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How do you know if you're a character actor? Let us count the ways.
For one, you have no idea how many movies you've done.
For another, you're used to being asked, "Say, aren't you that guy from that thing?"
And thirdly, "Character actors are just the guys that are not good looking enough to be leads. That’s kind of the standard answer," says longtime character actor Clancy Brown, who you definitely recognize from at least one of a LONG list of titles.
Brown phoned us recently while promoting this week's Blu-ray release of "Homefront," a bayou-soaked action-thriller starring Jason Statham as a former DEA agent who
mixes it up with local meth-maker James Franco. Brown plays Sheriff Keith Rodrigue, a vital role, but per usual, you won't find his face on the poster. Not that that bothers Brown any.
"I'm just trying to be a blue collar actor and do my part to make the movie good. That’s all," said Brown.
Brown has helped make plenty of movies more than good, so we jumped at the chance to speak with him about some of our favorites, including dangling Andy Dufresnefrom that freshly tarred roof in "The Shawshank Redemption," taking out the original James Bond in "Highlander," and sending a knife through Jake Busey's hand in "Starship Troopers."
Would you consider yourself a character actor?
Clancy Brown: Yes. Sure. I consider myself one ... I always look for characters. Every actor does. Every actor is really a character actor, so, just some of us get to play around a little bit more than others, carry less expectations, less preconceptions of what we’re going to do. And so we get to goof off a little bit more.
What role do people most recognize you for?
CB: You know, it’s kind of all over the place. I've been recognized from my first movie to my most recent. I mean, it kind of depends on who you're talking to. When people come up and recognize me and they mention a movie, it tells me more about them than it does about me.
How many parts would you say you’ve had?
CB: Oh, gosh. I don’t know. IMDB that.
What is your character type?
CB: Well, I'm a big guy. I mean, I'm 6’3” and I'm over 200 pounds and so you know, those guys are usually thugs.
How often do you get mistaken for somebody else?
CB: Always. All the time. Us character actors, we always get mistaken for each other. Yes. Oh, my God. It happens all the time.
Has anyone ever said to you, "Hey you're that guy in that thing?"
CB: oh, yes. Sure. Yes. Yes.
Who was the first big star you shared the screen with?
CB: Sean Penn.
Oh, in "Bad Boys"?
CB: Yes. I think he threw peas in my face or something. I can't remember exactly what he did the very first time. But Sean was the first actor I was with and that set the bar kind of high right there.
Were you nervous about that first time?
CB: Not with being with Sean, necessarily, because I didn’t really know who he was, and nobody really did at that point, but nervous because I had never done a movie before. I didn’t know exactly what to expect and just tried not to mess up. But I'm also unreasonably confident in what I'm doing. I don’t know why that is, but I like acting and so, you know, that’s the main thing. I just wanted to play a scene with him.
What do you remember about throwing that knife into Jake Busey in "Starship Troopers"?
CB: Well, I remember that we trained to do that and I could not do it to save my life the first day. We had Captain Dale Dye training everybody and I could not throw that knife to save my life. I could not make it stick, and then I went home and did it a few more times, and I went in the next day and I couldn’t miss. I could throw anything into a wall and make it stick, and it turns out it didn’t even matter because they did it digitally anyway.
Jake is the one that actually had the hard work. He had to sell it. He did a good job. We just worked together again on a little no budget movie called "Sparks" and that was fun to catch up with him.
What do you remember about dangling Andy Dufresne from that roof in "The Shawshank Redemption"?
CB: Oh, that was fun. That was the day before I got married actually, in real life. I had to hop on a plane or hop in a car and drive down to Chicago and say my wedding vows the next day. So I was a little preoccupied during that scene, and it was a long day I remember, because they had a lot of rigging to do to make sure that Tim didn’t fall over and die. We were both kind of tied off, so that took a while. And I think the lighting was problematic that day, too. Maybe it was cloudy or maybe it was too sunny. I don’t remember, but Roger Deakins is a pretty exacting DP, and rightfully so. So it all worked out. I think Tim might have made up a line and I might have made up a line, just to see if it would piss Frank [Darabont] off, but it didn’t.
Do you remember which line you made up?
CB: No. Not really. Maybe "ball washing bastards," or something like that. I don’t know.
Did you guys share a bottle of suds afterward?
CB: Yes. Absolutely. We had the prop beers ... That was back in the day where you actually could do something like that. You're not allowed to do that stuff anymore, but I think the prop guys brought up real beer after we wrapped and we all shared a cold one.
And then you went off and got married?
CB: Then I went off and got married. And somebody else got married that weekend, too. So it took all the notoriety out of my marriage. Story of my life.
Do you remember who it was?
CB: I think it was Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett. I think that was the marriage. It was because I told everybody there, I said, “If you feel like coming to Chicago and coming to the wedding, please feel free.” And they said, “No, no. We’re just going to rest here and do laundry” and stuff like that. And then we heard that Julia and Lyle got married and Tim Robbins was there. So I always gave him s--- about that. That’s why I'm a character actor.
That’s amazing. What do you remember about killing James Bond in "Highlander"?
CB: Oh that was great fun. If I was ever nervous with a movie star, it was with Sean, because he is every inch Sean Connery, man. He’s a big gorgeous dude. I don’t know how old he was, almost 60, and he was still the most macho thing on the set.
We were up on the top of the staircase that looked pretty precarious and we were not rigged very well. He was on his knees, and I was standing over him and I remember leaning over and asking him, I said, “Sean, how much do you weigh, man?” And he said, “Oh, 14 stones” or I don’t remember, but some stone, and I was like, “that tells me absolutely nothing. I’m 200 pounds and if you're over 200 pounds, that means we’ve got like 400 pounds on this slapped together thing. You nervous?” And he says, “No, I'm never nervous.”
What do you remember about filming underwater with Sydney Poitier on "Shoot to Kill"?
CB: I did that in the Bahamas. He’s pretty remarkable ... You know, he’s just Sidney. But tremendously gracious and I think he arranged for us to be in the Bahamas shooting that, in the clear water of the Bahamas. And he did the stunts. He participated as much as I did anyway. And he was quite an example to follow. Again, my first thing underwater, and I don’t know how many times he had done an underwater scene, but he was better at it than I was, I'm sure.
How long were you under water?
CB: Well, I kind of enjoyed it, so as long as they had a regulator there with some air in it, I would just hang out down there and suck on the regulator and we’d roll, and I’d do it. I think Sidney was kind of the same way. I know that it can be uncomfortable for a lot of people, but I think we were fortunate in that both Sidney and I were comfortable under water.
"Homefront" finds you on the right side of the law, but wouldn't you say you're more inclined to play bad guys?
CB: I think that’s the expectation sometimes. At least a tough guy or something like that. That’s why I like this film. It kind of spoils everybody’s expectations. It leads us all down this paths of expectations. Certainly in Jason’s case, and somewhat in mine, and kind of blows expectations out of the water. Like with Kate Bosworth. You always expect her to be kind of a glammy, beautiful broad, and now she's just like … she was astounding in this. And even Winona, you don’t expect Winona to be some kind of meth whore.
See Clancy Brown in the "Homefront" theatrical trailer: