In 1977, when I interviewed Sondra Locke for The New York Times, she couldn't stop rhapsodizing about her director and leading man, Clint Eastwood. She no longer has that problem. --GUY FLATLEY


Sometimes a girl can hit an air-pocket on her flight to stardom. Take the case of Sondra Locke.

"I started off like gangbusters," said the shapely, hollow-cheeked blonde, looking back nearly 10 years to a time when she had just landed in Hollywood, straight out of Shelbyville, Tenn. and was being hailed for her touching performance as the gawky adolescent heroine of "The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter."

"I was very young, and knew nothing of the ways of Hollywood. It came as a real shocker that talent was not the only element involved in making a success. So I sort of withdrew from the race and collected by fairytale books. My career has been a crazy one; I love to act, but I’m not an aggressive person. The only roles that were offered to me were vulnerable young girls. But I wanted to be a woman. Finally, I read this script, and it gave me chills. 'I’ve got to do this,' I told myself."

And so she did. The shiver-inducing script, written by Dennis Shryack and Michael Butler, is called "The Gauntlet," and it has been directed by its top-billed star, Clint Eastwood – the same actor-director who coaxed the reticent Locke out of semi-retirement last year for "Outlaw Josey Wales."

"I play a hooker in Las Vegas who is extradited as a witness in a very important trial," she said. "Certain people don’t want me to testify, and I get caught up with a detective who is determined to get me safely to court. Clint and I have one of those great love-hate relationships, right out of the old movies. We’re constantly battling."

Off-camera, they are in perfect harmony. "God, is Clint ever a fantastic director," insisted Locke. "Two words from him means more to me than 10 speeches from any other director. More than anyone I’ve ever met, Clint is a man of instinct. He can feel everything that is going on in everyone around him, and he makes acting so natural, so easy. Of course, I’ve always been impressed with him as a star; he may be the only one on the screen today who has that incredible magic the old stars had – that bigger-than-life quality that goes beyond talent."

If Locke emerges from "The Gauntlet" a bigger-than-life star, it will not be the result of exhaustive research for her portrait of the menaced prostitute.

"I suppose it would sound very impressive if I said I had myself thrown into the slammer with 50 hookers, but I didn’t. I didn’t observe hookers, because to me hookers are people, not stereotypes. The way I approach a part is to read the script and then just go about my everyday business. The character boils on the back burner of my mind until she becomes so vivid that she takes over, and I disappear. I never know what I’m going to do until I do it."

Locke’s role in life, as in art, seems to be that of a complaisant passenger who trusts an omniscient conductor to steer her to her destination.

"Watching my life unfold is like watching some gigantic movie. I’m constantly astonished by how little we have to do with what happens to us, how few choices we actually have. I’ve had some real lows in my life, but…I hope I don’t sound like Pollyanna, but right now, my life is magic. Everything is exploding and coming together again, like a giant fireworks display. I have to sit back, take a long look, and ask, ‘Is this really me, the little girl from Shelbyville, Tenn?'"