Clifton Collins Jr. – Transcendence

April 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

For actor Clifton Collins Jr. (“Capote,” “Pacific Rim”), technology comes with a price. While he enjoys the luxury of connecting to fans on social media and paying bills online, Collins Jr. is also fully aware of what it means for technology to be expanding at such an “exponential rate.” The thought, he says, is a bit concerning.

“No one knows the depths technology can go and how quickly it can grow,” Collins Jr., 43, told me during an interview this week for his new film “Transcendence” starring Johnny Depp. “Things like Twitter and Instagram are just like apps compared to this other technology. It’s going to outgrow us very quickly. How do we keep up with it and what do we do if we have to stop it?”

These are some of the many questions first-time director and longtime cinematographer Wally Pfister examines in “Transcendence,” a sci-fi thriller that follows scientist Dr. Will Caster (Depp) as he attempts to unlock the mysteries of the human mind and create a supercomputer that can house the human conscience. In the film, Collins Jr. plays Martin, a friend of Will and “foreman” who helps create the data center for the good doctor’s unusual experiment.

During our interview, Collins Jr. and I talked about the how he uses technology in his everyday life, the concerns he has about always being connected and the only time he ever forgoes email and writes an actual letter to someone.

In your new film, a scientist figures out a way to transform the human conscience into data. I mean, that sounds like such a farfetched idea, but I guess so did the Internet back in the day. Do you think something like that could be accomplished in our lifetime?

You know, these computer engineers have already started creating artificial neuro-networks capable of forming associations and learning. It’s kind of like a dog teaching itself new tricks. This is happening on a global scale and with all your personal data. It’s something to think about. There’s a big danger there. At what point do we just stop and take accountability for all the things we are using and the mess we are making? You don’t know how smart technology can become. Ignorance is bliss. Had I not gotten this role in “Transcendence,” I don’t think I would have researched nanotechnology or even singularity for that matter.

Are you the type of person that worries about how technology is used by our own government? I mean, do you really think the NSA is listening in on your phone calls?

You know, it’s funny that you mention the NSA. I don’t understand because Twitter has all our information, too, and so does Facebook. We found that out way before we knew about the NSA. But we’re not as up in arms about Twitter and Facebook as we are about the NSA. I mean we kind of got our ass spanked in the past by two social programs we are all involved with and we didn’t even know. They owned all our shit. They owned all our photos and had backlogs of all this stuff. No one bothered to read the disclaimers.

Yeah, but who really reads those disclaimers anyway? You use Facebook and Twitter. Do you?

To be honest, I’m much more aware and cognizant of my settings on those sites. You don’t want some random person somehow getting your phone number or email and sending you a freaking script they wrote or whatever. It’s a violation. None of us have time to read though all those [disclaimers] and check them, but I am aware. I have to be. There’s going to be a point in time where your Playstation makes an update and automatically updates all your credit cards, too. Next thing you know, it’s going to be like an ex-girlfriend who went out and bought all this shit you didn’t know about. You’re going to be like, “What the hell?! When did this happen?!”

So, as an actor, is it important for you to keep up with technology and follow the trends? You didn’t have to worry about updating your Facebook status back when you started your career in the early 90s.

I mean, all that stuff is really important, but technology is designed to grow exponentially. So, just by virtue of design, we as humans are not capable of keeping up. I mean, I’m sure you know how difficult it is already to keep up with updates. I think we’re just so technology hungry, we can’t even keep up with the trends anymore. So, I try to keep it simplified. I try to keep it down to a few basic things. I try to be aware of what I’m exposing.

Yeah, I think it’s insane when a new popular website or program or app comes out and everyone is clawing to get it. That’s when you start spreading yourself too thin. Pretty soon, you don’t even know where you have online profiles anymore.

It’s true. Not to mention, I have to worry about how many fake Clifton Collins website are out there now. I have friends that will send me links to these sites and I have to try and shut them down. At the beginning, I thought it was great. I was like, “Oh, yeah, why not?” But now there are some people trying to speak on my behalf. There are some cool fans that will ask for permission, so I’ll give them the green light and let them do their thing because they’re respectful. I love that because they’re being human and compassionate and considerate. Those are my favorite fans. But some fans get really crazy. Some think they own you. Some think they’re going to marry you. Some think they’re in love with you and want to have kids with you. So, it can get out of control. I’ve met some really good people via Twitter and gotten involved in some great charities. That’s a beautiful thing that makes my heart pump blood. But you have to understand and know where your boundaries are.

So, with all this technology at our fingertips, do you think we’re losing basic skills everyone had 20 years ago? I mean, I used to have great penmanship when I was in high school and now I write in chicken scratch.

The only time I find myself writing is when I’m signing an autograph or writing letters to my buddies that are locked up. I love writing letters by hand. Email is awesome. It’s such a luxury to be able to take care of your bills and get things instantly and not have to wait two or three days for a letter. If you’re in prison, you might wait a week or two for a letter. If you’re in lockdown, you might have to wait a month!

What do you think would happen if all social media websites went down for a week? Do you think people would find other things to do with their time or would the lack of information lead to mass hysteria?

We’d probably panic for five or six days. (Laughs) You know, you read about these things like the electronic-magnetic pulse bombs that can throw us back to the 1800s in a heartbeat. It’s a bomb that won’t hurt anybody physically like a nuclear bomb, but it’ll literally destroy all electronics. You better hope you have a surplus of candles if that happens.

Is there anything about technology that annoys you? How about when you look up something online and then for the next month you’re inundated with advertisements of whatever you looked up that one time?

I think there’s something to be said when it tailors itself to the things you need or like. But, yeah, I found this thing called an Ad Buster, so it literally stops all commercials. I can stop all the bullshit and watch whatever I want completely uninterrupted. I love that. I’ve got a lot of security functions set up on all my devices. I got hacked once, so I know what a nuisance it is. You know, part of me would like to write an actual check to pay a bill, but a lot of these businesses have already changed their ways.

What about technology in your industry? We’ve seen how much it can change movies. Is there anything you haven’t done in your career that you’d like to try when it comes to including technology in a role? I’m sure you’ve worked with green screen and things like that.

Yeah, I’ve done green screen. It’s fun. There was a lot of green screen in “Pacific Rim.” I absolutely adore [director] Guillermo [del Toro]. Consuming technology like that is fun. The fact I can just pick up a camera and shoot something is fascinating. It’s amazing to me that I can come back and cut the video on Final Cut. You can literally shoot a mini movie on a phone. A lot of my actor friends like Val Kilmer love to do that kind of stuff. You can be your own little moviemaker!

The Perfect Game

April 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Clifton Collins Jr., Cheech Marin, Jake T. Austin
Directed by: William Dear (“Angels in the Outfield”)
Written by: W. William Winokur (debut)

It’s not easy to swing for the fences when the pitcher can’t even get it over home plate.

Therein lies the problem for “The Perfect Game,” the true story of the first Mexican baseball team to win the Little League World Series. While the material is there to develop an inspirational underdog sports movie, director William Dear and screenwriter W. William Winokur seem more comfortable lobbing Wiffle balls into the air when all the narrative is begging for is something with a bit more momentum. Sadly, “Game” plays like a lightweight athlete despite its big, misplaced heart.

In the film, a group of ragtag kids from the poverty-stricken, industrial town of Monterrey form a baseball team to compete against the best in the world. They enter the tournament when Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr.), a washed up local who was recently fired from the Major League, agrees to coach the boys and turn them into a competitive team. Cue the formulaic training montages and siesta jokes.

While “The Perfect Game” is exactly the type of story Hollywood needs to sit up and pay attention to, there’s no sense in supporting something that feels so unauthentic and glossed over. Never mind that the movie is in English (at least the kids fall back on their thick, cartoonish Mexican accents), the real eye-rolling should begin during a scene where a baseball literally falls from heaven. Then there’s the scene where the team recruits a player based on how hard he hits a piñata and another where the team stops for lunch at a diner and proceeds to dip their fried chicken into chocolate sauce to make molé.

The best line in the movie comes from team pitcher Angel Macias (Jake T. Austin) when he asks his coach where he learned how to throw a fastball.

“Who taught you how to pitch?” the young ballplayer asks.

“Cardinals,” Coach Cesar says referring to his days with the professional team in St. Louis.

“From the Basilica?” Angel asks with a sweet innocence.

There are a few other cute moments like that one when “Game” gets away with flaunting its cloying script, but those moments don’t come close to outweighing the massive amount of sports, religion, and cultural clichés from both sides of the border.

“It would take a miracle to make these kids into a real team,” Cesar says at one point.

It would take a heck of a lot more to make “The Perfect Game” as interesting as the black and white photos of the real-life players it displays during the closing credits. That’s the story everyone should really be rooting for.


September 10, 2009 by  
Filed under CineStrays

Starring: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Kristen Wiig
Directed by: Mike Judge (“Office Space”)
Written by: Mike Judge (“Office Space”)

As a frustrated owner of a flavor extract company, actor Jason Bateman is as good as the role allows him to be. That’s the problem with Mike Judge’s screenplay. The majority of the characters are one-trick ponies. It works for characters like Milton in “Office Space,” but an entire film crammed with these people is just too much to bare for a feature-length film. Still, there are some humorous situtations that play out fairly well.

Clifton Collins Jr. – Star Trek

May 13, 2009 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Line up the characters that actor Clifton Collins Jr. has portrayed during his nearly 20-year career and it’s no wonder people might not recognize him once he’s off the set.

In “Star Trek,” Collins Jr. (second from the right at the L.A. premiere), who is the grandson of the late comedic actor Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez (“Rio Bravo”), plays Ayel, the right-hand Romulan henchman of Nero (Eric Bana). The Romulans are the alien race who threatens the crew of the Starship Enterprise.

During an interview with me, Collins Jr., 38, talked about what it’s been like playing a variety of roles over the years and why he thinks we’ll soon be living in a world full of Trekkies.

The last time I interviewed you was for your amazing work in “Capote.” How has your life changed since that breakout role?

I’ve just been branching out. I’m even directing music videos. I’m diversifying my talent and doing different things across the board. And then I still go after these [acting] roles. I still have the same work ethic. I love acting. I love pounding the pavement and getting in the room and doing the dance. For “Star Trek,” J.J. [Abrams] offered me the role. I think everything else I’ve ever been in I had to audition for.

In the span of two months I’ve seen you in “Star Trek,” “Sunshine Cleaning,” and “Crank: High Voltage.” Do you ever worry about a Clifton Collins overload?

Not yet. I don’t really look like Clifton Collins in most of my films. I think I’m pretty safe right now. I think if I was one of those actors that always wanted to play himself then I would definitely be afraid of that. I do think that I’m starting to run out of disguises though. (Laughs)

Is that something your conscious of when preparing for your next role?

Totally. I try to find ways to make characters original and different and interesting. Doing this brings me growth as an actor. That’s been one of the joys of acting – playing all these different types of people.

Is that something you learned from your grandfather since some people might say he wasn’t as lucky in terms of landing diverse roles?

I’d have to disagree with that. A Mexican American Tejano who couldn’t read or write and who became a contract player for John Wayne I think would be considered incredibly lucky. It’s hard enough to get work in this town. Also, the roles that he took, I don’t see anything wrong with playing the common man. It’s like Johnny Cash singing about the issues of the common man, the middle class, the lower class. He played to people he grew up with. [My grandfather] wasn’t Ricardo Montalban. He wasn’t José Ferrer. He was not privileged and didn’t live in Beverly Hills. He was very poor. To be able to be the hit that he was and be the only person to one-up Groucho Marx, who at the time was the greatest comedian living, is pretty sensational.

Is it safe to say that you were not a Trekkie before landing this role?

I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to watch all the episodes of “Star Trek” and become a Trekkie overnight. But this movie is an amazing ride. Whether you’re a Trekkie or not it’s a great film. It would actually make a great Western.

I’m sure you know there is a stereotype associated with people who like “Star Trek.” A Trekkie wouldn’t be considered the coolest guy to know. Do you think this film is going to change that?

Let’s just throw that out the window right now because that idea is goooone! If to be a fan of this film is to be a Trekkie then I think the whole world is going to be Trekkies. (Laughs)

Does it worry you at all that this film already comes with a huge fan base, some of whom may examine this new movie with a fine-tooth comb?

I don’t really think that way. I think doing a job that people will microscopically dissect is not really exciting for me. What’s exciting for me is knowing if people enjoyed the piece. I want to know if they get lost in it. If people want to be meticulous, I think it’s more of a personal thing for me.

What role in the early part of your career would you tell someone to revisit if they want to know more about who you are as an actor?

They’re all crazy and different. I don’t think I could choose. I’m an actor. You tell me what kind of movie you want to see and I’ll tell you which movie to watch.

Sunshine Cleaning

March 24, 2009 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin
Directed by: Christine Jeffs (“Sylvia”)
Written by: Megan Holley (debut)

It’s no surprise first-time screenwriter Megan Holley fashioned the script for her dark comedy “Sunshine Cleaning” from a report on National Public Radio. It’s just the type of mildly off-beat story one would expect to hear on a show like “All Things Considered”: Two female friends from Seattle start a crime-scene clean-up company.

The inspiration itself might have easily ruined a feature film — characters written with sensitivity and humor usually don’t ride tragedy’s coattails — but Holley and director Christine Jeffs (“Sylvia”) are able to detail the job’s unpleasantness with fake blood and synthetic brain chunks while still managing to create sympathetic characters and a strangely intimate world.

Relocating the women to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and rewriting the female duo as sisters, “Sunshine Cleaning” follows Rose Lorkowski (two-time Academy Award nominee Adams), a 30-something single mother who’s making ends meet as a cleaning lady. Once the popular head cheerleader in high school, Rose relives her glory days through an ongoing affair with married ex-boyfriend Mac (Zahn), who now works as a police officer.

Rose decides she needs a career change after she ends up cleaning the house of a former classmate. She’s also desperate to make extra money to send her eccentric son to a private school because his principal wants her to medicate the boy for his harmless, albeit peculiar, classroom antics (most recently, licking everything he can put his tongue to).

Taking advice from Mac, Rose begins mopping up the blood, and she recruits her burned-out sister Norah (Blunt), who has emotional problems stemming from (minor spoiler alert) their mother’s suicide when they were kids. Why these two would ever decide to start a company where suicide cleanup is part of the job is beyond comprehension, but the lazy parallel does most of the screenwriter’s heavy lifting, and the gals are fairly good at what they do, despite their initial naiveté concerning biohazard-disposal regulations.

Luckily, they receive a crash course in decomp (Tip Number One: You can’t just throw a blood-soaked mattress in a Dumpster) from Winston (Collins), a one-armed model-builder who owns a cleaning-supplies store.

Rose and Norah become haz-mat-suited cleaning women with support from their father (Academy Award winner Alan Arkin, who basically rehashes his grandfatherly role from “Little Miss Sunshine” minus the cocaine), and attempt to scrub away death’s aftermath. In one subplot, Norah searches out a woman named Lynn (Mary Lynn Rajskub of “24”), a suicide’s daughter whose photo Norah discovers while cleaning up the mess left behind.

It’s these small strokes of sincerity — away from the yellow police tape, decontamination suits, and a few standard pseudo-indie-film clichés — that make “Sunshine Cleaning” a bittersweet, honest, and well-acted gem.