I spoke with Clifton Collins Jr. about Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars, Homeboy Industries, Westworld, The Pawn, Triple 9, Puscifer, Transpecos, Crank: High Voltage, directing, writing, tap dancing, animals, and so much more. People that take the time to care for and appreciate animals are some of the best people on the planet. Clifton proves that by showing kindness to animals and fellow human beings. He helps out Homeboy Industries so others will have a chance at life. It was an honor to speak with Clifton and find out more about all of his projects. He’s easily one of the nicest people that I’ve ever spoken with. Make sure you pick up a copy of his book and keep an eye out for all of his projects. I’ve included several links at the bottom of the interview.
Lena: Looking at your Instagram posts, you certainly have a nice assortment of wildlife in your backyard.
Clifton Collins Jr.: I do. I wish the falcons would come by more often.
Lena: I bet the birds and squirrels don’t wish that. [Laughing.]
Clifton Collins Jr.: You’re right. The squirrels like to come and get almonds from me in the morning. I have one mama squirrel that’s a bit ornery. She literally comes up and barks at me. When I make my little sound, she knows that I’m going to get her almonds and she jumps up and spins her tail.
Lena: Wow! [Squirrel Master status achieved!] Well, you’re the man in my book because I love squirrels. I put food out for my backyard squirrels, but they don’t come over and take it from my hand. [They do at least acknowledge me and seem pretty happy to see me.]
Clifton Collins Jr.: We have a pretty cool neighborhood. I have a couple of neighbors that are all squirrel friendly, as silly as that sounds. [Laughing.] When the mama squirrels get pregnant they get extra friendly and they like to hang out more. They are my regular guests. [Laughing.]
Lena: Aww! That’s awesome. [There is nothing better than happy animal stories.]
Lena: Your book Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars is available for purchase now. You co-wrote the book with Gustavo Alvarez.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yes. I’m pretty excited about it. It’s very well received right now and we donate a portion of the proceeds to Homeboy Industries.
Lena: It’s a very interesting concept for a book. Can you talk about the book and your favorite recipe?
Clifton Collins Jr.: My favorite recipe is Chili Corn Chip Ramen Pie and it’s really addictive. Me and my girl were going to go to this fancy restaurant for Valentine’s Day and we just starting talking, as she was going through my cookbook, and I told her that I could make her one of those for Valentine’s Day. She said, “No, you wouldn’t?” “Yeah, I would. You want to dare me? How about I make you the Chili Corn Chip Ramen Pie?” She said yes and to cancel the dinner reservations. We ended up having the best time ever. [Laughing.]
I went to go visit my buddy Gustavo at Chino when they got off of lockdown and two acts of compassion that happened through like people that are technically considered sworn enemies in prison you know hearts just opened up and by the end of the evening none of the inmates would be allowed into the prisons, so they were left out in the cold while Gustavo was left inside his dorm. The door was beat down enough where they could put something through to keep the inmates fed and give them drinks and stuff, so they started to do that. He said that he wanted to make a cookbook to give back to everybody that’s locked down and has a hard time, and stuff. I thought it was an awesome idea and questioned how we could expand the story and lessons. I asked him if we could use some of his real-life experiences and tie them in with the recipes. Maybe these kids could learn something and hopefully avoid dangerous situations and taking wrong turns in their own lives. We did that and I thought about how we could give back even more. Homeboy Industries popped up and I made it a point to track down Father Greg Boyle. I went to Loyola High School where he taught for a year before he left to create Homeboy Industries, which is, kind of, a beautiful little coincidence. That’s how it happened and now we donate a portion of the proceeds to Homeboy Industries. They work with at risk gang youths and they have a 76% success rate versus the American prison system, which has a 30% success rate—obviously by design because who wants to have a vacancy in their establishment?
Lena: You were great [with Jacob Vargas] in Puscifer’s video for “Money Shot.”
Clifton Collins Jr.: Thank you! Tim Cadiente directed that. Maynard is a dear friend of ours. That was a fun one. We are conspiring to do more. Tim and Maynard are full of ideas and when you get Jacob and I together, it’s just a big melting pot of creativity. We are already conspiring for some new videos.
Lena: I hope no one was hurt with those slingshots.
Clifton Collins Jr.: No. Those slingshots are actually for sale. Tim’s son designs them. I think that one of the guys that got hit in the balls would probably want to get hit in the balls. He’s that kind of guy. [Laughing.]
Lena: Maynard’s voice is amazing. I’ve seen Puscifer, Tool, and A Perfect Circle live and they are all incredible.
Clifton Collins Jr.: I need to do that. He did pull me up for a Puscifer show. It was halfway through the show and I sat at a table, while he continued the concert. He would occasionally sit down and sip some wine with me. He makes his own wine in Arizona. If you ever get a chance to speak with him, he’s insanely cerebral.
Lena: You’ve been in so many wonderful films, television shows, and videos. I will say that I have to give you an over the phone high-five for Freddy’s Nightmares. I loved that show.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Nice! That was early, early on and I might have been nineteen or something. I don’t even remember it. [Laughing.] I do remember hanging out with Robert England for a hot second. That was so long ago. I would love to see that clip. I don’t even know where to get that. That’s, kind of, like when I asked Benicio Del Toro about playing Duke the Dog-Faced Boy in Big Top Pee-Wee. Jacob and I both asked him about playing Duke the Dog-Faced Boy and about being in Excess Baggage with Alicia.
Lena: You’re one of those brilliant actors that can take on any role and make it work beautifully.
Clifton Collins Jr.: I appreciate that. I would like to do a good tap dance movie from the thirties. I’ve been tap dancing since I was 7. If you look on my Instagram, you’ll see a little picture of me and my cousin tap dancing from when we were like 7 or 8. There might be a few hoofing clips of me just hoofing on the down low. Dulé Hill hipped me to these things called tap boards. They are foldable wooden boards that you can take with you in case you just want to tap in your hotel.
Lena: Dulé Hill is wonderful. I was covering a press event and he was the only person that made it a point to introduce himself and shake hands with everyone.
Clifton Collins Jr.: I bet. Dulé is the shit. He’s all class, that guy. I love him. I’ve known him a good 15-20 years also. We are both in Ballers together but we haven’t had any scenes.
Lena: What has been the most challenging role that you’ve taken on so far?
Clifton Collins Jr.: There comes a point in time that you just learn so much in this business that some of the physical and emotional tasks just get a little bit easier, even though they are more complicated and sophisticated. With that all said I’d have to say something like maybe Capote, you know, emotionally speaking because I had to come to terms with a lot of my own demons. Then you take a film like Pacific Rim, where so much of it is all green screen and I had to mentally imagine things in front of me that are not there but I’ve got to see them in three dimensions. I’ve got to be seeing things that physically aren’t in front of me and make you believe that I see them. The truth told I do see them. [Laughing.] I know if I see it, you’re definitely going to see it. Also, having someone like Guillermo del Toro being there with you and by your side, any scary task you are going to feel like you can do because you have the man behind you supporting and believing in you.
Lena: I hope you’re in Pacific Rim 2, if and when it comes out. I think they pushed it to at least next year.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Me, too! I don’t know what the whole lowdown is but I just got that Guillermo del Toro is not directing part two. I don’t know. I hope it’s not true. I got really sad when I read that.
Lena: Two of your films were just screened at SXSW.
Clifton Collins Jr.: That’s correct. And Punching the Clown, which I wasn’t allowed to go in and see because I didn’t have a ticket. I had my fancy V.I.P. pass because I had two films there, but I didn’t have the correct ticket to get in so I couldn’t even do press. I didn’t want to get tasered for breaking the laws and entering my own premiere without a ticket, even though I had my pass. [Laughing.]
Lena: You’re kidding? [That’s a bummer that the fans missed out on Clifton.]
Clifton Collins Jr.: No, but Transpecos won the audience award, which is pretty exciting. We shot that whole movie in sixteen days. It was like 112-115 degrees outside. Sometimes your shoe would melt on the highway. You would see maybe two or three cars the whole day. We shot about a mile from the Mexican border.
Lena: How did you manage to keep cool while filming?
Clifton Collins Jr.: You know, me being half-Mexican, I embrace the heat. I like the heat and I do much better in hot temperatures than I do cold temperatures. I just ran with it. It was a dry heat. I had an occasional umbrella so my skin color doesn’t change while I’m shooting. Yeah, your skin is changing. Literally, half a day in the sun and you are like three shades darker and then you have color correctness mistakes. We wouldn’t have had enough money to keep on shooting. [Laughing.]
Lena: I hope you put on a lot of sunblock.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Yeah. I had a cowboy hat on and I lost it halfway through the shoot. If you watch the movie you’ll see what happens. This crazy thing happens but cowboy hats help to keep the sun off, for sure.
Lena: So many people wanted me to ask you about The Pawn. What can you say about it?
Clifton Collins Jr.: The Pawn is a beautiful piece that was inspired by Gustavo. He had this idea for a story, very long ago, based on many different events and people that he knew. It’s something that we were doing and it caught fire when Adam Simon, who wrote Man Down, the Dito Montiel film, with Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman, and myself. When he heard about the story he wanted in and Adam and I literally put in an eighteen-hour writing day last Tuesday. We wrote until about three in the morning. We are pretty close to being done with it. It’s a heavy, emotional drama, a fish out of water story, so to speak, about being torn between two powers and still trying to find a way to redeem and atone for his past.
Lena: You’ll also be directing it and starring in it?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I’ll be directing it, but I don’t know if I’ll be doing anything in it at the present moment. I may. I know that there’s a lot of people that want me to be in it, but I’ve got some friends that I promised the draft. The hopes are that one of my two friends will be starring in it.
Lena: Are you planning on doing any more directing and writing?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Oh, for sure. I’ve got a slew of stories. It’s just a matter of timing, I think. In my downtime I like to direct music videos. That’s, kind of, how I directed Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried” video, which we won a CMT Award for Breakout Video of the Year. I shot that when I was doing Mike Judge’s Extract. They had a four-day break and I asked to fly out. While I was doing Triple 9 with Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus, I had my last day of shooting and I had one scene in the morning with Woody Harrelson and I had another scene with him at night and my buddies from Avenue of the Giants talked me into shooting a music video in between those two takes. I asked my producer if I could use the parking lot because they had these really great train tracks back there. We literally shot like 40 feet behind Woody Harrelson’s bus, and I had the band wailing and singing.
Lena: I’m looking forward to seeing Triple 9. I hope it’s coming out on DVD soon.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Oh, that’s a fun, fun movie. It’s one hell of a ride. I haven’t shot something that fun in a very long time.
Lena: I watched the featurette and it looks amazing. Can you talk about filming it?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I want to see the featurette. I had a blast filming that. I mean Woody Harrleson, Anthony Mackie, Chiwetel Esiofor—the star list alone is phenomenal. It was everybody showing up on the set to work hard and play hard. There were no attitudes, no egos and I’m working with friends that I’ve known for over twenty years. It’s really special to get to be a part of a heist crew and have them be your boys from long ago. It’s pretty badass. It’s just a fun ride. I wouldn’t mind watching it. There are very few movies of mine that I watch more than once or twice. This is one that I would love to watch over and over again. [Laughing.]
Lena: A couple of weeks ago, it was your night on television because Parker, Pacific Rim, and Crank: High Voltage played back-to-back.
Clifton Collins Jr.: Wow! I never saw Parker. I would like to check it out at some point.
Lena: I only caught the end of it. Crank: High Voltage is one of my favorites. It’s wild.
Clifton Collins Jr.: That was fun to put together. That was wild. That cat o’ nine tails that I had to wield around well my forearm was paying the price for that. That piece of wood was made out of cocobolo wood, so it’s really heavy and that cat o’ nine tails was really thick rubber, so to wield them around when you’re not used to using them was fun. I got them a week early so I could practice and with my martial arts background, I was able to do different things with it that you saw in the film. There is a piece on my Instagram that has me and Jason Statham getting ready to fight. [Laughing.] I’m not going to share the punch line with you because I’m literally just talking shit, but when you watch the clip you’ll probably laugh.
Lena: I have to ask you about Westworld because it’s one series that I’m really, really looking forward to. I hope it premieres before the year is over.
Clifton Collins Jr.: I think it will. I was riding horses just last week, or the week before last. I was shooting my gun and now I’m waiting to go back to the set, probably next week. I was with one of my special effects guys last night. They are chugging away. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel to finally get to do westerns, which is what my grandpa made all his bones on. To finally be doing a western, and not just any old western, I’m doing Westworld and I’m doing it with Nolan and the entire cast. I’m wearing my grandpa’s gun belt. It’s kind of magical.
Lena: What can you say about Lawrence?
Clifton Collins Jr.: That you are going to love him and hate him for all the right and wrong reasons. [Laughing.] I’ve got all these pinnacle moments. I mean I’m rolling around with The Man in Black, you know, Ed Harris. He’s amazing and he’s brought an amazing body of work to Hollywood. He’s a Hollywood staple really and to be able to work with him and ride horses—and all that kind of stuff. He reprises the old Brynner role from the original. It’s just great to hear the stories, and even though I’ve been acting for twenty five-twenty six years, I’m still a fan of the business and a fan of many of the people I work with and they end up being friends.
Lena: That’s so nice to hear. With a series like that, what do you think is going to resonate with the viewers the most?
Clifton Collins Jr.: The timing couldn’t be more perfect with all these robotics and robots that we are seeing now—that we are being allowed to see now. It’s action-packed. It’s insanely cerebral and so rarely do you see smart action films—meaning with the right balance of action, drama, and real things. This is definitely that show. It makes you think, question, and it engages your moral core—what is morally right and wrong. You question a lot of things and I think with all this stuff going on, all this hate that’s getting spewed, our moral core is starting to get really thin. A lot of mean people are raising their heads and showing who they really are. It’s not the classy, free-loving melting pot that I always thought America was. This television show addresses a lot of heavy issues.
Lena: Like your film Transcendence, that really made you think.
Clifton Collins Jr.: For sure. They went pretty deep on that one. There’s a great doc called Transcendence Man that I think loosely inspired Transcendence. You have to see it. It will blow your mind.
Lena: Did you want to mention anything else?
Clifton Collins Jr.: I’m pretty stoked about the stuff that I’m working on with Gustavo and Adam Simon. When you spend so much time in the business you can’t help but question yourself, even though you have all the answers already. We always sit there and question ourselves, but it’s a very interesting time.
Visit Clifton’s site: http://cliftoncollinsjr.com/
Follow Clifton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ccollinsjr
Follow Clifton on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mrwupass
Follow Clifton on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/clifton.collins.jr
Purchase your copy of Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars http://workman.com/products/9780761185529/
Homeboy Industries: http://www.homeboyindustries.org/