Was it the chance to star in one of those whiz-bang outer-space adventures that got this cast of living legends to leap into ”Space Cowboys”? ”Me? No!” says Garner. ”I never liked sci-fi too much. There are things up there that I just don’t understand.” The real reason is simpler: Even stars get starstruck. ”I wanted to work with Clint,” says Sutherland. ”I admire him so much. I’ve only sent two fan letters in my life, and one of them was to him years ago for ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales.”’
Sutherland’s not the only one feeling fondly toward Eastwood these days. The minds behind ”Cowboys” — about Air Force vets who go into space to defuse a deadly Cold War-era satellite — can thank the legend for getting the project off the ground. Producer Andrew Lazar got the idea back in 1997 while reading a book about overlooked space-program pioneers. But when he and screenwriter Ken Kaufman pitched Warner Bros., the studio passed, calling it too dependent on getting a great cast. Lazar, smelling money, had Kaufman (working with writing partner Howard Klausner) write it anyway. They did so, with their most beloved actors in mind, beginning with Eastwood, who was slipped the script the minute it was done. The ”Unforgiven” Oscar winner initially thought the plot was implausible, but John Glenn’s 1998 return to space at age 77 helped change his mind. ”Our first meeting with Clint was pretty intimidating,” says Kaufman. ”He said, ‘What are your casting ideas?’ And I said, ‘Well… we kinda liked you.’ And he said, ‘Good, ‘cuz you’re stuck with me.”’ With Eastwood aboard as producer director star, ”Cowboys” was cleared for liftoff.
While Garner grooved on Eastwood’s lean and mean filmmaking style — ”I loved it. Be ready. Do it. Bam! Bam! Get out of there” — Sutherland says ”it took a little getting used to.” But the hardest thing for Sutherland — harder than enduring the broiling NASA- approved space suits that had the cast toting handheld air conditioners to cool off — was resisting Eastwood’s ”extraordinary” catering. ”I don’t know how the hell he keeps himself so thin,” he says. ”I must have put on 10 pounds during the damn thing.”