“People in the south are very similar to Australians,” Clayne Crawford tells FilmInk on the line from the US. “We all drag our vowels, and we’re hard working good people. We shot a film there called The Great Raid with John Dahl. I was in Queensland for four months, and I was able to go to Melbourne and Sydney and up the Gold Coast, and it was quite lovely. I spent quite a bit of time there. I got to meet lots of lovely human beings, and I truly enjoyed my time there.”
Despite being packed with big names (Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, Joseph Fiennes, Sam Worthington), the Aussie-shot WW2 drama sank without a trace. “Something went down,” Crawford explains. “John Dahl is a great director, but the studios took the control away from him. It was miserable. This was at the height of Harvey Weinstein being a complete jackass. How do you take a great film away from a guy like John? That was a very unfortunate situation, but what a great experience to get to work and spend that much time in Australia.”
Born in Alabama, Clayne Crawford has had a few more close connections to Australia too, starring for local directors John Polson (Swimfan) and Nick Tomnay (The Perfect Host), and playing opposite Aussie actors Aden Young and Adelaide Clemons across three seasons of the acclaimed TV drama Rectify. Crawford, however, is a distinctly, unswervingly American actor, bringing his complicated brand of swagger to TV projects like Rogue, Justified, Leverage, The Glades, Jericho and 24.
Crawford is best known, however, for the small screen adaptation of the hit buddy cop action flick Lethal Weapon, in which he played unhinged detective Martin Riggs, the role made famous by Mel Gibson. Starring opposite Damon Wayans, Crawford was fired after appearing on two seasons of the show for two instances of bad behaviour on the set. This then led to a protracted media back-and-forth between the show’s producers and stars, resulting in a truckload of acrimony and a situation so complicated that it’s near impossible to attribute blame or even to form an accurate depiction of what happened. Lethal Weapon now rolls on, with Crawford’s Riggs killed off and Seann William Scott badging up to play a new partner for Wayans.
The firing from Lethal Weapon, however, has a happy ending. Crawford bounced directly from his canning into the feature film The Killing Of Two Lovers, which now stands unquestionably as the actor’s career high point. With Crawford on board as a producer, the film is written, edited and directed by Robert Machoian, and the results are astounding. In a richly layered and deeply sympathetic performance, Crawford excels as odd-jobber David, who is trying to work things out with his wife, Nikki (Sepideh Moafi), while maintaining a connection with his four kids. Nikki’s new boyfriend, however, threatens to tip David’s emotional high-wire act…
How did you and Robert Machoian connect in the first instance? How did this project initiate?
“We met ten years ago in 2009 at the Sundance Film Festival. I had seen a short film that he had directed, and he had seen a little film that I had made with Nick Tomnay, another Australian, called The Perfect Host. Robert had sent me a script, and I loved it. We were trying to get funding and just never could, so we continued to stay in touch with one another over the years. He would send me his films, and I would send him stuff that I was working on. And then after I got canned from Lethal Weapon, I just said, ‘I’ve got this cash. Why don’t I fund a movie for us?’ I needed to go do something my way. And if we failed miserably, I needed to figure out a new life path. But it worked out, so I’m super grateful.”
You’re also producing and acting in Robert Machoian’s next film The Integrity Of Joseph Chambers…what’s your approach to producing?
“The role for me is to always support the creative. The role for me is to hopefully maintain it. What gets lost on a lot of films is quality control. It becomes more about the fear: ‘Are we going to make our money back? Are we checking all the boxes politically?’ The actual creative gets somewhat lost. I wanted to empower filmmakers to make what they wanted to make. And certainly, I have an input on everything, and the way things are cut. I may have notes, ideas and thoughts, because as an actor, no one cares what your thoughts and ideas are. They want you to come to work, say your lines, and then keep your mouth shut the rest of the time…hit your mark and go home. And that’s fair. Sometimes I want actors to do that when they come on our movies as well. But for me, I love telling stories. And again, I wanted to put people who I felt were extremely creative in a place to succeed. And I wanted to use some of what I considered ill-gotten money to help some of those materialise.”
There’s been so much negativity surrounding the situation with Lethal Weapon…have you experienced a lot of push-back from the media and other sources?
“We’re nervous, aren’t we? We’ve created this environment where we don’t even know. There are so many people being quote, unquote cancelled so often that we’re not even sure why we’re cancelling them. So we just assume that we should just stay away from it…it’s taboo. And I’m okay with that. It’ll slowly go away. The reality of the situation will eventually come to light, and we’ll continue just doing what we do and try not to worry about things that are out of our control, right? I think we’re going to move past this, don’t you? I don’t think this can last forever. I think it’s just a brief moment, and we’re going to gain balance, which I think we were desperately in need of. There were a lot of people that were not being highlighted properly in this industry and given the opportunities that they deserve. So I think this had to happen, but I think eventually the pendulum’s going to balance itself and swing it.”
The Killing Of Two Lovers shows that men have feelings in relationships, which is not normally what is shown on screen…
“Robert and I are definitely tackling this concept of toxic masculinity with both films that we’re working on. Most men nowadays are more in touch with their sensitive sides. And I think that as it relates to toxic masculinity, it’s more of this idea that men feel like they need to live up to. It’s not necessarily this thing that’s truly percolating inside of them as much as it is reflecting on the history of men and the men in their lives. We’re more exploring the pressures, and what it’s meant to be a man. A lot of us have grown up being told things like, ‘Don’t act like a girl. Don’t cry.’ These are all such negative, unhealthy words. And then, of course, in our culture, guns are such a large part of America. And it’s such a scary, violent topic that we wanted to tackle that. And we always wanted this gun when it was presented to be completely unacceptable and dangerous. Going back to answer your question, I do think men are quite sensitive. There are lots of men in this world, and Robert and I are two of them, that would very happily stay at home with our children and let our wives go make all the money in the world that they wanted to make. I would have no problem washing dishes and washing clothes and getting the babies ready in the morning. That, to me, is a complete joy and a treat and truly a labour and lots of work. My wife works her ass off. But it’s something that certainly I’m not afraid of. We’re finding more and more of that.”
I’m curious about the decision to shoot it in 4:3…does it make you act for the camera any differently, or did you know how it was going to look and what’s going to be seen?
“I knew that Robert was shooting it full frame. It became so claustrophobic. With the landscape being so vast, it was quite crucial to put them into a box and to isolate their situation. It was important, for instance, when David is in the truck and he’s driving, we don’t see the road in front of him and we don’t see the road behind him. I don’t think he does either. He’s just trapped with his thoughts. It helped us, just as the sound design did. It was more of a window into David’s psyche. It helped us with understanding the character development.”
How much do you think you fed into the film outside of your performance?
“I think quite a bit. This started as a short film, and I encouraged Robert to go ahead and write a feature, which he was excited to do once I told him, ‘Here’s how much money we could spend.’ And he wrote it to the budget. As far as input for me, I was so excited by the initial material, and the script itself. Robert gives you the world to live in, and then allows it to take legs. And when you’re shooting these long takes, sometimes an actor can do or say something that sends the scene in a whole new trajectory that wasn’t even anticipated. Robert encourages those moments. But for the most part, it’s all as written. The only thing that we were openly discussing was how to end the film. We had all these climactic endings to the film. And then Robert called me one afternoon and just said, ‘What if we end up like this?’ I sat there for a minute, and I was like, ‘Holy cow.’ I was like, ‘Man. That’s closer to reality than anything we’ve discussed before.’ We all have experienced people that we love going through traumatic experiences in their families, where it’s the end of the world, but after a good night’s sleep and a little more thought, you realise that it’s not the end of the world and we can keep going…we don’t really have a choice.”
Did you connect to the central drama in the relationship? Have you had experiences like that? Were you able to tap into things that had happened to you in the past? Is that how you approach a role like this?
“I actually start with how someone looks. I knew that David was not very concerned with his appearance. He structured his life and his work in a way that if there was a kids’ baseball game at three o’clock in the afternoon, he could be there. If there was a piano recital at one o’clock, he could be there. So he did these odd jobs so that his children were first. He could walk them to school, and he could do all the things that he needed to do. That allowed me to build David, and his appearance. Then there’s a line when David’s in the car with Nikki and he says, ‘I wish I could have had kids. You would have made partner by now.’ And I truly think that David wished that he could have carried those children in his body for nine months and given birth to them and stayed at home with them. I truly feel that he believes that. So that love that he has for that family had become his entire reality. I realised immediately that I was dealing with a man that was losing all grasp on reality. The one that he had created in his bubble, essentially, was popping. I understood how manic he was and that he was so unstable and just didn’t have the tools to navigate the pain that he was feeling, which was going to create these very drastic ebbs and flows. He could be so tender and loving at one moment and so violent with rage in another. That was very exciting. I don’t know how much I brought from my personal life, other than the love that I have for my own children and what I would do if they were being taken from me.”
The kids playing your sons in the film are incredible…
“The boys are Robert Machoian’s children. I’ve known those three boys since they were born. And my father in the film is Robert’s father, Bruce. I’ve been watching Robert Machoian make films for the past 10 years only with his children and his parents, never working with real actors. And when I say real actors, I mean, people that have just dedicated their lives to film and have moved to Hollywood and so forth. But his family, they’re all real actors, and they certainly approach it with a certain level of integrity. Having those guys in the movie really grounded everyone’s performance throughout. Those children were so focused on giving performances that they were rehearsing on their own. The youngest, Jonah, couldn’t read at the time. So we would see them all scurry off together, and they were feeding him his line so that he knew what to say, because he couldn’t read it. They were all quite the little professionals.”
What was the atmosphere like in this small town, making the movie?
“There were no distractions. There were no restaurants. It’s a town of 351 miles in diameter. There was only one gas station and a little mercantile, which is where their groceries and supplies were sold. There was nowhere for the actors to go and get lost and to go out for drinks. That created this environment where we all just live together, we ate together, we slept together. And when we weren’t shooting, we were rehearsing. And if we weren’t rehearsing, we were talking about the film. So outside of the town, being a character in the film, which I truly think that it is, because it is such a fishbowl where everyone in the town knows each other’s business, so there’s no hiding what’s going on in your personal lives; it allowed us to really immerse ourselves. We would all put on our wardrobe in the morning in our homes and then walk out, and we stayed in our wardrobe all day, every day. And that allowed a space that was so safe and comfortable that you were never struggling to find the character or the moment. You were simply there. And it was more about just bringing the camera in, and what a true gift that was.”
Is this your proudest career moment?
“You said it! I would say that up until this point, Rectify was just the best thing that I’d ever worked on. Robert created such a safe environment for us to create. We knew that we were protected and we knew that we could try things. We tried to follow our hearts and maintain as much integrity as we could throughout the process. We have this great film, and we’re all very proud of it.”
The Killing Of Two Lovers is released in cinemas on September 16. Click here to read our review.