“My goal isn’t to not play Latinos or to only play white characters; my goal is to play complicated, interesting characters that can inspire thought and emotion” – Clifton Collins, Jr.
Westworld star Clifton Collins, Jr. has developed an impressive resume of credits over the last two decades on both film and television. In an interview with Dread Central about his career, Collins speaks about how his earlier stage names hurt him in his earliest years as an actor and how an important role helped change that perception.
Collins, who briefly used the names Clifton Gonzalez Collins and Clifton Gonzalez-Gonzalez as a tribute to his acting grandfather Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, spoke about how having a “diverse” name in the 1990s influenced casting directors before they met. He says, “Casting directors can be so quick to judge by a name vs talent. I expected to be judged for my talent, not my name. So I found I had to work harder just to get in the room. I had to work harder just to get the opportunity to audition. But it was good for me because it forced me to expand my capacity as an artist by doing more research and things of that nature.”
He credits an early role that didn’t cast him because of his race. He recalls, “A big break came for me came when Mali Finn, the casting director for Tigerland, saw me and recommended me for the 3rd lead, and it was a southern character from Louisiana. It was very important to have the opportunity to do a film with Joel Schumacher, playing one of the 3 leads, and it’s a southern role. So she had to go to Joel Schumacher and then he had to go to the writers and ask if they were okay with this talented Latino actor [playing Pvt. Miter].”
In general, Collins doesn’t look at his career’s focus as playing characters from one race or another. He explains, “My goal isn’t to not play Latinos or to only play white characters; my goal is to play complicated, interesting characters that can inspire thought and emotion, that can help people grow and, at the end of the day, entertain. My joy comes from creating characters I haven’t been able to do before. Like, in Traffic, there are so many great roles, but I wanted to play Franky Flowers because he was complicated: He was gay, he was a cocaine addict, his character was based on an actual assassin. They wanted me to read for all these Latino roles, and I get it. Steven Soderbergh is a huge hero of mine, but I told him I want to play this character because he’s complex.”
When the interviewer brings up Collins’ earliest role — on the horror anthology series Freddy’s Nightmares — Collins points out that up-and-coming actors have to accept what they are offered. He recalls, “In the beginning, you take whatever they give you just to get your feet wet because you’re still learning how to act. I’m still growing, thankfully, but those first 5-10 years of trial and error—it’s pretty horrific!”