CNN's Piers Morgan: Clint Eastwood Was 'Hollywood Meets Politics Trainwreck'

Clint Eastwood Piers Morgan Split - H 2012
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Clint Eastwood Piers Morgan Split - H 2012

The CNN host tells THR that the legendary actor was like the 'slightly crazy uncle at a Christmas party' with his bizarre speech at the Republican convention, and an embarrassment for Mitt Romney.

Clint Eastwood on Thursday night went from the GOP's "mystery speaker" to giving a speech that baffled some viewers and pundits.

His identity teased all week ahead of the final night of speeches, the Oscar winner was meant to provide for Mitt Romney a counterbalance of conservative steely strength that could match up against the strong support President Obama has received from Hollywood. The address, which was slotted in ahead of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, did not quite go according to plan, with Eastwood running over time and going off script -- in part to perform a monologue with an empty chair meant to represent Obama.

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Many pundits were merciless with their assessment of the speech, and in a late night conversation with The Hollywood Reporter, CNN's Piers Morgan called it "very awkward," "embarassing," and "damaging to Mitt Romney." He added, "He came off like the slightly crazy uncle at the Christmas party who’s had one too many sherries and doesn’t quite get it."

Read THR's entire exchange with the veteran anchor below:

THR:  Can you remember seeing anything like this?

Piers Morgan: No, it was one of the most extraordinary slow-moving, Hollywood meets politics trainwrecks I think I’ve ever watched. And I love Clint Eastwood, he’s one of my all-time movie heroes. It was just so bizarre, and then we find out very quickly, five minutes was scripted and I think another eight minutes was unscripted. He was just sort of ad libbing with this weird empty chair, which obviously I suspect he got from what we did with Todd Akin two weeks ago, because why else would have thought of that? The whole thing just got increasingly surreal, and I thought, very awkward and by the end not only embarrassing but pretty damaging to Mitt Romney, because it’s clear that it’s going to take a lot of edge off his speech.

THR: They had to have at least known something was going to happen, they did put that chair up there.

Morgan: I think clearly they knew there was going to be a bit with the empty chair, but from what I gather, he went more than twice as long as he should have done, and was ad libbing for most of it, hence the rather erratic nature of what we witnessed. But you know, it was all just very odd, and not very cool. And the thing about Clint Eastwood, he is the epitome of Hollywood cool. So I imagine in the cold light of day, when the fawning acolytes of the die-hard Republicans in the room have stopped fawning and patting him on the back and telling him how great he was, there will be a moment of realization that everyone was laughing, and not in a very good way.

THR: What did you think the Romney camp thought of the speech?

Morgan: I think the Romney camp was probably as horrified as everyone else. They were probably assuming they would have their version of George Clooney. A bonafide, world legend movie star, paying tribute to Mitt Romney, having a bit of a laugh at Obama’s expense, and disappearing stage left after five minutes. Clooney would have stuck rigidly to what he’d agreed with the Democratic party, delivered five minutes of non-chalant charm, wowed everybody, and gone off to the bar.

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Clint Eastwood, I think for reasons most people find completely unfathomable, decided to go al fresco. And when you do that on such a huge stage, literally minutes before the most important speech in the Republican party’s lives in the last four years, thats a pretty big error of judgment I think.

THR: How do you think the speech played for Eastwood fans?

Morgan: Some people say "You’re a British guy, what’s it go to do with you? He’s an American icon." But I noticed a comment, Roger Ebert, for example, Clint Eastwood is one of his heroes, he was very scathing on Twitter about it. Tom Brokaw, who’s a personal friend, was equally embarrassed by it. Wolf Blitzer, it was one of the most embarrassing things he’s watched. So it wasn’t just me.

I think I was watching the way everyone else was, and if you are dispassionate and honest about it, it was just very uncomfortable and very awkward, and certainly not helpful to Mitt Romney, which was clearly the point of booking him in the first place. So I think the Romney camp will be dusting themselves down, thinking let’s move on as fast as we can, and for Clint Eastwood, I think he’ll be thinking no more speeches like that, because he has a lot of fans like me who would prefer to watch him star in and direct movies.

THR: You say they wanted to have their George Clooney, and Eastwood tried to redeem Hollywood, saying "We’re not all liberals." But the Hollywood support something Romney has hit Obama about, so why pick Eastwood in the first place?

Morgan: I think if you think you can get Clint Eastwood to stand there for five minutes, charming an audience around the world and telling them how great Mitt Romney is, you take it. But what you can never settle for is Clint Eastwood deciding when he gets up there, "You know what, I’m rather enjoying this, I’m going off peak," as they say in skiing terms. And I think we all saw the result of that. It was a mistake by him. A legend though he may be, when you put your head into the political arena like he has, then I’m afraid you’re risking reputational damage, and I think he did damage himself like that. He came off like the slightly crazy uncle at the Christmas party who’s had one too many sherries and doesn’t quite get it.

THR: I was wondering what you thought of Mitt’s speech. Did you think he did better than his wife? I know he had to connect with women.

Morgan: I thought Mitt Romney made a very solid speech. I thought there was lots of solid speeches this week. I thought Condoleezza Rice was terrific, Chris Christie was great, I thought Marco Rubio tonight was very strong, and I thought Paul Ryan was very effective. I think they had a very good week of speeches given the distractions of Hurricane Isaac and of course Clint Eastwood, I think the rest of it has gone pretty well for them. But if you ask me the winner of Mitt or Ann Romney, I think his wife slightly edged him.

THR: Why do you say that?

Morgan: I think she was incredibly warm, she has a natural charm, the audience loved her, and she’s somebody who is not a practiced politician or a businessperson, she’s just a real person. I know her quite well, and I think she’s the best spokeswoman that he has.

THR: The goal was to humanize Mitt Romney; did it work?

Morgan: He was definitely humanized a lot more I think by the end of this week than he was before, so I think in that sense, it was a job well done.

THR: Back to Eastwood; at one point, he said "We own this country." What did you think of that line?

Morgan: People are trying to make it out into some sort of pseudo-racist remark. I don’t believe that for a moment from Clint Eastwood. I think it was quite an old school Republican comment to make to his home base audience. ‘Don’t forget, we own this country, we’re the real Americans, we Republicans’ and it was slightly jarring. That kind of language, had it been used by a younger politician from this stage this week he would have gotten into trouble for that, but I think we give him a pass for that one.