It has been a busy year for Clifton Collins Jr., acting in almost a dozen movies set for a 2009 release (including Star Trek and Crank: High Voltage), but somehow he managed to pull it off. He is known for his talent of taking on different roles and audiences can look forward to what he will bring to upcoming movies like Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day and Jim Sheridan’s Brothers. He also juggles his time writing screenplays and directing award-winning music videos.
Collins Jr. took a break from his busy career to speak with MM about his process of acting, writing, directing and what’s next for him.
Katie Garton (MM): You have been labeled as a chameleon actor; you’ve been an amputee (Sunshine Cleaning), a gay Mexican hit man (Traffic), a Romulan General (Star Trek), the list goes on. What draws you to a particular character?
Clifton Collins Jr. (CC): First, let me thank you for acknowledging that, for that is one of the main reasons that I do it; to be perceived as an actor first and foremost, one without label, less it be that of a “chameleon.” I really enjoy creating characters that affect people’s emotions and I like to do it within the confines of a character as opposed to “that’s Clifton.” I do understand that at some point I may not be able to hide so well, being that I’m starting to run out of disguises, but perhaps that is where my challenge will lie.
MM: You’ve said you get lost in the process of each project. How do you do this?
CC: Through intense study and research. I find other people’s lives fascinating; their cultures, dilemmas, purposes or lack there of. I think if I weren’t an actor, I’d surely make a great detective or secret agent. I really get off on studying people and what makes them tick. As a child spending a lot of time alone, I would often take apart various appliances in my home and put them back together before my mother would return from work just to see how and what made them function.
MM: Since getting lost in the process probably takes time, how did you juggle working on 10 films for 2009?
CC: That’s a good question; I was asking myself the same thing when I was finally offered The Horsemen, Sunshine Cleaning and Cleaner. As actors, we always want to work, and for me I’ll want to work on a film knowing that I personally make a very unique difference. My dilemma was this: How do I do these three jobs all around the same time and still create three very different roles? I thought, ‘This is going to be the greatest challenge of my career.’ At the end of the day, I took the jobs in order of how the offers came in and according to who could make the schedules work. I ended up only doing two of the three, Sunshine and Horsemen. It made it a little easier, but I hadn’t refrained from reading any other materials so as to keep these two very different characters apart.
MM: One of your upcoming films is Tom Cool, which you also produced. What different approaches do you take for producing than what you take for acting?
CC: Tom Cool was a big lesson for me in that I was very young in my producing shoes, believing everybody around me to be good, honest people, which was not the case. But lessons learned, I took away so much from that experience. There is great growth with going after something and actually accomplishing it. Learning to overcome obstacles and not letting anything get in the way, all the while attempting to keep your cast and crew happy is something I truly cherish.
MM: I also read that you write screenplays. When did you start writing and what do you like to write about most?
CC: I write about whatever it is that moves me or makes think; things that affect me at that time and how they relate to society.
MM: Along with producing and writing, you also direct. You recently won the CMT Music Award for USA Weekend Breakthrough Video of the Year for the Zac Brown Band song “Chicken Fried.” How did it feel to win, especially since it was your birthday? And what made you want to direct a music video?
CC: It felt especially good in that Zac, Shelley (Mrs. Brown) and myself thought that we were not going to win and had already been celebrating the double nominations, which in and of itself was surely something to celebrate. Birthdays to me have always been a hard time for a variety of many different reasons. That said I often try to skip it in some way, be it through work or whatever one can think of at the time that makes sense. To be with caring, creative people such as Zac and the band is a very good feeling, regardless of a nom. So just think of the feeling of adding a double nom and a win! Just go wild and color a picture with every single one of your 52 Crayola crayons and you might have the feeling.
My reason for directing a music video was simply to tell a story; meeting the challenges of writing a treatment that services the artist and his tale, that’s fun for me. I’m very blessed to have this kind of creative outlet.
MM: What is the biggest difference between making movies and making music videos?
CC: One is a two-hour song and the other is a three-and-a-half to four-minute song. I believe the fundamentals of storytelling to be the same. Also, a film is a bigger odyssey.
MM: Since you’ve directed a music video, do you want to direct feature films next? Or what’s the next thing you want to conquer?
CC: I’ve been working on several scripts and yes, a feature is in the works very soon. I will hopefully be re-teaming with a group of people that I have great love and respect for. I don’t want to speak to soon, but you’ll be one of the first to know.
For the latest information on Collins’ projects, visit http://www.cliftoncollinsjr.com.