And Now, An Intimate Conversation With Clancy Brown
A few weeks ago, I had the distinct honor of sitting down to speak with legendary character actor Clancy Brown. We had a great chat covering a number of topics, including his just-released Supercon, and then I promptly deleted the audio I'd recorded from our conversation.
Incredibly, Clancy Brown's reps were generous enough to put me back on a phone with him today. Everything we talked about during that first interview is lost forever, like tears in rain, but the conversation I had with him this afternoon was honestly even better. This guy's a mensch.
Case in point: he was half an hour late getting in touch, which is where we're at when the transcription below begins...
Hello, is this Clancy Brown? Again?
It is. I am so, so sorry. I'm late.
Haha, you're sorry?
I was just sitting here, doing nothing, and then I see an email that said, "You will be calling Scott this time..." and I was like "Bah!"
I think if either of us needs to be apologizing, it's me. I deleted the audio of our entire first interview.
Well, y'know, it's not like there can be only one.
Holy shit. OK, well, when's the last time you did something really embarrassing while doing your job?
Well, prior to this. I'm not counting today.
Oh, gosh. I don't know. I feel like my job is to embarrass myself.
Oh, yeah. My dad went to see Hail, Caesar!, which I thought he would get a big kick out of. It's set in the '40s and '50s, which should be right there in his demo wheelhouse. So my family calls after they've seen it - it's my sister, my mom and my dad - and my sister says, "We saw the movie and we really liked it!" and I said, "Terrific!" and then she says, "Oh, hold on, dad wants to tell you something about it" and he gets on the phone and goes, "That was the worst movie I've ever seen! It made no sense at all!" I said, "Well, I thought you'd like it, seeing as how--" and he says, "NO! What were you doing in there, weren't you embarrassed?" I said, "Dad, do you realize what I do for a living? That's my job, to embarrass myself."
Is that the harshest review you've ever received from your folks?
No, no. No, no, no, no, no. No. I'm sure I've heard worse. But I just laughed about it. You could hear my mom in the background like, "Oh, don't tell him that!" I think the Coen Brothers just don't make sense to my parents. I mean, they're 80 and 90, y'know?
My folks are in their late 60's and I don't think the Coen Brothers make sense to them, either.
Yeah, well, I can't get enough of 'em. It's a generational thing, I think. But that wasn't the harshest review they've given me. I'm not sure [what was]. Mostly I get, "Well, we just heard you were in this movie, why didn't you tell us that?" And I say, "Either I did or I didn't want you to see it!"
And also, after you've had as prolific a career as yours, I gotta assume you're not excitedly calling your folks every time you get a role.
Yeah, but they're your parents. They don't know half the stuff I've done, though, and that's fine. They don't watch Spongebob Squarepants.
The last time I talked to you - which was maybe two weeks ago, if that - we were mostly talking about Supercon, which has since come out.
Oh, my god, that's right!
And now I understand we should talk about a Showtime series you're on, called Billions. It's back this Sunday, right?
Gotta be honest here and say I'm unfamiliar with Billions. What is Billions?
Well, it's basically a story about the financial world, sorta the bleeding edge trading, venture capitalist guys and hedge-fund dudes who...y'know, I'm not even sure I understand what they do.
But this show sorta gives you an insight into how those guys are so rich and how that wealth effects them. Why they're a differnet breed, y'know? And at the same time, the same time, it's about the United States attorney for the southern district of New York. Damien [Lewis] is sorta the genius, hedge-fund dude, and Paul Giamatti is the attorney. Paul's wife works in Damien's investment firm as sorta their motivational person - a psychologist, really - and she straddles both worlds. So, there's a really interesting push and pull between the two guys and her, but there's also this duelling macho thing between them. The attorneys are one kind of macho; the hedge-fund guys are another kind of macho. And then we see that they're all sorta dominated by the women in their lives, anyway. It's a very interesting show, with the attorneys going after the hedge-fund guys and the hedge-fund guys having done some things that aren't entirely ethical.
And I'm in love with the writing on this show. It's got an almost Coen Brothers feel to it, really, where they're having you say the kind of things that, in real life, you wish you would've said. "Oh, it woulda been so great if I'd said this," y'know? It makes the characters so much fun to play. They're saying the cleverest things, or the funniest things, or the bad-assest things. Nobody really ever talks like that, but it's like they're articulating subtext, and that's very much the case with the character that I play. He is unabashed about what he thinks. His politics are not my politics, but boy, is it fun to say that stuff!
I should clarify that me being unfamiliar with Billions is not a judgment call - I've heard good things about it! - but I'm just having trouble managing my TV viewing habits these days.
Yeah, I get it! And some shows you just gotta keep up with, y'know? You don't have to keep up with Homeland, but Billions you definitely gotta keep up with. The third season, which is where we're at now, is completely informed by the two previous seasons. It's got a pretty solid following!
This is true! I know a few people who are very passionate about Billions.
I had to catch up with it when they called me about this part, but it's really interesting. I got into it. But I also understand, with the way TV is now, it's really hard to choose what to watch, and once you choose to watch something, that's what you're watching. I just did this movie up in Astoria and couldn't watch [my shows], and so for the last two days I've been all over my DVR and online trying to catch up with everything. And, y'know, that don't pay my bills.
For me to start watching a new show, I need to hear from...I don't know, several people whose opinions I really trust. I need those receipts before I'll make the leap.
Were you a Breaking Bad guy?
See, I haven't seen one episode of Breaking Bad.
Oh, man. I envy you that. You have such a journey ahead of you!
That's what I hear! I'm looking forward to it but I have no idea when I'm gonna get to do it because I've got all these other shows to get caught up on!
Save that one for the next time you have the flu or food poisoning or what have you - next time you're laid up in bed for several days - get caught up with Breaking Bad. It's the best.
Haven't seen Game of Thrones, either.
Eh, I'm not a Game of Thrones guy. I usually don't go in for fantasy stuff. But while we're tangential to that topic, I should tell you that when I mentioned our first interview to my wife, she got mad all over again about the fact that Carnivale never got finished.
To be fair, I bought her the first two seasons on DVD while we were dating and neglected to inform her that there was, y'know, no ending. So I guess that's on me.
"It's the journey, not the destination!" She wasn't having it. Do you think there's any chance in hell we'll finally see some sort of resolution there? A movie or a season-long resurrection or something?
I mean, that show was just right at the edge of the ethic that used to exist in TV where, if you cancelled something, you were through with it. That was it. Then, like, the next month they started resurrecting shows. That was a weird time at HBO, y'know? I think there was something going on there. In spite of all the love for the show and the people who made the show, there was some kind of deep animosity at the highest levels about that show, and I don't think it was the show; I think it may have been about the people involved. I don't really know, I've never quite run into that kind of thing before.
But, anyway, they didn't do anything to help, man. They didn't do any merchandise, nothing like that. And that's not how they do things anymore. They leverage these things out the whazoo these days! I mean, it only recently just got put on HBO's OnDemand service. It's very strange.
I feel like if Deadwood can get a movie, I don't see why Carnivale can't.
Well, are they actually making a Deadwood movie?
Haha! Good point. Who knows. Maybe it'll happen.
I don't know how you'd do a movie and wrap it up, honestly.
Well, that's not my job. That's the screenwriter's job.
Ha, yeah, we'll see.
Is there a film you're particularly proud of that no one ever asks you about?
Oh, I'm sure. I'd need to go back and look at [my filmography], though...
Haha! Even you can't keep track of everything you've done!
Well, look, I tend to fall in love with the thing I've done most recently, is all. I had a lot of fun making Supercon, which has just been savaged by some of these critics. I'm thinking, "You're not supposed to take this seriously, it's supposed to be fun!" But then I think, there's so many movies I've done that haven't gotten good reviews and now they're universally beloved, so just take that list and add Supercon to the bottom of it.
Maybe this is just me, but if I had a career as prolific as yours, I'd feel really comfortable saying, "Eh, well, they can't all be homeruns."
No, they can't! And why should they be? That would be boring, man, if you stepped up to the plate and just hit a homerun every time? I like the singles, y'know? I like the errors. That's baseball to me, not smashing it out of the park every time. I wish studios were more interested in that kind of thing. I wish they went for the line drive more often. That might be fun.
That's sort of the mode everything is in now, though, right? Everything's very binary, to the extreme. Every reaction is either "This movie ruined my childhood" or "Give this movie all the Oscars."
So, it's not just the studios. Everyone's guilty of chasing that high.
I think it's 'cause there's so much money involved. Whenever I work on some big tentpole thing I'm always astonished by how much money is being wasted. And then I do a low-budget thing and I'm astonished by how far a dollar can go because it has to.
Are you more comfortable on a big tentpole project because of the accommodations, or less comfortable because of the pressure to deliver a big hit?
I'm comfortable no matter the project. But I remember there was a moment when we were filming Cowboys And Aliens, which was a big tentpole movie that didn't do big tentpole business. There was so many hitters on top of that movie - like, every big name in Hollywood seemed to be somehow involved in that project. And there was a moment where we were shooting on the first day or two, and we're shooting a small scene - there were maybe four or five cast members involved - and there had to be fifty suits on the set, all with their names on the chairs, all sitting behind the monitors.
It was just crazy! And everything was so focused on them, it really wasn't about shooting that scene.
The scene was incidental to the suits visiting.
Right! Nothing to do with the scene. It was more like, "Well, this is what we're gonna [shoot] to manage these guys over here." Big tentpoles are really interesting in that way. They find a lot of creative ways to waste money.
Versus a low-budget thing...
Yeah, the little ones...look, I won't defend Supercon here - either you love it or you hate it - but [Supercon director Zak Knutson] had something like 15 days or 20 days to shoot an entire movie about convention life and pop culture in which he actually couldn't use any recognizable pop culture icons or costumes, because they couldn't afford to license any of it.
Right? And on top of that, we had to find a hole in Louisiana where we could film this thing where there wasn't already something scheduled, and of course that happens in the dead of summer where only the reptiles are comfortable. I mean, my god, it was so freakin' hot...I guess that's not fair, I suppose some people like that weather.
No, that's fair. That weather is gross.
So you've got no money, no time to shoot, and you're working under those conditions. That's a remarkable thing! That's always cool to me. Those projects are the ones where you see genius happening, on the lower-level productions. You see really creative shit happening there. When you can buy anything you want and shoot anything you want and then digitally correct it, it's a different kind of thing. And I'm thinking, "I just gotta remember to do my lines and not bump into the furniture."
Huge thanks to Clancy Brown (and Clancy Brown's handlers!) for helping us get this thing done. Billions hits Showtime on Sunday, and - if you're curious - Supercon is now in select theaters, VOD, and Digital HD as we speak. It'll hit DVD on June 5th.