Clifton Collins Jr. may not yet be a household name, but with his unbelievable range and strong work ethic, he soon will be. As a matter of fact, if you have made your way to the local cinema in the past few years, you have probably seen him more times than you can count. This year alone, he has made his mark on some of 2009s biggest films such as Crank 2, Extract, and a little movie called Star Trek. In addition to those films, he will soon hit the screen in one of the most highly anticipated sequels of all time, Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. As one of the hardest working men in show business, he shows no signs of slowing down. In between his work as an actor, he has also taken a spin behind the camera as a music video director. The results – he netted the USA Weekend Breakthrough Video of the Year at the CMT Awards for his work with The Zack Brown Band. Not too shabby! With an expansive filmography and an unrelenting passion for his craft, 2009 is shaping up to be his most amazing year yet. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Clifton Collins Jr. during one of his few minutes of downtime to talk about what makes him tick, his amazing career, his latest projects and what the future holds for this multi-faceted artist.
Let’s get started with some basic questions: Where did you grow up? What got you started on your road to becoming an actor and how long have you been in the business?
I grew up in Los Angeles. I’m a fourth generation entertainer. My grandfather is Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, so it runs in the family. I’ve been in the industry about twenty one years.
Growing up and even today, what/who were some of your influences?
Once again, I’m a fourth generation entertainer so I grew up in the business. I started tap dancing when I was seven and you know, I was just always around it. My grandfather was a contract player for John Wayne.
You recently had a film come out that you worked on with Mike Judge called “Extract”, what’s it like working with him?
I love working with Judge, he is a comedic genius. He’s the voice of middle America and represents the common folk. He’s kind of like the Johnny Cash of comedy, he’s the guy that created “Beavis and Butthead”, “King of the Hill” and “Office Space.” He’s just brilliant and I loved everyday working with him on set. It’s just a fun time, he’s a good good friend. I can hardly wait to work with him again. He’s real collaborative.
When you read the script and you saw that your character would be getting a testicle blown off, what was your first impression?
When I read the script I didn’t know I was going to get the role. I still had to audition and all that other stuff, but I thought it was hilarious I laughed my ass off! I mean it’s such great comedy you know?
You’ve played such a wide range of characters, is there a standard way you go about researching your characters before you start out?
It really depends on how the role hits me, if it’s an emotional thing or a technical thing it’s really contingent on that and I’ll go from there. There’s so many different ways to do it, I mean you can go to those areas or go on Wikipedia or you can Google any historical event, if your character is true to life. There’s just a lot of different ways. I love to research my roles, to me that’s one of the big fun things. You know, in high school I never got good grades in history but now as an actor, I get to research different events , different characters or different court cases. So that stuff for me now is a lot of fun. I am not sure that there is a way to make that fun when you’re in high school, but it’s fun as an adult. [laughs]
You were recently in Iowa working on a re-make of “The Experiment” with Adrian Brody and Forest Whitaker. What was that experience like for you?
I’ve worked with Forest before and he’s just an old friend, so it was fun just jammin. You know you love working with people you’ve worked with before especially if they’re good people. And when they’re badasses like Forest and Adrian it’s just icing on the cake. We were in Iowa too so all you have is each other, you have that camaraderie with your friends on set.
You have done two videos for the Zac Brown Band, and you even went on to win a few CMT awards for “Breakthrough Video of the Year”. How did you originally get involved with the band?
With the Zac Brown Band my managers over at ROAR, Will Ward and Bernie Cahill, they introduced us when Zac came to Hollywood to perform for a new record label back when he was making a transition. I had already directed two videos for The Soul of John Black. “Chicken Fried” was climbing the charts and he needed somebody pretty fast to come up with an idea. He met with several directors and then he called me and said “I’m picking you because you get it. You get what this story is about, you get what this song is about.” In regards to when we made the video, honestly, Jamey Johnson is an artist that inspires me just as much as Zac does. They’re similar and different but their honesty is the same and their sincerity just rang so truthful to me. I guess that me as an artist, I like to play roles as close to my heart and as real as possible and when I find songs that make me feel the same way, I’m impassioned by them. I decided being in Iowa there’s so much beautiful scenery to shoot there that it’s a great opportunity to shoot a short story of some sorts. It was inspired by Jamey’s song “The High Cost of Living” and then Jamey got wind of it and that’s kind of how that transpired. Instead of my vision it turned into a collaboration, which is what I was longing to have happen anyway. To be able to collaborate with a great artist like Jamey Johnson is a gift. I don’t know how else to put it, it’s quite an experience.
Are there other artists you’d like to do a video for?
Sure, there are some good artists out there. I’m sure at some point I’ll just be doing videos because they are fun songs. Some of the songs that Zac writes and songs that Jamey Johnson writes, at this point and time in my career, I really kind of just want to go out and direct videos for those people that move me emotionally. I know I’ve said this before, but I don’t want to be that music video gun for hire guy. I want to be inspired like I am with my screenplays. I think it’s kind of common knowledge that I don’t really do a whole lot of roles for the money. Although, be it hard as they may try, it’s always the material that gets me going and when you get to listen to an entire album like “That Lonesome Song” or “The Foundation” (Zac Brown) which just went platinum, you get moved by music. What else could you ask for then to be moved and have the opportunity to move an audience through a visual experience in conjunction with the music that inspired you in the first place.
When can we be on the lookout for the new video?
I’ve got a lot of hurdles to still jump on that one but I’m moving along. I’m hoping to try and reinvent, and I know people use that a lot and I’m not trying to whore out the term, the style of how it’s going to be. It’s going to be very different than anything you’ve ever seen in recent times I’ll promise you that.
We’re looking forward to that one!
Yeah me too, everyday I work on it.
Moving on to some “Boondock Saints” inquiries, how did you first get involved with Troy Duffy?
One of my best friends introduced me to Troy Duffy on his birthday on June 8 of ’96 right as the original “Boondock Saints” was getting going. I think I read for Detective Greenly or some shit, some smaller role that has been reprised in the new one by the same actor. Thank God I didn’t get that role because now I’m playing a new saint in the new one. Troy wrote this role for me, I’ve been a supporter of Troy through the highs and through the lows and he’s family. As well as Chris Brinker the producer. He hasn’t done anything in over ten years so this film is certainly going to put him back on the map real hard. To say he one upped himself would be a gross understatement. (laughs) He’s raised the bar very high. There are a lot of lessons he’s learned along the way, nobody teaches you how to deal with success. That’s certainly not something they teach you in acting class or film school. And Troy, here’s a guy that didn’t even go to film school. This is a guy that…he’s just got this plethora, he’s constantly coming up with these crazy ideas, he’s like the Jesse James of screenplays you know?! Instead of making hot rod motorcycles he makes hot rod scripts, and believe me there’s more than just “Boondock” coming out of Troy. You’ll see what I mean, he’s got some crazy ones coming up.
Troy Duffy gets a bad rap in a lot of circles, which isn’t necessarily fair. Having worked with him what do you think the biggest misconception about him is?
He’s incredibly sensitive. In spite of what some people may think, he’s got an incredibly big, big, giant heart. He’s always been a true blue friend and been there for me, he’s never not been there for me. He’s always been one of those friends that I can count on, I think it goes without saying he’s one of those guys. And once again, here’s this guy he’s like the first guy in history…he’s like a bouncer, he wrote a screenplay, Harvey Weinstein wants to do it and then he gets a record deal with Maverick in the same breath. It’s like “Who does that?!” He was like 25 and it was a dream come true, he’s new blood and wasn’t born into this business and he had certain people around him that weren’t really helping the cause. So it’s hard. How do you keep your feet on the ground when you’ve got that kind of stuff happening? It’s difficult, it’s intoxicating. I’m not justifying what went down I’m just saying I can see how it happens and he’s still that same rogue spirit, he’s still that same funny charming guy and he’s my bro, I love him.
What can you tell us about your role in “Boondock Saints ll”?
I play Romeo the new saint. I like to say that Romeo is almost like the fans journey portrayed vicariously through me. You know there’s so many crazed “Boondock” fans as you know [laughs] and I guess it would be like if I was a crazed fan and I get to meet them and one day I get to be them. So I’ve got to prove myself. A lot of these jokes come from just us hanging out, there’s a lot of shit that happens when you hang out with Troy aside from always a delicious disgustingly tasty barbeque or some kind of crazy smoked roast or something- he’s an insane cook and an insane chef. He’ll smoke a roast all day long and you’ll come by and it just comes off the bone. But there’s always funny stuff going on and a lot of comedy in this new sequel that just came about from us hanging out.
I know that you guys got quite a reception from the fans at this year’s Comic Con in San Diego. You have had some experience with Comic Con and rabid fanbases from your role in ‘Star Trek’. How do the “Boondock Saints” and “Star Trek” fans compare to each other?
Their just different fans, the “Boondock” fans are into a different genre. But Comic-Con in general is just a big frenzy, honestly I had a lot of fun when I stopped working because I had a chance to walk around and check things out, that part was fun. You’re so busy signing autographs, one of the fun things about doing one of those autograph signings is when you’re not at Comic-Con you actually get a chance to sit down and say hi to people and hear a story or two. You get a chance to really connect outside of the premiere world or the fanfare that surrounds the red carpets and stuff where it’s harder to access actors and whatnot. I enjoy that process, I mean Comic-Con with “Boondock Saints” the line was over a mile long and so many of the fans they didn’t want to miss an opportunity for the panel so they didn’t even get to have their posters signed. At one point it became an assembly line with Billy Connolly, myself, Norman, Sean and Julie just signing as fast as we can. And Troy has the gift of gab, and can say anything about anything almost at any second. When I heard him quiet down toward the last twenty minutes I knew the assembly line got ramped up really fast. You literally couldn’t even look at the fan, you were signing so fast, you just wanted a name. So that part I was a little disappointed because I wanted a chance to connect, but the fans just wanted the chance to get a poster. We made a promise to sign some afterwards too because there were just so many people there. With “Star Trek” when that was there I went down there J.J. Abrams and everybody were there. I was there for Jason Statham’s birthday, I think he was doing press for “Transporters 3”, so I got to experience it from the outside looking in which is a really nice opportunity for myself. Because I do recognize that might be the only opportunity I have for that kind of thing to happen. Even with the Vulcan makeup people still know me. I’ve had people that just straight point at me and go “Aaayelll” [laughs] You always know that these fans have a big love for something that you’ve created and that’s truly one of the great rewards of what we get to do as actors. When you have fans that love stuff enough that their as sweet as they can be. I’ve been fortunate to not have those banana, fanatical fans. Maybe it’s the totally crazy people that I’ve had the chance to play, I don’t really know. I’ve had other actors tell me “Oh, you get the cool fans.” and I’m like “I don’t know what it is but you’re right, I do. I’ve got some really cool fans and I’m really lucky.”
You’ve worked with some interesting directors, like Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor on “Crank 2”, and you work on scripts. Can we look forward to you bringing a full-length movie to the big screen in the future perhaps based on one of your scripts?
Oh yeah are you kiddin, absolutely! We’re working on that stuff now as we speak. I’m doing a lot of that stuff, but in the interim music video is something I really enjoy and getting the opportunity to work with certain artists. Once again, I don’t want to be that dude that just goes out and does music videos. I’m really enjoying the creative process of trying to weave in a story that’s going to lend credibility. You know the country music world, at least the people that I deal with, they really have a lot of integrity and there’s a lot of sincerity and family history and tradition that goes into so much of their different songs. So with that said often times these artists as musicians they’re going to want some kind of treatment that’s going to be very true to it. Which is kind of my bag of tea in the sense that the kind of roles I try to take that I can do something really real with. The challenge to me is to try and exercise that creative side of the brain, and that’s only going to help the movie side. I’ve been fortunate enough to have great music video mentors like Jonas Åckerlund, a dear friend and just an overall badass. So to answer your question, yes you will see some stuff coming up.
You seem to be one of the hardest working and busiest guys in the business, what do you do to relax when you do give yourself a break?
You know brother that’s a really good question, I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. I don’t really have a good answer for you, it’s like when you love what you do and you get paid to do it, do you find something else you love to do because you don’t get paid? You know what I mean? It’s like I’m sitting here watching episodes of “Southland” right now because I’m taking a meeting with some of these people here and I’m really enjoying the show. The authenticity and how real it is, the character development and how they light it, and I like it! It’s part of my job, I got up at six o’clock this morning and I’ve already watched five episodes and it’s funny…it’s like “This is part of my job?!” [laughs] I’m really lucky, it’s like getting paid to make model airplanes or remote control cars, or getting paid to play video games, you know what I mean? And also, once again being a fourth generation entertainer I was always around my grandpa talking about John Wayne or talking about different movies or directors he worked with, or even watching some old tv shows or movies and he’d talk about how they were made or how they did it. It’s so much of a part of who we are, I do like it. Recently I went boogieboarding with Mike Judge and Cheech Marin over at Cheech’s gigantic Malibu “hacienda” if you will, with Jacob Vargas so it was the four of us. When I ate shit and that wave took me down to the bottom of the ocean it was the first time I’d had a non-Hollywood thought in a while, my thought was “I’ve gotta get some air.” [laughs] It was really peaceful down there at the bottom I’ve got to say, but as soon as I came back up for air and went back again and started laughing and talking about movie related stuff again. I love it man. I mean, what do you do? I’ve really been thinking about this question that you’ve asked me. For the past week I think I’ve been thinking about it.
What is the best piece of advice that someone has given you along the way in your career, and what is the best advice that you have for anyone who would like to get involved in the film industry?
That’s a really good question too. You have to decide why you want it, if you get into it for the wrong reasons you’re going to leave really really bitter. I love to entertain, I love the audition process, I like going in and giving a performance. Years ago it was okay to hear “You gave a really great read, we really love what you did in there.” And in hindsight, looking back I didn’t know why I didn’t have it to “get it” then, it’s like I don’t want to give a good read I want to give a great performance. Like when I was a kid tap dancing, I wanted to give a good performance, and that was something that my grandfather instilled in all of us. So you’ve really got to decide why you want it and you’ve got to enjoy the process. If you don’t enjoy the process then you’re going to be really bitter. It’s like when you open your Christmas presents, once you open them the anticipation is over. All that angst is over. When you were a kid and it was like “Oh my God, three more days!”, part of the fun was waiting. When you take a road trip, it’s not the destination it’s the journey. You’ve got to enjoy the journey because if you don’t then you’re going to be miserable, but if you do then it’s gonna be a blast man. It’s got its highs and lows like anything, but the challenges are certainly something I like to meet head on
What other projects do you have coming out that we should be on the lookout for in the upcoming months?
[whistles] Well shoot, you should have the answer to that one my good man! [laughs] “Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day” comes out October 30th.
Are you doing anything special for the premiere?
Oh there’s all kinds of things that are special going on for that bad boy! I gotta tell you I’m so proud of Troy and I’m so happy and excited for him just to be back in the saddle again. And for him to be able to ride this wave the way it should be ridden, and also the studio supporting it the way that they have. Sony and everybody over there has been so incredibly loving like good functioning parents. They’ve got big plans, they’re talking about a Boston premiere, New York, L.A., they’re going big on this one. So I’m trying to clear up my schedule now so I can be there for it because there is obviously a lot of value just in doing this movie, it’s incredibly sentimental. Watching Troy fight for years trying to get the sequel made and have it finally be done, I got to talk about overcoming obstacles and challenges. If you can stay in the biz for ten years to make your dream come true yet again…I can’t tip a hat big enough to Troy in that respect.
You don’t really realize how many people know you from your work. I was talking to some guys and I told them I was going to interview you. They asked what you were in and I named one of your movies, they were like “Oh yeah, I just saw that over the weekend.” Then of course they jumped back to a previous film you were in and so on.
Awwww man I love hearing that kind of stuff!
Your work is really phenomenal and I can’t wait to see what you come up with in the future.
Thanks man believe me I try real hard to create new characters all the time, it’s a blessing and a curse. Because like you said people don’t realize that I’m in this movie or that movie, they don’t really connect the dots. But that’s part of the fun too, because you watch them connect their dots in their head and it catches like wildfire in the summertime. I do enjoy creating characters and I love the fact that people can appreciate what I do that way, so for you to say that really means a lot to me so I appreciate that bro.
Thank you for your time and best of luck!
Have a rockin’ day homeboy, I’ll talk to you soon!