Clifton Collins Jr. discusses working with director Guillermo del Toro in Pacific Rim, currently playing in theaters
Clifton Collins Jr. has always been one of my favorite actors to talk to, since we first spoke back in 2009. Naturally, I couldn't pass up the chance to chat with him recently about his role as Tendo Choi in director Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim. While Tendo is not one of the Jaeger pilots, his work as a Chinese-Peruvian member of the Pan Pacific Defense Corps. is crucial to the success of any Jaeger mission, and the diversely talented Clifton Collins Jr. shines once again in a very unique role.
Take a look at our conversation, which ranged from working with Guillermo del Toro, directing music videos, his upcoming role in Wally Pfister's Transcendence (which he is currently shooting) and much, much more.
This movie is just a spectacle. It's insane. When you signed on for this, did you get a sense of how big this was going to be, from Guillermo's description of the story and the things he showed you?
Clifton Collins Jr.: He called me and pitched the idea, and told me what the story was about. I had already been a huge fan of Guillermo's, movies like Pan's Labyrinth, The Orphanage, or The Devil's Backbone. You get two movies with every one movie, because you get the commentary, which is just as exciting and just as intriguing as the actual movie (Laughs). I had watched and studied all of those, so when he was articulating to me the story of Pacific Rim, I had a pretty good idea about how big it was going to me.
I actually talked to Heather Doerksen, the female Russian Jaeger pilot, and she was in awe with the whole sets.
Clifton Collins Jr.: It's one thing when you hear about it, but when you get there, these sets are so massive. There's a scene where Rinko (Kikuchi) and Charlie (Hunnam) are talking, where Gipsy Danger has been reassembled and rebuilt, all that stuff was like three layers of practical sets.
The story is set 15 years after the initial kaiju attack. Did you develop a story for Tendo about what he did before this attack?
Nice. I'll have to check that out. With stuff like this, when there's such a mythology behind it, I'm always curious what these guys did before the attack happened.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, Guillermo and I sat down and talked about a lot of stuff. Stuff that came into play, stuff that didn't, stuff we just played around with, and we decided not to use that might come into play in the sequel.
Yeah. I saw that (Pacific Rim writer) Travis Beacham is already working on the sequel.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah.
Do you have any idea of when that might happen? I'm sure the script won't be ready for awhile, but do you know if Guillermo has any game plan about when he might want to shoot Pacific Rim 2?
Heather was talking about how much technical it was, when they were in the rigs that control the jaegers. For Tendo, was there there a lot of technical stuff to go through to get a better understanding of what he actually does?
Clifton Collins Jr.: There's a lot of technical stuff that I was learning on the side, but, once again, it's a Guillermo del Toro world. He can literally create and make sense out of so many different things. I attempted to take in a bunch of different stuff, like robot books and functioning robot models, stuff like Robots for Dummies, to get down the vernacular, but once again, Guillermo just uses his imagination and it's really articulate. It's just a really beautiful world that Guillermo and Travis created.
I know you've directed music videos yourself, and you've talked about directing features in the future. When you work with someone like Guillermo, were there a few specific things that you took away from being on the set with him, seeing how he creates this world?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Absolutely. You know, Guillermo is so much fun to work with, and I'm sure you've heard this from every single actor. I'm not telling you anything new. He does the layout of what the shots are, and he has the editor there on set to assemble it as we shoot. He's a director who is so above and beyond prepared, so there's room for mistakes and playing around. It was really fascinating to see the degree of preparation. It's a beautiful payoff. There's nothing better than having the extra time on set to experiment with performance, instead of trying to problem-solve a shot that you didn't put enough thought into, or a performance, for that matter.
How long were you actually on the set for, and is there a particular story from the set that will always stick in your mind when you think about Pacific Rim, a behind-the-scenes moment?
Clifton Collins Jr.: (Laughs) There are so many behind-the-scenes moments. The cast just all got along instantly, and there's so much to talk about and so much to do. We had some long days, but they weren't Star Trek days. Star Trek was like 18-hour days on a daily basis. This one, we'd usually work 12-hour days, maybe a 14-hour day, but, also, there wasn't a lot of downtime. There were many opportunities to just perform, perform, perform. A lot of the times, you're sitting in your trailer waiting, but this one, you didn't even get a chance to go to your trailer and relax. It was pretty awesome. That part is fun, to have an opportunity to just do take after take after take and really polish the performance, is really unheard of. It's really a testament to Guillermo del Toro, and how they set it all up.
That is unheard of, especially with a movie like this, to have that much time to get everything right. There is a lot of coverage, yeah, but they're trying to get the shots out as quickly as they can.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Totally. Also, Guillermo knows what he wants, too. One time, he said, 'Clif, there's something I'm not sure about.' It's like, 'Whoa, there's something that Guillermo is not sure about?? What are you talking about?' It's so exciting to collaborate with the master. The collaboration started from the very beginning.
You mentioned there was an editor on the set cutting footage together while you shot. Would he show you cut-together sequences then while you were shooting?
Clifton Collins Jr.: It was always for the performance, or to see how things were playing out, and see if it could play a little better. There are some directors who treat the dailies like they're the ten commandments or something, but this was very much a good endeavor and we were all making it together.
Can you talk a bit about who you play in Transcendence?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I can't really say too much about it, because it's pretty secretive, but I play this character named Martin, who works, basically, for Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall. I take care of some situations for them. You've got Johnny Depp, you've got Rebecca Hall, you've got Morgan Freeman, Paul Bettany, Cillian Murphy, Cole Hauser. It's a pretty fantastic cast, and I'm really stoked just to be in their company.
How long will you be down there shooting that for?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I'm almost done here. I've got another week, and then I'm pretty much wrapped. I'm going to take a week and do some pick-up shots for a new video I'm putting together in Taos up at Dennis Hopper's.
Aside from the videos, are there any other movies you're lining up for the rest of the summer?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I've got a couple of screenplays that I'm focused on directing, so I might just jump on that. I don't want to just jump on any movie. I want to jump on something special next, you know. I've had a pretty blessed year, with the Terrence Malick movies and Pacific Rim, and Red Widow. It's been kind of a dream.
I saw you were on one of the Terrence Malick movies.
On the directing side, are these scripts that you wrote?
Clifton Collins Jr.: They're scripts that my friends have all written, which I've optioned and I'm polishing with my partners. I've got a feature on my Stone Free Productions website (StoneFreeProductions.com) for a high-concept action film. One of my friends wrote a bad-ass action script, based on some real stuff. He has family in Iraq, and it's a story that came out of that, which is kind of hard to believe. I don't mean conspiracy stuff, I mean on a deeper, spiritual level. I'm sure a lot of it will be coming out soon.
That's about all I have. It was awesome to talk to you again.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, it's been a minute, brother. I'll talk to you soon.