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- February 13, 1978
- Vol. 9
- No. 6
Taking Up The Gauntlet
Sondra Locke's Stock Rises in Surviving Eastwood's Mayhem and Hollywood's Whispers of Romance
Not notably talkative himself, director Eastwood had cast the wispy waif of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter against type as a tough chick to his rogue cop. It was the strongest role yet for a woman in an Eastwood epic, the one he has cited when defending himself against feminist criticism. "I cast it a little off," says Clint. "Good casting would be to make her a princess—she is a princess. But to cast her as a hooker—that's the twist." Princess Sondra isn't carping. "Nobody's going to complain about playing opposite Clint as a romantic lover on screen," she adds, though pointing out that there were "no real love scenes—they just fantasize about their future" in the movie. It was her second in a row with Eastwood, following The Outlaw Josey Wales. "But I was a bit nervous," she recalls. "Clint had given me the chance to do something different, and for the first time I very much wanted to please someone else."
Starring with the director, Sondra felt, was another incentive. "When the actor you're developing a rapport with is directing," she found, "you feel much more camaraderie about scenes, and you can relate in a much tighter way." Cast and crew spent eight weeks filming in Phoenix, Vegas and the Nevada desert. "Working on location is ideal, because you enter the character and the story," says Sondra. "Shooting at a studio near home, there's a certain split. But on location you forget the real world, and when you come back to reality," she discovered, "just going to the market can be traumatic." Locke decompresses with what she calls a "cocoon period. I just lie in bed for two whole days until the shock wears off."
Sondra's reality is a child's kingdom, a Gothic townhouse in West Hollywood (previously inhabited by the likes of Marlon Brando and John Payne) that she shares with her sculptor husband, Gordon Anderson, 30. It's filled with rare old books of fables, art nouveau and Gordon's fastidious figurines (originals sell for $1,000-plus and are back-ordered through 1983). Married 10 years, the Andersons (Sondra uses her maiden name only professionally) have no children. "I'm such a child myself, it would be hard to relate to them," she says. She and Gordon are "together a lot," relates Sondra, except when she's working and their "schedules don't coincide. We are very independent and have a strong direction of our own," Sondra adds. "He's very committed to his interests and his work, and so am I. To me," she says firmly, "the basis of any relationship requires a strong friendship."
Clint Eastwood, who lives more than 300 miles north near Carmel, has employed almost the same language explaining the durability of his 24-year marriage to the onetime model Maggie Johnson. "Everybody talks about love in marriage," he says, "but it's just as important to be friends." "Sondra in some ways reminds me a little of Clint," according to her own husband. "You know, that aura of mystery." She is "very wise," says Gordon, but "somewhat distant" with "the coolness of a Grace Kelly. There's warmth there too," he says, "but there's always that bit of the iceberg you don't see, that delicate hint of mystery."
Gordon ought to know. They met when they were 10 in Shelbyville, Tenn., where Sondra's father has a construction company. "It was like a waiting period," she says. They were, Sondra once recalled, "the weird two, the town dreamers." Though they weren't sweethearts in high school ("I didn't think of Gordon that way"), they both won statewide awards in '65 for The Monkey's Paw: He was best director, she best actress. Sondra was also class valedictorian. Later, when Gordon moved to New York, he alerted her to an upcoming audition for The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (and suggested her costumes, including binding her bosom). She answered the call and was chosen over 2,000 other contenders. "I had never been on a movie set," she remembers, "but it was like coming home." Similarly, marriage to Gordon in 1967, says Sondra, "seemed like a natural thing to do." (Of Gordon's reaction to the gossip about her and Eastwood, Sondra says, "We don't sit down and talk it out. He figures if there's any truth to it, I'll be the first to tell him. If there's anything to know, he'll know it.")
She won an Oscar nomination for that first role, but fretted, "I was afraid Heart had put me into some kind of sexual oblivion. I played a practically prepuberty tomboy, and some producers thought I was a boy." She did a film a year thereafter, largely inconsequential except for one commercial success, Willard, in which she was upstaged by rats. "The trouble with me is that I like to sleep till noon," she admits. "I only like to work when it's something interesting. I go crazy working on something I'm not wild about."
One prospect that interested her was working with Eastwood, whom she first met when he was casting for Breezy in '73. "I liked her," he remembers, "but I didn't think she was right." When he got around to doing the post-Civil War Western The Outlaw Josey Wales, he thought, "Yeah, that's the look," and cast her as his doelike ladylove. During shooting she got a rare glimpse of the Eastwood rage when he smashed a recalcitrant horse in the jaw. "He's one of the most sensitive, gentlest men in the world—with the most horrifying temper," she marvels. Yet he wouldn't kill spiders and helped her overcome her fear of them. "I have the greatest amount of respect, admiration and fondness for Eastwood as a person and as a talent," says Sondra, "and I think it's mutual."
Indeed, Clint calls her "one of the best actresses" in the business and says of their latest collaboration, "I think she's marvelous—she has good spontaneity." (Director Eastwood is known for not fussing around and going with the first take if it seems to work.) As for the future, "Sure, I love working with him," Sondra admits, but there's "nothing specific in the works." Her career, in the meantime, is suddenly approaching bankability: Locke has signed a three-year, three-film deal with Warner Bros. (the studio that distributes Eastwood's productions). "I keep things in perspective," insists Sondra. "Success is just a drop in the bucket, a grain of sand on the beach." She dresses casually, usually in jeans, and lives (except for Italian food binges) on grapefruit and avocado. Like Clint, she gets her kicks from a glass of white wine (he has forgone beer for the more sophisticated beverage too) and eschews Hollywood society—and its flapping tongues. "Externals don't throw me," says Sondra. "I'm like a turtle. If I don't like the going, I just pull my head in."
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