When Clint Eastwood was cast as The Man With No Name in A Fistful of Dollars, what would become the first installment in the Dollars Trilogy, he already had nearly a decade of acting experience to his name. The past nine years, however, had been filled with one-off cameos and uncredited appearances. The now-iconic actor had yet to catch his big break.
So, in an effort to break into Hollywood, Eastwood traveled all the way to Italy, where he starred in the spaghetti Western created by a relatively unknown director, Sergio Leone. And together, the pair created history, bringing to life some of the most celebrated Westerns of all time.
In a 1984 interview with American Film, Sergio Leone explained, rather grandiloquently, what he saw in the young Clint Eastwood. “The story is told that when Michelangelo was asked what he had seen in the one particular block of marble, which he chose among hundreds of others, he replied that he saw Moses,” the director said. “I would offer the same answer to your question—only backwards.”
“When they ask me what I ever saw in Clint Eastwood, who was playing I don’t know what kind of second-rate role in a Western TV series in 1964, I reply that what I saw, simply, was a block of marble.”
Director Sergio Leone Compares Clint Eastwood to Robert De Niro
Sergio Leone was, presumably, a fan of Clint Eastwood’s, as the then-budding actor helped launch his career to new heights. It’s difficult to tell, though. Leone’s comparison of the Dirty Harry star to Robert De Niro reads like a backhanded compliment at best.
This comparison probably seems random, but in 1984, it made complete sense. Sergio Leone had just completed Once Upon a Time in America starring Robert De Niro. The director was still best known, however, for his work with Eastwood, leading him to wax poetic about their differences as actors.
“It’s difficult to compare Eastwood and De Niro,” Leone said. “The first is a mask of wax. In reality, if you think about it, they don’t even belong to the same profession. Robert De Niro throws himself into this or that role, putting on a personality the way someone else might put on his coat, naturally and with elegance. Clint Eastwood throws himself into a suit of armor and lowers the visor with a rusty clang.”
“It’s exactly that lowered visor which composes his character. And that creaky clang it makes as it snaps down, dry as a martini in Harry’s Bar in Venice, is also his character.”
“Look at him carefully. Eastwood moves like a sleepwalker between explosions and hails of bullets. And he is always the same — a block of marble. Bobby, first of all, is an actor. Clint, first of all, is a star. Bobby suffers, Clint yawns.”