Clancy Brown interview: Warcraft, Nothing Left to Fear

Luke chats to the amazing Clancy Brown about working for Slash, Buckaroo Banzai, defining the 80s, and the franchise potential of Warcraft.

He chopped Sean Connery’s head off in Highlander. Saved the human race in Starship Troopers. And was really mean to pretty much everyone in The Shawshank Redemption. His name is Clancy Brown – Clarence J. Brown III if you want to get specific – and he is awesome.

Menacing tough guy, loveable nice guy, he’s voiced a merman, Sasquatch, Lex Luthor, plus a character called Mr. Krabs. He even squared up to The Statham in last year’s Homefront and lived to tell the tale.

In short, he’s the best kind of supporting actor. Any film he’s in gets better whenever he’s on screen. That’s certainly the case with Nothing Left to Fear, the film he’s on the other end of a phone to promote. Produced by Slash (he of Guns N’ Roses), it’s a low budget horror that looks like J-horror crossed with Texas Chainsaw Massacre – there’s a lot of shaky cam and women with long, wet dark hair. It’s also got Anne Heche in it.

Next up, he’ll be seen in Duncan Jones’ Warcraft, which might just be big enough to contain the man with the mightiest voice in all of Hollywood. Which is where we started …

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I was hoping you’d be talking to us from the set of Warcraft, but you’re back in LA right now?

Yeah, I’m back in L.A.

I’ll have to ask some questions about that later because that sounds like a fascinating project.

I’ll answer as much as I can, which isn’t very much!

Okay, I’ll start with easier ones then. Nothing Left to Fear. How did you get involved? Was it a call from Slash?

Well, I’d done a movie with a friend of his, Clifton Collins Jnr., called Hellbenders. Clifton called me up one day – we’d been having a good time together doing this Hellbenders movie – and he said, ‘You know, my buddy Slash is producing his first movie and I think there’s a perfect role in it for you’. I can’t remember where I was at the time – I was off doing something else – and I said, ‘Yeah, sure, I’d be happy to read it’ and all the rest.

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I read it and I thought it was a really cool script, actually. I thought it was a great little premise and hit all the points you should hit in a horror movie, but also had a broader meaning to it which I always look for in a film.

You mentioned Hellbenders … this isn’t your first time playing a up-to-no-good man of the cloth.

No, it’s not the first time in the cloth for me.

You’re not doing them the best of favours.

Well, I don’t know … every time I put on the cloth I always interpret whatever I do in the film as the will of God, so there you go. [laughs]

Your character, Pastor Kingsman, is actually quite a charming guy for the most part. Is there an attraction to playing a bad guy by being that charming and nice?

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Well, I don’t think he’s a bad guy! I think he’s duplicitous and he’s obviously seducing these people into becoming the food for whatever this demon is but I think he’s like most religious leaders. They view the welfare of the flock before they consider the welfare of the individual sheep. And that’s a metaphor that you see almost right off the bat in the movie, where Ethan is killing a sheep and the rest of the flock is around.

It’s images like that, kind of on the nose but not obvious metaphors and visual metaphors, that really excited me about the film. It didn’t get treated very fairly here in the U.S. because it had no big stars and it wasn’t a huge budget.

You mention the visual aspect of the film. Your character doesn’t have any big speeches, where a lot of films about preachers, they have that big, grandstand moment…

There was one exposition moment, in the heat of the moment with Noah where Kingsman says, ‘Look there are just no angels and we have to do the best we can’. But, you know, nothing is spelled out. I mean, that spells it out but you don’t know it’s being spelled out. That’s what I loved about the script. There were moments of obviousness that were not obvious in retrospect.

So when you see a big speech or a monologue in a script, how do you feel about that? Do you find that exciting or do you shy away from it?

You shy away from it, especially if it’s all on the nose. I mean, there is a certain amount of exposition you have to have in films and how that exposition is handled tells you whether it’s a good script or not, whether it’s a good filmmaker or not. You know, the more exposition that can be handled without a character speaking it, the more thematic metaphors that you can do visually, to me that’s a better situation.

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But, you know, when you get the cop sitting down and recapping the crime and everything that’s happened up to then and all the rest of that stuff, explaining what’s going to go on next, that’s a little boring, that’s a little leading by the nose. I think the best audiences are bored of that stuff.

You can mess that stuff up too. You can have that idea and not do it well. There are plenty of films like that.

I always think of it like the anti-Bond villain in a sense. Characters who don’t have that moment of explaining everything. When you play duplicitous characters or outright bad guys, they’re not big talkers and they’re better for it.

Yeah, I think so too. But then if you go to a Bond movie you expect that. That’s part of your enjoyment of the Bond picture. You know, horror goes all over the place with its means and its conventions, and you know the old Hammer films, they didn’t necessarily have a lot of talking in them. They would have, like, a lot of talking in the beginning and then whatever they would set up at the beginning would just play out and it was really how they realised what was explained at the top of the film.

And in this, nothing’s really explained, you know? I see this film as really just a first chapter of a horror novel. I don’t know if we’ll get to do another one but it’s really set up for that if anybody would want to come along and want to make another one.

And your director, Anthony Leonardi III, this is his first film as director, while you’ve got 219 credits on IMDB. So when you work with a first time director do you have that temptation to go up to him and say, ‘I think we could do it this way’, or ‘Here’s what we’ve done before’?

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Well part of the reason I have that many credits is I don’t get in my director’s face too much. [laughs] I just do what I’m told. But I’ve also been burned by first time directors. Anthony and I talked about it and, you know, he thought he was picking me and I thought I was picking him and we hit it off. He’s very visual which is exactly what you want for this.

He reminded me a lot of Kathryn Bigelow, when I first met Kathryn Bigelow. The way he thinks about telling a story and the way he visualises a story. Also the way he communicates is very similar to how Kathryn does. I mean, I haven’t worked with Kathryn recently so I’m sure she has changed and gotten better at it.

I’m a big fan of Blue Steel. So how does that work when you have such a visual director? How does that relationship work?

Well you have to trust them a lot, I mean especially nowadays when so many of the elements are added in later. You have to trust them a lot. But Anthony is a terrific artist and so he can communicate the atmosphere, the themes and just what his vision is very effectively by just showing you something that he painted. He had a number of these drawings and I think this is what also caught Slash’s eye, his visual artistry. And so if you have that kind of ideal vision it’s our job to try to realise it as closely as possible and not mess it up by acting badly.

You do seem to have an association with first time directors. The Shawshank Redemption, obviously, was very early in Frank Darabont’s career. Do you actively look out for that kind of fresh voice?

Well, you know, there’s all sorts of new and fresh people going through and you just listen to how they communicate and how they choose to tell you how they want to tell the story. And you know, Anthony is very different than J.T. Petty [director of Hellbenders]. J.T. is very, very verbal. He has an encyclopaedic film knowledge and appreciation. He can mention a picture that he sees the scene evoking and it’s a little like how Scorsese used to do it.

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He used to just say, you know, ‘I see this as Lawrence of Arabia in the sewers’ or something and he would mention a specific scene. So he would know exactly what he was going for. So you just kind of figure out what this person’s vocabulary is and how articulate they are within that vocabulary, and then you can understand what train you’re getting on.

But first time directors – they may not make good movies all the time but they are always the best directors to work for because they’re always so excited, always so committed to what they’re trying to do.

I wanted to go back to a few older movies from those 219 credits. Three of them define the 80s for me and are still very fond in my memory. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Highlander, and Moonwalker…

I’m not sure you would have been alive in the 80s to see those!

Oh yeah, I’m a child of ’79 so I’m just there. How did you feel making those? Because if you were to pitch those to someone they would sound kind of out there, very bizarre stories. I wondered how it was to work on those.

Yeah, certainly Buckaroo Banzai was out there and I was quite young when that came along. Mac Rauch wrote the script … and that’s the other way it gets communicated, the script. Mac Rauch wrote this script and it was so crazy and off the wall and yet something about the way he wrote it made sense to me, you know, it spoke to me. And I was kind of along for the ride on that one. I was new to L.A. , new to Hollywood, so that was one of the first ones I got cast in having moved here.

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So I was kind of along for the ride for that. But I thought it was really going to be something. And it was, it was really something, but it was something that maybe should have been made ten years later. I think it was a little ahead of its time and it was great fun cast, we had a great time. I can’t speak to the vision thing. Ric Richter is a tremendously articulate and calm guy. I thought he was a very good director and he is a terrific writer and so I was in good hands there.

Highlander was another … it was just a great idea, right? It looked like a franchise. It sort of became a franchise but a kind of ruined franchise, if you ask me. It could have been something much more powerful than it became but I loved the idea behind it. I heard about Russell Mulcahy and he’d done a film called Razorback.

Yeah, back in Australia. The killer boar film. That’s a good film.

Right, which people at the time were saying, ‘It’s Jaws in the outback’. And I remember enjoying it but not quite getting the Jaws comparison. [laughs]

But I thought, you know, this is a guy who clearly knows how to tell a story. He was obviously a visual acrobat because of all the videos, the music videos, he was doing so that was kind of exciting. He was a young guy really having fun with the camera, and I liked the idea. I think I was the second choice for that part. But that’s the story of my life.

Who was their first choice?

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I think probably Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Terminator was just out. I think probably that. They got me because I was a lot cheaper. [laughs]

I’m fascinated by IMBD trivia and how accurate some of that is. On Buckaroo Banzai it says you’re still contracted to do a sequel. Is that right?

I don’t know. You know, that was back in the day that they were just starting to figure out how to tie people up with sequels because sequels were just kind of starting to … well, no that’s not true, I guess sequels had been around for a while but everybody was looking for the next Star Wars or Jaws or whatever.

They wanted tie you up, you know? They wanted to pre-negotiate. So I didn’t care at that point, and I thought it would be cool so we all signed up for that and I think we’re all still obliged. I may be wrong about that, I’m sure I am because I was certainly nobody then, just a little more of a nobody than I am now. [laughs]

I would heartily disagree with that! I’m running out of time so I have to ask two questions very quickly. First, The Goon has fascinated me for the last couple of years. A trailer came out a few years back, a Kickstarter campaign maybe a year and a half ago. David Fincher and Mike Richardson as producers. You and Paul Giamatti amongst the voice cast. It sounds incredible. Are you any closer to that?

Well, I haven’t heard anything about it. I really don’t know what the status is. I mean I’ve already told them, I said, you know, ‘Whenever you want to do this, count me in’. I think The Goon is a problematic property in the conventional sense because there’s not a lot of call for adult feature animation and you know if there are no songs or toy tie-ins …

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But it is kind of in a great place for the adult animation blocks that we have now over here. But those are very cheap right now. Somewhere in there there’s a business model. Blur [the company behind it] wants to spend some money on it and do it right, wants to make it the right way. There’s no point in doing it if you can’t really realise how the books look. Because that’s what’s so great about the trailers, it’s such a full world and I am sure they want to do it the right way. But the place for it in features doesn’t really exist. It’s never been a very lucrative place. And the place for it is late night prime time animation, and those are notoriously cheap.

So, you know, somewhere in there they’ll find a way to do it. It will either get cheaper to do or someone will throw some money at it. But also Paul is really busy, and David’s really busy and so it’s probably not top of the mind for those guys. But we know that people want to see it, we all want to make it, so I guess it’s just a matter of time before it all comes together. I’ll drop everything to do it. [laughs]

Apart from Warcraft! Which you’re on now?

Yeah, Warcraft is interesting, right?

It sounds a huge project.

And Duncan [Jones] is terrific. I’ve followed the couple of movies that he’s made. It’s an interesting franchise, an interesting thing. If they get it right, if they get the script right and choose the characters to centre the universe around correctly, I think it could be a long-running franchise. You know, it’s like Han Solo, Darth Vader, Princess Leia. If they get that right then I think they could be making those for some time to come.

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And on a film of that size do you get to mould your character a bit more? Because it must be tough for a director to have complete control over every aspect of a 200 million dollar film…

Well, Duncan does pretty well! But, yeah, absolutely. I think that’s incumbent upon the actors to do that. That’s one of the reasons why the first Star Wars are so good is because you can see that the actors are participating. And one of the problems with the later Star Wars is that the actors are being so reverent and demure about the characters that they are playing. It’s kind of like going to church to go to the prequels. Whereas the other ones were just kind of romps where you can see that Carrie and Harrison and Mark were all having a great time.

And so I think everybody’s having a great time right now. We respect the source material and certainly Duncan makes sure of that, but we are also given the freedom to put our own spin on it. So it’s all going to work, I think. If Duncan’s as good as I think he is, and as good as he is, then it’ll be something when it comes out. It’ll be a franchise.

Clancy Brown, thank you very much.

Nothing Left to Fear is out now on DVD, Blu-Ray, On-Demand and O-Download.

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