Clifton Collins Jr., easily one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood, never likes to limit himself to a certain type of character, which is why we've seen him shine as all sorts of diverse characters. This year alone, for example, he starred as a criminal in the action-thriller Parker, a straight-laced technician in the sci-fi summer blockbuster Pacific Rim and an FBI agent in the ABC midseason drama series Red Widow. This acting chameleon returns to the big screen once more this year as the sinful minister Larry in Hellbenders 3D, debuting in theaters and on VOD formats October 18. Larry is just one of six members of the Hellbound Saints, ordained ministers who live in constant sin so that, as a last resort, they can invite possession of a demon and kill themselves, causing both the saint and the demon to go straight to hell.
I recently had the chance to speak with Clifton Collins Jr. over the phone about his role in writer-director J.T. Petty's religious comedy. Here's what he had to say.
I kept getting like an R-rated Ghostbusters vibe from this story. It's this group of people, no one really understands what they're doing, and they're getting shut down. Did you get that vibe when you picked up J.T.'s script for the first time?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, I totally got that vibe, and a little bit more. In this one, I just loved all the challenges they face, and they want to do good. We're not bad people, we just do bad things so we can do good things. We're sort of sacrificial lambs, if you will.
Was there any kind of trepidation in taking on a project like this? I would imagine there might be some sort of religious backlash coming from this. Does anything like that even enter your head, or was it all just about the quality of the story?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, that and the cast. The cast is what attracted me, but the story too. I love (William) Friedkin's The Exorcist and all these other demonic-type films. This one was just so unique and different. I was watching it again last night, and it was really dope to see this cross-blend of genres that J.T. did, with the comedy and the horror. The scary moments are really scary, and the funny moments are hilarious! I laughed my ass off last night!
I actually watched it late last night too, and I think I woke up my roommate, I was laughing so hard.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah! A shit-talking priest? He's a real honest priest. He's not bullshitting, fronting, or faking. He does some bad things, but then you think that he might lie a little bit, and he's not as bad as he should be. You don't hear those stories. It's pretty sweet.
I found the lives of these Hellbound Saints really interesting. They live this life of sin to prepare for hell, but, at the same time, there seems to be a lot of reluctance there too. Was that a tricky thing to pull off, to have him appear to be committed to that lifestyle, but also be reluctant too?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, you just kind of find the beats, and stuff. A great example of that is right when we walk in to do the first exorcism, and Angus says, 'Are you damnation ready?' I said, 'I'm as close as anybody,' or something to that effect. I start to realize the gravity of the situation, and I add one more sin on there, just in case, saying 'F--k you, cracker' to the eucharist (Laughs). Those moments are fun, and it's just so original.
I was surprised to see that Larry was married, which added a different layer to the character. He's torn between his job and his home life. Did that strike you as well, because he's the only one that really has a home life to live for, or to lose?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Right. That actress (Samantha Buck) is really talented. Those moments were just so fun, to play with her. I want to flatter myself and say, 'I f---ed this girl,' and she just downplays it. I think everybody just wonders about the grass on the other side, and is it really greener. It's such a great excuse to blame your job for wanting to f--k somebody else. That was also a fun moment to play too, being torn between wanting to keep my home life sound, and wanting to do right in the eyes of God and in my moral core.
I love that scene towards the end where she says, 'You're drunk.' And you reply, 'It's my job.' How many people can really say that? (Laughs)
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, definitely. I say that so many times about my real job, like with a make-out scene or something. 'Baby, it's my job.' Or she'll say, 'You're always studying and reading and researching.' Well, I'm an actor. It's what I've got to do. It's a great parallel, to substitute my own life for what's going on, or vice versa.
Everyone in the whole cast brought something different and unique to the table. I have to imagine that you were one of the first one's cast, but was Clancy (Brown) or anyone else attached when you came on?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, J.T. has worked with Clancy a few times. It was easy because a lot of us actors can just jump into these roles, and with Angus, Clancy Brown, any respectable actor is going to be studying great actors, coming up in their careers. I was watching him in Bad Boys with Sean Penn and The Shawshank Redemption. There's that mentorship that's kind of built in. When I found out he was involved, I thought, 'I'd love to get down with Clancy.'
I didn't get a chance to see this in 3D, but I read you only shot this in a month. Were you shooting in native 3D?
Clifton Collins Jr.: We actually shot in 3D, with two Epic's. It was about a month, maybe five weeks.
Wow. I guess the technology is changing so much, and you used to think that a native 3D shoot would take forever.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, we shot in 3D the whole time. There's no conversion, this is all real 3D.
Was there anything specific about shooting in native 3D that affects what you do at all?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Sometimes, the range might be a tiny bit bigger, but it wasn't that difficult. I think the lighting had to be bumped up a tiny bit, but other than that, it was pretty much smooth sailing like any other production.
Can you talk about J.T.'s overall style, and how he conducts himself on the set?
Clifton Collins Jr.: The fact that he had just such an original voice is what intrigued me. I loved the fact that he challenged so many things within the church, the Vatican, that he wasn't shy or timid or afraid to say and do the things we did in that script, which was so awesome and refreshing. He's very collaborative. I sat down with him for a bit before this whole thing started and picked his brain a little bit. I wanted to research exorcisms and priests and how this really goes down. It's really hard to find any really authentic footage, or what we might perceive to be authentic footage, but occasionally you'll stumble across a few things. It was great to have somebody to go to, who had all the answers, or who at least could point me in the direction where I could find other answers.
Were there any improvised moments at all, or did you primarily stick to the script?
Clifton Collins Jr.: We stuck to the script, for the most part, but the cast is so freaking talented and we all got along so famously. There were so many funny moments that came out of improv or us just being who we are. J.T. gave us that freedom too. We wish we had like an extra week to shoot, but hey, if we do a sequel, I'm sure he'll get a bigger budget. It would be a blast to get together with this cast.
Does he have an idea for the sequel in mind?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I've got ideas that I've been throwing at him all day long. Believe me, I would love to get down again, even on a similar budget, it was that much fun.
Have you heard anything about Boondock Saints 3? Is there anything else you're working on?
Clifton Collins Jr.: (Writer-director) Troy (Duffy) is working on Boondock 3 right now. He's close to being done with it, actually. I just finished a cookbook, actually, with a buddy of mine, Gustavo Alvarez. It's 101 ways to cook Top Ramen, prison style. With every recipe comes a cautionary tale, or somebody who we may have acquired the recipe through, a lifer. It's really like a cautionary cookbook, so all those college kids or anyone who has been locked up, it's got something for anyone who's reading on a budget. It's really great. People who read it... I've shared it with John Leguizamo and so many different people, and the ones who don't respond well are those who are filthy rich (Laughs). They don't understand what it's like to struggle, and this book sheds a light on all of that, and makes you smile.
That's awesome. Is there anything you're looking to start shooting this fall?
Clifton Collins Jr.: There are a couple of things on the horizon, but I can't quite talk about them just yet. Right now, we're meeting with different publishers for the book, so I'm kind of just focused on that right now, this huge passion project. I'm trying to find ways to give back, too, whether it's through homeboys in the streets or, for people who can't afford lawyers, one of those firms.
Excellent. What would you like to say to anyone who's curious about Hellbenders 3D about why they should give it a shot in theaters or on VOD?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yo, theaters, 3D man. I saw it in 2D last night, and it was pretty spectacular. I've got to say I'm really proud of it, and I laughed my ass off, and I was scared too. I'm really happy with the way it turned out.
Awesome. That's all I have. It was awesome talking to you again, man.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, no doubt, Brian. I'm sure I'll talk to you sooner rather than later.