Character Actors: Clancy Brown

By SCOTT VOISIN

Featured in Autograph March 2009

A headshot of Clancy Brown

Most of us think of movies and television as entertainment, but the reality is that Hollywood is a business, and everything that gets produced is made for one reason: to make money.

No one understands this better than Clancy Brown. For more than 25 years, he has consistently delivered memorable performances in films (The Shawshank Redemption, Starship Troopers, The Guardian) and TV (ER, Earth 2, The Practice). While he has mastered the artistic part of his profession, Brown has also learned—mostly the hard way—the business aspects of acting. Although the lessons were difficult to accept, they played a major part in making him one of the most savvy, dependable actors working today.

Brown as The Kurgan in Highlander

One of Brown’s earliest roles was portraying the immortal Kurgan in the 1986 cult classic Highlander. Back then, he was a relative newcomer to the film industry, but he got a first-hand look at just how unscrupulous some people in the business can be. “Highlander was not as smooth of a production as any of the ones I had done before, mostly because of the producers getting in the way,” Brown recalls. “They weren’t very experienced or professional, and they barely said, ‘Thank you’ for helping make the movie that is putting their grandchildren through college. In fact, they still owe me money. They were going to put out this Kurgan sword, and they asked me if I’d promote it. So I said, ‘Yeah, if you pay me and you pay my charity.’ They said, ‘Yeah, sure,’ and they paid me and my charity the first installment. They haven’t paid a dime since, and I know the swords have sold out. They made all their money and ripped off my family’s charity. That’s what they do, that’s the kind of people they are. They’re not very honorable, and they don’t care who they’re ripping off.”

Brown as Captin Hadley in The Shawshank Redemption

Years later, Brown landed pivotal roles in two highly-acclaimed cable series, Breaking News and Carnivale. Although the shows were lauded by critics, they were ultimately cancelled due to low ratings. “The days of executives keeping shows on because they like them are over,” he says. “You’ve gotta deliver the numbers. They both fell victim to the thing we’re all victimized by, which is the commercial structure of this business. You might think the people in charge of the networks give a damn about the artistic content of a show, but they really don’t. They all fancy they do, but their jobs are all about making money the easiest way possible. You sort of learn the hard way that somewhere in the middle of all those producer credits, there’s a line that’s drawn between people who are trying to make a better show and people who only give a damn about the return on the investment. I totally get that, and at least the shows got made. The work is out there.”

These days, Brown has enjoyed great success doing voice-over work, most notably as Mr. Krabs in the animated hit, Sponge Bob Square Pants. It’s a different type of acting that challenges Brown without the added pressure that live-action filming brings. “All you have to worry about is getting the words off the page with your voice,” he explains. “You don’t have to dress up, you don’t have to work out and you do it as many times as it takes to do it right. In film and television, it’s a lot of money to do takes, so you’ve got to have your s—t together right at the beginning. When you walk on a set, you’re walking into a situation where millions of dollars have been spent. There’s never that kind of financial pressure with cartoons. It’s a lot lighter, it’s a lot more fun and I just have a great time doing it.”

Clancy Brown's signature

Looking back at the lessons he’s learned, Brown offers a no-nonsense explanation for his success in Hollywood. “I’ve been very lucky, but after the luck, you have to be able to deliver,” he says. “You have to show up on time and know your lines. When you’re a supporting actor, you have to know your place in the narrative and execute that with some proficiency. That’s what they pay you for.”

Clancy Brown does not sign through the mail. However, he does offer autographed photos for sale on his website, and all of the proceeds are donated to charity. For more information, visit www.clancybrown.com.

About Steve Cyrkin, Editor

Steve Cyrkin is the editor & publisher of Autograph, and focuses mostly on forgery, market and consumer protection issues.