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.