Actor Clifton Collins Jr. talks about playing Thomas in The Event, his new movie Hellbenders, guest-starring on CSI, new music videos and much more.
Clifton Collins Jr. is primarily known for his work on the silver screen, with such memorable roles as Perry Smith in Capote, Ayel in Star Trek and he even had a hilarious, surprise cameo as one of the "Vegan Police" in last year's Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. Lately the actor has been making waves on the small screen as well, with his fantastic performance as the villainous Thomas on the NBC series The Event, which airs on Monday nights at 9 PM ET on NBC. I recently had the chance to speak yet again with Clifton Collins Jr. about his role on the series, his music videos, new movie projects and much more. Here's what he had to say below.
I loved the two-part episode last week. It was awesome.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Oh, man, just wait. It gets even better.
Yeah, I can't wait to see how this turns out.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, it's pretty epic.
It was great to see that whole speech at the end there. What was it like for you to shoot that, addressing the troops, so to speak?
Clifton Collins Jr.: It was kind of heavy. I've kind of been waiting for this moment, personally, as Clifton the actor and as Thomas. At first it's kind of like, 'Wow, I can't believe this is happening.' On the other hand, you're really grateful for it.
In the two-parter, you really get a sense of how global this really is. They have you in Tibet with the whole array. I imagine you guys didn't shoot that in Tibet. Can you talk about where you actually shot that, and your impressions on that scene when you saw it come together?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, man, I had a pretty good idea what was going on. It's fun to be able to do stuff like that. I'm glad you picked up on the global aspect because, yeah, it is that global and it gets even bigger.
We also saw the return of Maya, Clea DuVall's character.
Clifton Collins Jr.: She's a bad-ass, right?
Yeah, she's awesome. It's great to see her get more work.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, I've worked with her before and it's always a joy to work with her. It's always a blast to watch her to her thing.
We also saw the debut of Virginia Madsen's character. Both Maya and the Senator seem to have very important parts in the show moving forward. Will we see them in most of the rest of the episodes this season?
Clifton Collins Jr.: As far as I know, yeah. It's so funny because I shot this so long ago and I can't remember that much. It's always kind of a pleasant surprise to jump in and start doing it. It's fun for me to watch it too, with my girlfriend. She'll ask me all this stuff like, 'What's going on? How did they do that?' I'll go, 'I don't know.' She'd say, 'You read the script, right?' I'd say, 'Yeah, months ago.' (Laughs)
That's the whole point of it. You have to get immersed in the mystery of it.
Clifton Collins Jr.: I couldn't agree with you more. More importantly, I just don't know. I can't talk about what I don't know, or what I've forgotten. It's been a blast, though. I'm so proud of my cast. Getting to work with Zeljko (Ivanek) that close was a joy. He's such an artist and a consumate professional. You look back at his work through School Ties, he's just masterful.
You didn't have many scenes with him before this last episode though, if I remember right.
Clifton Collins Jr.: I had that really sweet scene with him in the elevator.
It was great to see Hal Holbrook at the end there. I was really intrigued by that puzzle/chart thing he had, where he's moving pieces around. That seems very interesting and it seems that he's the puppet master behind everything.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, no doubt. He's another legend, from All the President's Men to Into the Wild. It's just a joy to work with him. He's such an old-school pro. I have a lot of fun just hanging out with him and listening to his wisdom, what he's been through, and the stories about actors that both he and my grandfather both knew. It's really dope.
I also really enjoyed how that episode opened up, with a series of newscasts which were reporting a story which was just fed to them by the government, although there was a lot more to it. We've seen those kinds of things on the show before, though does seeing stuff like that maybe change your view on the actual news?
Clifton Collins Jr.: (Laughs) I don't know, but it threw me for a loop too. It's great when the actor in the piece get's thrown. It's a testament to the showrunner and the writers, in terms of making it believable.
We know there is your kind living among the humans and we also discover that Leila's character doesn't know she's one of your kind. Does that get explored more also, with people that are your kind but don't know it yet?
Clifton Collins Jr.: That's a really good question. Yeah, there's definitely a lot more of that stuff and there are a couple of characters that are getting ready to raise up as well. It's pretty exciting. I think the audience has really been waiting for some of these cats to stand up and do their thing, you know.
What episode are you working on right now?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I'm kind of lost right now because I'm jumping on a bunch of other stuff, so I haven't really kept track. For me, personally, I'm just trying to access my creative truths every day. Now, with this new film I'm going off to do, there's so much work to do. It's a nice, fat lead role, with me and Clancy Brown. I'm a big Clancy Brown fan. He's a bad-ass. I'm excited to work with him and all this research I'm doing, I kind of had to clear out my head space to put some other things I've got to tackle. Also, I've been talking to Adam Duritz and we might get down with a video for this Valentine's Day album he's doing.
Clifton Collins Jr.: It will be fun. We go back awhile and he's a fan of the different videos I've already done. I'm just excited. He's such a creative, collaborative individual. I'm psyched. I'll find some time. It will be like when I did The Experiment and found time to do the Jamey Johnson video, High Cost of Living.
Yeah, I remember when we talked another time, you said you went and shot a music video during a break from Extract. It always seems you can find the time to do these videos.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, I don't know how, but I somehow do. That one was Chicken Fried for Zac Brown Band. I remember when I was doing The Experiment with Adrien Brody and Forest Whitaker, my DP said, 'Hey, are you going to take your EX3 out there?' I said, 'For what? I'm working with two old friends, Oscar winners, and I've got a lot of work to do. I'm not doing a comedy, I'm doing a heavy drama. I've got no time to do a video.' Cut to like five days later, I called him and said, 'Can you FedEx me my camera?' (Laughs). You just have to follow the signs. Adam wraps his stuff on the 9th and I wrap my movie on the 9th. If that's not a sign, I don't know what is, so let's do it. We're actually talking about doing maybe two videos, and I might tap dance in one of them.
So when do you start shooting this new movie?
Clifton Collins Jr.:Hellbenders I start on Monday, in New York. It's going to be fun. I'm really excited and looking forward to it. J.T. Petty is a bad-ass director. I think he's got a good eye. He's been around awhile and he's kind of getting back to his roots with indie filmmaking.
There's another movie that I believe is in post-production called Freeloaders that you're in. There's quite a wonderful cast in this one also.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Oh yeah. That was so much fun. The spirit of independent filmmaking is so damaged today, with all the mediocrity and lack of good stories. To get down and dirty, for hardly any money, and work with people that you actually like, there's something really cool about that. We shot in Chatsworth, with a big old sing-along in the end, which you would expect for this kind of a film. I didn't even realize how much I was freezing because I was having so much fun. Everybody had fun, but I wish I had a couple of extra days there. I'm having fun, man, and this is going to be fun too.
It will probably be awhile before you hear anything about The Event being renewed. Have you heard any sort of chatter about that?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I know we have to get our ratings up. I mean, we're just getting started here. I know it's a little difficult if it's not finessed properly, but you wait. I'm off the leash now, as you can tell. I'm running hard and fast and taking no prisoners. I read my Twitter followers and my Facebook page and this other stuff, and they love it when I just go crazy. Even some of the stunt guys and crew guys say they're playing to my forte. I'm certainly not a suit man, so it feels really good where I'm at right now.
Do you think the ratings were hurt at all by the longer hiatus? Was that done for a writing standpoint, to get the stories in order?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, that's exactly what it was. This is so high-concept and you have so many writers in the room. I can only imagine what they're going through. You want to do it right and there's nothing worse than reading a story and going, 'Well, what happens here? How did this happen?' Here they can really connect the dots and massage it. It's a testament to them, their dedication and their writing skills. I can only imagine what it does to their personal lives, because I have a feeling they spend a lot more time in that room than I spend on set.
You also have an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation coming up. Can you talk about your character in that? Do you know when that will air yet?
Clifton Collins Jr.: It's kind of like the Robert Mitchum character in Cape Fear. I don't know when it airs, I've just been focused on the work. I'm sure I'll get a heads up. I think it will help wrap up the season, boost the ratings with a nice two-parter. I got to hang out with Peter Fonda again and hear some stories. He was friends with a lot of the friends that my grandfather had, so we were talking about Pilar, John Wayne's last wife. I still hear my grandmother tell similar stories, so it was great to just sit there and listen to this iconic, wonderful legend like Peter Fonda. I just want to shoot for an extra week to hear more stories.
After your movie wraps, is there anything else you have lined up that you can talk about?
Clifton Collins Jr.: There might be something really epic, gigantic, humongous, huge. I can not talk about it now, but I hope to tell you that it's a go the next time I talk to you, maybe even in the next few weeks. Keep your fingers crossed.
Since you do need a bit of a ratings bump, what would you like to say to anyone who might be curious about The Event who hasn't seen it before, to get them to tune in on Monday nights?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Well, tonight is just an hour instead of two hours, but it's going to be one hell of a ride. I consider the first episode back to be kind of a Pirates of the Caribbean ride, with exciting little dips, but this next one is going to be like that crazy ride at Magic Mountain. So get ready.
Thanks man. It was great talking to you again.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah, likewise, brother. Reach out in a couple of weeks once I get my footing here, and I'll bring you up to speed. It will be fun. Take care of yourself.