Clint Eastwood fell in love with the script for Unforgiven the moment he laid eyes on it. But it took him six years to get it made. Why? He was too young.
Not only that, what is now considered one of the best Westerns ever made had trouble getting financed earlier on in its life. It was extremely violent, its working titles scared people away, and it was far from a traditional genre movie.
But according to Strawberry Alice actor Frances Fisher, the long wait when Clint Eastwood got his hands on it came because he didn’t think he was old enough to play Bill Munny.
“Clint always thought that he was too young at the time to play that role, which he was in a way. But he kept it. He always had it tucked away in his drawer, thinking, ‘One day, I’ll do it,’ And he did it at the perfect time in his life,” Fisher told The Autry Museum in 2018.
Well, the wait certainly appears to have paid off. Unforgiven earned Clint Eastwood two Oscar wins, one for Best Director and the other for Best Picture. Not bad for a 16-year old Western script. The movie earned four Oscar wins in total. Gene Hackman won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Little Bill Daggett. And Joel Cox won the award for Best Film Editing.
Clint Eastwood Passed On the Script After Being Warned Against Reading It
So Clint Eastwood’s age delayed Unforgiven for years. But did you know the actor deliberately avoided the script on the advice of a trusted associate? Sonia Chernus, the screenwriter of The Outlaw Josey Wales, cautioned Eastwood against making it.
“We would have been far better off not to have accepted trash like this piece of inferior work … I can’t think of one good thing to say about it. Except maybe, get rid of it FAST,” Chernus wrote in a 1984 inter-office Warner Brothers memo.
It wasn’t until Eastwood was looking through writing samples months later that he stumbled upon the script. He needed someone to rewrite a movie he was working on at the time and suddenly found himself in the middle of a page-turner. He was so impressed that he bought the option from Francis Ford Coppola, who couldn’t find anyone to finance the movie.
As fate would have it, the script was none other than David Webb Peoples’ The William Munny Killings—the same one that Chernus had warned Clint Eastwood against, and the same one we recognize today as Unforgiven.
Of course, Sonia Chernus was far from the only person to dislike the script. Her animosity toward it is representative of why Coppola couldn’t get it made. The graphic violence in Unforgiven, especially that depicted against women, was a tough sell.