The 'Star Trek' actor opens up about what draws him to the remake of Oliver Hirschbiegel's 'Das Experiment', the character he is portraying and working with Forest Whitaker and Adrien Brody.
2009 has been quite a year for Clifton Collins Jr.. Landing role in more than five feature films this year alone, the 39-year-old has grabbed Best Actor nomination from 2009 ALMA Awards for his portrayal of Nero's first officer, Ayel, in "Star Trek" and baddie El Huron in "Crank: High Voltage".
AceShowbiz.com has got the chance to throw a few questions to the Amy Adams' co-star in "Sunshine Cleaning" and discuss his upcoming project, "The Experiment". In the exclusive interview, he talks about, among others, working with Forest Whitaker and Adrien Brody, what his character will be, and his other projects, including "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day".
ASB: What made you interested in joining "The Experiment"?
Clifton Collins Jr.: It is a well-written project based off of a sick German film titled "Das Experiment" if you haven't seen it, I suggest you go out and rent or buy it, its brilliant. Also, it was an opportunity to work with two brilliant old friends Forest [Whitaker] and Adrian Brody. There's not an actor in town who wouldn't want to work with those two!
ASB: Do you have a scene with Forest Whitaker and Adrien Brody?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yes, I play scenes with both. Ethan Cohn (whose a name you may not know, but I promise you after this, you will!), and Adrian Brody's cellmate. Once the movie takes off we're all going through the drama together, which would also include Forest, who by the way is a tour de force. Watching both Forest and Adrian act was an incredible lesson and gift; I can't express the joy in watching the both of them. It's incredible. There were particular takes that I was not in, that I actually stuck around just to watch Forest do his thing. Both Forest and Adrian's archs as characters in this piece is amazing to experience. Maybe they should have called it THE EXPERIENCE, but I guess that would insinuate that it's more about me (narcistic actors hahaha :) )
ASB: How does it feel to work with a cast ensemble that is filled with heavy hitting talents?
Clifton Collins Jr.: It's awesome, but it's not unfamiliar territory. Both TRAFFIC and CAPOTE had a pretty nice stable of heavy hitters. Still the honor of sharing the screen with them never diminishes. Also, I've known them both for quite some time now, so it's working with your friends AND heavy hitters, who's not gonna be crazy about that? :)
ASB: Will you be one of the prisoners or the guards in this film? Can you describe more about your character?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I play NIX who is one of the prisoners. NIX is an ex-con who is just trying to make an honest living, you think about it, an ex-con with an opportunity to make a grand a day is like winning the lottery. It is incredible for anybody who's done time to get a high earning job, or really any job for that matter. Keeping the Experiment going is one of Nix's priorities, being that if any of the rules are violated the experiment is terminated and no [one] gets paid.
ASB: How did you prepare yourself emotionally and physically to portray your character?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Being that I'm an ex-con, more specifically an Aryan Brotherhood, I put on as much muscle mass as quickly as possible. And being that I was hired very late in the game, I had to continue to work out almost everyday regardless of whether we put in a full 12 hour day or more, I was still hitting the gym after work. There were some days that I was so tired I could barely think straight, but there is something to be said about the level of commitment of one trying to bulk up his body so that he can continue to be safe and more importantly remain the Alpha dog, it certainly contributed to the mental state of my character.
Regarding the character prep, I differed to an old neighborhood friend of mine from Watts. He was at my post, with re-writes and CONVICT CHARACTERISTICS, also reading prison books such as FISH, BLUE RAGE BLACK REDEMPTION, PRISON MASCULINITIES, THE BLACK HAND, watching episodes of GANGLAND that involved the AB, various YOUTUBE of different LOCKDOWN eps, and/or direct interviews with AB associates both active and in-active.
ASB: We are told you are filming the movie right now in Iowa. Can you tell us a bit about the scenes you had filmed so far?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Hmmm... well at this point, I've wrapped the picture. I'm home now shooting an incredible TV show by the legendary JOHN WELLS that I'm very proud of, and I've only said that about one other show in the past and that was THIEF with the ever-talented Andre Braugher. I received an Emmy nomination for that one :)
ASB: Is there any particular scene in the film that strikes as a profound one?
Clifton Collins Jr.: No, not really, I'm pretty hard on myself and those around me to a fault, its something I'm trying hard to be better at.
This world is very close to me, and that said, I know A LOT about it, so it's difficult for me to be impressed by a screenplay written about prison unless the writer is someone who KNOWS the world i.e. an Eddy Bunker etc. It doesn't mean it's not a good script. Like I said before it was the script and the writing that initially got me involved. Later Both Adrian and Forest would sign on.
ASB: How do you think Paul Scheuring is doing as director?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I think he did just fine. It was a pretty big endeavor, and his first feature. The ultimate critique will be upon the viewing at premiere.
ASB: In what way will "The Experiment" be any different from Oliver Hirschbiegel's version?
Clifton Collins Jr.: In a lot of different ways. I'm a big fan of Hirschbiegel's version so I may be a little biased, but Scheuring gave me some breathing room to really make my character in particular a little more honest and dynamic than in the original, so I'm super happy about that.
ASB: Do you have any other projects, beside "The Experiment", that we should know about?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Errr. A little underground indie called BOONDOCK SAINTS 2, genius Jim Sheridan's BROTHERS, and SOUTHLAND, SOUTHLAND, SOUTHLAND!!! I can't even begin to articulate the amount of creative collaboration that goes on in this show. I'm really excited about this.
ASB: Besides acting, you are also credited for directing music videos. Do you have plans to step it up to helming a feature film?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yes! I love story telling. Music videos are a very different form film, the challenges of writing a treatment for a video that compliment the tale is a great training ground for what's to come (theatrically speaking). Not to mention that I also camera operated many of them (CHICKEN FRIED, DEEZ BLUES, HIGH COST OF LIVING). When I wasn't shooting, I would use either Emmy nominated Marc Carter (DEADLIEST CATCH) and or Brandon Trost (CRANK 2, Halloween 2) learning as much as I can from them. They are both incredible DP's, collaborative, easy to work with, innovative and FAST, I trust them with everything.
With a lot of film projects awaiting for release, Clifton Collins Jr. managed to squeeze time to work with John Black for Black's current album "The Soul of John Black". As his third collaborations with the musician, he directed a music video for Black's "Betty Jean" track. The newly-released video has been made available on iTunes. For more info about Clifton, head to CliftonCollinsJr.com.
"The Experiment" itself is a remake to 2001 German film "Das Experiment" by director Oliver Hirschbiegel. It has helmer Paul Scheuring, the creator of "Prison Break", behind the lens, and Cam Gigandet and Channing Tatum in supporting roles. Filming was taking place in Iowa in summer of 2009.
The story follows a group of ordinary men recruited to take on the roles of guards and prisoners as part of a research study and examined how the effects of assigned roles, power and control affected the participants. Sony Pictures eyes a 2010 U.S. release.