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With a new wife and baby, Dirty Harry is ready to come clean. In a frank interview, Clint Eastwood talks about his off-screen demons, his battles with former lover Sondra Locke, and his life in politics

Josh Young
Sunday 04 May 1997 00:02 BST

Clint Eastwood has a flaw. A skin graft for a basal cell carcinoma has left a small, reddish-pink scar just under his left eye on that Mount Rushmore face, and he feels uncomfortable being photographed until it heals. The man who has symbolised American masculinity and individualism to movie audiences all over the world for the second half of the 20th century is now 66 years old, and he's self-conscious.

The day before I met Eastwood in Carmel, California, at the Mission Ranch, his beautiful, historic seaside property with guest bungalows, restaurant and tennis club, he put the finishing touches to his forty-third film, Absolute Power, a political thriller based on the best-selling novel by David Baldacci. Eastwood directs, produces, and stars - as a somewhat honourable jewel thief named Luther Whitney, who, when burglarising a mansion, witnesses a sex-gone-awry murder involving the President and his mistress. The scene of the crime is sanitised by Secret Service agents, but Luther ends up with a piece of evidence that can implicate the Commander- in-Chief. Thus, in a theme that seems resonant for Eastwood, a man with a less than squeaky clean past ends up with more power than the President of the United States.

The movie is the most expensive Eastwood has directed, costing more than $40 million. Financed by Castle Rock Entertainment, it marks Eastwood's first directorial foray away from Warner Bros, his home studio since 1975. In 1992, Castle Rock cast Eastwood as the lead in In the Line of Fire, when he was on a box-office cold streak before Unforgiven was released. Now Castle Rock, which hasn't had a true hit since In the Line of Fire, is counting on Eastwood.

Castle Rock submitted the screenplay to Eastwood and offered him the role of the detective pursuing Luther. The actor opted instead to play the morally vague jewel thief, drawn to the character in part because of a strong parallel between Luther's relationship with his estranged daughter and Eastwood's with his oldest child, Kimber, 32. Indeed, in one of the major modifications Eastwood made to the story, Luther and his daughter are reconciled.

In 1964, Eastwood was unaware that Roxanne Tunis had given birth to his daughter that June. Tunis, an actress and stunt woman, had an affair with Eastwood during his stint on the TV western Rawhide and kept the pregnancy a secret from her married lover. Over the years, Kimber has made conflicting statements about her father: once, that he has always been there for her; another time, that she "tried to make an appointment to see him, but he always has other commitments". He has said precious little about her.

Eastwood's films have always mirrored his life. In the beginning, he played tough guys who made a virtue of independence. In his spaghetti westerns, he was the Man With No Name and no attachments. Later, in The Outlaw Josey Wales, his entire family is wiped out in the first sequence. In the early Dirty Harry films, he is married only to his work. More recently Eastwood has turned into the melancholy hero. It started with Unforgiven, in which his character learns the hard way that past killing cannot be redeemed. As the only active Secret Service agent to lose a President in In the Line of Fire; as the itinerant photographer in The Bridges of Madison County; and as Luther in Absolute Power he plays men with estranged wives who are trying to correct past mistakes.

Now, sitting in the ranch's Bunkhouse cottage, Eastwood is fit and dressed like the average Joe, in a black windbreaker, rubber-soled shoes, and socks too short to hide his ankles when he props his feet on the table. Occasionally, he runs his hands through his silver hair. Well aware of the evolving common thread of pensive heroes in his recent films, Eastwood says, "There has to be something in every role that interests you."

He continues: "Sometimes it's repairing past mistakes. Or maybe like In the Line of Fire it's getting another shot at redemption."

FEW LIFE stories measure up to Eastwood's, with its seemingly perfect proportions of humility and self-assurance. He's a multimillionaire who carries a Velcro wallet, a Depression-era child who grew up in working- class cities in northern California. His family moved eight times during his childhood, towing their belongings in a two-wheeled cart behind the car as Eastwood's father changed jobs. By Eastwood's high-school years, his dad had climbed the corporate ladder at the Container Corporation of America, and the family had a house with a swimming pool, as well as a vacation home. After high school, Eastwood adopted his father's divagating ways, working as a lumberjack, then in a pulp mill, and finally in a steel plant.

Drafted for the Korean war, Eastwood was stationed at Fort Ord near Carmel and assigned to lifeguard duty. There he met actor David Janssen and eventually made his way to Hollywood, where he worked as a contract actor before being cast as Rowdy Yates in Rawhide. After pioneering the spaghetti-western genre and creating the cultural phenomenon Dirty Harry, Eastwood developed into a thrifty film-maker with few neuroses who has earned Warner Bros more than $1.5 billion. He is a celebrity who has cultivated disparate interests, including playing the piano, listening to Charlie Parker, playing golf, and piloting his own helicopter.

Virtually no one questions the Eastwood narrative. Partly because his screen persona has endured for five decades, partly because the man who was once branded as B-movie material has become so respectable. It started with his decoration by the French Ministry of Culture as a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres in 1985 (which the New York Times called the beginning of "the Clint Eastwood Magical Respectability and European Accolade and Adulation Tour") and culminated when he won best picture and best director Oscars for Unforgiven in 1993.

In this era of gossip-column journalism, Eastwood has inexplicably remained bulletproof to scandal. He has fathered at least seven children with five different women and carried on numerous affairs. In addition to Kimber, Eastwood has two children from his 25-year marriage to his first wife, Maggie: Kyle, 28, a jazz musician who played with the band in The Bridges of Madison County; and Alison, 24, a model who portrayed Eastwood's daughter in Tightrope. He also has a 10-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl from an affair with a former flight attendant named Jacelyn Reeves. He has a three-year-old daughter, Francesca, from his relationship with actress Frances Fisher. Most recently, his new bride, Dina Ruiz, gave birth to a daughter, Morgan, in December.

Eastwood, who once described himself as a bum and drifter, seems somehow to renew himself by shedding people close to him. Though he was married to Maggie for 25 years, he spent the last five living with the actress Sondra Locke. The year before his bitter parting with Locke, Eastwood began dating Fisher. He and Fisher lived together for six years, but during that time Eastwood started seeing Ruiz. Casting off people close to him isn't restricted to women: Eastwood no longer speaks to Fritz Manes, his close friend of more than four decades.

By all accounts, Eastwood doesn't reveal himself or his emotions, even to his closest friends. "He is what you project on to him," says Oscar- winning producer Lili Zanuck, a close friend of Eastwood's. "The man you meet is that screen persona but with more depth. His whole value system is based on what the individual can do and overcome. The roots of it are in his not having to ask, or not having to say, `Thank you'."

THERE IS perhaps no other actor whose popularity crosses generational and geographical lines like Eastwood's, and for this reason he is easily one of the most admired people in Hollywood. He now has a carte blanche deal with Warner Bros. For the self-made and relatively frugal Eastwood, money is a touchy subject. He says early on he told his agent, Leonard Hirshan, that he didn't want to hear his salary bandied about. "My mother always told me it wasn't polite to ask what people make," Eastwood explains. Hollywood trade papers are constantly publishing stories about actors' salaries. But "you will not find anyone who will talk about [Eastwood's] fee," says Castle Rock Pictures president Martin Shafer. Almost certainly, Eastwood earns as much as any top star working in the movie business today.

Which is not to say that his films have always been box-office successes. Bird, Eastwood's cherished 1988 film on the tragic life of Charlie Parker, earned him a few favourable reviews but failed at the box office. Pink Cadillac in 1989 and the ambitious White Hunter, Black Heart were also financial disappointments. Eastwood recognised, too, that his Dirty Harry character would need to be retired. "Clint would make remarks like, `I don't know how much longer people can look at this face'; `I guess they don't like your old dad so much any more,' " Sondra Locke told me when I interviewed her two years ago, referring to the period between 1986 to 1988.

But because of Eastwood's reputation for financial responsibility (Warner Bros chairman Terry Semel once said, "He's more careful with our money than we are"), there was no need for Castle Rock to look over his shoulder during the production of Absolute Power. Eastwood has not gone over-budget on any of the 19 films he's directed. He finished shooting Absolute Power 17 days ahead of schedule and substantially under-budget. " `It's all going to work effortlessly,' " Shafer recalls him saying before filming began. "And that's the way it was." Even the most crippling obstacle is overcome with Eastwood at the helm. The same day that Eastwood planned to shoot outside the Treasury Building in Washington, DC, a fire broke out inside. Everyone was evacuated and the surrounding streets were shut down. But because of Eastwood's chummy relationship with the Secret Service from In the Line of Fire and his reputation for efficiency, the crew was allowed to set up next to the fire trucks and get the shot they needed. "They said only because it's Clint Eastwood you can film," recalls producer Tom Rooker.

Shafer was the only Castle Rock executive who even visited the set - two courtesy calls to show Eastwood some advertising materials. "Everything you ever want to know about Clint Eastwood you can learn by going to the set at lunchtime," Shafer says. "There is a line of people waiting at the lunch truck and there is Clint standing in line with everybody. He sits down at the table with everybody, and if you're a grip or a trucker and you want to sit with Clint, then you sit with Clint. There is no star shit at all."

SONDRA LOCKE, who is petite and has a delicate way about her, is one of the few people to have challenged the Eastwood narrative. Because of this, she says, she experienced the full weight of his power. She has filed two lawsuits against him: a palimony suit in 1989 and a fraud suit in 1996. The couple's ugly break-up allowed a rare glimpse into Eastwood's private life.

The two became intertwined both personally and professionally in 1975. She played his sidekick in six films, and he sponsored her directorial debut, Ratboy. When they met, Eastwood was still married to Maggie. Locke was also married, to Gordon Anderson, a childhood friend. Locke credits Anderson with helping her win a national talent search for her first part, in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter which got her out of dreary Shelbyville, Tennessee. Though Anderson is gay, they wed in the late Sixties, and Locke promised to support him forever. They are still married.

In the last few years of Eastwood and Locke's relationship, Eastwood says he became fed up with Anderson's constant need for attention and Locke's readiness to supply it. After Anderson's male lover left him, Eastwood says Locke would drive her depressed husband around LA at all hours of the night, visiting significant places from Anderson's former, broken relationship. "She spent 98 to 100 per cent of her time coddling Anderson," Eastwood says. "On my end, I was bored with it. At some point, you go, `I want a normal relationship in life. I want a girl for me.' " He says he was also tired of footing the bill. Besides buying the $1.3 million house on Stradella Road in Bel Air where he lived with Locke, he purchased a place on North Crescent Heights for Anderson and leased it to him and Locke for $1,000 a month. "She's married to someone who doesn't work. So what does that do? That makes me the sole provider. Well, I didn't feel like adopting children. I have children of my own."

Anderson, who looked like a heavier Truman Capote back when he gave me a tour of the house in 1995, boasted that Eastwood bought it for him. But he also said he felt no gratitude because of the way Eastwood treated Locke. In a bizarre maze of reason, Anderson believed that Locke had to go through a 13-year relationship with Eastwood, ending up in two hellish legal battles spanning seven years, for a metaphysical reason. "It was probably so I could work the guillotine," he said, a reference to his using Eastwood's contacts in France to gain rare access to the ancient death machine, which fascinated him. "They're both very macabre," Eastwood says.

A relationship that Eastwood and Locke admit had once been good turned bad and then downright ugly. On 3 April 1989, Eastwood confronted Locke at the Stradella house and asked her to move to Crescent Heights. She refused. The next week, while Locke was scouting locations for Impulse, which she was directing, Eastwood moved her belongings into storage and changed the locks on the house. When Anderson phoned Locke on the set to tell her, she fainted.

Locke quickly filed a $25 million palimony suit. Unbeknown to her, Eastwood had installed a telephone-tapping system in the Stradella basement while she was living in the house. He claims he was receiving death threats and wanted a record of them for the police. In his deposition for the palimony suit, Eastwood said he concluded that Anderson was making the threats. Eastwood also related a conversation between Locke and Anderson in which she said that if Eastwood showed up on the set, "I'd go to my purse, take out my gun [a .25 calibre automatic pistol that Eastwood had loaned her] and shoot him in the back of the fucking head." The taps had also tipped him off that Locke had hired a lawyer, which he later called an "assault on my estate".

"He had every right, if he didn't love me, to end the relationship," Locke told me. "But he didn't have the right to ... treat me that way. That's where the line is drawn with Clint. He has all the rights and you have none, across the board, no matter the situation."

Locke battled Eastwood for more than a year, during which time she discovered she had breast cancer. The treatments, she says, sapped her will to fight. In November 1990, she settled, receiving the Crescent Heights house (in which Anderson still lives), $450,000 in cash for "past employment" at Malpaso (Eastwood's production company) and a $1.5 million producing and directing deal at Warner Bros, which Eastwood had used his influence to procure.

It turned out that Eastwood, without Locke's knowledge, had agreed that if the deal was not fruitful for the studio, Eastwood would cover its losses. Indeed, part of the deal's cost was ultimately subtracted from the profits of Unforgiven.

Last year, Locke again sued Eastwood, this time for fraud, claiming she would never have settled had she known Eastwood was underwriting the Warner deal. Accusing him of trying to sabotage her career, she asked for $2 million plus damages. This time Eastwood went to court. "It just wasn't true," he says, furrowing his brow and delivering his intimidating squint. "I wasn't in collusion with Warner Bros to keep her out of work. I can't say let's take a lie-detector test because the law doesn't adhere to that, but I would in a second."

The case went to trial. While the jury was deliberating, Eastwood settled for an undisclosed sum. Several jury members reportedly said that they were about to find for Locke. "If you look at [Locke's lawsuits] money was the issue," Eastwood now says. "Somebody can make up stories and put on an act and play the victim. Are they victims, or are they volunteers? Some people feel that the world owes them a living."

While Eastwood has a reputation for being easy-going and understated, people who know him well say he can be uncommunicative and non-confrontational, bordering on passive-aggressive. Lili Zanuck, a confidante of Locke's who had harsh words for Eastwood during the break-up, now thinks she understands his reticence. "I learned that you have to listen to what he's not saying," she says.

Part of Eastwood's secretive nature undoubtedly stemmed from his having to cover up what he himself called, in Richard Schickel's glowing recent biography of him, his "habitual" promiscuity. Locke says he used to sing, "She made me monogamous," even though he had secretly fathered Jacelyn Reeves's two children while Eastwood and Locke were living together and he was mayor of Carmel. Locke learnt of the relationship only after she filed her palimony suit. Frances Fisher lived with Eastwood for six years and had a daughter with him before she found out about that other family. Fisher told Schickel that on the subject of infidelity Eastwood quoted his character in Unforgiven: "I ain't like that no more." But she later found out that he was.

FRITZ MANES and Eastwood met in the Forties. By high school, they were sneaking into bars to drink beer illegally, chase women and listen to jazz. In 1973 Manes went to work for Malpaso. People close to Eastwood say Manes probably knows him better than anyone. But during the filming of Locke's Ratboy, which Manes produced for Malpaso in 1985, a schism developed between the two men. Later, Manes found that his pay cheque authorisation from Warner Bros had been mysteriously revoked. Manes called Eastwood for an explanation, and his friend said he was closing the office. When Manes hung up and began delivering the bad news to other employees, he discovered he was the only one being let go.

Strangely, both men still say they like one another, though they don't speak. Eastwood claims the professional split didn't ruin his friendship with Manes, but the two have only seen each other two or three times in passing since 1986. "I promoted him into a position, and he didn't perform," Eastwood says - an odd comment given that Manes had worked as producer on 16 films for Malpaso. "He's a good guy. I have no hard feelings."

Manes, whose career since has been a struggle, has never attempted to reconcile with his old pal, but he is not bitter. "My friendship with Clint was one of the most beautiful things in my life," he told me. "I don't really know what happened, but I don't have a harsh word for him."

Surprisingly, others who feel wronged by Eastwood also still maintain affection for him. A former story analyst for Warner Bros, Megan Rose, says that in late 1983, she gave her friend Eastwood a script titled The William Munny Killings, by David Webb Peoples. The work was under option to Francis Ford Coppola, but when his option lapsed, Eastwood purchased the rights. He then sat on the script for several years, calling it a little gold watch that he could bank on. Finally in 1991, after a string of box-office duds, Eastwood pulled out his secret weapon and changed the title to Unforgiven. By the time Unforgiven went into production, Rose had spent a year out of work with Lyme disease. She says she reminded Eastwood several times of what she claims was his promise to pay her a finder's fee if he ever made the film. Eastwood says it was offered as a writing sample and denies he ever made her promises.

While telling the story, Rose becomes so emotional she begins to cry. "He would have never seen that script," she says. But though Rose feels Eastwood let her down, she remains enamoured of him. "I have totally forgiven him," she says. "My life is not about money. I still like him and believe in him."

Indeed, the longevity of most of Eastwood's professional attachments is unsurpassed in Hollywood - unit publicist Marco Barla has worked for him for 18 years, film editor Joel Cox for 22, director of photography Jack Green for 25, prop master Eddie Aiona for 28. But those relationships are all business. Tom Rooker's 12-year employment with Eastwood began when he served as a campaign volunteer for Eastwood's Carmel mayoral race. Rooker's wife, Melissa, is also employed by Eastwood, as a production executive. Still, when asked if Eastwood is now playing characters closer to who he is, Rooker says, "I really don't know who he is."

ONCE, WHEN Eastwood and Locke were riding in a limousine past the White House during Ronald Reagan's first term, she says that Eastwood turned to her and said, "All this could be ours." If Ronald Reagan made it, why not Clint Eastwood? Eastwood himself had seen the early signs of Reagan's magnetism in the early Sixties, when Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild. "During an actors' strike he gave a speech that just knocked everybody out," Eastwood recalls. "We all thought, too bad he's an actor, because he could be a politician."

Even at the height of Reagan's popularity, a poll of young Americans ranked Eastwood atop their list of heroes, ahead of Reagan, the Pope and Mother Teresa. With Reagan in the White House, Eastwood must have believed he had a shot at political power, too. His portrayal of Dirty Harry tapped into the anti- liberal, anti-bureaucracy sentiment that helped elect the California governor. Once in the White House, Reagan governed like an Eastwood movie hero, right down to borrowing Dirty Harry's lines to challenge Congress.

But for Eastwood, running for higher office would have meant answering questions. "I'd hate to have to bear that scrutiny," he admits, chuckling at the thought. Good fortune, Eastwood believes, is what distinguishes Presidents. "Reagan was a lucky guy," he says. "Clinton is, too. They're alike in that way. Things come along that look like they're going to tag them, but they manage to bob and weave like Muhammad Ali. It's a combination of skill and luck."

Eastwood decided to run for mayor of Carmel for much the same reason that Dirty Harry became a vigilante. Bureaucracy infuriated him. It started when he wanted to raze the shabby building adjacent to his Hog's Breath Inn restaurant - home of the Dirty Harry dinner: ground chuck steak with sauteed mushrooms - and build a spiffy new one. The designs were approved by the city's planning commission, but the city council halted the project, citing a zoning ordinance written in 1929.

While Eastwood sued and extracted an out-of-court settlement allowing him to continue construction, that wasn't the end. Several business owners who opposed restrictions on development urged Eastwood to run for mayor against Charlotte Townsend, the two-term incumbent and preservationist. Eastwood hired Eileen Padberg, a Republican political consultant from Orange County, and hours before the deadline in 1986, he filed as a candidate. All politics being local, a simple strategy was employed: he wouldn't grant any interviews with the national press; he would run a positive campaign under the theme "Bringing the Community Together", with no attacks on Townsend; he would spend as much time as possible in Carmel and campaign door-to-door, and he wouldn't be seen around town with any women. "He made a great candidate because he has a true sense of himself," explains Padberg. "He knows where he fits in with regard to the rest of the world, and his ego isn't out of whack - a real problem in politics." Before Eastwood had decided to run, Padberg's polling showed that losing was a distinct possibility. But Eastwood won a landslide victory, receiving 72.5 per cent of the vote. President Reagan called to congratulate him.

Once the media frenzy had subsided, Eastwood settled into the delicate task of governing the heavily regulated, one-square-mile city of 4,709 people. At the first council meeting, he played a little partisan politics and dumped the unfriendly six-member planning commission. He also streamlined the process for obtaining permits. "If you went to those meetings, it was like watching paint dry," he says. "I got people who were more flexible and diverse - like having architects rather than a gas-station attendant decide design review."

But sewer-bond issues and roof permits soon became tedious. Eastwood decided not to run for a second term. "I did what I was elected to do," he says. Like Reagan, Eastwood left a legacy. His ally Jean Grace succeeded him as mayor and his pro-business planning commission stayed in place. "During those six years, there was unprecedented building in Carmel and expansion of commercial use," says local attorney Thomas Nash, one of the discarded planning commissioners. "What Eastwood did here paralleled what Reagan did with the rise of free enterprise and relaxed regulations."

A life-long Republican who cast his first presidential vote for Dwight D Eisenhower, Eastwood says he now leans libertarian. He attributes this shift in philosophy to maturity and his dismay with bureaucracy. "Government should stay out of people's face," he says. "You can only do that to a degree because you have to have a social structure, but everything has become so regulated. Politicians love regulating. That's part of the whole power structure."

Interestingly, morality has become an overriding concern for Eastwood. He points to recent, well-publicised FBI debacles as examples of people's distrust of government agencies, and he makes a parallel with the Nuremberg trials. "[Back then] we convicted people based on not adhering to a higher morality," he says. "We asked the Nazis, `Why did you do it?' They said, `Because Adolf Eichmann told us to.' Well, that's not good enough.

"There are whole facets of society who are distrustful of government and government bureaucracy," he says. "I was the young rebel once with Dirty Harry, but it has become a widespread rebellion, and the government is feeling the pressure. When do we [Americans] start thinking in terms of a different morality? The FBI, when I grew up, was revered. Now you're thinking, `Jesus, I don't know' with some of the stuff they've done. When does the individual break away and say, `No, you can't do that.' "

EASTWOOD SELDOM gets involved in political causes beyond non-partisan work for agencies such as the California Parks and Recreation Department. One of the few causes he did lend his money and influence to turned out to be a comical mess. In 1982, Eastwood read about Lieutenant Colonel James "Bo" Gritz, a Green Beret decorated for his service in Vietnam, who was raising money for a secret incursion into Laos to rescue soldiers listed as missing in action. Gritz was sure they were prisoners of war. Eastwood was put in touch with Gritz, who asked the director to create a diversion by making a movie on the Thailand border so his operatives could slip into Laos. Eastwood reportedly gave Gritz up to $50,000 for his mission and asked corporate chief executives for equipment donations.

Eastwood also arranged a meeting between Manes, Reagan and Gritz's second- in-command at the President's Santa Barbara ranch. The meeting lasted more than two hours, according to Manes. Reagan had Robert McFarlane, then chief deputy to the national security adviser, look into the Laos matter. Word came back to McFarlane from Richard Childress, then director of Asian affairs for the National Security Council, that the Gritz matter should not be pursued.

None the less, Eastwood lent Gritz and his foot soldiers his northern- California ranch for a "communications check" one day. With Manes supervising, the Warner jet in Burbank was flown to the ranch, loaded with M-16s, state- of-the-art communications systems, and camouflage gear. Later that day, Gritz and his men were detained and questioned for testing their equipment. According to Manes, when the sheriff called Eastwood, he told him that the men were trying out radios for his next film. "They had no idea what they were doing, and none of the equipment worked," Manes remembers. "It was like a monkey fucking a football." By the time Gritz was ambushed in Thailand during his attempted incursion, Eastwood had become sceptical. He told his biographer Richard Schickel it was like "the Marx Brothers go to Cambodia".

BOTH LOCKE and Fisher say the soft and admirable side of Eastwood emerges, appropriately enough, when he returns to Rising River Ranch, a picturesque spread in northern California that he bought in 1978 for $1.9 million. Locke recalls him pausing at the front gate, each time they arrived, to pick sage and savour the scent. "Clint would get like a little boy," she says. "That was the best part of Clint."

Fisher says that after the birth of their daughter in 1993, Eastwood spent the next five weeks at the ranch with them, cooking every meal for her and helping with feedings. "He became the person I always knew was in him," Fisher has said.

That appears to be the predominant side of Eastwood these days, as he begins anew with Dina Ruiz and his four-month-old daughter, Morgan. Eastwood and Ruiz, who is a year younger than his daughter Kimber, were married in March 1996, and nine months later, on 12 December, Morgan was born. Eastwood says he is settling down for good. When he talks about his wife, he slips into a love-struck teenage grin. Admittedly, he likes the fact that he doesn't need to worry about Ruiz's dependence on him financially or professionally: when her maternity leave is finished Ruiz plans to return to work as a news anchor for the NBC-affiliated television station in Salinas, California.

"She's certainly the light of my life," Eastwood says of his new bride. "She's younger than I am, but she's more mature than a lot of older women. To me, she's just perfect. This is it. As far as I'm concerned, this is the woman I like monogamy with. She's quirky but fun, and she's got a really good soul. I never had the feeling that she is there for monetary gain."

Eastwood vows things will be different with Morgan. "As you get older you get more interested in kids, because you're not so busy scrambling for a career," he says. "It's not necessarily like you're trying to correct the mistakes you made as a younger person, but you're trying to ration your time more carefully." In fact, Eastwood says, he's going to complete his next film, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, based on John Berendt's best-seller, this spring so he can spend the summer with his family.

"I have a very successful career, but if it walked out tomorrow, I'd still be very happy," he says. "Your focus changes. I'm not in such a hurry. I look out at this" - he gestures at the view that reaches across the green pastures of the Mission Ranch all the way to a sandy beach - "and it's always been beautiful. But I need to spend a little more time looking at it."

`Absolute Power' (15) opens on 30 May at cinemas nationwide.

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