‘Jockey’ Star Clifton Collins Jr. Is the Oscar Race’s Dark Horse — And He’s Got Stories to Share

Clifton Collins Jr. is a horse, an enormous, white mare with darkish brown eyes and a milk-colored mane cascading down her neck. Sure, we’re sitting at a desk having breakfast at a resort restaurant through the SCAD Savannah Movie Pageant, a journalist and a journeyman character actor. However, it must be stated once more that, on this second, Collins is a horse.

He has contorted his physique in order that his shoulders, arms, and arms do an uncanny pantomime of hooves hitting the grass, turning into the wild horse that made its manner towards him from an embankment in Arizona’s Coon Bluff within the Tonto Nationwide Forest, the place he was filming a scene for his upcoming movie Jockey. (“Two racist names,” he says. “Sounds form of scary. I used to be like, if we see the Klan hats we simply run, OK? Fuck the shot.)

He begins so as to add his personal sound results—“clop, clop, clop!”—after which begins whipping his neck and head round, mimicking the horse’s braying, loud whinnies and all.

Abruptly, he’s again to being Clifton. He and the crew had spent hours chasing a shot of untamed horses within the forest, a few three-mile hike from base camp, he explains. They had been shedding mild. Collins determined to name it, and began heading again. As he strolled, everybody else nonetheless packing up and much behind him, he was considering how the earlier 4 days had every supplied what he calls a “magical second” of manufacturing serendipity—a miracle for such a small movie with such a small crew. He thanked the “SAG Gods” for that blessing, however greedily wished for extra.

When he glanced up, he noticed the mayflies leaping off the water of a stream forward of him, all of it lit by the dramatic orange mild of magic hour. He squatted down, picked up some rocks, and skipped them over the stream, like just a little child. That’s when he seen her, the mare.

Clifton Collins Jr. in Jockey

Sony Photos Classics

Left or proper. That’s what he instantly thought. Which manner was he going to parry in order that when she inevitably charged him, he would be capable of seize her mane, hoist himself up, after which bareback trip her till she was calm? However she didn’t cost. And he didn’t retreat. As she got here down off the embankment, he stood in order that he was at her eye line.

They’re nose to nose. She dropped her head and shook her tail, after which started lapping up water from the stream, Collins sitting along with her, two creatures at peace at sundown. One other “magical second.” However the crew had been so far-off. Did anybody see it?

The horse trotted off and Collins rotated, the place, about 30 toes behind him, cinematographer Adolpho Veloso was mendacity on his stomach, handheld digicam to his eyes. He had managed to quietly sneak up, a stealth transfer that wouldn’t spook the mare.

Now Collins is telling the remainder of the story as an entire host of characters.

He pitches his voice as much as change into Nancy Schafer, a producer who was now operating towards him, tears in her eyes at what she had simply seen, repeating, “Oh my God, oh my God,” time and again. He’s sound mixer Sean McCormick, who frantically requested, “Did we get the shot? DID WE?” After which he’s Veloso, calm and guaranteed, deadpanning in a overseas accent: “Sure. I feel we did.”

After a hearty snigger, Collins turns into McCormick one final time. “He goes, ‘I used to be considering this might go one in every of two methods…’ Which means the best way it did or the horse operating me over and charging me. However that’s not how I noticed it. I noticed it taking me up the sacred mountain, to the highest to satisfy one thing.”

I noticed it taking me up the sacred mountain, to the highest to satisfy one thing.

The scene within the completed movie is gorgeous. That the capturing of it was so non secular, that it occurred with such kismet, tracks given the intimacy of the storytelling, Collins’ private connection to it, and his fierce devotion to creating certain it occurred in any respect.

Directed by Clint Bentley, who co-wrote it with Greg Kwedar, Jockey is about an growing old aggressive rider named Jackson Silva, who’s coaching for one final race when an aspiring younger rider arrives who claims to even be his son.

Jockey premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival, the place Collins was singled out with the U.S. Dramatic Particular Jury Prize for Performing. Since then, it’s been a mainstay on the pageant circuit, with Collins persevering with to be acknowledged for his appearing. The day we’re assembly for breakfast, we’re each in Georgia for the SCAD Savannah Movie Pageant, the place he was receiving the Distinguished Efficiency Award. This weekend, he’ll be in Colorado on the Denver Movie Pageant to obtain the John Cassavetes Award.

It’s the traditional little-movie-that-could story. Jockey was shot on a micro funds, with a crew so small Collins estimates there might have solely been about 10 folks on location for filming. However pageant crowds which have seen it have been evangelists, particularly with regards to Collins’ efficiency. The Hollywood Reporter, for example, called him “a revelation as a working-class athlete who can nonetheless reduce a youthful silhouette even whereas staring down mortality. In his each look, Collins conveys the person’s skilled satisfaction and his rising vulnerability.”

Practically 11 months after that first Sundance exhibiting, with greater than a month to go earlier than its official launch date, Collins is now smack in the midst of the awards dialog. In different phrases, the Oscars’ darkish horse contender has discovered its Jockey, a becoming parallel to the movie itself.

This may be the primary Academy Award nomination for the veteran actor, although there are many folks nonetheless irked that voters failed to acknowledge him for his work in Capote enjoying Perry Smith, one of many murderers on the middle of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. He’s been appearing on display for the reason that ’90s, racking up a number of credit per yr swinging between TV and movie, in addition to small, impartial initiatives and large blockbusters.

His profile rose significantly lately because of his supporting function on HBO’s Westworld. Not solely does he have the microbudget Jockey popping out this awards season, he’s additionally in Guillermo del Toro’s Oscars-tipped psychological thriller Nightmare Alley alongside Cate Blanchett and Bradley Cooper.

He’s the form of actor who will get off on the traveling-band, summer-camp facet of mounting an indie movie. He has a treasure trove of warfare tales—stunts gone incorrect, tense negotiations with administrators—however, for him, they’re love tales, that includes an ensemble of characters that would appear like name-dropping (del Toro, Cooper, Slash, Samuel L. Jackson) had been it not so clear that, for him, these usually are not celebrities. They’re household—household that’s now witnessing what appears to be a real second.

“Close to the beginning of the pandemic, I keep in mind mentioning to my supervisor, wouldn’t it’s humorous if we lastly get Jockey reduce collectively and it comes out, and Guillermo lastly will get Nightmare Alley, after which we come out of the pandemic and we’re form of within the conditions we at the moment are, and out of the blue I’ve to get publicists and do a circuit and all that,” he says. “How about that for a loopy concept?”

Collins is Hollywood good-looking: a jawline that would have been reduce with a laser, a resting face that settles right into a mischievous smirk, and hanging coffee-colored eyes, the sort that sparkle between staring into your soul or delivering a playful wink. It’s the right face for a seasoned character actor, able to contorting into terrifying menace, clownish amusement, or, within the case of Jockey, weary and profound sincerity.

His small body boasts an apparent athletic construct. “I’m form of recognized for doing my very own stunts, irrespective of how loopy they’re.” There’s the time, for instance, he and his Westworld co-star Ed Harris had been filming a scene during which their characters trip on horseback into the sundown. Manufacturing cleared all of the foliage in Harris’ path—and immediately into the one Collins was purported to take. It seems horses don’t like galloping throughout scattered piles of cacti.

“I felt my horse set,” he says. “And it’s similar to a boxer when a boxer units. However you don’t need your horse to set. I used to be like, oh shit. He’s about to leap. So that you simply dangle on. And then you definitely’re up within the air and also you absolutely do the full-blown City Cowboy John Travolta factor.”


Clifton Collins Jr. and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote

Sony Photos Classics

So now Clifton Collins Jr. is aware of bounce horses. In truth, he considers himself hypersensitive to them, because of Westworld and, now, Jockey.

The movie was shot at a dwell monitor, Turf Paradise in Phoenix. It was the form of atmosphere he lived for. As a way to attempt to be a jockey, he received to attempt to be a jockey. He frolicked nearly day-after-day with the opposite riders on the monitor, most of whom didn’t know he was an actor. He likens it to the Boy Scouts, the navy, or a bike gang—a fraternity the place, when you’re round them, you’re determined to slot in.

Amongst jockeys, meaning slicing weight. Previous to the movie, Collins estimates he was about 155 kilos soaking moist, on a superb day. He dropped to about 143 all through manufacturing, adopting the opposite riders’ regimens of coaching and limiting calorie consumption. That usually meant carb-loading within the mornings, after which nursing himself with some almonds right here and there all through the day. “If I used to be feeling loopy, I’d have a peanut M&M or two, however I’ve a tough time even telling you that,” he says, grinning. “It’s true. I cheated. There’s just a little little bit of disgrace.”

He insists it wasn’t about Technique appearing or appeasing producers who needed him to look a sure manner for the function. It was about desirous to really feel accepted by the opposite jockeys, about belonging to a bunch.

He even thought-about “flipping,” an excessive food regimen measure that’s akin to bingeing and purging. At some race tracks, there are even porcelain basins stationed round for that unstated goal. On the final minute, Collins balked on the concept of doing it. “I considered it for a minute,” he says. “I needed to have the ability to flip with out utilizing my finger. I needed to have the ability to do what the actual G’s do.”

It did assist him really feel linked to the character: “You’re hyper-aware of each half-pound you drop.” His cheeks began to change into drawn, and he seen he was starting to look sickly. However he was additionally out within the solar all day, so he received actually tan. “It’s nearly mannequin stylish. Trailer park mannequin stylish.” When he received house after filming, he was nonetheless caught in that mode for an additional week-and-a-half, unable to shake it.

I needed to have the ability to flip with out utilizing my finger. I needed to have the ability to do what the actual G’s do.

He labored intently with Bentley and Kwedar on the script and the story. (His wrap presents to each had been framed variations of the script pages with essentially the most maniacal quantity of notes he had scribbled on them.) It’s not a shock, then, that there’s a private connection to the story.

His mother and father weren’t collectively when he was rising up. “On the weekends that he’d really present up,” Collins says, his father would take him to the racetrack. They’d go away his trailer park, stroll throughout the road to the liquor retailer to get a paper bag of booze, and meet his dad’s mates on the Hollywood Park Racetrack in Inglewood, California.

“It’s not the best weekend,” he says. “Your dad’s getting fucked up along with his boys and he’s taught you that it’s important to do, principally, math phrase issues. What’s the jockey’s weight? Did he win final time? What had been the situations of the monitor? Was it raining? Was it muddy? What monitor was it? Did he place, win, or present? I’m like 9, you understand?”

His different mission out this season, Nightmare Alley, discovered him equally spelunking by way of his household’s previous in methods he maybe by no means anticipated.

In Guillermo del Toro’s movie, a remake of the 1947 noir that itself was based mostly on William Lindsay Gresham’s novel, Collins performs Funhouse Jack, an overseer, of types, of a seedy carnival.

Particularly given the movie’s World Battle II-era showbiz setting, it gave him event to replicate on his grandfather, Pedro González González, a personality actor finest recognized for his comedic supporting roles in John Wayne motion pictures. (In 2008, González González, thought-about a trailblazer for the Latin group in Hollywood, obtained a posthumous star on the Hollywood Stroll of Fame that Collins accepted.)

At one level throughout manufacturing, del Toro sat Collins down and insisted that he dig into his household’s historical past and write a screenplay. “He was like, Clifferton—he calls me Clifferton—your loved ones, along with your legacy and along with your great-grandparents, you’re just like the Latino Barrymores,” a reference to the traditional Hollywood appearing dynasty. At first, Collins protested, however del Toro stared at him and repeated it till he would concede. “I imagine it now as a result of he made me imagine it,” he says. “Then I stated, ‘Does that make me Drew?’”


Clifton Collins Jr. and Toni Collette in Nightmare Alley

Searchlight Photos

Collins had already been ruminating on all of this. He had eight hours of interviews that he had carried out along with his grandmother earlier than she died. When he returned house after filming Nightmare Alley in Canada, he found three comparable interviews along with his grandfather he had accomplished over time. He additionally had video footage of his grandmother and her two sisters speaking about their previous, which he describes like watching “the Latina Golden Women.”

It made him rethink what his mother and father and household had gone by way of. He heard tales about when his grandparents had been touring the South, making an attempt to get by as entertainers. His grandfather would get off a bus and dig by way of dumpsters. If he was fortunate, he would discover a tub of melted Carnation ice cream that he may use to fill bottles to feed Collins’ mom. Positive, there was loads of sugar. However a minimum of it was milk. And that was on high of the bias they confronted making an attempt to make it as Mexican American entertainers, strolling the positive line of what stereotypes they may exploit within the pursuit of fun and a paycheck.

Collins simply completed work on the screenplay, and hopes to direct and star in a movie model. “It’s been fairly debilitating these final couple of weeks,” he says. “I’ve simply been depressed on the ground beneath my desk. I can’t return texts. It’s as a result of I’m studying all these items. I’m nonetheless processing all of the trauma, generations of trauma inside my household.”

He’s rising into the circus of awards season, which, even with a pandemic nonetheless mandating limits on sure occasions, means a gauntlet of journey, pageant appearances, press, and glad-handing in assist of Jockey.

I’ve simply been depressed on the ground beneath my desk. I can’t return texts. It’s as a result of I’m studying all these items. I’m nonetheless processing all of the trauma, generations of trauma inside my household.

The day earlier than we meet, Variety published a pointed article about his Oscar probabilities and what it may imply: “Can Clifton Collins Jr.’s Efficiency in Jockey Break the Oscars Curse for Latino Actors?” A Latino man hasn’t been nominated for Finest Actor in 10 years, and solely 4 have made it into the class within the Academy’s 94-year historical past.

Collins has combined emotions about all of this. He’s flattered, in fact. On the similar time, one of many issues he was most happy with with Jockey is how his character’s ethnicity wasn’t the purpose of his journey. Positive, Jackson peppers in Spanish phrases right here and there when it feels pure. “However he’s not rocking the Mexican flag,” Collins says.

“It’s not about that. While you change into part of a group, that’s your identification. I’m a jockey. If you happen to’re Black and also you’re a jockey, you’re a jockey now. I don’t care what colour, what breed. If you happen to’re a jockey, you’re a jockey. Race is just not gonna play a component. How briskly are you? What do you weigh? That performs a component. I’m going to be prejudiced in opposition to you due to your weight. It has nothing to do with the best way you look.”

And perhaps that’s the purpose. It’s not misplaced on Collins that he’s being celebrated for a task that doesn’t function Hollywood stereotypes in regards to the Latin group, roles that he has performed previously, been happy with, and, he feels, are genuine—even when they might be unsavory.


Clifton Collins Jr. in Jockey

Sony Photos Classics

“The Latino group doesn’t actually rejoice the gangbanger function, regardless that that could be a very a lot three-dimensional function,” he says. “It sucks as a result of there are folks like Pacino and De Niro that might be honored and celebrated for taking part in gangbangers from their communities and their cultures. ‘Ooh, The Godfather.’ But when there’s a Mexican Godfather, it’s like ‘Oh, it’s simply gangbangers and Cholos.’ Like, wait a minute. Is it as a result of I’m not Italian? As a result of I’m Latino? Is {that a} double commonplace?”

It’s quite a bit to consider, and he’ll have time to contemplate it; the awards-season maelstrom has already whipped up into excessive gear, however the Oscars are nonetheless 4 months away.

However, hey, it’s 2021. What even is time anymore? Jockey’s premiere at Sundance that began all of it was in January, which was each a lifetime in the past and looks as if yesterday. The pageant was digital then through the still-harrowing months of the pandemic. Now persons are again at theaters, again at festivals, and again to watching motion pictures on massive screens.

Not that he’d commerce within the expertise he had then. The evening Jockey premiered on the digital platform, he received a hammer and nailed a white mattress sheet to the wall of his home. He arrange the projector that del Toro had given him as a wrap reward for Nightmare Alley, and his supervisor and pal Jordan Bridges, the son of Beau, came to visit.

“Simply the three of us, watching on these mattress sheets that I simply nailed to my wall. I’m like, ‘Fuck it. It’s my home. I’ll spackle it later.’ It felt like Little Rascals. Bedsheets. Our masks. Our hand sanitizers. Munching and smoking and watching. It was fairly good.”

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