Amid the swirl of an early 1960s party scene in Clint Eastwood's latest film -- an adaptation of "Jersey Boys," the hit Broadway musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons -- an unexpected face appears on a television screen: young Clint himself, in black-and-white.

That period-appropriate shot from the TV Western "Rawhide" condenses, in a sort of wry Hitchcockian cameo, the incredible breadth of Eastwood's career, from fresh-faced cowboy to steadfast Oscar-winning director.

Does it feel like a lifetime ago to Eastwood?

"Several lifetimes ago," says the 84-year-old director, with a chuckle. "Seeing myself in 1959 or '60 or '61 or whenever that episode was done, it was kind of like: Wow. I've traveled a long road since then."

That road -- from Sergio Leone's spaghetti Westerns to Eastwood's own "Unforgiven" and from "Make my day" to "Get off my lawn" -- has made an unlikely detour down the New Jersey Turnpike. "Jersey Boys," the 12th film Eastwood has directed since he turned 70, only adds to what is one of the most remarkable late chapters in any filmmaker's career. How has he done it?

"I just never let the old man in," says Eastwood in an interview. "I was always looking for new things to do. I, rightfully or wrongly, always thought I could do anything."


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Such an attitude explains many of his accomplishments. Who else would have thought a tragic story about a female boxer ("Million Dollar Baby") could be such a success? Who else would have traveled to Iwo Jima to make the World War II drama "Flags of Our Fathers" and, out of curiosity and empathy, opt to make a second film ("Letters from Iwo Jima") about the Japanese side of the battlefield?

And who would have expected Eastwood -- "a tall, chiseled piece of lumber, a totem pole with feet," as James Wolcott called him -- to see potential in the story of the band behind "Big Girls Don't Cry"?

"The whole secret in life, in any profession, regardless of whether it's entertainment or anything else, is just being interested," Eastwood says. "Are you interested in life? Are you interested in what's going on? Are you interested in new kinds of music?"

Eastwood, a piano player and jazz fan, has long been known for his passion for music. He made a film about Charlie Parker ("Bird"), sang in "Paint Your Wagon" and "Gran Torino," produced a documentary on Thelonious Monk ("Straight No Chaser") and composed most of his own film scores over the past decade.

But the falsetto-rich pop confections of Valli (played by John Lloyd Young, who originated the role on Broadway) and the Four Seasons would seem to occupy a higher register than Eastwood's natural pitch.

When "Jersey Boys" became a Broadway sensation in 2005, it drew immediate interest from Hollywood, but earlier attempts at a screen adaptation flat-lined. Finally, Eastwood revived the project with Warner Bros. He says, "I couldn't understand quite why, after nine years on Broadway, somebody didn't want to do it."

Eastwood favored a screen version that was faithful to the stage musical, scripted by its writers, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. And he chose to cast veterans of the Broadway and touring productions over more famous possibilities. Erich Bergen, who plays songwriter Bob Gaudio, and Michael Lomenda, who plays the Four Seasons' Nick Massi, both come from touring casts of the show. Vincent Piazza of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" was the lone outsider.

"We knew there was no chance in hell it would be turned into fluff," says Young about Eastwood's decision to direct "Jersey Boys."

Instead, Eastwood's screen adaptation, which opened June 20, has a more melancholy tone than your average musical, derived from the musicians' tumultuous offstage lives.

Eastwood's famously efficient style of filmmaking -- usually just one or two takes, always on time and under budget -- was an eye-opener for the actors, most of them unseasoned in moviemaking.

"His fearlessness is somehow contagious," says Piazza. "The harmony that you walk into and the space he creates for you as an actor is a rare, rare thing."

Since wrapping "Jersey Boys," Eastwood has finished shooting the Navy SEAL drama "American Sniper," with Bradley Cooper, which he calls "a love story and a military story about a guy who's very talented at shooting people." That's two films in one year for the filmmaker in what he notes is his 60th year in movies.

"It's fashionable to pigeonhole everybody," he says. "You're 60, you're a senior. At 60, I felt like I was about 40. At 40, I felt like I was about 18. It's just all mental attitude."