Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Clancy Brown is an actor who’s managed to construct a career where he gets nearly as much work in front of the camera as he does in the recording studio. As a voice actor, Brown was fortunate enough to secure a gig that’s kept him gainfully employed since 1999: playing Mr. Krabs on SpongeBob SquarePants. In addition to that voice role and dozens of others, including arguably the definitive take on Lex Luthor, Brown has been working in film and television since the 1980s, with highlights including The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, ER, John Dies At The End, Lost, Starship Troopers, and The Shawshank Redemption. Currently, Brown can be seen in season three of Showtime’s Billions, but genre fans will appreciate his work in the new heist comedy Supercon, now available on home video.
Supercon (2018)—“Adam King”
Clancy Brown: They approached me to be in the film, and I was deep in a funk. I was serving on a jury at the Edinburgh Film Festival, which was really great and really a lot of fun, but it was a lot of really heavy European movies that we’ll never see here, and I was spending my days in dark rooms. And then this script, this crazy, funny, broad slapstick script comes across my desk. I’m, like, “Ah! This is exactly what I need to go do after all this heavy European angst!” [Laughs.] So I talked to Zak [Knutson, director and co-writer of Supercon], and he said, “Great! Get on a plane, come to New Orleans!” So I hopped on a plane and yukked it up for a couple of weeks in New Orleans. It was really what the doctor ordered.
The A.V. Club: It’s a film where one might find a number of parallels to real life—and real people—if you’ve ever been to a convention.
CB: Yeah, there are parallels to real life in a way. But exaggerated parallels. Adam King is not a real person, and you should not try to define him as paralleling a real person. He’s just a vessel for all the bad stories that Zak and [co-writers] Andy Sipes and Dana Snyder had heard about or experienced in their many years frequenting these cons. In that way, it’s a fun thing to do, because you just get to do one shitty thing after another without actually hurting anybody. [Laughs.] Although grabbing those girls… That bothered me. I did not enjoy that, to be honest with you. It freaked me out.
AVC: Well, at least it was something that was actually scripted.
CB: Yeah, I know. But it was gross. That was the only really gross thing where I went, “Oh, God, I wish I hadn’t done that…” But I had to in order to make people hate me more!
AVC: Mission accomplished.
CB: [Laughs.] Thank you very much! But to those girls… My very deepest apologies to those very sweet girls that had to put up with that nonsense.
Bad Boys (1983)—“Viking Lofgren”
AVC: Since they were both done the same year, it’s hard to tell which was your first on-camera role. Was it Viking Lofgren in Bad Boys or Kelly on The Dukes Of Hazzard?
CB: Viking. Yeah, Bad Boys begat Dukes of Hazzard. I was living in Chicago, and Bad Boys came through town, and they needed a local hire, so they hired me. And then winter came around, and I got evicted, and it was just too damned cold, so I put my dog in the car and drove to L.A. And when I got to L.A., the first job that was offered me was this second-banana bad guy in an episode of The Dukes Of Hazzard. And I thought, “Is this really what it’s gonna be like?” [Laughs.] And then I sort of looked at myself in the mirror and went, “Who the fuck are you? You’re nobody! You don’t know anything about this! Go and do it! What the heck!” So I went and did it… and I haven’t done anything like that since!
AVC: Regarding Bad Boys, Sean Penn reportedly had a very specific request for the actors playing the other prisoners.
CB: Yeah, when he came in, he wanted people to spit on him. To really spit on him. It was weird. I mean, I wasn’t actually in that scene. I was kind of shot later, looking and watching him. And I don’t even think I spit. But he really wanted everybody to spit on him! I was, like, “This guy is weird!” [Laughs.] But, you know, who am I? So he got what he wanted. He was the star! I thought it was pretty effective. Now, for my introduction to him, I put a booger in his creamed corn or something, which upset my mother.
AVC: Being as it was your first film, how was the overall experience for you?
CB: Oh, it was very instructive. It was long days. I thought of myself as a Chicago theater guy, and then Sean was—well, Sean was great. He’s had a long career, so it’s not like he hasn’t tripped, but I think he’s one of the best actors out there and has been for a long time. He was certainly into it then. Maybe he’s not as into it as he used to be. But he was certainly great then, and I learned a lot watching him. And I appreciated him. I liked working with him. He’s one of those rare actors who actually makes everybody around him better, especially when he cares about what he’s doing.
AVC: How did you find your way into acting in the first place? Your father was a newspaperman turned congressman, so not exactly a thespian.
CB: No, but I had a neighbor who was a genius. He was younger than me, but he was in the same grade as me. So he had his own problems, but he was truly a genius guy. He would go on these learning jags, and because I was a neighbor and was raised in the Midwest, I was always neighborly with him, but he was very interesting. We’d go to Civil War battlefields or World War II museums, depending on what interested him. And one day he got interested in Shakespeare.
So we started reading Shakespeare plays together. Just, you know, on our own time. Most kids would be out there shooting bottles, running in front of cars, or other crazy stuff. This kid probably set me on the straight and narrow of the theater life, because I really liked reading Shakespeare. They had all these bloody things that happened to people, with swords and stabbings and whatnot, and I was really into that. And then you get seduced by the language, and I kind of fell in love with Shakespeare at an early age. Just loving it, though, but not aspiring to it or anything. Just being a fan of it, like I would a comic book.
So I was exploring it from there and had a good time with it, I went to high school and went to college and did plays, and when I graduated from college, I said, “You know, I think I’ll try this out for a couple of years and then go back and go to grad school or get a job and start my life.” And I’m still trying to get it out of my system, I guess.
AVC: Good luck with that.
CB: Well, my parents were—and are—very indulgent, very patient people. They’re 90 now, and they’re still waiting for me to actually grow up! [Laughs.] My dad still asks me, “When are you gonna get a job?”
Cast A Deadly Spell (1991)—“Harry Bordon”
CB: Oh, that was fun. That was Fred Ward, David Warner, and… [Hesitates.] Oh, shit, I can’t remember her name! And I got to kiss her!
AVC: Julianne Moore?
CB: Julianne! Oh, my God, I can’t remember I couldn’t remember that. How funny is that? Yeah, I got to kiss Julianne Moore. Of course, then she killed me, but still.
AVC: Worth it.
CB: Right? [Laughs.] A kiss to die for! Can’t beat that. Yeah, that was a fun movie. And Gale Anne Hurd produced it. That was interesting, because it was a mashup of H.P. Lovecraft and film noir. Fred was terrific. It was a fun little movie. I thought it was pretty good, actually. Have you seen it?
AVC: Yeah, I actually watched in before interviewing David Warner for this feature.
CB: Oh, yeah? David was great. He was kind of scary. I always thought he was a scary dude, from Straw Dogs and stuff. And so English! I remember he used cue cards for a scene or two. But he was great. And he’s still around, you say?
AVC: Yep. He’s going to be in Mary Poppins Returns, in fact.
CB: Awesome! That’s great. Now I can’t wait to see him in it. Good for him!
AVC: How did you find your way into Carnivàle in the first place?
CB: That’s another one of those things where—it was kind of like reading Buckaroo Banzai the first time: I had no idea what was going on, but I knew it was a world that I found so fascinating and intriguing, and the potentials were huge. And I just loved the idea of a man of the cloth being an instrument of the dark side. But was he really an instrument of the dark side? You just never knew. It was so great. And that period of time in American history is so full and fascinating. I don’t know, it just had great potential, and it never really realized it. I don’t know if HBO will ever unlock that closet that they’ve put it into. We’ll see.
AVC: Maybe they’ll wait and see how the Deadwood movie does.
CB: [Laughs.] Ah, I dunno. There was not a lot of love for Carnivàle at the end there at HBO. I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. They seemed to love us the first season, but then they fell out of love with us. I don’t try to divine what’s going on in executives’ minds.
AVC: Do you know if Daniel Knauf had it plotted out pretty well beyond the first season?
CB: Daniel had a lot of theories. I sat down with him a few times, and I thought I had a handle on it, and then I’d sit down with him a few months later and he’d take it a completely different direction. He created a world and he created a scenario that could’ve gone a lot of different directions, and he sort of fell in love with all of them at one point or another.
I think our loss was when we lost the first executive producer, Ron [D. Moore], who went away to do Battlestar Galactica. Because that guy thinks very clearly and knows how to put together a show. Dan had not put together a show before that. Ron could’ve helped out a lot. But HBO didn’t ask him back, so he went away to do Battlestar, and made that into a hit. That’s sort of the alternative history I would’ve liked to have seen: if HBO had stuck with Ron to see how that would’ve developed.
Billions (2018)—“Waylon ‘Jock’ Jeffcoat”
CB: Oh, yeah, he’s fun, isn’t he?
AVC: Someone on my Twitter feed described him as the most Texan Texan ever.
CB: Yeah, he’s just a big ol’ cocky Texan. [Laughs.] He believes what he believes. And those guys write so well, David [Levien] and Brian [Koppelman]. They have this of rhythm of writing and rhythm of speech. Paul [Giamatti] and I joke all the time about how nobody would ever speak like this, really, but everybody wants to. And whatever these speeches are that people get into—especially Paul, but Damian [Lewis], too, they get all these speeches and make all these references—nobody can ever think that quickly or be that articulate on the fly, so it’s really great fun to say what they have to say, to just speak their words.
They string together good stories, too, so there’s more to come with Jock, and I’m really starting to enjoy playing him. Plus, it’s always fun to play with Giamatti. I’ve been able to do that a couple of times, and he’s a kick in the head, a really good actor and a really good guy, so I’ve been happy to do it.
Breaking News (2002)—“Peter Kozyck”
CB: Oh, see, that’s a show… Somebody asked me earlier, “What role would you have liked to have seen develop more?” And I hadn’t thought of Breaking News. Breaking News should’ve gone on. It would’ve been a huge hit TV show if it had gotten on the TV at all. But it caught up in the corporate shenanigans. AOL had just bought Time-Warner and said that they were going to cut the budget, so what they did was just ax a bunch of shows that were already shot! [Laughs.] It was the stupidest thing they could possibly do.
In some cases, I think they were shows that they’d actually done a season of. One of the other guys in John Dies At The End, Glynn Turman, he had done this series about black soldiers in Vietnam, and that was supposed to be a great dramatic series at HBO. I’ve since run into a bunch of guys who were gonna be on that show. But AOL came in and said, “Nah, we’re not gonna do that anymore. We’re gonna cut all this fat out of the Time-Warner budget.” And they got rid of a bunch of good shows just because they wanted to say, “We’re not gonna do it the way Hollywood does it. We’re gonna do it our way!”
Earth 2 (1994-1995)—“John Danziger”
CB: That could’ve gone longer, too. What killed that one? [Laughs.] I forget!
No, but it’s funny: with Earth 2, I always think in terms of the fact that they always put us on opposite 60 Minutes or a football game or something, so they never got the numbers they thought they wanted. And I thought, “Well, how can you possibly get those numbers when you put us opposite the show that everybody watches?” So we only had a viewership of, oh, 40 million. [Laughs.] Which today would be the biggest hit of the last 10 years!
So everything I’ve done after that, I always compare it to those numbers, and I think, “They just don’t know what’s going on in this industry.” At least as far as measuring your audience. I mean, maybe it’s getting better now. If Netflix can say, “We’re getting a million viewers, then that’s good enough.” Or, “We’re getting enough subscribers.” I guess it started with HBO and The Sopranos: “Our subscriptions are going up, so it’s a hit.” But back then they were measuring it the old way, and if you didn’t get Cheers numbers, then you weren’t good. Or something. I don’t know. It never made any sense to me. But Earth 2, that could’ve been a hit show, too.
The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension (1984)—“Rawhide”
AVC: Whenever we talk to someone who was in one of the greatest cult movies of all time, we’re obliged to ask about it.
CB: Yeah, it’s pretty cult-y, isn’t it? [Laughs.] How does it hold up? I haven’t seen it in a while.
AVC: It holds up pretty well. I actually just watched it last night. Of course, you have to go in with an awareness of the era as well as the special effects budget.
CB: And the clothes. [Laughs.]
AVC: Well, that, too.
CB: Yeah, that Adam Ant period of pop music and fashion… but that was fun. I think that was my second or third movie, and like I said earlier, it was just one of those scripts that I just got such a kick out of and I have no idea why. It just tickled me so much. I was second choice for that role, but I didn’t care. I never care what choice I am, just as long as I get the gig!
AVC: It remains disappointing that the promised sequel never occurred.
CB: Yeah, there was some talk… Kevin Smith was talking about doing some sort of revival of it relatively recently.
AVC: I think he was going to do it, but then he found out that W.D. Richter wasn’t involved, so he walked away from it.
CB: He wasn’t involved? Well, there was always some kind of rights problem with that for some reason. I don’t know why it never got made. I remember one of the producers said, “Over my dead body will there ever be a sequel to that movie!” And then he died. I think he killed himself, actually. And then they got a lot of questions: “So now that he’s dead, are they going to do another one?” [Laughs.] I don’t know that it’s ever going to get made. Kevin probably had the best shot at it. But I know that all of us would jump at the chance, because we all enjoyed each other so much, and we had a good time doing it.
AVC: That seems to be the consensus from everyone from the film that we’ve interviewed for this feature.
CB: Who have you talked to? Have you talked to Lewis [Smith] yet?
CB: Wow! That’s right, Jonathan Banks is in it! Jesus Christ… What a cast. What a fun group.
AVC: Banks said, “It was one of those things where I just went in, did it, and got killed.”
CB: Hey, me, too! [Laughs.] I’m in it for, like, 20 minutes, and then I’m dead! But it lives on for some reason.
Pet Sematary II (1992)—“Gus Gilbert”
AVC: You delivered a memorable performance, to say the least.
CB: Yeah, but it had nothing to do with the original Pet Sematary, really, did it? Except that it was the same director: Mary Lambert, who was really pregnant at the time. Mary had just done a movie called Grand Isle, which was really beautiful, and I remember asking her, “Mary, you’re such a good filmmaker, why are you doing this? Why are you doing a sequel to a horror film like Pet Sematary?” And she said, “That’s what I can do. That’s what I’ve been offered.” I was, like, “Wow, man…”
But it was fun. I knew Anthony [Edwards] a little bit—he met his wife on that picture—and it was filmed in Atlanta. It was a goofy movie, I thought. The opening sequence sort of set the tone—it’s about an actress in a slasher movie that gets killed, and you see all the blood. To me, that sort of said, “Okay! Hello, everybody! This is all pretend! Nobody take this seriously!” And slowly but surely it becomes sillier and sillier. And because Mary’s a good filmmaker, it actually becomes a little scary, and there’s a moral to it and all that stuff. But I think its tongue is firmly in its cheek. I don’t know. Do you agree?
AVC: Completely. I mean, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the greatest movie ever made…
CB: Oh, God, no. [Laughs.] But I had a ball doing it.
AVC: Your memories are definitely fonder than those of Anthony Edwards. As soon as I brought it up, he covered his eyes and said, “Oh, god…” But he did admit that “it’s probably the most important movie I’ve ever worked on, because it’s the movie I met my wife on.”
CB: Yeah, and then after that, he went and did ER and became a kazillionaire. What’s he got to complain about? [Laughs.] Yeah, none of the movies I’ve ever made have been the greatest movie ever made. But I’m still trying! A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.
The Informant! (2009)—“Aubrey Daniel”
CB: That was with [Steven] Soderbergh! Yeah, I kind of did that just to work with him. I wasn’t familiar with the story, but he’s a real guy, Aubrey Daniel, and it’s relevant today, because he’s the kind of guy that Trump would hire. [Laughs.] But, yeah, Steven knows the movie he wants to make as soon as… Actually, probably before he writes it! So those days were really short. He’d tell you exactly where to go and what to do. You just gotta know your lines and get in there and do it. It was a good group of guys, though. It was a very eclectic cast.
AVC: It’s a fascinating one, too, because it’s got so many comedians in it, many of whom you don’t usually see in films.
CB: Yeah, Rick Overton, I reacquainted myself with him. I’d met him many years ago and then sort of met him again. He’s a character in and of himself. Have you ever interviewed him?
AVC: No, but I’d love to. He’s got a catalog that’s ripe for a Random Roles interview.
CB: Yeah, he’s an interesting guy. And he’s hilarious! He’s one of those comics that comics love. And comics are a tough audience. I was kind of out of my depth a little in that movie, I think. But my highlight was being with Tom Wilson, who also has done stuff on SpongeBob SquarePants episodes. Tom and I, we’d always look at each other and go, “Who asked you if you were in Highlander this week?” “Who asked you if you were the guy from Back To The Future this week?” We’re always mistaken for each other! So it was fun to walk next to him as we walked Matt Damon out the door. He’s terrific, a good guy. He had a podcast [Big Pop Fun With Tom Wilson] for a little while that was fun. I don’t know why he’s not doing it anymore. But he’s a really good artist, too. He’s a Renaissance man. I like that guy.
John Dies At The End (2012)—“Dr. Albert Marconi”
CB: That was a script kind of like Supercon. That got sent to me out of the blue, and I started reading it and couldn’t put it down. You know, [director Don] Coscarelli’s a really interesting guy. He’s kind of the same story as Steven Spielberg, if Steven Spielberg didn’t get recognized early on and didn’t have the money. He’s sort of the anti-Spielberg. [Laughs.]
I really like Don. He’s another odd duck in this business, and I think he hooked up with Giamatti, who liked that script, and Giamatti helped him produce it and got the money to do it. And he found those two kids to play the leads, David [Chase Williamson] and John [Rob Mayes], and he made it on a shoestring. It was like making a movie in your backyard, it was so much fun to do. And then reading the book… I wish we could’ve shot Marconi and his book, but we could only do so much. But, yeah, that was a fun one.
AVC: It definitely doesn’t look like it was done on a shoestring budget.
CB: Right, well, that’s the way he does it. He keeps control of it, and…that’s just who he is. And he’s terrific. I like that guy!
The Deep End (2010)—“Hart Sterling”
CB: That was a great pilot script that just got murdered by interference from the network, unfortunately. You had some really good, really talented TV writers that would turn in these great episodic scripts, and then by the time you got around to shooting it, you were shooting nothing. And it ended up being very frustrating for everybody involved, I think. And they kept having some asides, saying, “David [Hemingson, showrunner], you’ve got to push back on this shit, man. You’ve got to. You’re writing really well, and then you’re taking all the good stuff out!” And what could he do? He didn’t really have a choice. Easy for me to offer free advice that way, but I don’t know what he had to put up with. That was a shame.
That doesn’t happen so much anymore. Executives at networks especially have gotten smart. Because it’s a new generation of people, and they’re much more attuned to what good storytelling is, rather than just trying to sell product. I was talking to Brian Koppelman, who does Billions, and there’s not a lot of changes in their scripts. They’re changes, but they’re not bad changes. I said, “How are they treating you?” And he said, “I only get good notes.” I said, “Really?” He said, “Yeah! I don’t think I’ve gotten a bad note from Showtime. Maybe once in the beginning, but after that, I haven’t. And they leave us alone! And then when they have something to say, they have something to say that’s worthwhile.” So it’s getting better.
The Burrowers (2008)—“John Clay”
CB: I took Don Coscarelli and J.T. [Petty, writer-director of Hellbenders] to a Dodgers game, and it happened to be the game where Kershaw threw his no-hitter. Neither one of them are baseball fans. I’m the big baseball fan. I’m, like, “You have no idea what you just saw, do you?” And they said, “No, not really. But it was really fun! Thanks for bringing us!” [Laughs.]
But J.T.’s a tremendous writer as well, and he sent me that script—I had done something with him called The Burrowers, so I’d met him years before, and we started talking movies. He’s just one of these dudes who has a great encyclopedic knowledge of older films. I think he brought up Ulzana’s Raid. And I said, “Holy shit, I haven’t thought about Ulzana’s Raid in years and years, but that is a great film! You know, it’s very similar to one called Utu.” And he said “Utu” at the exact moment I said, “Utu,” so he’s one of those guys.
So he wrote the Hellbenders script, which I thought was hilarious, I wish that had done better business, but that’s another one where we had good times. Macon Blair was in that, and he’s doing great. His little movie [I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore] did pretty good for Netflix, I think. I wish I could’ve done that. I wish he would’ve called me for that! [Laughs.] I saw him recently in something, and I always get a kick out of it when I do. I think he’s a terrific actor. But that was a good group, and I would do that one again, too. I love J.T. He’s a good guy. He used to live in Brooklyn, now he’s out here in L.A., writing and pitching.
Lost (2006)—“Kelvin Inman”
CB: I wish I could tell you anything about that. [Laughs.] I forget what the circumstance was for doing the first episode, which I thought was really cool, because it was all about torture. It was right around the time that all that stuff was coming out about Sayid and the torture he was doing during the Iraq War. They were introducing everybody’s back story. I did not watch the show, but that script I read, and it made sense. And I liked the character, and I liked that he was doing something bad for good reasons.
And then in the second episode, he shows up in the bunker, and I have no idea what’s going on at that point. [Laughs.] I felt terrible. I think I had to pull aside some assistant best boy and say, “Could you just explain to me where I am and what I’m doing in here?” I think it’s because I wasn’t as steeped in the mythology that my brains got bashed out. I feel bad about that, but my kids were little. I was asleep by the time Lost came on! That was not a good TV-watching time for me!
ER (1997-1998)—“Dr. Ellis West”
CB: I went to college with Laura Innes, and Laura was quite the star in college. She was a couple of years older than me, and she was just a doll. Everybody loved her, and she was a terrific actress. She’s a terrific director now, too. So as soon as that popped up and I was going to be with Laura, I just jumped at the chance. Again, I hadn’t watched the show, so I didn’t really know what the situation was. I probably should’ve done my homework a little bit better. Again, I’d just had kids, so I wasn’t really paying attention to anything except Dragon Tales and Arthur.
But that was fun. I got a big kick out of Laura. And I think that was the first time I realized what TV does for people. We were shooting something in Chicago—which, you know, that’s where both of us went to college—and I pulled her out of her dressing room and said, “Laura, come on, let’s go into Carson Pirie Scott. How often are we gonna get this chance to shop while we’re shooting something?” And she was, like, “Oh, I don’t know, maybe we shouldn’t,” and this and that. And I’m, like, “Come on, let’s go, it’ll be like old times!” Not like we ever shopped together when we were kids, but there we were in Chicago! But, man, as soon as we walk in, she is inundated with people. People are just all over her. Because she’s a TV star, of course! I felt so bad that I was so obtuse as to not appreciate what kind of situation I was putting her in. So I dragged her back and apologized, and I said, “I’ll tell you what: let’s just go to the hotel bar and we’ll get a drink instead.” I still love her to death.
CB: That’s an interesting movie. I think it’s probably not as good as everybody says it is. It’s hard to tell, because it’s one of those movies where people who usually don’t have an opinion about movies have to have an opinion about this movie. You know what I mean? And depending on what that opinion is and who said it, then people take an opposite opinion. It’s the strangest kind of critiques I’ve ever seen. It’s weird. But that’s the Kennedys. People have opinions. You can’t just tell the story. And that’s what John Curran did: he just told the story. And then everybody lays on whatever their interpretation is of it. Which I guess is worth doing, too.
The Bride (1985)—“Viktor”
CB: Highlander? I don’t remember that one. [Waits a beat before laughing.] Okay, what do you want me to say? I could say a lot.
AVC: Since it was so early in your film career, was that an audition situation?
CB: That was… [Hesitates.] I had just done The Bride with Sting—Franc Roddam was directing—and they wanted to get Schwarzenegger in Highlander, but Schwarzenegger turned them down. And then they wanted to get Sean Connery to play Connor MacLeod, but Sean said, “No, I want to play Ramirez.” So then they went out and got Christopher Lambert to play Connor, and he was either fresh off winning or about to win the César [for Best Actor] for Subway. So [director] Russell Mulcahy was knocking around in London, and he was having dinner with Sting or saw him at a party or something. But they knew each other because Russell was a video director, and Sting said, “Oh, I just worked with this big Yank, Clancy Brown, who seems to be okay. He’s talented and he’s big, and he could do this role.” So I got that role because Sting recommended me.
I’d never met with Russell beforehand. I met with the producers, who were really only interested in paying me as little as possible. But I liked the script. I thought Greg [Widen] wrote a great script, and I thought there was real potential for it to be a franchise. And then they booted Greg out of the franchise, and they ended up creating this pile of shit underneath this little diamond. [Laughs.] It’s, like, I can’t wait for them to remake it and reclaim the potential for sequels. I mean, it’s just so rich with sequel material. As long as they don’t have them be aliens, I think they’ll be okay! That was so dumb…
AVC: So were you ever in talks for the sequel?
CB: Well, I... wasn’t their favorite guy. They sent me, like, the first 10 pages of it, and I said, “What the F... What is this? Give me the rest of the script?” And they said, “Well, we want your commitment before we give you the rest of the script.” And they said, “Well, we’re just gonna pay you the same.” And I said, “Nah, see you later.” [Laughs.] “I’m not gonna do this. First of all, this makes no sense. Second of all, you’re not gonna pay me anything. So there’s no reason for me to do this at all!”
So then Christopher calls me up and says, “Oh, you’ve got to do this with us! You’ve got to do this with us!” I said, “Chris, it’s horrible. The idea is terrible, what I read was awful…” And he says, “I helped write that.” [Laughs.] I’m, like, “Well, I guess I’m never gonna be doing any more Highlanders!” He’s a great guy and I love him to death, but it was doomed from the beginning. If I wasn’t getting paid… I will do shit for money. But I’m not gonna do shit for no money. I’ll do quality for no money. So if it had been any good, maybe. But it was no good from the get-go.
AVC: I’ve talked to a few people who were in Highlander II, but when we did this feature with Michael Ironside, he gave me one of the greatest stories in the history of Random Roles.
CB: Oh, yeah, I love Michael. We’ve done a couple of things together, and he’s one of the great storytellers of all time.
Starship Troopers (1997)—“Sgt. Zim”
CB: In fact, Michael was a Paul Verhoeven favorite. As soon as I saw they were doing Starship Troopers—I mean, that’s classic sci-fi canon, man. You’ve got to do it. No matter how good it is, no matter how crappy it is, you’ve got to do it. I’d do anything that’s classic sci-fi canon. I actually really like that movie. I liked it very much from the beginning. I was shocked that it did no business. I know it’s not what [Robert] Heinlein wrote, but if you consider the auteurs that you had, if you take Heinlein and put him in a blender with Verhoeven… That’s a great mashup right there, and I thought it was just spectacular. I thought it worked on so many levels. Taking all those Melrose Place models and just mutilating them? That’s so Verhoeven. Another nutcase that I just love to death. I’d work with him again in a second. So, yeah, it was fun as hell. I got it from the beginning, because I was a big fan of the book, and I’m a big fan of Verhoeven.
I just heard that somebody acquired [Isaac Asimov’s] Foundation. I don’t know how they’re going to do that. How do you do that? But if you get the right guy… If they get David Fincher or somebody like that, that would just be amazing. It wouldn’t be what Asimov wrote, but it would be the next level. I had big hopes for American Gods, and they almost got there. They were close, but they didn’t quite get there, I think.
AVC: Are you a Neil Gaiman fan, then?
CB: I like American Gods. I haven’t yet read The Ocean At The End Of The Lane.
AVC: My gateway drug into Gaiman was Neverwhere.
CB: Nope, haven’t read that one yet, either. Speaking of Neils, though, no one’s really done Neal Stephenson yet, either, have they?
AVC: There’s been talk of adaptations, but it hasn’t happened yet.
CB: I was thinking that college one he wrote [The Big U], that maybe somebody had done that, but they’d called it something else. It was one of his first books. It was pretty funny. But I’d like to see Cryptonomicon attempted.
AVC: Walking the walk and talking the talk. You’re going to win a lot of people over like that.
CB: Oh, shit, man, I’m all over this stuff. I’m reading The Water Knife right now, by Paolo Bacigalupi. I just love these worlds that these guys do. I was talking about Neuromancer with somebody recently. Like, could you make Neuromancer today? And how would you update it? It would be relevant today, I think. But you’d have to fix it. You’d have to update it. Kathryn Bigelow was a big William Gibson fan. I don’t know why she fell off that bandwagon.
Blue Steel (1989)—“Nick Mann”
AVC: Well, as long as you’ve brought up Kathryn Bigelow…
CB: I met Kathryn on the set of Extreme Prejudice. She was going in and getting, like, a tutorial from Walter [Hill]. You could tell that she wasn’t quite there yet with Blue Steel, but—oh, what’s the one she did with the vampires called again? With Lance [Henriksen] and Bill [Paxton]?
AVC: Near Dark.
CB: Yeah! Great script. Just a great script, and she shot it really well, I thought. It was a great low-budget movie and just really captured it, and I think that’s why she got the Blue Steel gig. But Blue Steel was a little bit too… [Hesitates.] I don’t know. I thought Jamie [Lee Curtis] was great in it, one of her best performances ever, but it’s a little too formularized. You didn’t really understand what was going on with Ron [Silver]. It was one of those ’80s hero movies that didn’t quite make sense. But it was a good spin.
My favorite direction from Kathryn Bigelow to me—it was done at that time, she would never give me that direction today—but back then, she said, “I gotta have your pants off, Clancy. You gotta take your pants off.” [Laughs.] It was during the love scene. Yeah, she just wanted to get a shot of my ass. Which I guess was good back then. Not now! But, yeah, that’s my favorite Kathryn Bigelow direction. I’m so proud of her, man. She’s a force.
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)—“Captain Hadley”
CB: Yep, that was good. Everybody loved that script, because Frank [Darabont] is one of the best writers out there. He got the first string in probably every department on the script, because he was kind of an unknown commodity as a director. That’s where I met [cinematographer] Roger Deakins. Strangely enough, I had met Deakins’ wife, James, on Blue Steel. Who else did they have? Terry Marsh, the production designer, who was genius on that one.
But nobody knew it was going to be any good. And even when it came out, nobody knew it was going to be any good, because nobody went to see it when it came out! And then when the Oscars came around, it actually got noticed, which was deserving. And now you can’t avoid it! [Laughs.] It’s just, like, on all the time now! But, yeah, that was a fun one. Made a lot of good friends on that one.
AVC: When we talked to Morgan Freeman, he made a point of saying that the reason nobody went to see it was because nobody could say the name.
CB: Yeah, I don’t know about that. I mean, yeah, we’ve heard that. But my joke about the name—because everybody always asks us what’s the crazier version of the name you’ve ever heard, and Morgan likes to say, “Oh, it was The Scrimshaw Redaction,” blah blah blah—I always say, “You know the craziest name I ever heard for The Shawshank Redemption? The Green Mile.” [Laughs.]
AVC: Of your many villainous roles over the years, that’s near the top of the heap.
CB: He was pretty bad. [Laughs.] But, see, that’s where Frank’s a great writer? In the short story, there’s a whole turnover of the administration of that prison, and he had to figure a way to keep those characters consistent. So Hadley and the warden were absolute Frank Darabont constructs, based on stuff that happened somewhere in the novella that Stephen [King] wrote. But those are Frank Darabont characters through and through. Frank’s another one I’d work with again in a heartbeat. I love that guy.
Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000)—“Lex Luthor”
SpongeBob SquarePants (1999-present)—“Mr. Krabs”
AVC: Trying to delve too deeply into your voice work gets a little overwhelming, but arguably the two most notable in the bunch are playing Lex Luthor and Mr. Krabs.
CB: Yeah, I’d been working pretty steadily, but I was always working out of town. As soon as my daughter was born, I said, “I’ve got to figure out how to stay in town, but nobody’s hiring me for studio sitcoms, so maybe I could do this voice-over thing.” And I’ve always loved cartoons, but there was a big resurgence of exactly the kind of cartoons I liked, which was the Bugs Bunny and Warner Bros. cartoons. With Andrea Romano and those guys, they were very hot in the business, and they started doing Batman: The Animated Series, and then that became a success, so they decided to do Superman: The Animated Series, and they were going out to live-action actors. I jumped at the chance to audition for that and really wanted to do Superman, because how else am I gonna get cast as a good guy? [Laughs.] And she said, “You know, would you read for Lex Luthor?” I said, “Aw, maaaaaaannnnnnn… Even in voice-over I’m typecast as a heavy?” She said, “Oh, you don’t have to do it, that’s okay.” I said, “Nah, nah, I’ll absolutely do it.” And she cast me. She basically taught me how to act for voice-over.
With SpongeBob, Steve [Hillenburg] had just created this really weird world and was meeting a bunch of people, and I kind of met him with a whole bunch of other people, where I did a funny pirate voice. The only thing I can remember from that is that he said, “Okay, you know, just go ahead and go crazy and just improv.” I said, “Steve, you’re the director, right?” And he said, “Yeah.” I said, “Well, you’ve got to direct me. I’m not gonna make stuff up.” [Laughs.] And he thought, “This guy’s the biggest asshole, but I think he’s the right voice.”
So he cast me anyway, and then he spent the first season sort of tiptoeing around me, until I just said, “Stephen, just tell me what you want. I’ll do my best. If it’s not good enough, tell me it’s not good enough, and we’ll keep trying stuff.” Because that world and those guys—Tom Kenny and Rodger [Bumpass]—are so facile. They’re stand-up comics. They make stuff better just by walking in a room. I was used to reading the script and trying to realize what was on the page.
It’s different now. Now we’ve kind of gotten a little looser, and we play fast and loose and try to make it better, and we know how to make it better. But back in the day, that was a tough one. And who knew I’d still be doing it this many years later?
AVC: It really is astonishing how long it’s gone on.
CB: Right? It is. It’s really amazing. And it’s still good! It really hit something. Autistic kids respond to it. There’s all sorts of miracle stories about SpongeBob, and I don’t know what combination of colors and sounds they’ve hit on or whatever it is about that world, but it goes right to the childish part of our brain and kind of fixes everything for a little while. I don’t know what it is about him, but he’s a real genius, that Stephen Hillenburg. He doesn’t think he is, but he truly is.
Hail, Caesar! (2016)—“Gracchus”
CB: Oh, that was hilarious. I had auditioned for [the Coen brothers] forever. I love their movies, and I always enjoyed auditioning for them. They’re good guys, they’re Midwestern Jewish guys, and I get a big kick out of both of them. I love reading their scripts. I think the first time I ever read for them was Raising Arizona, and I think I’ve probably read for everything since then, but I’d never been hired. I walked in for Hail, Caesar! and the first thing they asked me was, “Can you do…” Oh, shit, I’m not at home, so I can’t look it up on my computer, but he was the actor in Spartacus who played the gladiator trainer. Charles McGraw! You know, he’s got that voice. [Growling.] “Here’s the instant kill! Here’s the slow kill!” He’s got this really distinctive voice. So they said, “Can you do a Charles McGraw voice?” I said, “Yeah, I can do that.” So I did it for them. And they said, “That’s it!”
The only problem is that I’m so much bigger than George [Clooney]. This is a problem I’ve always had. I look like I could just lean over and eat George, Giamatti, or Christopher Lambert for lunch! [Laughs.] I’m not that much bigger than them, but for some reason it looks like I am on stage. I don’t know why. So they always had to put George a little higher than me, or they had to put me way higher than George, so we wouldn’t be in the same shot.