It's only been a few months since I last spoke to the tremendously talented actor Clifton Collins Jr., but when you're as much of a workhorse as he is, a lot can happen in such a short period of time (/exclusive-clifton-collins-jr-discusses-his-burgeoning-career/CLICK HERE to read that original interview from late June). He just recently wrapped on the upcoming film The Experiment, an American remake of Oliver Hirschbiegel's amazing German-language film, and he has also expanded his directorial catalog with the release of the latest music video he directed, "Betty Jean," by The Soul of John Black (CLICK HERE to check out the new video on iTunes). But Clifton Collins Jr. is far from calling it quits on what will end up being a banner year. It was announced last week that Collins Jr. had landed a role on the hit NBC series Southland, and when I first read that news, I had to see if I could get a chance to talk to this all-around awesome guy once again and, thankfully he obliged, as we talked for a good half-hour about everything he has in the works, but first we talked about his new role Southland. I've split the interview up into two parts, so take a look at this first part dealing with Southland and then head on over to the Film section to check out the rest of the interview.
So, first of all, congratulations are in order for Southland. That seems like a really great fit for you.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah. I can't tell you how excited I am. I've never been this excited to do TV in my life.
So will you be totally replacing Amaury Nolasco's character? Will he be killed off or are you replacing him from scratch, or how will that all work?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I know that's what the press has been saying, but Amaury has always been his own character, so I'm not really replacing him. I'm coming in as my own new character. The showrunner, Mr. Wells, had been talking to me for awhile about getting on the show, and I've been a little gun-shy. I wasn't too familiar with the show and I wasn't quite certain on some of the characters and how they were and how they were going to be developed and all this other stuff. I had a lot of questions. I wasn't really at a place where I could talk about it and then when Mr. Wells called me the second time around, I was shooting in Iowa with Forest Whitaker and Adrien Brody on The Experiment. (Director) Paul Scheuring had left us for a week, he had a baby so he took off and we were kind of left on our own with Amy Vincent, our DP. We're pretty credible actors, but it was the day that we happened to be inside a big prison riot and I blew out my vocal chords because I was kind of cut off the leash and kind of went buck wild. So, when Mr. Wells called me again I couldn't really talk, I could barely talk and he was going through the canyons of Colorado and we kept losing each other. We couldn't really have a conversation and we just thought it best if they went ahead and moved forward, which I thought was the honorable thing to do, and I wished them luck and all this stuff and I'm sure Amaury did a fine job. I'm a whole other character. I think the only similarity is I work really closely with the brilliant, beautiful Regina King. She's incredibly talented and our chemistry is almost tangible.
So you'll be playing her partner then in the series?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, until, you know, God forbid, something happens, but it happens.
I know you worked on The Shield before, so is this comparable, in that it's the grittier side of L.A. and you guys are actually shooting in some of these unfavorable locations in L.A.?
Clifton Collins Jr.: It's not that unfavorable at all. I've got to tell you I'm really comfortable in those areas, the projects or different neighborhoods. I grew up around a lot of these areas and we hit some of these neighborhoods where some of my old homeboys from some of the different gangs that I knew growing up, that I still talk to today. For me it's kind of fun, and for Regina too. We went out in the Athens Park neighborhood recently and she had old neighborhood friends coming up. It's really interesting how much chemistry that both Regina and myself have together, not to mention how familiar we are with all the locations that we're actually shooting because we have in fact grown up in very similar areas. It's just funny to share stories. It's really a special thing when something like that happens and I'm really blessed to be on the show. Is it comparable to The Shield? I've got to be honest with you, I personally think it's better. Sure, they're similar, but Southland shoots in all real neighborhoods with the real streets and all the real gang members. We have a great technical advisor, he's an old friend of mine. He's from Athens and he was a tech on The Replacement Killers and he's good friends with Antonie Fuqua and he's just a cool cat. I've known him for awhile and he's actually my first friend that I can honestly say is a Blood. Years ago I couldn't say that word, but we get older, smarter, adapt, grow, change. You know, he put a lot of things behind him in these neighborhoods, but at the same time he's employing them and putting them to work and hiring a lot of the neighborhood people. There's a real tangible reality and honesty that both (creator) Ann (Biderman) and John Wells worked hard to achieve and that comes through to keep it as real as possible. Ann sat down with me and we had a creative meeting when I got back and I told her that I was really taken. You can start it off with you're just watching a TV show and somebody starts cursing and it gets bleeped out, so it's like, right away, we know that they say something that they really mean. It's kind of like a documentary, so your mind starts thinking, 'Wow, this is kind of real, and the acting is very real and the extras don't seem like extras, they seem like very real people. Even the cop extras seem real.' Well, that's all because the cop extras are real cops. They bring all their real gear, cops that have the day off that want to have some fun on Southland. You know when you see a cop arrest somebody and you drive by, you look. We all do that. I do it, sh*t. So it's not a bad thing when the extras walk by and they look too, one, they see cops, two the see cameras. We're not a big crew but the crew is really sound. You'd think this crew had been working together for 10 years. They are completely in sync, the actors are in sync, the personalities are in sync, they're all in check and it's a lot of fun. I've got to tell you, I got a little sad yesterday, knowing that I have the next episode off, just because I don't get to hang out with my peers, my crew and my actors and get to live this life, which I really enjoy doing. Also this showrunner and these directors, they give you an incredible amount of liberties that I'm kind of used to fighting for in most of my movies, unless it was a great collaboration that has always made filmmaking, for me, leaps and bounds above TV because with TV you always have to check with the powers that be and the higher-ups. 'Oh, you can't say butt, you have to say booty,' you know, little silly things. If you saw the list of things you can and can't say you'd be amazed. I don't know who makes this list. I have a feeling it's the Mormon's. I could be wrong (Laughs). It's just really funny, so I'm not used to being afforded that creative liberty to bring that kind of honesty to a character and, to riff off of someone like Regina, who just makes it seem flawless.
So have you signed on for a certain amount of episodes for the season?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I've signed on, but, once again, you never know what's going to happen. You just don't know. It's copland. People get killed or people get addictions, things happen. You don't really know, but yeah, I'm on board and we'll see what happens. I've got to tell you though, man, it's a dream job and the only thing that's come close to this for me on TV was Thief. That was a huge part because of my support to the showrunner, Norman Morrill, who told me from the very beginning that he wanted to keep his integrity intact, and, also to work with the greatness of Andre Braugher, who I was collaborating on the phone with, probably an hour or an hour and a half with every episode, just talking about how real it was.
So can you talk a bit about your character on Southland and what we can expect to see from him?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I honestly can't, because I don't know myself. I know he's someone that's really close to me, someone that's grown up in a very similar neighborhood, Culver City/Van Ness, that kind of thing. We'll learn more about him but, believe me, they're chomping at the bit and foaming at the mouth, both Ann and her staff of writers, are eagerly delving into this world of Ray to have him come to life and I'm pretty excited about it.
Southland premieres its second season on October 23. Be sure to check out the rest of my interview with Clifton Collins Jr., where we talk about his huge slate of upcoming films like Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, The Experiment, Brothers and so much more.