Clifton Collins Jr. is currently waiting for the release of his movie "The Perfect Game" on April 16. In an exclusive interview with AceShowbiz, he has discussed his role as baseball coach in the sport drama, his possibility of returning to an untitled Star Trek sequel as well as his current project, TV series "Southland". Additionally, he also shared his future goal to direct film features.
ASB: "The Perfect Game" is based on an inspirational true story. Did you feel any burden playing in this kind of film?
Clifton: Yes, whenever I have a true to life character to portray, I generally do as much research as possible on him or her (you'd be surprised at what can be done with make up !) ;) Also, in this case I'd call it more of an honor than a burden, I hope Ceasar [his character] is happy with what I did!
ASB: In the movie, your character is a baseball coach and you had to show some pitching skills. How did you learn to do that?
Clifton: I was really nervous about this part, for although I played for the Expos Little League in '77, I was terrible. When I was at bat, I'd swing at anything remotely close to me, and when I was in the outfield, I was guaranteed to get clobbered in the head with a ball and come home with a big ass knot on my head! To remedy this, I asked Bill Dear to set me up with a real coach, this turned out to be a difficult task at first.
Both the producers and the director were like, "we're gonna get together to play some ball tomorrow", to which I was "well, that sounds great, playing and catching balls, but I don't think you're understanding me, I NEED to learn the fundamentals of actually COACHING, and this is not something that I can learn by playing ball with my pals on the film...I'm just gonna get clobbered on the head again like when I was in Little League!". Lucky for me, AND Mr. Foz, I was set up with the legendary Tony Rivera (owner of Primo's on Sunset Ave, super sweet lunch spot!). Tony has earned 7 World Series rings. Just one afternoon with him, and I was feeling grand! Thanks again Tony!!
ASB: The story picks up the issue of Mexican baseball team which was met with racism, while you are an American of half Mexican descent. Do you feel any relation to what was faced by the characters in the movie?
Clifton: I'd say no for the first 20 years of my life, and then when I decided to honor my grandfather Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez by changing my name professionally, everything changed. I was shocked, suddenly I wasn't allowed to read for Anglo roles, it was the strangest thing, there was hardly a single casting director out there that would judge me for my talent, instead they chose to judge me for my ethnic background (not my German side either, only the Mexican).
I can't say I wasn't warned, both my Anglo and my Latino actor friends said that I'd never play Anglo again, I thought, "Well, 1, I'm ONLY doing this to honor my Grampa, it's NOT a career strategy, and 2. We live in America, people in Hollywood are not that ignorant, nor shallow". It was a hard sad lesson to experience, things started to break after auditioning for "Light It Up", and also "Tigerland" where not only did I get to play a Non-Latino, it was my first Southern role, thanks to Mali Finn.
I heard so many stories of my Grandfather and Grandmother struggling with racism before he made it in '53, that was mostly what I identified with. Racism didn't stop in '53, it was just dwarfed by the beaming stars that would surround and stand up for my grandfather at that time.
Still, with the stars help or not, he would always do what he wanted, while doing a telethon in Mobile Alabama with Dane Clark, Nat King Cole, and I believe Mel Torme, if I'm not mistaken, (any chance he had, my Grandpa would do a telethon to help kids) he was told by the Anglo theater owners in Mobile, Alabama to not collect any money from the "coloreds" in the back of the theater. My Grampa said "no sir, I came here to work for the kids and I'm going to collect the money", at the same time Mr. Cole was being booed by the Whites in the front, and back stage he told everybody he still wanted to perform, so they got a bunch of police to stand in front of him on stage. It's a sad tale, sorry to run off, but it's one of many stories that has stuck with me, and I felt I really need to share that.
ASB: Because of a funding problem, the production for "The Perfect Game" was halted for several weeks. During that time, did it ever occur to you that the movie would have not made it?
Clifton: Actually there were a LOT of things that continued to happen during filming that made it almost impossible to see how this would ever even rap. It wasn't until I saw a rough cut, that the insanely talented Bill Conti had scored, that I thought the spirit of this tale cannot be contained. Even if it goes straight to DVD, it will find its audience. It's like a giant feel good magnet of a movie!
ASB: "The Perfect Game" at some key points has similarities to "The Blind Side"; both are based on true story and have sport theme. What do you think make "The Perfect Game" special or different than any other similar movies?
Clifton: Hmm, I keep hearing about this BLIND SIDE thing [smiling] Well, for starters it's a period piece, about the beginnings of a team that still didn't exist at that time, and it's got CHEECH as a Priest for crying out loud, don't none of these other sports films have Cheech. Then again we didn't have Sandy [Sandra] Bullock. :(
ASB: Lately, there have been many talks about "Star Trek" sequel. Do you think your character or your Romulan leader, Nero, will likely return to the sequel?
Clifton: Yes, absolutely 100%. Now please go and tell JJ [J.J. Abrams - "Star Trek" director] ! He actually called me at home and pitched the character to me, it was truly an incredible experience working with JJ and his entire team. So much love on set for working such long hours.
ASB: You once said that you might join "Yucatan" which could be possibly directed by Quentin Tarantino. Could you give some updates about the status of the project?
Clifton: Honestly, "Yucatan" came about while brain storming with a dear friend Lance Sloan over at Bandito Bros. Both Lance and Chad McQueen are bf's, and there is something that happens when people in the biz with lineage start talking. Before you know were reminiscing about all kinds of things. I was sharing the stories that I had heard from my Grandpa about McQueen while shooting on "Wanted Dead or Alive" and Lance was telling me some stories, next thing you know I'm looking down at this incredible treasure chest filled with McQueen's notes, story boards, and 12 binders.
Honestly I felt like I was Indiana Jones looking down at the Holy Grail. I thought if there is anybody that appreciates and understand the greatness of what was before me, it would be Quentin! I dig them guys over at BANDITO BROS, its exactly how you'd picture a Steve McQueen production house to be like, a total guys hang out, army tents, dirt bikes, couple of hotties, etc.
ASB: You're relatively new to "Southland". How do you think the second season fare so far? Will it stand a chance of a full season order?
Clifton: Yes, I believe it stands a great chance; there are so many fans of this new real style of film making. Not to mention me!! I never talk about the TV shows I work on, and I will go on the record to say now that the process on this TV show is like none other that I've ever experienced before. I have always loved film for this very reason, and now I get to experience on TV?? Truly a gift, to be able to collaborate with show runners like John Wells and Ann Beiderman; they have changed my views on television, but only for this show.
I just wrapped a show recently which reminded me of why I don't like working on TV. My being a relatively new character had more to do with my jammed schedule than anything else. They tried to get me on "Southland" earlier on, and the only way to do it was to wait til' I finished on "The Experiment", but even then I had press obligations for "The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day" that made it a lil' tricky to write me in. But best believe that we are all ready to get back to the Police Station should duty call!!
ASB: If you are to choose between feature film and TV series, which do you think is in your long-term plan?
Clifton: Long term plan is to get into more directing, I have several film projects in the works. Most recently you can go check out Jamey Johnson's double Grammy nominated song, *"The High Cost of Living", which I shot and directed with the help and love of all the Des Moines locals and Des Moines police. Without them I could not have accomplished this, so a BIG THANKS to the hospitable Des Moinians that contributed!!
ASB: So when are we going to see you on the directing seat instead of in front of the camera for a feature film?
Clifton: For other videos I've directed, please check out "Chicken Fried" (CMT BREAKOUT GROUP VIDEO OF THE YEAR), "Whatever It Is" (voted 2nd Sexiest Video of the Decade) by the incredibly talented Zac Brown Band. For fun me and some of my pals, have launched THETVFANTASTIC.COM; expect some big celebs and musicians to be making guest appearances! Id love to leak it....grrrr, but I CANT!! :(
*The "High Cost Of Living" video Clifton mentioned above can be seen on YouTube