Jason Clarke Is Hollywood's Favorite Bad Dad

You’ve probably seen more Jason Clarke movies than you know. Clarke has mastered the art of being “Oh! That guy!” and is a perennial favorite among filmmakers, especially when the occasion calls for a That Guy. Now, the Australian is making a name for himself as a leading man.

Pet Sematary sees Clarke make the jump not only into full-fledged horror, but establishes his long-overdue mainstream leading man status. He’s magnificent in the King adaptation. He’s weak until he’s determined. He’s headstrong until he’s a coward. Clarke operates within the unspoken frailties of the male psyche, and there are few actors better. GQ sat down with Clarke to discuss his new movie, what he wants to leave for the next generation, and, of course, the insane ending to Serenity.

GQ: Had you read the King novel before it came across as a project for you?

Jason Clarke: Yeah, I read the book a long time ago. And then I read it again. I listened to it, actually, more than I read it in the end. Michael C. Hall does a great Audible version of it. Reads it fucking really well. It's a great book to read, because Louis is in a monologue, almost, in a way. You feel him losing his mind.

I remember reading that Stephen King said that he felt that was the book that he'd gone too far with originally.

Yeah, it's a cool quote, isn't it? I thought they did a really good job, keeping stuff in. There's so much you're gonna leave out. You're just trying to bring things in to tell that full story, the full horror. But there’s also a sense of the absurd. A sense of the grandeur of great horror. The best directors come from horror.

And now, some of the best directors are going to horror.

Well, it plays at the cinema, doesn't it? It plays, one of the few apart from the big-budget action films that actually play at the cinema.

So, reading Pet Sematary again, after you'd read it a while ago. When you read it as an actor, and you need to get into the mind of Louis, or you're meant to be Louis, how do you read it differently? What jumped out at you that time?

The second time around I'm a father. That makes a huge difference to the story. It's much more disturbing. When you read a script as an actor, you're looking to the parts that don't work. Not just your own lines or scenes, but what you've got to bring, what is required. What is required to work with Jud, what his story is. Ellie and all that. That's the kind of stuff you're looking for: what can I contribute. And not just in terms of a character, but as I build my character, what does my character got to contribute here?

I'm sure maybe he spoke to the directors once or twice in passing. But I think that's what's good about Stephen King's work is he seems pretty open to remixes and to adaptations.

I think he understands that you have to make a movie. It's not like a book where you read it on your own. You watch it with a group of people, that's the idea. And so, like the ending, I still think that's in the realms of his book and world, but it works with the cinema. People just lost their shit with that.

That final shot is fantastic.

Oh, it's just great. You never would have seen that coming.

<h1 class="title">99732347</h1><cite class="credit">Desiree Navarro/Getty Images</cite>


Desiree Navarro/Getty Images

Jeté Laurence as Ellie is brilliant. It’s hard to cast children who can be scary.

Oh, I thought she gave a great performance. She's our main protagonist. She's 11. Just turned 11.

She had to bring it. If that doesn't work, we're stuffed. One of the reasons of changing that from the boy to the girl was, if it was Gage, I’m fighting with a doll with, if you stick with a three-year-old boy it's impossible. So you're throwing a young girl a lot of heavy lifting to do. But she's good at delivering. When it works it makes it much deeper, in terms of caring about her and her father and mother. Her leaning about death now she’s died. Got to work it out. She's okay, but the parents aren't okay, you know?

With child actors they often just want to get it right or please the director or please the producer or please the casting. They're just... there. They haven't gotten to that stage of really enjoying their work or stretching their work out. But you could just sense with her. Before we do a couple of big takes she would just take like a moment, a minute, just do her thing. I thought, balls to you girl. It's about claiming your own space. I know I'm going to deliver this, but I also want to enjoy what I do. And so was always very aware of making sure that we just enjoyed the scenes. There was no right or wrong. We're in the right area, let's just play. And then, we'd sell big scenes together with her. That big finale, holy shit.

And there is a deceptive playfulness to the film.

Humor is one thing that is always a great device to use. When you see us laying in bed. When I saw the person in the theater, I thought oh my God, they're laughing. But at the same point, there is an absurdity in King's story. It is absurd at the heart of it, that he's dressed out either side of it with almost a kitchen sink drama. And so, when I was playing that you want to be real, you want to be believable, but you also understand the situation that Louis is in, or Rachel is in, is absurd. It's like what the fuck, without either doing nothing with it or going ham.

Sometimes ham can be fun, though. I think I've certainly enjoyed a lot of the stuff you've been in but I was absolutely obsessed with Serenity earlier this year. What a brilliant, weird, fun movie that was.

I think so too. People were really meh-meh-meh. It's like, you know, you guys thought about Peter Greenwave. You forgot about all these great directors that threw stuff out. Is it perfect? Whatever. But go and watch your fucking tights movies if you want.

I came out thinking, what's the point in not liking this movie?

Exactly. I totally agree. What is the point? Or you go and read other people's reviews of their bigger blockbuster films to understand, the prism people look through films nowadays. It's such a modified… They just didn't seem to get that was the world we existed in. It wasn't meant to be real. Spoke to Stephen in that. I was a character in a video game from like Grand Theft Auto. That's fun, in its own absurd, horrible way.

I remember a recent piece in Vulture that tracked your roles as a “Bad husband” and there are quite a few. How do you feel about that as one of your calling cards?

What is Vulture? Is it a video? Problematic husband, maybe. I guess I've played a few husbands. I've never really been interested in just playing you old school straight-up dude that just starts here and ends in the same place really, or stuff happens around him. Even in, say, Everest, Rob makes a bad decision. And it costs his wife the rest of their life together. It leaves her in a world of shit, with their unborn child. He's never going to get to see her. So I think all the characters. I enjoy playing not just black or white. Did you see HHhH [Ed. note: It was released in the U.S. as The Man with the Iron Heart]?

I haven't, actually.

Watching the movie's hard, because the Weinsteins own it. Bastard. But yeah, he was a Nazi, the worst Nazi. If there's something to learn or enjoy and to play those roles. I've loved them all. I don't feel like I've been put into a box or I'll get put into a box, you know?

With the whole superhero boom and everything, like if you got the call from Marvel to, I don't know, be like the next Iron Man or something. Is that something that you'd consider?

I think you'd always consider it. There's numbers involved. But you know what, I learned a lot from my time with John Lithgow. I'm no longer at a point where I'm worried about a roof over my head. And if you buy into that, that's 10 years of your life playing this, you might bring different characters, but you're just huge the whole time.

And so it's like is that why I got into this business? What is my own personal responsibility to this circus of history that I have partaken in. And where's my enjoyment? How much money do you need? And so, it's not something that I just go yes, absolutely not. But probably at the moment, no. I enjoy different roles, you know. Sitting around waiting two days to half a scene. It's a different world.

I always like to look up when I'm talking to an Australian actor, because you can guarantee that at some point they were either on Neighbours or Home and Away.

Yeah, I was on Home and Away. That stint on Home and Away, dude, set me up to move to America. Yeah, I moved over share house and rented an apartment. I was a school teacher on the show. And there was a bus accident or something. Some dodgy story.

Those are huge shows in England. I grew up with them.

Yeah, you English love them more than anybody. You guys love that more than, oh look at them, they're on the beach. Isn't this nice!

Tell me about working with Amy Seimetz in Sematary as well. She’s a filmmaker in her own right, too.

It was great for the whole film, because she's a real all arounder. She really is. And smart. When they said they were going to go with Amy, I thought it was a brilliant move. There were some other actresses, names and all that. I thought she was a wonderful choice, and we had a great time together. Was in Miami doing press as well, so she's funny. She makes me laugh.

I think my favorite scene between you is, I think the most chilling line in the whole film, is “hug your daughter, Rachel.”

[Adopts the voice] Hug your daughter Rachel, right. My favorite line of Louis’ is "Let God take his own fucking kid." I was surprised they put that in there, because in the book it was Ellie that said “let God take his own cat.” So I’m glad we did it the way he did it. Fuck God. He gave up his own son, he can’t have mine. Here I am, bringing her back. It's an addiction.

People say horror is having a moment. But I think it was always around. It's also a weird time for films because it feels like Disney owns half the major studios now. I think it's great that horror's around to remind people that mid and low budget films can still be popular, can still be profitable.

Yes, and crucially it can still work on the big screen. At the moment, your dramas are hard to get any box office people would rather go and watch them at home. And so horror works on a big screen. Look, always with Hollywood you just follow the money. It's a film business, people follow the money. So, horror works. And traditionally, you've got guys like Jason Blum. That man's made a fortune for these low budgets. And now it's stepped up into a different area. You're seeing, I'd almost say like a level of smarts. We're also I guess in a world of what's your message filmmaking? Using the genre to allow you to hold a mirror up to society. Hollywood's not running John Wayne parts anymore.

Yeah, we're really moving away from that

We're moving away from it and we're also showing that black stories, women's stories, they do sell. You know what I mean? But it's just, how does cinema survive within this world of streaming?

Is that something you're worried about? Or is it something you're willing to embrace?

You've got to embrace it. We all embrace it. We all want to pay for the meal and do whatever.