EXCLUSIVE: Clifton Collins Jr. Discusses His Burgeoning Career
Clifton Collins Jr. talks Boondock Saints 2, Extract, directing music videos and much more
A few days ago, I mentioned on my Facebook page that I was extremely excited to be interviewing a favorite actor of mine, Clifton Collins Jr. I was also rather dismayed that there were many friendo's of mine out there who didn't know who he was, by name anyway. Some would recognize him when I mentioned he was the homosexual hitman in the critically-acclaimed film Traffic, or the crazy drug dealer in the equally-underrated The Rules Of Attraction (which is one of my favorite performances of his), some recognize him as the confused killer Perry Smith in Capote, a performance that some think is just as Oscar-worthy as Phillip Seymour Hoffman's Oscar-winning portrayal of Truman Capote. Oh yeah, and, of course, there were those who just recently saw him on the silver screen as Ayel, the Romulan who was the Number 2 to Eric Bana's nefarious Nero in that little sci-fi summer filmStar Trek. Oh yeah, that guy... right? Well, you better enter the name Clifton Collins Jr. into those memory banks, people, because this incredible workhorse of an actor has quite a bit more in store for moviegoers this year and beyond.
While I do interviews for the site quite often, getting the chance to interview someone whose work I've admired for quite some time is a rare treat for me, and that's just what I got when I spoke to Clifton Collins Jr. on the phone for about a half-hour this week. We talked about some of his high-profile films coming out later this year like the highly-anticipated sequel Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, the latest film from comedy genius Mike Judge, Extract and much much more, but first, we tackled a new passion that the actor has taken up: directing. Aside from his growing film slate, Collins has been keeping busy directing music videos and the latest video he directed for the country group Zac Brown Band's song "Chicken Fried," recently won the USA Weekend Breakthrough Video of the Year at the CMT Awards last week, an award which he happened to receive on his 39th birthday. Take a look below for my entire in-depth chat with Clifton Collins Jr.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Hey man. Thanks for calling.
Absolutely. So, what have you been up to lately?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Man, where do I start. So much.
We've been hearing Thor updates and all sorts of stuff.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, no doubt. I think the most recent news is my CMT win for Best Breakout Video for the Zack Brown Band.
Yeah, that's right. I was kind of curious about how you got hooked up with the band and how you got into directing in general?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I think it's not a big secret that I like to work a lot. I really go out for projects when I find things I'm passionate about. So, I got a phone call one day and my manager said, 'Hey Clifton, it's going to be a little slow because of the writer's strike.' I thought, 'Slow? Writer's strike? Well, that just means I'll have to work a different way in a creative outlet, so, I think, tomorrow, I'm going to direct a music video.' They're like, 'What?' I said, 'Yeah, for The Soul of John Black' and they said, 'OK, whatever dude.' So I did it and they loved it. I did another video for The Soul of John Black and my managers actually repped Zack Brown, so they exposed some of my videos to Zack and Zack was between labels and it really needed a video bad because "Chicken Fried," which is the song, had gone platinum and was burning up the charts, so he needed a video fast. Me, being the kind of actor that I am, I wanted to create a video that was true and honest and authentic to Zack Brown and his entire band and family, who are people I just fell in love with. I just love collaborating with them. Zack is just the epitome of a well-rounded seasoned artist, even though, professionally, he's only been in the business for a little while, but he's been doing it since he was six and it's really blatantly obvious. He's a consummate artist in every sense of the word, writer, singer, collaborator, visualist, he does it all. He's really a genius, in my opinion.
So did you guys shoot the video in Nashville or where did you shoot the video at?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I was actually acting in a movie for Mike Judge called Extract. I played the... I'm kind of like the only redneck in the whole piece, which is kind of funny. I had five days off and it was one of those clear and free areas for Zack and myself, so I told Mike Judge, 'I'm off these next few days, do you think I could fly out to Georgia?' (Imitating Mike Judge... rather well too) 'You're going to fly out to Georgia? What's going on out there?' I said, 'The Zack Brown Band's Chicken Fried video' and he said, 'Oh, you're going to shoot the Zack Brown Band video? Hell yeah, go on and do it.' So I went off and I shot it and when I came back I had a video.
A four-day shoot? That's crazy.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah. I actually went back a second time and did reshoots. It's a beautiful thing when you have the camera and you're the actual shooter because, you know, I can shoot all day long. I don't have to give myself a lunch break, you know what I mean? If you're passionate about something you love to do, who's going to stop you from doing what you love?
Excellent. I also read that you have a few screenplays in the works and directing music videos seems to be the latest gateway into directing features, so is that something you're working towards?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Absolutely. I've been fortunate enough to have friends like the Samuel Jackson's or the Cuba Gooding's or the Val Kilmer's who are always dear friends and also mentors, people who have always said, 'Hey, you've got something great. I want to be a part of it and I'd love to help you.' So I'm very fortunate and very blessed to have people that care about me in this way.
So are there any of these scripts that are in active development right now that you've written?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yes there is, actually. I have got a great comedy that myself and Jacob Vargas wrote. Then I have a very serious drama about one of my best friends who is locked up right now. There are certain factions of the prison orgainization that you get involved with as a means to survive. It's a very important story that I actually passed over to Samuel (L. Jackson). That one will be my Oscar baby. I've got to take my time with that one.
I've loved your work for quite awhile now, going back to 187, Tigerland, Traffic and I have to say that one of my favorites is The Rules Of Attraction. I just love that movie, but sadly it didn't catch on as much as I hoped it would, but what can you do.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, that one was a tough yet brilliant one. I loved working with (writer-director) Roger Avary and the people at Lionsgate. It was just a blast, and what a cast. Shannyn Sossamon, Jessica Biel, Kate Bosworth... I was surrounded by hot women. I didn't want it to end. I was pretty hot coming off of Traffic, so there was the admiration of your peers and working with people whose work you also enjoy.
So I read that you were kind of stuck in these barrio roles for awhile, so what prompted you to just break out and seek out these different kinds of roles and how did you go about doing that?
Clifton Collins Jr.: It wasn't an easy thing. As you know, this town is notorious for rehashing ideas and projects, for example, all the remakes that are being done. I think they serve a purpose and I think they have a place, but, for me, I grew up around so many different people, whether it's A-Train Crip gangsters or 18th Street or Culver City gangsters or just my redneck hillbilly family members that I also have, who I love dearly. I have so many different walks of life. I didn't just grow up in one environment, so it was easy for me, as a child, just to imitate and just be all these different people. It's something I did growing up. I know it's not easy for an agent. It's easier to sell somebody that's a label. You can always sell someone who's always consistent, but when you have a product that's constantly changing, it may be a great product - a redneck or a gangbanger or a guy that thinks he's black, but how do you sell that character actor that has that X-factor variable? You don't know what he's going to do, but it's going to be great every time... if I can toot my own horn for a second (Laughs). It's not an easy thing to sell, and I'm aware of it. I work real hard but I can also be tough on people I work with, the same way that I'm tough on myself.
For those who might not have followed your work until now, they probably have heard of that Star Trek thing. So what was it like to work on such a huge-budget movie? That was probably the biggest film you've done so far, I believe.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yes sir, it totally is. Obviously, I was just on with J.J. (Abrams). He's a big commercial guy, as you can tell, but when you get to work with people like J.J. and be surrounded by the producers and get the support of a beautiful, great studio like Paramount, you know, these aren't the horror stories I've heard of at all. It was quite the opposite of the tales I had been told, not by my grandpa (Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez), who was a contract player for Warner Bros. and I've heard nothing but great stories from when he was under the contract system. I'd follow J.J. anywhere. He's always been a guy who's supported me in the best of ways, giving me opportunities to prove myself, which I'm always more than happy to do.
Most of your scenes were with Eric Bana, so what was it like working with an actor of that caliber?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I loved working with Bana. Bana's hilarious, he's talented, he's a cool cat. He's a cat you just want to hang out with, shoot the shit and have a beer. He was in Chopper, you know. I've watched that back-to-back, it was such a dope-ass movie. It put him on the map, but what people don't know is he had his own comedy show in Australia.
Yeah. I was on the set of Funny People, the new Apatow movie. He wasn't there that day, but they were talking about his background in comedy and the show in Australia and how hilarious he was in the movie. It will be interesting to see how he does in that movie.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Oh, he'll be great, no doubt. He's a funny motherf*&%er and I used to laugh with him quite a bit.
So Star Trek is just one of about, oh, 3,000 movies you have coming out this year.
Clifton Collins Jr.: (Laughs) I have eight more films coming out this year and I've got quite a few more videos, which I'm quite excited about.
OK, so what other bands have you shot videos for this year?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I'm really excited about my most recent collaboration, again, with The Soul of John Black and a song called "Betty Jean," which is loosely based on Miles Davis' wife, Betty Jean, it's just named after her. He has a big love for Miles because he mentored him. Because they're on a small label, we don't have the kind of budget money for the kind of video that we like, and it certainly did look like it was a big budget and I was really able to go long and explore my own creative style for this particular tale. It's some black exploitation-type films and we have some old cinematic sites like the old Alto-Nido Hotel, which was used in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard. It's very much blues inspired, so I'm really psyched about that. Then I had another #1 hit with another collaboration with Zack Brown, 'Whatever It Is,' it's called and it's on CMT. We've had two #1 hits with Zack, so I'm really excited about that.
One of the films that a lot of people are looking forward to is Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, and I'm definitely one of them. Is Sony still planning a theatrical release for that? I was hearing that they were trying for November 1st.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, that movie is too good not to get a theatrical release. I couldn't imagine it doing anything else. I actually just finished looping on that about two and a half hours ago. I was doing ADR so yeah, it was fun. I saw a rough cut on St. Patrick's Day, which was about 15 minutes too long and Troy (Duffy) just tightened this up. I'm kind of excited to watch it again so I can tell how tight it is. It has all of the funny stuff from the first one and even more.
Have you heard anything about when we might see a trailer for that?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, actually. They're going to be playing the trailer at Comic-Con.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yes sir, so get the word out, man. I know those seats are going to go fast, but get it out to the right people and it'd be dope to have the right people there. They're cutting the trailer right now and it's going to be ready for Comic-Con, specifically for Comic-Con.
You play the new "saint" Romeo, so is there anything you can tell us about your character and how you got involved with the McManus family?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah. I got involved with the McManus family by just being a fan of the Boondock Saints. I've heard the legends and the folklore and I've attempted to kind of emulate them and I inspire to be them. One night they happen to stumble across me, pulling one of my hustles on this big guy and they start to take a liking to me. I figure out who they are and they don't accept me right away and basically I have to prove myself.
The Perfect Game is another film you have coming out and it's your first Disney family film, about the first non-American team to win the Little League World Series. Was this a story you were familiar with before, or how did you get involved in that film?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Honestly, I had already a couple of films and they came to me initially and, getting back to how did I go off and get these non-Latino roles, they came to me at one point and wanted me to play this role. I couldn't do it because I already had like two or three other Latino roles backed up and you can't flood the market with a certain type or certain ethnicity, because then that's all they see, so I had to turn it down. It wasn't a good time for me, financially, so it was really hard for me to turn it down, but I didn't want to back up the diversity of the roles I was playing. So, I passed on it and they came back to me eight months later, after I had already done Sunshine Cleaning and Horsemen and I think one other role. Apparently they had shot some scenes in the movie and then pulled the plug and stopped for eight months. So they came back to me and re-offered me the role and, at that point, it was perfect, so I said, 'Sure, let's go.'
Clifton Collins Jr.: Man, working with these kids, everybody from Jake Austin to Moises (Arias) from Hannah Montana and Ryan Ochoa, these kids still text me and Facebook me to this day. They're like my own little adopted kids. I can't tell you what fun it is, shooting on a set where in between takes you just throw rocks at your co-stars (Laughs). I just had so much fun with them.
That's supposed to come out in the fall, I believe, right?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I'm hoping it's going to come out on the tail end of the Little League World Series. So, keep your fingers crossed. I've seen the film and it's a really good little film that I was really really happy with. It's so hard in PG films or in films that are geared for children, because they cliché themselves out, but I'm actually really proud of it and I'm happy to say that, because I'm kind of a tough customer to please.
You were talking about Extract earlier and there are a lot of Mike Judge fans out there that are looking forward to his latest film. You haven't really done a lot of comedy-driven films, so what was it like getting into that mindset and working with Mike and this huge cast?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Mike is a comedic genius, in my opinion. It's not your typical bada-bing, set-up joke. He has so many different layers of comedy and he's an incredibly humble human being. You don't even expect that from someone of his stature. He's just a real dude. I did love hanging out with him. We'd just laugh and crack each other up all day, just saying dumb things. Dumb or brilliant, however you want to look at it, we laugh all day. I auditioned for Idiocracy, and that didn't work out, but just the chance to meet him was dope and then when this other film came up, I couldn't quite put my finger on the humor. I actually passed on it, initially and I realized that I was over-thinking this. Mike Judge is just too smart. So I went back in there and it just became so much fun. There's some stuff I came up with that Mike bit on pretty hard, and he's just great to collaborate with. He gives his actors a lot of freedom to play.
Just in talking about all these roles, it really seems that you're driven to really mix it up, at all costs almost, so what's next for you? You've really been in almost every kind of genre there is these days, so what do you think would be the next ideal role for you?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Honestly, I've got to tell you man. You know what I haven't done? I haven't had a chance to really do a good Western, and that's what my grandfather did. My grandfather was a contract player for The Duke (John Wayne). I'm actually longing to do a bad-ass Western and it would really be the icing on the cake for me. In the interim, I'll just wait for the right film, the right director and keep directing music videos until I can get these deals set up.
Yeah, I love Westerns, and it's pretty rare that you see them these days. Every couple of years you might see a few here and there, but people just don't want to see them, it seems.
Clifton Collins Jr.: I don't know. 3:10 to Yuma did really well and the original is really sick, with Glenn Ford. Yeah, I think Glenn Ford, in that film, is the ultimate bad guy. I don't think I've ever seen a bad guy so great and so likeable. Not to take away from Russell Crowe. I'm a huge Russell Crowe fan and a Christian Bale fan, for that matter, but to see Glenn Ford to have these human layers in his character that is essentially the bad guy of the piece, and you just want to hang out with him.
So there was a little bit of buzz on your Twitter page that you were studying for Thor, but it didn't really work out, so can you talk about what role you were going for in that one?
Clifton Collins Jr.: No, I can't. I can not talk about much of anything about that movie.
But you didn't get the role... or you did get the role?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I don't know, I don't know... (Laughs).
So is there anything else that you're eyeing up or studying up for now? I hear you're pretty intense with studying when you come into a role.
Clifton Collins Jr.: I do. There are some projects out on the line right now. I'm not sure if I'm going to bite on it just yet. You never know. There are a lot of elements and factors involved, but right now, I'm not working on anything except music videos and writing up treatments and exploring old John Ford films and old Westerns and I'm really trying to revamp and I think my style is really related to the characters I play. I love researching, whether it's old Western documentaries or old Western country singers or John Ford Westerns, which are heavily influenced by family values, which so many of these country songs are related to. I'm having a good time doing that, and writing some treatments and hoping to bring a new style of music video to the country genre, that is starting to become very poppy. I just hope they're as well-received as Chicken Fried was, because that's what I was trying to do with that.
So are any of these scripts you're working on Westerns then?
Clifton Collins Jr.: No, strangely enough, they're not, but I've been thinking about one. I have been thinking secretly about some crazy concepts for a Western that people have never seen before.
I also have to bring up that I am probably one of the biggest fans of The Shield there ever was and I loved seeing you on Season 6 in that two-episode arc, so can you talk a bit about working with those guys?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, man. I'm a huge Shield fan also, and a huge Michael Chiklis fan. I loved watching him in the show and working with him. That was just a funny little situation. I was on my own show for F/X, Thief that I got nominated for. I literally saw somebody in the hallway as I passed them and they said, 'Oh my God, would you ever do Shield?' I said, 'Are you kidding me? I'd love to do Shield and work with Michael Chiklis. Any day of the week.' The funding situation was kind of tight for those guys and they couldn't really contract me and then I had another job come up so it kind of threw off the writers a little bit. So it wasn't for the lack of wanting to do more episodes, I really wanted to.
There have been a few whispers here and there about a movie, so would you be up for taking on a different role in Shield movie?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I mean, if they are going to do it, I for sure would. I like complicated, complex characters that have these twisted inner souls.
So, finally, we have quite a lot to look forward from you in the coming months, so is there anything you'd like to say to your fans out there about what you have coming up in the next few months, either on the music video front or on some of the movies you have coming out?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, man. Keep your eyes out for Extract and Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day and The Perfect Game and look out for my new music video for The Soul of John Black, which should be out by late July. It's a funky flavor and it's really allowed me to grow as a director so I'm really excited to share that with the blues, funk and R&B fanbases out there. I'm really excited to share that with everybody.
Awesome. Well, that's about all I have for you, Clifton. Thanks so much for your time.
Clifton Collins Jr.: All right, brother. Let me know if I can do anything else. Thank you.
Make sure to keep your eyes peeled and remember the name Clifton Collins Jr., because it's one that's certainly worth remembering. Peace in. Gallagher out!