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The Fretts on Film Interview: Jason Clarke

December 17, 2012

Jason Clarke has been one of my favorite actors ever since his roles as a Rhode Island pol and a Windy City cop on Showtime’s underrated Brotherhood and Fox’s short-lived The Chicago Code, and I couldn’t be happier that he’s breaking out as a big-screen character actor with his work opposite Jessica Chastain in Lawless and Zero Dark Thirty. I spoke with the Aussie actor about his gig as a CIA interrogator in Kathryn Bigelow‘s Osama Bin Laden manhunt movie for The New York Daily News, and here’s more of what he had to say.

How did you initially get involved with Zero Dark Thirty?

I knew the script was going around. I was desperate trying to get to Kathryn Bigelow like every other actor in town. And I met one of the producers, Greg Shapiro, and we talked about world travel–I’ve traveled a lot and he’s traveled a lot. Things we loved and read, related to the story, related to where we’re going. We got along really well, and then he hooked up a meeting for me and Kathryn. Turned out, I auditioned for another thing Kathryn was doing and it didn’t work out, then she took me with Mark [Boal] and we read some scenes, which he had just written because he was still putting the script together. And then from there, she walked in one day when I came in to read—3 or 4 times later—with different actresses and different people, and she offered it to me.

How grueling was the shoot? Especially the torture scenes. It seems like it was pretty intense.

On one level, I’m an Australian and love to travel–to go to India and Jordan, and the people we met, and to be in other places and be involved in the story that we were shooting in and loving that–it was easy. What was difficult was what the people we were portraying really had to do.

"Zero Dark Thirty" New York Photo CallDid it help that you had worked with Jessica Chastain before?

Yeah, absolutely. Because the film came together with such energy and so quickly, with a desire to get it out within the year. To know the actress I’m working with a lot, really well—and we’ve known each other before the three films we’ve done together—that the trust is established, you’ve got somebody there to bounce off and to work with, to relax with, to enjoy, to encourage, to be encouraged by, it was fantastic. And she was the only actress in my mind that was right for this part.

What’s Kathryn’s style like on the set?

Kathryn’s style is actor-friendly. It’s hard to describe, but she’s gentle. She’s in control and guiding you, but allowing you to feel like it’s yours and you can do anything that’s possible even though you’re shooting exactly what’s on the script. The fact that she runs 3 or 4 cameras at the same time allows actors to act as if you’re really doing it. We’re not setting up lights–we’re both acting at the same time, and those are the scenes she’s going to cut together. You see everybody’s performance on an even intensity level and it’s all so real and believable because everybody’s going at the same time, which is fantastic.

What’s her collaboration with Mark like? It seems like they’ve established a real partnership.

Absolutely. They both have got a great way of letting people and letting each other do what they do best. The fact is this was an investigative piece of journalism, and the journalist’s never going to give up  his sources and it’s not necessary to, but if there were any questions on set, you’ve got Mark to go to on certain things. She’s busy setting up thngis and we were shooting so quickly in these places to keep it moving. To have two people having your back, guiding you, is fantastic. And you can see from the two films that they share a common creative goal and interest.

DId you have access to any of the real people involved in the story?

No. My guy’s a real guy and he’s still out there working, and that was never even a question. Mark would have laughed at me. And having done the research, I’d never want to do that. The real guy’s smarter than I am.

Do you have an opinion on enhanced interrogation techniques?

No, I don’t really. You know, I’ve learned enough even from playing police officers or doctors or lawyers, and as an actor, you never judge somebody and what they do. And I love the fact that we’ve shown it for what it is, and these things happen and we haven’t used it as a device or as a tool gratuitously—it’s there to see. It’s hard to judge another man unless you’ve really walked in his shoes. But I think it’s fantastic that we’re looking at what we’ve given our government authorization to do. The film speaks for itself—you can see what happens to my character.

The Hurt Locker was obviously a great film and won Oscars, but it had trouble connecting to a wide audience. Do you think this movie has more commercial potential because it has, in some sense, a happy ending?

Yeah, you’re right. And I think the other reason is because everybody has some kind of ownership—whether you were in the towers or your friends were in the towers, or you’ve got friends and family on the front line, or you go to the airport. If people can understand this is not a documentary piece or a political piece or a Hollywood dramatization, it’s amazingly exciting.

Are you expecting a repeat for Mark and Kathryn at the Oscars?

I don’t expect anything. I hope all of us are there at the Oscars. My big hope for this film is that a lot of people around the world go and see this and connect with it. All I’ve heard from you guys that I’m speaking to–because you guys are the only ones who have really seen it–is that people are having an experience. It’s not just it’s good or bad or whatever. People are having an experience. And the fact that we brought out a film so current and so relevant, and cinema is putting its own two cents into the public arena of debate and examination, is amazing and doesn’t happen very often in this business, if at all.

Do you think it was wise to wait until after the election to release it so it didn’t seem like it was time to help or hurt a particular candidate?

We didn’t even wait. We finished shooting, and it wasn’t about making that decision. At no time was there political consideration—it was consideration for the people involved. The fact is this is a story that shouldn’t be picked up and tossed around like a political football—it’s a story about real people that deserves to be told with the integrity and the honestly and commitment of the people that actually did it. Even as an Australian, and my girlfriend’s French, and you read the French and Australian news and the excitement overseas to see this piece of work and the hope that the American film and creative community is going to bring out something honest. And it does that. That’s why I take my hat off the Kathryn and Mark. I really do.

It’s been a while since we’ve heard your Australian accent on screen. Do you miss it? Are you getting used to just always playing Americans?

I love playing Americans, dude. I really do. I’m very grateful for this country. I moved over here and I’ve had nothing but great things happen. I keep my Australian accent, as you can hear now, and in between takes on set, I keep it. It’s a character thing—it’s like putting on a suit. And I love an accent. It’s a way to find your character. The accent for this, the guy is from New Jersey, as far as I know. I love that accent because it’s so manly, strong and real. You sound like Bruce Springsteen.

Any Jason Clarke fans out there? Do you miss Brotherhood and The Chicago Code as much as I do?

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3 Comments
  1. I miss Chicago Code so much! It was the first thing I saw Jason in and I wish it could come back!

  2. Mike Whiting permalink

    He is so underrated!

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