existence. Helping to set the scene is Derrick Grootboom, an ANC activist and former Robben Island inmate who was arrested in 1986 on charges of sabotage, after lobbing a petrol bomb through the window of a government eviction office in the town of Dysselsdorp. Sentenced to seven years, he remained on Robben Island until the last political prisoners were freed, in 1991.
“There are always good people amongst us,” the cheerful Grootboom tells me as we sit on one of the large limestone slabs, recalling one birthday he celebrated behind bars. Although he received no gifts, one of the guards sang him a song, “Jesus Is Love” by the Commodores. “He lifted me up,” Grootboom says, staring off into the distance. Now 42 and recently elected as a judge to the Cape High Court, Grootboom was working as a private prosecutor when the Springboks played their 1995 World Cup Final against New Zealand’s undefeated All Blacks and remembers watching the game on television together with his colleagues. “We weren’t White, Black, Indian and Coloured,” he says, rattling off apartheid’s four racial designations. “We were just South Africans.” Then came the iconic moment, depicted in Eastwood’s film, when Mandela stepped onto the field to greet both teams, wearing a Springbok cap and a replica of Pienaar’s No. 6 jersey. “When he went onto the field, wearing that jersey,” Grootboom recalls, “he was the epicenter of where the country was going.” At that point, it could be argued, the Springboks had won something much more valuable than a gilded trophy.
As morning gives way to afternoon, Freeman arrives on set already in costume, his resemblance to Mandela striking. It was, after all, the president himself who, when asked at a press conference whom he thought should play him in a movie, suggested Freeman. Shooting begins, with Freeman and the extras dutifully chiseling away. When Eastwood asks for a second take, Freeman feigns indignation. “Have you ever broken stones?” he asks his director. “This is the last time I work for Eastwood!”
From behind the camera, Eastwood shoots his old friend, whom he has directed twice before, a sly grin.
When Eastwood gets the shot to his liking, the crew breaks for lunch, and I find myself seated opposite an extra playing one of the Robben Island jailers — a thick-necked man with an even thicker Afrikaner accent, who tells me he can trace his family’s lineage back to South Africa’s first Dutch settlers. Afterward, I hop on the wrong transport van and, instead of being taken back to the set, end up on the other end of the island, at the visitor’s center, where Freeman and his longtime agent, Fred Specktor, are cooling their heels until Freeman is needed for his next scene. (Specktor, a no-nonsense, old-school Hollywood type, wears a single gold earring in his right ear, similar to the one in Freeman’s own — the result of a promise the agent made to the actor when he was trying to sign him as a client.)
Courtly and charming, Freeman tells me about the protracted and ultimately fruitless struggle by which he, his producing partner, Lori McCreary, and a succession of writers attempted to distill Mandela’s sprawling 1994 memoir, Long Walk to Freedom, into a manageable screenplay. Then Freeman met John Carlin, when the reporter came to Mississippi (where Freeman resides) to report on American poverty for the Spanish newspaper El Pais. Carlin, who knew of Freeman’s desire to make a film about Mandela, told him the story of Playing the Enemy, which had not yet been published. Freeman, who clearly relishes being a step ahead of the game, had already read Carlin’s book proposal as it was making its way around Hollywoood. The South African–born screenwriter Anthony Peckham was subsequently hired to hammer out a script. When it came to choosing a director, “My first two choices were Clint Eastwood and Clint Eastwood,” says Freeman, who won the 2005 Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as a one-eyed ex-boxer in Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby. Asked to elaborate, Freeman says that while many younger, less confident directors second-guess themselves and dither endlessly with their producers around the playback monitor, Eastwood simply “brings the actors in, figures out how to accommodate what they do, and that’s it.”
With that, we make our way back to the set for Freeman’s last shot of the day — another flashback, this time set in the massive limestone quarry where particle dust so deeply penetrated Mandela’s eyes that, upon his release, he had to have his tear ducts surgically drained. As the sun dips toward the horizon, Freeman climbs down into the quarry, picks up a shovel — a somewhat difficult feat given that the nerves in his left arm are still regenerating from injuries he sustained in an August 2008 car crash — and starts to dig. When Eastwood signals that it’s a wrap for the day, Freeman looks up, wipes his brow and says with a smile, “When you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing in life, you feel good. I’m supposed to be working with Clint Eastwood.”
By early August, barely two months after returning from South Africa, Eastwood and his longtime editor, Joel Cox (an Oscar winner for Unforgiven), have already finished a fine-cut assembly of Invictus, save for some 600 visual-effects shots that will be finessed by Michael Owens before the film’s December release. At the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, on the film scoring stage that bears Eastwood’s name, a large orchestra is recording the Invictus score — a simple piano melody, plus some traditional African choral music and a couple of original songs, most of it written by Eastwood’s son Kyle and his partner Michael Stevens (who have worked on the music for Eastwood’s last five features). In a testament to the literal and figurative family atmosphere that is a constant around Eastwood’s Malpaso Productions, the piano player in the Invictus orchestra is one Michael Lang, son of the legendary Jennings Lang, who produced Eastwood’s 1971 directorial debut, Play Misty For Me. (On the set in South Africa, I also learned that Eastwood’s focus puller, Bill Coe, is married to his boom operator, Gail Carroll-Coe, and that their son, Trevor, also works in the camera department as a loader.)
Toward the back of the stage, the senior Eastwood, flanked by Cox and his in-house producer, Rob Lorenz, gives occasional notes on the placement of a cue but mostly nods his approval as sound and image come together before his eyes. Already, there is much discussion about Eastwood’s next project, Hereafter, which he expects to begin shooting by early fall. Based on an original script by The Queen and Frost/Nixon writer Peter Morgan, the film links together three stories, each in some way about the border between life and death, this world and the next.(Reuniting with his Invictus director, Damon will star as an auto-factory worker who was once a spritual medium.)
“It’s unexplored terrain,” Eastwood tells me when I ask what drew him to the material, and indeed, though he has twice cast himself as something like an angel of death, in the existential westerns High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider, he has never made a film on an overtly supernatural subject. “I liked the way Peter Morgan incorporates real events like the [2004 Indian Ocean] tsunami and the terrorist attacks on London into a fictional story,” he continues. “Also, there’s a certain charlatan aspect to the hereafter, to those who prey on people’s beliefs that there’s some afterlife, and mankind doesn’t seem to be willing to accept that this is your life and you should do the best you can with it and enjoy it while you’re here, and that’ll be enough. There has to be immortality or eternal life and embracing some religious thing. I don’t have the answer. Maybe there is a hereafter, but I don’t know, so I approach it by not knowing. I just tell the story.”
Two weeks later, early on a Friday morning, Owens has a batch of effects shots from Invictus’ climactic World Cup Final ready for Eastwood’s review, and as they look at the footage in a Warner screening room — Owens using a laser pointer to address certain details — what appears on the screen scarcely seems to be computer-generated at all. Mandela’s ghostly apparition on Robben Island does, of course, but most of what Owens has created, like the best film editing, will blend so seamlessly into the finished film as to never be noticed by the average filmgoer.
Sweat and dirt have been added to the Springbok uniforms, as have blood and bruises to the players’ faces. “Grub ’em all up,” Eastwood says enthusiastically, noting that such digital wizardry has alleviated the need for time-consuming makeup touch-ups during shooting. In addition, a film-processing error that had caused the Springboks’ green jerseys to appear brown has been corrected, and Johannesburg’s Ellis Park Stadium, site of the 1995 World Cup Final, has been digitally aged to remove all signs of the facility’s extensive 2008 renovation. Owens, a veteran of George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, who first worked with Eastwood on 2000’s Space Cowboys, acknowledges that there was a steep learning curve involved in bringing the director (who hadn’t made an effects-heavy picture since Firefox nearly two decades earlier) into the CGI era. Yet Eastwood has made the leap, and Owens has become one more indispensable player on team Malpaso.
“There’s a selfishness to it,” Eastwood says when I ask him about his well-known loyalty to his collaborators. “They’re all people I can depend on. They’re people I don’t have to start from scratch with just in order to be on the same wavelength with them. They know kind of where I’m headed, and so we just say a few things to each other and we can be sort of minimalistic as far as the intellectual discussion of things.”
The next time I see Eastwood is on a brisk, slate-colored morning in early November on Hereafter’s London set. A small auditorium in Red Lion Square, near Bloomsbury, has been converted into the fictional Center For Psychic Advancement, for one of several scenes in which Marcus, a 12-year-old boy from an inner-city housing estate, attempts to contact his twin brother, Jason, who is killed in a car accident earlier in the script. Although Eastwood seems his usually relaxed self, there’s a subtle tension in the air brought on by the tight time restrictions governing the use of minors on film sets. Marcus and Jason are played, respectively and sometimes interchangeably, by Frankie and George McLaren, identical twins who have a wise-beyond-their-years pallor reminiscent of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense — a film produced, like Eastwood’s, by the husband-and-wife team of Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy.
Unlike Osment, however, who was already a professional child actor with a string of film and TV credits behind him at the time of M. Night Shyamalan’s film, the McLaren boys are screen newcomers who have been learning as they go on the set. Eastwood, who has directed children many times before, confides that some days have gone more smoothly than others, and in contrast to the taciturn, hands-off directing style Eastwood favors with stars like Damon and Freeman, these non-pros bring out another side of the actor-turned-director — the patient, nurturing mentor. It’s a curious sight indeed, the gruff septuagenarian legend with his arm around the diminutive preteens, literally walking Frankie through the paces of one shot and, a bit later, standing just off camera, breaking down the emotional beats for a close-up in which Georgie must show, without the aid of dialogue, that he is losing faith in yet another sham psychic. “You’re starting to think this guy’s another phony,” Eastwood whispers, then, after getting a reaction he likes, “You’re feeling like you want to get up and leave.”
As the day nears its end in London, Eastwood and producer Lorenz stand around a computer watching QuickTime videos of the latest effects shots e-mailed by Owens from L.A., which is just waking up. Back home, Invictus is being fine-tuned for its first press screenings.
When I see Invictus in its finished form a week or so later, I’m struck by how effectively Eastwood has managed to capture a sense of Mandela’s diplomatic genius while neatly avoiding most of the potholes that have capsized many a Hollywood film about South Africa. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, as global outrage over apartheid politics grew, movies like The Power of One (which also starred Freeman), Cry Freedom (about assassinated activist Steve Biko) and A Dry White Season (featuring Marlon Brando as a charismatic human-rights attorney) took on the subject, mostly by relying on crusading white interlocutors and offering a heavily stereotyped vision of the apartheid struggle, which one native South African, Financial Mail critic Peter Wilhelm, memorably termed “Adolf Hitler versus The Cosby Show.”
Despite the presence of the Pienaar character — and no shortage of bone-crunching rugby action — Invictus is unmistakably told through Mandela’s eyes, with keen attention to the skepticism his policies engendered on both sides of South Africa’s racial divide (typified by an excellent scene in which the president reprimands his own party members for plotting to abolish the Springbok team colors and logo, seen by many South African blacks as symbols of the apartheid patriarchy). At the same time, Eastwood’s film doesn’t suffer from the bleeding-heart rush to canonization that pervaded several lesser, made-for-TV Mandela movies. Although it’s far from a comprehensive biopic, Eastwood and screenwriter Peckham take pains to show the distance between the public and private Mandela, a man who feels considerably more at ease pouring tea for a former enemy than communicating with his estranged wife and children. It is in precisely this gray zone that Freeman’s performance, justly praised by former New York Times South Africa correspondent Bill Keller as “less an impersonation than an incarnation,” grows large. He manages to play one of history’s great men without ever losing sight of the fact that he is, as one of Mandela’s bodyguards describes him in the film, “not a saint. He’s a man, with a man’s problems.”
“You’ve made the first movie of the Obama generation!” So exclaimed an enthusiastic fan upon rushing up to Eastwood after a preview screening of Gran Torino (in which Eastwood starred as a racist Korean War vet who rallies to the defense of his embattled Hmong neighbors) late last year — to which the filmmaker gently replied that he had been born under Herbert Hoover. But somewhere in that exchange lies a particular truth about Eastwood, whose recent films have seemed ineluctably of the moment, even as the director has turned toward the past as a way to explain the present. Far be it for this intrinsically classical, unpretentious filmmaker to tackle head-on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he might give us Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, a double-sided postcard of the “good” war, the young men who fought in it, and the atrocities wrought by each side. While he would surely have equally little interest in making a film directly about the current climate on Capitol Hill, Eastwood might well make one about another divided, economically troubled country pinning its hopes for “change” on its first black leader.
Does that make Invictus the second movie of the Obama generation? It just might, even if Eastwood, who tends to hold his own political views close to the vest, is quick to pooh-pooh the parallels. “The material brought that to my attention, but I wasn’t trying to sell any American politics in the thing,” he tells me when we speak by phone shortly before Thanksgiving. “However,” he continues, “Obama is a charismatic young man, and he did talk about change and all this kind of stuff that sounded great. I mean, it sold the nation on him. Whether he’s able to deliver the goods or not is another thing.”
He then refers to a scene early in Invictus when Mandela, out for an early morning walk on the first day of his presidency, sees an Afrikaans newspaper headline that asks: “He Can Win An Election But Can He Run A Country?” In the film, Mandela responds, “It is a valid question.” On the phone, Eastwood says, “That’s the same question we all probably have about any presidential candidate who wins an election. So far, Obama is having a rough time convincing everybody. Personally, I’m rooting for the guy. I didn’t necessarily support him going in, but I’d like to see him succeed because I want the country to succeed. It would be masochistic to do otherwise.”
While there are those who will inevitably accuse Eastwood of gilding the lily, of telling one of the few optimistic stories to be plucked from a South Africa that remains rife with despair, the counter proof is right there in Invictus itself. For all the celebratory atmosphere of the World Cup Final, the movie ends not with the pomp and circumstance in Ellis Park Stadium or with the crowds of joyous revelers spilling into the Johannesberg streets but rather on the simple, quiet image of the president, seated in the back of his limousine, removing his glasses and massaging the bridge of his nose.
“You see him as a lone figure in the car,” Eastwood says. “You can tell he’s tired. This is just one hurdle, and you get the feeling he’s got a long way to go. You know, he was 75 when he took over as president, which is really old, even by today’s standards” — curious words coming from a man who, six months shy of 80 himself, seems committed to a more feverish pace of work than ever. “In South Africa, there’s still a lot to do after apartheid. There’s still tension there, and the crime rate and other things. This was just a start. I don’t know how this guy Zuma’s going to be,” he says of South Africa’s newest leader, Jacob Zuma, who took office during the Invictus shoot, following a heated power struggle with outgoing President (and Mandela successor) Thabo Mbeki. “You just hope somebody will come and carry the mantle.”
Eastwood’s words echo something said to me back on Robben Island, by the convict turned judge Derrick Grootboom, who, like many I talked to during my time in South Africa, spoke of a nation still sharply divided along racial and economic lines, where the evil of apartheid has been replaced by an equally insidious form of internecine political warfare. As suggested by the this year’s thinly veiled science-fiction allegory District 9, much of the country’s black population still lives in dire poverty in the townships, an AIDS epidemic rages, and violent attacks on immigrants have become increasingly commonplace. Yet, as Grootboom gazed out over the azure waters of Table Bay on that beautiful spring day, his back turned toward the prison that had stolen five years of his youth, something like hope flickered in his eyes. “We are in our Wild West period right now,” he said. “But we are moving quickly into the period where we will realize there is no such thing as ‘free for all.’ You will see us solidifying the rules, and holding people accountable.”
From somewhere behind us, as if to complete Grootboom’s thought, comes Eastwood’s voice, gently issuing a directive to Freeman and crew: “Action.”
'Invictus' is another victory for Eastwood
By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY
The title may mean nothing to you, but the movie certainly will.
Actually, Invictus refers to a William Ernest Henley poem that provided Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) inspiration during his 27 years in prison. Mandela gives a copy to Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon), captain of the national rugby team, hoping it will serve a similar purpose for him. The two join forces, leading the South African team to a World Cup victory and uniting a nation.
Director Clint Eastwood cleverly fuses a political tale and a sports story and serves fact-based inspiration, but nothing so overbearing that you feel battered by uplift. And while Mandela's early days as president of South Africa are by any definition worthy and enthralling, the sport he has chosen to spotlight — rugby — is not. Mandela is an easy sell, but the violent and hard-to-suss-out game is another matter. And yet Eastwood manages to make rugby exciting to watch, though the scenes of the World Cup final drag on.
But the key to Invictus is not players running around on a field. It's two stellar performances and a story that stirs hearts and intrigues minds. It's hard to imagine anyone besides Freeman playing Mandela. He could have coasted on his voice, his charm and expressive face. But he becomes Mandela, and we get a window into the psyche of one of the world's most stirring leaders.
Damon is a rare leading man who also is a viable character actor. This fall, he disappeared into the role of an eccentric whistle-blower in The Informant! He shines again as the Springboks' captain, a far less showy role.
Invictus provides the context leading up to Mandela's historic 1994 election. But it doesn't try to tell the definitive story of his political career. Eastwood focuses on one critical chapter.
Eastwood deftly conveys a country still struggling with apartheid. Mandela liked to get up before dawn. The morning after he is elected, in an illustrative scene, he walks briskly down quiet Johannesburg streets while his bodyguards scramble, watchful and primed for repercussions.
Invictus, which is Latin for "unconquered," gives the poem several meanings in the context of the film. It also applies to Eastwood, who, as one of America's greatest storytellers, finds enthralling tales and fashions them with finesse and an indomitable spirit.
Is Invictus a true and accurate reflection?
The Times January 23, 2010 Ed Grittiths
From William Shakespeare to Clint Eastwood, when you turn history into entertainment, something suffers.
Invictus, the new film about the 1995 rugby union World Cup, does accurately reflect the spirit of that tournament, and I know that because I was there every day, working with the South Africa squad as chief executive of SA Rugby. But I also know — and I appreciate why — that, because the film-makers are telling a story, the lines of history have become more dramatically drawn.
That said, it was a month that seemed surreal — because a country that had been so divided did come together. It might sound sugary to suggest that, but for that month it absolutely did.
I remember standing in the players’ tunnel at Ellis Park in Johannesburg for the final against New Zealand — and this part of the film is accurate — and you could hear this overwhelmingly Afrikaner, white rugby public who were chanting “Nelson! Nelson! Nelson!” when President Mandela came out before the final. You could feel a unity that a few months previously people could not have imagined.
Remember that, for that final, the Boks were vast underdogs. I watched it from the tunnel, a very close game. Coming to the end, Andrew Mehrtens missing a dropped goal for New Zealand, then Joel Stransky getting one for us, and looking round the stadium and seeing on people’s faces the realisation that something no one had thought possible could happen.
I remember Mark Andrews [the lock] had come off the field and we were standing there and his eyes were full of tears and I remember praying: “Lord, if you can help us get us over the line, you know how much this would mean to this country at this time.” There really was an atmosphere of something unbelievable happening around you.
But the idea that the World Cup was part of some preconceived grand plan for the Rainbow Nation — which is a central theme of the movie — is just not accurate. There was no grand plan. It just happened. Call it destiny. Call it whatever you like. It just happened.
What happened was not the cold, calculated result of any planning meeting. It was the spontaneous result of a number of special people, most prominent of whom were Mandela and François Pienaar, coming together in an event that prompted extraordinary emotions around South Africa, and indeed around the rugby world.
There was also no contact between Mandela’s office and the team until he visited them by helicopter at training before the opening match — when Hennie Le Roux [the centre] gave him a Springboks cap. He attended that opening game and he did phone Pienaar a couple of times during the tournament, but he did not attend another match until the final.
There is no question that Mandela saw in the World Cup an opportunity to bring the country together and he led the country to it brilliantly. The instinctive, spur-of-the-moment idea on the morning of the final to wear a No 6 jersey was genius. But the idea that this was some great grand plan hatched a year before by people in a room is just not true.
There is a scene in the film, a year before the tournament, in which Mandela calls in Pienaar and says: “François, I have a plan for you.” I do not want to criticise the film, I understand it is telling a story, but this did not happen.
When the film was being made there was some concern among the Springboks players about how they would be depicted. The film does deep-etch the contrasts, between black and white, old South Africa and the new Republic. At one point it looked as though the film would have Mandela as the catalyst for everything and have him persuading an inherently conservative Afrikaner team to do things such as sing the new anthem and conduct coaching clinics in the townships.
The team were not at all conservative — and thankfully they were not portrayed that way. It is a pity, however, that Kitch Christie, our coach and arguably the most important figure in the winning of the World Cup, has about three lines in the film. I said to Pienaar recently about the film: “There is no way we will ever think Invictus is good enough because the film will never be what we know, what we have in our minds.” That is not a criticism, that is an inescapable reality.
The film touches on the impact of that World Cup, but personal memories inevitably seem more vivid. I recall, in particular, Mandela attending an ANC rally during the tournament when he put on a Springboks cap. The gesture was unthinkable, brilliant. The Springbok emblem was very contentious at the time and viewed by some as being a relic of apartheid.
I also remember The Sowetan, a newspaper for black South Africans, so much so that, at that time, it would hardly carry rugby results. It would not have dreamt of carrying a rugby report. But a sub-editor at the paper came up with this phrase “Amabokoboko”. Amakhosi means tribal chiefs and so Amabokoboko became an Africanised nickname for the Springboks. Early in the tournament, the headline on the front page and the billboards of The Sowetan was “All blacks support Amabokoboko”. To see that from a newspaper that had studiously ignored rugby made you think that something was changing.
The reality: did the 1995 World Cup change South African rugby? Probably not very much. It presented an opportunity to change and that opportunity was not taken. There were various changes of personnel and the hard facts are that, within three years of that scene at Ellis Park, SA Rugby had taken Mandela to court and put him in a witness box over a government inquiry into the governance of the game.
Did it really change much within the country? I am certain it did because, in an emotional sense, tens of millions of South Africans suddenly saw what their country could become, what it could feel like to be united, and the feel-good factor from 1995 survives today, a powerful undercurrent within the national psyche flowing fast and strong into the hosting of the football World Cup this year.
• Ed Griffiths was chief executive of SA Rugby and communications director of the South Africa team during the 1995 World Cup. He is now chief executive of Saracens.
First Night: INVICTUS
Sporting drama that tackles prejudice
By Mike Goodridge, Editor, 'Screen International'
The prospect of a film about Nelson Mandela directed by Clint Eastwood might strike dread into the hearts of many fearing an earnest and over-reverent biopic, but Invictus is instead a surprisingly entertaining sports movie which for the most part follows the conventions of the genre.
Eastwood may have become a one-man movie factory, but his expertise in story structure and editing for maximum effect almost always delivers a considerable emotional impact. Invictus is also perhaps one of the most effective films about the end of apartheid in that the shadow of prejudice and social divide lingers over every frame. Mandela's own 30-year imprisonment is touched upon explicitly, but Eastwood knows that too much didacticism will kill the film so he doesn't dwell on it.
And while obviously steeped in nobility, Mandela, as played by the actor the premier always wanted to portray him – Morgan Freeman – is a playful, strategic man prepared to break ranks with his own and side with the whites on the issue of rugby. He's also alone, estranged from his wife and his family and surrounded by security teams at all times. It's hardly the picture we might have expected. Freeman, boasting an apparently flawless accent, has never been better. And Matt Damon, his hair dyed blond, his frame beefed up for the part of Francois Pienaar, is also compelling as the dedicated team captain who apparently hasn't given Mandela's predicament much thought before but who develops a personal rapport with the man.
The film also spends time showing us Mandela's staff – his chief of staff Brenda Mazibuko (played by Adjoa Andoh) and his head of security Jason Tshabalala (Tony Kgoroge), who both express bewilderment as his enthusiasm for integrating whites into the new administration.
This being a big Hollywood sports movie, however, the real focus is on the final itself, a match in which the Springboks devoted a large part of their energies to stopping Jonah Lomu. The finale, which lasts about 40 minutes, features real rugby players in the roles of the Springboks and All-Blacks including a convincing Lomu lookalike. Although the match itself wasn't the best rugby ever seen on the world stage, it's an epic battle which Eastwood turns into a classically rousing climax.
Everybody who works with Eastwood knows that he is a fast film-maker. Sometimes his speed shows and many of the interior scenes look like a cheap BBC drama. But he will win over many a cynic with the match itself which is shot and edited with all the manipulative tricks he can muster. When Pienaar is handed the World Cup by Mandela, Invictus will make grown men cry.
Morgan Freeman's diligent, nuanced portrayal of Nelson Mandela fails to save this sporting fable from a creativity deficit
Sunday 31 January 2010
"We need inspiration," declares Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in the midst of Clint Eastwood's ceremonial tale of the 1995 rugby World Cup in post-apartheid South Africa. Mandela is ostensibly talking about the country as a whole, though he may as well be exhorting Invictus itself – a monolithic sporting saga that seems content to pose on the podium, lulled by the belief that its subject matter provides inspiration enough. At times it feels as though Eastwood has elected to skip the contest and proceed straight to the trophy presentation.
It's not that Mandela's turbulent first year as South Africa's president is lacking in drama. Invictus, which has its UK premiere tonight, plays out in a land scarred by apartheid and facing an uncertain future, led by an man still regarded by large swaths of the population as an unrepentant terrorist hell-bent on settling old scores. The genius of Mandela was in somehow managing to soothe these tensions, cajoling his countrymen towards an uneasy truce. But in charting this struggle, Eastwood sticks too close to the playbook and frames history as an airbrushed Hollywood heartwarmer. The implication is that, by the time our hero takes his seat at the world cup finals, none of these issues was ever a problem again.
Casting about for a symbol of the new, integrated South Africa, the newly elected president hits upon what initially seems an unruly and divisive candidate. The Springboks rugby team are not just languishing in the doldrums, they are also seen as a bastion of old white rule and therefore despised by the black majority who cheer whatever team is playing them. But Mandela spies an opportunity. He celebrates the Springboks' lone black player and sets out to woo its foursquare captain, François Pienaar (Matt Damon).
Raised in a family of racist Afrikaans, Pienaar goes to his first meeting like a man contemplating root canal surgery. Needless to say, he comes out converted. "He's the greatest man I've ever met," Pienaar gushes to his wife.
The rest of Invictus (which takes its name from the WE Henley poem) follows the Springboks' unlikely push towards the World Cup final, where they face-off against New Zealand. After a lifetime playing Cinderella, Pienaar's stoic maid is duly invited to the ball. Outside the stadium, a pair of white cops listen to the match on the radio while a black urchin eavesdrops a short distance away. But by the time the contest has reached its conclusion, the cops have hoisted the kid on their shoulders and are presumably planning to pay his way through college. Invictus is that kind of movie.
Decent acting keeps it halfway honest. While hardly a dead-ringer for Mandela, Freeman turns in a diligent, nuanced impersonation that at least hints at the private man behind the public image. His Mandela is by turns wise and wily; his seraphic smile concealing a life of shadows. Meanwhile, Damon makes a good fist of his role as Pienaar, although his character is seldom allowed to be more than a plot device: the Afrikaner who sees the light.
The trouble with Invictus is that it is more monument than motion picture: handsome, reverent and heavy. How curious that this cautious, constrained affair was recently handed the Freedom of Expression award by the National Board of Review. Freedom of expression? Really? Judged in terms of creativity, spectacle and drama, Invictus might as well be stuck on Robben Island.