By SCOTT VOISIN
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
In Hollywood, changing trends and flavors of the month often dictate the shelf life of many actors, but Robert Forster is a survivor. For nearly 50 years, he has been riding the show biz roller coaster, going from leading man to forgotten has-been to respected supporting player. His story is proof that those interested in acting as a route to fame and fortune are almost always doomed to fail, but serious actors committed to doing their best in any circumstance have a chance of staying in the game.
Forster got his start in acting while pursuing another interest: women. “On the first day of my senior year in college, I followed a girl into the auditorium and was trying to think of something to say to her,” he says. “They were doing an audition for Bye Bye Birdie. I had never seen the play and I hadn’t seen the movie, but I knew it was about a guy in a gold suit doing a parody of Elvis Presley. I thought if I did that, that’s how I could meet the girl. They didn’t give me the part of the guy in the gold suit; they put me in the chorus, which was a big comedown. I almost didn’t do it, but then I thought, Bob, how are you going to meet the girl? So I went back and became part of the chorus of Bye Bye Birdie.”
Forster not only met the girl, he married her, and the couple moved to Los Angeles in 1967. It was then that he got the call to audition for legendary director John Huston for the film, Reflections in a Golden Eye. “I’m introduced to Huston, who’s this tall, old guy, and he says, ‘What have you done?’” Forster recalls. “I said, ‘Look, I haven’t done much. I did one Broadway play, I wasn’t bad and I don’t make myself as an actor. I never did a movie, I don’t know how they’re made and I don’t know what the tricks are, but if you hire me, I will give you your money’s worth.’ Huston said, ‘You’ll be hearing from us.’ I figured that was the kiss-off. When somebody says that, you never hear from them. Two hours after that meeting, they made a deal with my agent. John Huston hired me on the basis of a three-minute meeting.”
Reflections starred Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor, and although he shared the screen with two Hollywood heavyweights, Forster made a strong impression on critics and casting agents. He soon graduated to leading man status in Haskell Wexler’s 1969 experimental classic, Medium Cool. The spontaneous nature of the film forced the actor to flex creative muscles he never knew he had. “I was playing a news cameraman,” Forster says, “and I had no experience being a news cameraman, but one time after another, I was required to make it up. Haskell is shooting me as I’m interacting with people and interviewing them, and he made it into a different picture than what we had on paper. We shot twice as much than was in the script. I learned that as an actor, you may be required to do material that is not written for you, and you’ve got to be able to be that character in the shot. You’ve got to be able to make something out of whatever it is they give you to do.”
With his star on the rise, Forster entered the 1970s as an actor in demand, headlining two TV series (Banyon and Nakia) and big-budget studio films like Disney’s sci-fi epic, The Black Hole. But as he soon discovered, it takes more than talent to stay at the top of Hollywood’s A-list. “I got lucky at the beginning of my career, and if you don’t get a hit the second time or the third time to keep the ball rolling, you start slipping,” he explains. “Your agents can only put you up for good stuff for so long, and if you’re not in hits and breaking records, then you start sliding. Every time I thought I had a picture that was going to give me a little traction, it didn’t. It’s very hard to get going again when you’ve started slipping.”
By the 1980s and ’90s, Forster had been reduced to taking roles in low-rent, direct-to-video projects such as Satan’s Princess, Body Chemistry III and Scanners IV. “I was doing crappy stuff, really dopey stuff, anything I could find because I had four kids and two ex-wives,” he says. However, in 1996, his roller coaster career took another turn for the unexpected. “There’s a restaurant where I’ve got a little corner spot that I always sit in where I read my paper and read scripts. I’ve been sittin’ in this spot for 18 or 19 years, and one day, in walks Quentin Tarantino.” Tarantino was Hollywood’s hottest filmmaker, and everyone in the industry was waiting to see what he would do as a follow-up to his Oscar-winning crime drama, Pulp Fiction. “I didn’t know Quentin but I had read for him on Reservoir Dogs,” Forster continues. “So I call him over, he sits down and we bull— for awhile. Six months later, I walk into this restaurant and there he is, sitting in my spot. I approached the table, he hands me a script and he said, ‘Read this and see if you like it.’”
The script was Jackie Brown, an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel, Rum Punch. “I went home and read the script, and I couldn’t believe he was thinking of hiring me for a big picture like this,” Forster says. “We had breakfast together three days later, and I said, ‘This is great and I’d love to do it, but I’m not sure they’re going to let you hire me.’ Quentin said, ‘I hire anybody I want.’ Only at that moment did I start to believe that maybe this thing could actually happen. There were a few more bumps and worries because everybody in town wanted this part. Big actors wanted to do the part of Max Cherry, but Quentin hung in there for me. It was one of the greatest gifts an actor can ever get.”
As it turns out, it was a gift that kept on giving. Jackie Brown was released in 1997 to great acclaim, earning Forster an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. His first reaction was shock, but as the day went on and he fielded congratulatory phone calls, another feeling washed over him. “It was a feeling of belonging, a feeling of acceptance. After 20-something years in this business and being long forgotten—after being on the top and going all the way to really, really low-end stuff—it was so generous for the members of the Academy to write my name down. They actually had to write my name, not just check-off a box. It was the most warm, generous feeling I ever had.”
Although he didn’t win the Oscar, Forster happily takes the loss in stride. “The difference between being nominated and winning is like a 10-pound box of chocolates and a 12-pound box of chocolates: they’re both pretty sweet.” Even sweeter was the renewed respect shown to him by Hollywood. Since Jackie Brown, Forster has worked at a feverish pace in projects both big and small, a combination he enjoys. “As an actor, getting a day’s work is one of the great opportunities,” he says. “Somebody calls your name, you step up to the plate and when somebody says, ‘Action!’ you get a chance to hit it out of the park. A low-budget movie requires an awful lot more participation of the actor. He’s required to do more things, to work with less and to get more done. For those reasons, little pictures add something to your day as an actor. However, big pictures can be fun, and you can make a better day’s pay.”
Now in his fifth decade in show biz, Forster has experienced the euphoric highs and depressing lows of life as an actor. Still, he remains enthusiastic about the possibilities that lie ahead. “I try to keep working, I’m ready to work and we’ll see what comes out of left field. An actor never, ever knows what’s coming next.”
By SCOTT VOISIN
Ronny Cox might just be the most recognized actor in Hollywood… kind of. “Throughout my career, I’ve almost never been recognized as an actor,” he says. “People just think they know me. Someone will come up to me and say, ‘Aren’t you from Des Moines, Iowa?’ I’ll say, ‘No, I’m an actor,’ and they’ll say, ‘I’ve never seen you in the movies but there’s a guy that looks exactly like you in Des Moines.’ I’ve literally had that conversation a thousand times. It turns out there’s a guy that looks exactly like me in practically every town!”
Cox made his acting debut alongside Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight in the 1972 box-office hit Deliverance. Years of steady work followed, and in 1984, he appeared in his first blockbuster, Beverly Hills Cop, playing a by-the-book California police lieutenant who squares off against Eddie Murphy’s free-wheeling Detroit detective. “What was interesting about Beverly Hills Cop is that the big set-piece for my character at the end of the film was my first day of shooting,” Cox remembers. “As an actor, I had to be fully aware of the relationship Eddie and I had gone through; how we started as adversaries and went through this and this, even though we hadn’t filmed any of it yet. To get ready to do the last scene on my very first day took a tremendous amount of homework.”
After Cop’s huge success, Cox was approached to do the sequel. “I don’t like sequels much to begin with, and I had reservations about it,” he admits. “I ended up doing Cop II because my character was sort of the reason for the story, but I had some problems with it. Cop I was good for me; Cop II was not so good. The stuff they offered me in Cop III was dreadful, so I turned that down.”
For 15 years after Deliverance, Cox made a living playing loving husbands and dedicated cops. In 1987, audiences finally got to see his dark side in RoboCop. “In many ways, RoboCop was as big a breakthrough for my career as Deliverance was because, for the first time, I got to play a bad guy,” he says. “I always think the bad guys are far and away the most interesting. Playing a good guy is pretty boring, and every decision he makes is absolutely predictable. I liken it to painting… If you’re the good guy, you get three colors: red, white and blue. But if you’re the bad guy, you get the whole palette. RoboCop was a huge boon to my career because after that, I was offered all kinds of roles.”
He took advantage of the opportunities, appearing in more than 100 movies and TV shows, but for the last several years, Cox has spent less time in front of the cameras and more time in the recording studio, singing, writing and playing a mix of folk, jazz and blues songs. With six CDs under his belt, he enjoys creating music and performing for an audience.
“I love acting, but I don’t love it as much as I love the music,” he explains. “With acting, there’s that imaginary fourth wall between you and the audience. With music, there’s the possibility of a profound, one-on-one sharing that takes place, especially with the kind of music I do. I tell stories… You get the set-up, you get the story and then you get the payoff in the song. Wherever I play, I like to have the house lights up because I want to be able to see the audience and connect with them.”
At this point in his life, Cox is still willing to play the Hollywood game, but only on his terms. “Acting is not the be-all and end-all for me that it is for a lot of other people,” he says. “I’ll go play music at the drop of a hat, but to get me in a movie or television show, it has to be something I really want to do. If I have music dates during the shooting schedule, I tell them to make room for those dates or else I won’t do the movie. That’s a hard concept for them to understand in Hollywood, but that’s how I feel about it.”
Autograph dropped a line to Ronny Cox and he responded, “I’m always grateful to the fans and appreciate their enthusiasm. It’s always amazing to me that even though I play villains and bad guys, the fans seem to separate those characters from my music. I have found the Stargate SG 1 fans to be some of the most ardent of my music fans. Go figure!”