INT: Clifton Collins Jr.
Clifton Collins Jr. walked on to set with a swagger, a shirt with the name Step sewed on and a cap. He looked like the epitome of blue collar. While he is playing a blue collar fella here in Mike Judge’s EXTRACT, he has also played a wide variety of characters. From TRAFFIC to CAPOTE to the upcoming CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE, STAR TREK and THE BOONDOCKS SAINTS 2: ALL SAINTS DAY. Clifton’s talent not only lies in his very diverse roles, it also lies with music and directing.
It is no surprise that this talented actor has expanded into directing. He recently shot the music video for The Zac Brown Band’s music video for “Chicken Fried”. It is a down home country tune that feels very much like his role in EXTRACT. And the best part is, the man is hilarious as Step. Watching him work was an absolute pleasure. I will almost guarantee that this film will be a breakout role for Clifton.
He has made a very impressive career for himself. Although it seems that the talent runs in his blood. His Grandfather, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, who co-starred with everyone from John Wayne to Dennis Hopper earned his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame this past November 14th. While he passed away in 2006, he finally got what he’d always wanted, thanks to his Grandson, with a whole lot of help from Samuel L. Jackson. I got to chat with Mr. Collins about his Grandfather, working with Mike Judge, country music, and his love of connecting to a good song. He even showed me the video he did for Zac Brown… and that is where the conversation began.
Clifton Collins, Jr.
This is like my third one.
You stick to country?
The last two were blues and this one’s country. But it’s a different kind of sound. It’s more like… you know I had this Serbian blues artist coming after me wanting me to direct a music video. I just couldn’t feel it, you know. You want to feel it. I’d rather just direct things that I’m really passionate about. So when I heard this song, and even Mike [Judge] was like, ‘I think it’s pretty cool that you want to shoot this Zac Brown country video while you’re playing this role.’ I think I’ve transcended into art imitating life, now I’m into art imitating art. I went real deep.
Dude, in this role you are just f*cking hilarious…
Thank you man.
How did you get involved with EXTRACT?
I met Mike before through Mary Vernieu. She gave me the opportunity to meet with him on his last film. And honestly when I read this film, I didn’t know what to do with it. Mike’s humor is such a slice of life. There’s no gimmicks, there is no… you know, in the sense of, it’s not just the jokes coming from snappy, funny writing, although they have that too. It’s a bigger part of that encompasses this real funny life. There’s so many funny things. You just watch people and laugh. And I over thunk it at first, you know, and I bumped into Mary Vernieu at a premiere and she was like, ‘Oh, you’re not going to come in?’ And I said, ‘Oh, you know I think I’m thinking too much.’ And I pulled back a little bit and found this beautiful, giant garden of funny shit that Mike created. Working with Mike, aside from being like, iconic in the short time he’s been in the business.
He’s really created some seriously amazing things that we all love watching. And that being said, who wouldn’t want to work with him. In addition too, he’s really a sweetheart of a guy. Real sensitive, generous and always present. You know, he’s just the kind of guy you want to work for. You know, I’m kind of dreading my next job after this.
What’s your next job?
I’m doing the sequel to THE BOONDOCK SAINTS.
Wow, so it is happening. What are you playing in that?
I play the new saint. I play Romeo.
Now what is the story on that?
I’ve been knowing Troy Duffy since the original Boondocks. We talked about me doing something in the original. And I decided against it and then he wrote this role for me. Yeah, here twelve years later.
Why are you dreading it?
Well, you know Troy… Troy is a lot of fun to hang out with. You know, its been a minute… we all know the folklore and the legend. It all comes from a real place. You know, I love him for it, but this is what I was born to do, I’m a forth generation entertainer. So I just know he works a little differently just for lack of experience. You know, pretty passionate. A lot of fun to hang out with.
Yeah, but when I’m working, I’m working. It’s so funny, just knowing him throughout the years it was like, ‘Hey Cliffy, come meet us… we’re gonna go out and get burgers… we’re gonna go out for drinkin’.’ and I was like, ‘Ah, I gotta study.’ And he was always like, ‘Oh, you gotta study huh? You gotta study is a big joke.’ And now it’s like, when he saw my notes on his script, it was like, ‘You know what? I’m finally convinced that you’re studying.’ [Laughing] He was like, ‘We’re goin’ out drinking tonight.’ and I’m like, ‘No, this is my job. This is what I do.’
It’s kinda cool though to have a boss like that.
In that respect yeah, but it’s just different when you work with someone who has only done one movie. And then the stuff that I’ve done in the past twelve years. You get spoiled by people like Mike Judge is my point. When making a film, you don’t have to be tyrannical or micromanage. Troy likes to micromanage. But I think we’ll be fine. I think we’ll do good. It’s going to be trying, I know it is.
With Step, your character in EXTRACT, how much are you in the film? Is it a major character?
Yeah, I mean, Cindy’s [Mila Kunis] intention on seducing me is simply for monetary gains. You know, it’s fine, it’s fun because Mike gives you a lot of freedom to play and improvise.
So he’s not married to the script?
He’s friggin’ just a joy. It’s films like this where you get spoiled and you go to work on something else and you are like, wow.
Now you direct music videos but are you a musician also?
I play guitar.
I figured you were.
I love it.
What music do you like?
Honestly, I really like playing the blues more than anything. I think I picked up my first Fender, my first Fender when I was in Nashville doing THE LAST CASTLE. Me and Mark Ruffalo went to this guitar shop and I just decided, I think I’ll spend the money for my very first Fender. And then every guitar afterwards was all free.
Do you play professionally?
Not… not… I mean, I don’t give performances or anything. I like hammering it out with my friends. You pick up an axe and just start grooving. Zac Brown is a phenomenal musician. I mean he plays country but he started playing when he was six. He started playing classical guitar when he was eight. I’ll show you a little clip. He’s just really amazing.
And now you’re directing music videos. As an actor, aside from working with people like Mike Judge, you’ve worked with some pretty impressive filmmakers to learn from.
And being able to work with D.P.’s like Elliot Davis [among others], you know, people like this you can only sit and watch and learn. I love working with these great people. Even when I was doing martial arts, I always wanted to fight the black belts as a kid because I knew if I were fighting the greats, I’d be great. I aspire to be like the people I admire in this town. So being able to do songs that I’m passionate about… it’s not driven by money, I’m driven by what inspires me. So being able to do this Zac Brown video, the Zac Brown guys are such real, country people. There’s no gimmicks, they don’t wear cowboy hats and boots. Don’t get me wrong, I got my Stetsons and Wranglers at home, and all of that. But this is different, these guys are just real. So when I came up with this concept, I didn’t want to do something flashy, I just wanted to do something really raw. And even CMT, they don’t really like logos and stuff, you know, the obvious reasons. But still, it’s like, I’d much rather blur out beer labels so you know it’s real as opposed to a tub full of brown, label less bottles. It’s like, ‘Oh, here are the prop beers.’ You know what I mean, it’s real, it is all real.
It seems like music videos nowadays don’t have a lot of heart.
No… I’m tryin’, I just get inspired by certain songs to tell a story that compliments the song and not upstage it. You know, like a delicate balance of right there where the visuals compliment what the meaning of the film is. I mean, sometimes you wanna be on the nose. Like certain movies, when they’re on the nose, you disengage emotionally. So this one, I went out on a limb, but I shot it myself. I went and picked up a Sony PMW, the EX3. It’s a dope one, you can crank it up, you can crank it down. Now on CRANK 2, which I did, we shot on a lot of Sonys, so I got to learn from Brandon Trost. He’s this young kid who just knows his stuff. He’s a bad ass. A young kid like in his mid-twenties.
It really is perfect for you, like Mike said, to be playing this role and doing that particular video.
And you know, when I was doing TIGERLAND, I said, ‘Look, before I take off to Jacksonville Florida, I want to stop in Joplin Missouri.’ They were like, ‘Joplin Missouri? Mr. Collins, we are not here to pay for your vacation time.’, I said, ‘I didn’t ask you to drop me off in Jamaica. I said Joplin Missouri. Who vacations in Joplin Missouri?’, I said, ‘I need to do some research and you need to drop me off in Joplin Missouri please.’ I just needed to soak it up, that is just what I like to do. I have a tendency, you can tell what roles I’m doing by my facial hair or how I’m dressed or what I’m wearing. You’ll know that it is something in relation to that role.
That’s how you work?
It’s fun. It’s fun!
Do you consider yourself “the method actor”?
I don’t know… I guess it is more or less what other people consider method. They say that’s what I am but I just like to get lost in that world. I mean, what other time will I get the chance to explore these country aspects and stuff of that nature. In STILLWATERS, I played an ex-convict, kind of a ghetto cowboy. I learned how to use a compound bow and recurve bows. I said, look, get me with somebody, I want to use this in the movie so I need to learn how to use this early. I like my props and tools early. Keep ‘em on me and I take ‘em home and I play with ‘em. Make ‘em yours, you know. It takes homework and actors are lazy. I like to go home and study. I don’t wanna be the only unfunny guy in a Mike Judge film.
A couple weeks after the initial interview, I spoke to Clifton about his Grandfather getting his star on the Walk of Fame. I asked him about the experience… this is what he said.
I grew up listening to Grandpa talk about this star and I really didn’t understand it and its significance until I got older and started doing it myself. And having my friends all around me just made it mean that much more. I mean, Sam Jackson was like, so pivotal in getting the star and I gotta tell ya man, it made my entire year. I’m wrapping up my tenth film here and nothing’s greater than getting that star for my Grandfather. It was the last thing I told him, literally on his deathbed. You know, he was always really grateful for the life that he had to live, and the opportunities that he had. He told me that, ‘I had a life bigger than I could ever have even dreamt of. But you know what mijo? I never got that star.’ And I said, ‘I’m gonna get you that star Grandpa!’ And Sam knew about it and Sam practically spearheaded the operation. He got George Lopez involved. And I called my friends. And Beau Bridges got involved for me. And Andre Braugher wrote a incredible letter and called for me. Edward James Olmos got on board. Cuba Gooding Jr…. he called and even came down to the hospital to visit my Grandpa. It was really special.
Let me know what you think. Send questions and/or comments to JimmyO@JoBlo.com.