Birth. Movies. Interview: Peter Stormare Talks CLOWN, Genre Movies and Wanting to ‘Do it All’

Jacob Knight interviews the legendary character actor about his upcoming Eli Roth-produced horror picture.

Peter Stormare is a goddamn legend. Just one look at the instantly recognizable ‘that guy’ character actor confirms his status as one of the most sought after talents of his time. From the Coen Bros. to Michael Bay, he’s become a veritable day player for some of our era’s most distinct auteurs, always adding colorful flair to the proceedings. Stormare’s a consummate professional, having cultivated a brand of flamboyant villainy he owns outright.

We recently had the privilege to speak with Mr. Stormare regarding Clown, the Eli Roth-produced, Jon Watts-directed monster movie that’s finally going to be released this Friday in the US, nearly two years after it debuted overseas (but don’t let the delay fool you, this is one effective slice of icky body horror). What followed was a free-form conversation that saw Stormare covering everything from his approach to character, to his desire to ‘do it all’ during his lifetime.

BMD: So what first attracted you to Clown?

Peter Stormare: Simplicity. I read a lot of scripts, and the draft needed a little work, but they let me have input on the character. Then I met [Director] Jon Watts, and his take was very brave but simple. Sometimes when you read a script from a first time director, you see a lot of artfulness but not focus, so nobody’s going to touch it. But Clown had a bunch of potential. It was easy to read, understand, and felt like an old Brothers Grimm story.

BMD: It is amazingly straightforward.

PS: Exactly. We don’t get many movies like this anymore. There’s too much gore and shocking stuff – movies trying to cause pain. But here was a director trying to tell a very simple story and let you use your imagination. It’s clear, but it lets you fill in the blanks, and it challenges you to use your brain a little bit. Too many of these things are shot up with special effects and become empty. It’s very rare to get a movie that feels this old fashioned – it goes back to Hitchcock. When you think about something like Psycho, not a whole lot happens narratively, yet it tells you so much. Clown is like that.

BMD: You mention being impressed with Jon Watts, who’s obviously become something of a high profile name after landing the upcoming Spider-Man reboot. What was your experience like working with him?

PS: Sometimes in your profession, you can spot talent. I’m into music, too – I play in a band – and you can see a young band and just know that they’ve got what it takes, when others will never make it. Jon Watts has talent. Too many first time directors try to go after name actors and then raise the money to make their movie. But Jon relied on his simple story and knew what kind of film he was going to make and trusted his own vision. It’s a twisted fairy tale. It’s going to scare the shit out of people.

BMD: The slow, painful transformation the main character goes through after he puts on that old clown suit is amazing. He becomes a child-eating monster before your eyes!

PS: I’ve talked to a bunch of people who have seen it, and while they’re never going to tell you it’s the greatest movie, they still admit that you get drawn into this sick tale Jon’s telling. From the beginning, you’re not entirely sure how it’s going to end up, and then it just becomes a nightmare.

But I think Clown also reminds me of why long-form TV is starting to replace the movies, in a way. It asks you to take a journey with a character and follow the character instead of just a narrative. You’re trying to understand him and you’re never ahead of where he is. It’s all about discovery and being with this man who is going through a lot of pain. He’s changing, and the audience feels it. The best TV asks you to feel the same thing, not just spend a fucking hour on some random crime that’s wrapped up all nice and neat.

BMD: You’ve dipped your toe into just about every genre imaginable throughout your amazing career. Do you prefer one to another, or are you just looking to put together as eclectic a resume as possible?

PS: I call myself a grasshopper. I paint, I write poetry, and I’m in a band. When it comes to movies and TV, I like to work in everything and with everyone. I wanna do it all, beyond even the screen. There’s such a joy to creating characters. I never want to get tied to one project or be in one TV show forever. I want to change my look. I want to grow my beard. I want to wear lenses in my eyes. I just like becoming these characters. When you’re a lead actor, you don’t get to be that loud, and I like to be loud. Sure, they make more money than I do, but I don’t need more money. I need enough money to pay my bills. I drive one car. I own one house. That’s enough for me. Who gives a shit about anything else?

Doing everything in life is good. There are so many opportunities. I’ve been very lucky in my career, as I have a passion for what I do. I don’t ever want to have a job where I just punch a clock.

BMD: Is there anything you don’t want to do? Do you have ‘no’ in your vocabulary?

PS: Sure. I’m not interested in ever repeating myself. My biggest fear is to become seventy years old and to look at myself and think I got stuck in one place. I want to do as many things as humanly possible. I’m not multitalented, but I’m cool with that. I’m not a great musician, but I play a lot of instruments. Because hearing them is good for my soul.

Clown hits theaters in limited release & VOD on June 17 via Dimension Films.