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!