Interview date: 05/01/2008
Run date: 05/15/2008
One has to presume that it’s sometimes rough being Clint Howard. Not from a career standpoint, certainly, given what a well-established character actor he is, but simply because he often falls into the dreaded category of being “That Guy Who Was In That Show” or “That Guy Who Was In That Movie.” Alternatively, he’s frequently identified as “Ron Howard’s brother,” and nobody really likes to be identified by their connection to someone else, rather than for their own work. As it happens, though, Clint Howard seems pretty darned comfortable in whatever shoes you’d care to put him in, declaring Ron to be “a great big brother” and just being happy that he has a steady workload which provides him with a variety of acting challenges. One of those challenges, “Senior Skip Day,” is what brought us into contact with Clint, and we chatted about his accomplishments to date, what’s forthcoming, and what inaccurate acting credit almost – not quite, but almost – gets him to the point of uttering an obscenity.
Bullz-Eye: Hi, Clint.
Clint Howard: Hello, Will.
BE: How’s it going?
CH: It’s going great. Where are you calling from?
BE: Chesapeake, Virginia.
CH: Oh, okay. So it’s the afternoon there already.
BE: Yeah, it’s 1:24. Are you in L.A.?
CH: Yeah. Burbank, actually.
BE: Well I guess the first question is supposed to be, “How did you get involved with this project?” But I’m going to up it a bit and ask in general, how do you get involved in the majority of your projects these days? I mean, are they looking for a “Clint Howard type?”
CH: Well…boy. I believe they called my agency; you know, they called my agent and asked if I was available. Somebody over there had thought of me for this particular role, and I read the script and thought it was kind of a clever premise. I thought it could be “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” on steroids.
CH: And I liked the character; the character of Lionel Huffer. I had some ideas, and when I went in and talked with them about it, they were sort of willing to allow me to do what I needed to do with the character. I shaved my head bald and I had them put a tattoo on my neck, like a jailhouse tattoo. I played this sort of guy that was difficult to read at the beginning of the movie. You were wondering, “Why in the heck is this guy there?” And then at the end of the movie you realize why he is there. There’s a reason why this middle-aged man is lurking in the hallway of the school. My character actually helps these kids put their senior skip day together. You wonder why he’s there, and then you realize that I’ve got a bone to pick with the principal. And I got an opportunity to work with Larry Miller, who’s a lot like myself, you know, kind of a veteran character actor. On that regard, it was fun to work with Larry. I guess I’m at the stage of my career where they will allow me some leeway to be creative and to improvise. Both Larry and I got to sort of get on the playground together and play in the sand, so to speak.
BE: Had you worked with him in the past?
CH: No. I mean, I knew Larry, but I had never worked with him together. And I found this project to be particularly sort of interesting. First of all, a lot of young, energetic people making the movie. And then, of course, the cast is all pretty young; I mean, they’re all high school kids, right? That was fun. Well, not all of them, but the ones I worked with were all the high school kids. But there was a mentor on the set, a guy named George Gallo, who had written “Midnight Run.” I didn’t really realize it at the time, but I saw what was happening, that George was on board as one of the producers and that he was sort of acting as a mentor to the director and a mentor to the writer. He became a confidant of myself and others, and he was just a wonderful guy to sort of have around. It was kind of a nice security blanket, because…it’s not that I don’t trust young people, but, you know, I see young guys…this guy Nick, the director. You know, listen, I knew he was pretty inexperienced, and yet for myself as an actor, suffering through all his insecurities…listen, I share the same insecurities all actors have. I went and talked to George about it, and I asked him about some of the things I was doing. We kind of shot the shit about the humor, and it was just wonderful having George on the set working as a mentor. I sort of wish it would happen more.
BE: Yeah, that’s a good idea. I’ve never really heard of that happening before.
CH: Well, you know, interestingly enough, now I’m in the position in my career as a character actor with a lot of experience to where I get on the set and I think people look towards me, a little bit, for some of that mentoring. Now, I don’t like to stick my nose somewhere where it doesn’t belong. I’m there to do a job; I’m there to do my thing. I don’t want to, like I said, step on anybody’s toes and take that responsibility of being a mentor. But I know people look up to me, and people respect me, and I keep that in mind when I work, to be a leader. Listen, my Dad…and Mom, but it was mostly Dad doing the mentoring, Rance Howard, as you know. He did a wonderful job of teaching both Ron and I the basic, kind of, man-of-the-earth sort of attitudes about life, and we apply those to the entertainment business. You know, work hard. It’s easy to be an actor at 8, 9, in the morning, but it’s really important to be focused and work hard at 6 and 7 at night, after you’ve been on the set for 10 or 12 hours. Because that time counts, too, you know. When you’re feeling good, it’s easy, but when you’re sort of worn out and you’ve eaten bad lunch food and you’re tired and things aren’t really going very well on the set, it’s really important to focus and perform well, you know, and really give it your very best. And those are lessons I learned from Dad.
BE: Y’know, I’m not sure there’s anyone with more of an all-over-the-place collection of roles than yourself.
CH: Yes, I know. Hey, listen, one reason why that happens is I very rarely ever say “no.” I figure I’m certainly not in charge. I certainly am very secure that I know that there is something looking out for me, you know what I mean? I figure I just keep working and let the chips fall where they may, and if that means I end up having an eclectic career, so be it. For me to try to manipulate things or for me to try to tell people or the system how it should be…I’m just a kind of a more go-with-the-flow guy when it comes to my acting career.
BE: Do you still audition once in awhile?
CH: Oh, yeah, I love to audition. Auditioning is important, and I understand that. If there is somebody making a movie, if there is somebody manufacturing a movie, they want to look at the goods. I get it. I mean, I’ve been in that position. I like to meet the people that I’m going to hire. I want to be secure that they are right for the role or that their head is in the right place. Now, listen: there’s a way to do it with somebody with a lot of experience. Sometimes, I’ll just go in and meet the people. I like to meet the people. I would rather have a meeting before I say “yes” to working on a movie. You know, I think now…and I don’t really keep the statistics, but I bet you about two-thirds of the time, I get offered a role. But I like to read the script, and I also like to talk to the director. Now, sometimes I can do it over the phone, but then if it’s relatively convenient to me and it’s not too much of a headache for them, I say, “Hey, let me come in and say ‘hi,’” so I can come in and talk about the project. And it gives me a feel for what they are looking for, so when I go and start to prepare to come in and be ready to go, I’m giving them sort of what they want. I consider myself as a character actor. I like the sports analogy, which I do all the time; I’m an avid sports guy. I’m a golfer, but I grew up as sort of an avid fan and participant in baseball, and I’m like a relief pitcher. My job is to come in and throw strikes. Sometimes, I’m the closer; sometimes, I might only face one or two batters in the course of the game. Sometimes I might need to pitch an inning or two. Occasionally, they let me start. Most of the times it’s in the minor leagues, though, if you know what I mean. But I certainly sort of like to know what they are looking for. The style and what’s the perception…I don’t want to prepare and be way out of bounds. That’s not being very professional.
BE: What would you say is your favorite dramatic role that you have done?
CH: Well, I’m proud of a lot of work that I’ve done. A lot of movies nobody has hardly ever heard of.
BE: Actually, I was also going to ask you what your favorite underrated project was, your favorite project that didn’t get as much attention as you thought it should have.
CH: Okay, well, first of all, I’m very proud that I got to be in “Apollo 13.” I consider “Apollo 13” one of those really special movies, both the end result -- that it was really a great film -- and working on it was wonderful. I was a big fan of the space program growing up. You know, getting to sit around and talk freely with the technical advisors. One guy, Dave Scott, an astronaut, was the first astronaut to drive on the moon. He was there every day, so anytime we had any down time, any one of us could go up and sit in a director’s chair next to this fellow who drove on the moon. I felt like that was really a privilege. I felt like it was a real privilege and an honor to get to be in that movie. And as it turned out, I felt really good about my work and felt like that my work and the movie were top-notch. I did a little movie that so far hasn’t found a home yet called “Planet Ibsen.” I got to play Henrik Ibsen in that movie. It’s a really odd little movie. You know, listen, in retrospect, there were probably things about the picture that could have been better or different, but I just was sort of proud that it was one of those little independent movies that wasn’t a horror movie. It was sort of a fantasy drama and I felt pretty proud of the choices I made and this character that I created. I understand. Listen, there are a lot of good performances that are never going to see the light of day. I’ve done performances in movies that have long since past. I did a great part when I was about 12 or 13 years old in a movie called “The Red Pony,” with Hank Fonda and Maureen O'Hara. It was a very…at the time, this was like ’72 or ’73 or something like that, it was a really well-respected, Emmy-nominated project, and yet it’s not out on DVD, so nobody gets to see it anymore. I was really proud of the work I did. I was the lead; I played Jody. That was a project I was really proud of. So listen, I’ve gotten to do so many things. I’ve gotten to work so much that for me to have favorites…listen, I work, and then I let it go. I’m proud of most of my work. There’s some stuff that’s pretty forgettable in my mind.
BE: What are your thoughts on (laughs) “Ice Cream Man?”
CH: (laughs) Yes, “Ice Cream Man” was a blast. It was a blast to work on. Both Norman and I knew exactly what kind of movie we were making. It was a tongue-in-cheek horror movie. I really appreciated the fact that I got to play this crazy ice cream man character. It obviously was not a straightaway horror movie. Listen, it’s a notch on my gun belt for me to be a part of something as odd and offbeat and campy as “Ice Cream Man” was…meaning it’s something I’m proud of. It’s amazing: out of nowhere, I’ll get people coming up to me on the street saying, “Hey, man, you were the ice cream man!”
BE: Oh, I can believe it. Once you’ve seen it, you never forget it!
CH: I know! Listen, at times, I question why anyone would watch “Ice Cream Man,” but I actually have a funny little story about that…well, about horror movies in general. I was auditioning…it wasn’t so much auditioning as I was going in and having a meeting for this sitcom pilot. These were old school sitcom guys. These guys were guys that had done “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” There were like three or four of these well-dressed creative people sitting around this room, and we were talking. It was Steve Landesberg, it was a pilot that he was attempting to do…oh, it must have been 12, 13 years ago now. One of the guys said, out of nowhere, one of these well-dressed creative guys said, “I just saw you in a movie called ‘Ticks.’” I was comfortable enough in the room at this time where I looked at him and I go, “Why did you watch that?” And he gave me a great explanation. He goes, “My wife and I, once a month or so, will go and rent a couple of horror movies.” And he said, “It’s kind of like Mexican food: we know that these horror movies aren’t that great, and they’re really not that good for you, but you know what? They’re spicy, and they’re fun to watch.” And you know, I’ve always remembered that conversation, because horror movies are like Mexican food. I mean, listen, I love it. I don’t like to eat it all the time, but occasionally it’s fun, you know? “Ticks” and “Evilspeak.” “Evilspeak” was a movie that I was really proud of because…“Evilspeak” was really my coming-of-age movie. It was the first movie that I worked on where I was the lead in the movie and I was doing it on my own. I had just turned 21, and my dad had slowly sort of cut me loose creatively. And my dad is a wonderful man, and he was my mentor, but I was beginning to get out on my own. “Evilspeak” was the first time that I, on my own, worked with the director. I was a part of that creative team that helped make “Evilspeak.” I was really proud of that movie. Eric Weston, the director, and a cinematographer named Irv Goodnoff, and…I mean, we were all a lot younger; I was the youngest one of the bunch. We sort of got together, and we were creative and we made that movie, and it was really my coming of age as an actor and as a human being.
BE: I just have a few rapid-fire questions to close up with, since I know you have a break coming up. Have you ever had someone say, “I loved you in such and such a film,” and then found yourself thinking, “I have absolutely no recollection of doing that film?”
CH: Oh, yeah. Well, I get “Land of the Lost” all the time. I wasn’t in “Land of the Lost.”
BE: No, but I know exactly what character they think you played. (Writer’s note: with all due respect to Clint, seriously, just look at Chaka. You can totally see the resemblance.)
CH: I know. I also get…and this irritates me…I get, “Hey, weren’t you the Beaver?” In my mind, I’m thinking, ”Come on, dude, wake up. Wrong era. I’m not the Beaver.” It’s about the only time I kind of want to say, “Fuck you.” But I don’t.
BE: That’s restraint.
CH: Yes. Restraint.
BE: You’ve got, obviously, a certain track record for being in Ron’s movies, but what’s the percentage? I know it’s not 100 percent.
CH: Oh, no.
BE: No, I didn’t think it was, but I know you’ve been in quite a few of them.
CH: I wasn’t in “A Beautiful Mind.” I wasn’t in “Ransom.” I wasn’t in “The Da Vinci Code.” There were a couple of early TV movies that he did that I wasn’t in. I’m certainly not his signature. His wife actually is his signature; Cheryl has been in every movie that Ron has ever made. Ron and I have had conversations about this. Ron hires me when there is a part he thinks I can play, when he thinks I can benefit him, when I can add something to the movie. I mean, he’s always looking out for me. Ron is a great big brother. He’s a better big brother than he is a movie director, to be absolutely honest. But if there is nothing in it for me, there’s nothing in it for me. There wasn’t anything in “Ransom,” and certainly not “Da Vinci Code.” He’s getting ready to do “Angels & Demons,” and, y’know, I can’t play one of the Swiss guards; I’m not the right size! I am in this movie called “Frost/Nixon,” which is going to be coming out during the award season this year, in ’08. I think Dec. 5 is the release date. It’s based on the stage play that Peter Morgan wrote, and Peter wrote the screenplay. I have a pretty good role in that. I play this character named Lloyd, who was the floor director during the actual Frost/Nixon interview. It was a lot like “Apollo 13.” I really felt privileged to get to work on this movie, and I was around some really good actors. Ron was in his glory working with these actors, and the material is great, and getting to be in the same room Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, doing this bang-up job. This is just world-class material being performed by world-class actors. I felt like one of those kids that they hired during the world championships of the N.B.A. to be under the basket, and during a time-out they wipe the sweat off the keys with the sweat mops. It’s like back in the day when the Celtics were playing the Lakers in all those payoff series with Kareem and Magic and Bird and McHale and Parish. Those guys had the best seats in the house, and they would get paid. They had a little job to do, but mostly they were getting to watch world-class basketball. That’s how I felt like on the set of “Frost/Nixon.”
BE: One of the other editors wanted to me to ask you where you keep your MTV Lifetime Achievement Award.
CH: I keep my golden bucket of popcorn in my office right next to a photo of me and my beloved cat Sam. Rest in peace, Sam.
BE: Where does Balok lie on your list of favorite roles, and how much prodding did it take to get you to reprise the role for Shatner’s roast?
CH: I'm honestly not a big “Star Trek” fan, but I do appreciate the fact I was a part of a piece of real TV history. The fact that Balok lives on is great, and I have nice memories of my day on the set. Getting to work on a sci-fi show when you're a little kid is a thrill. I made sure I had Dad take some photos of me on the set. I have a photo of myself in Balok attire on the bridge of the Enterprise. As far as the roast, Joel Gallen, the MTV Movie Awards producer, asked me if I'd do it…and friends do friends favors.
BE: How much fun was “The Clint Howard Variety Show” for you?
CH: I’m proud of it. “Clint Howard Variety Show” was a blast to do. I had complete autonomy. Basically, me and my partner Barry, we did what we wanted to do; our sense of humor came through; we had a vision of what that show needed to be like and we executed it. My God, the world needs the shortest, cheapest variety show in the history of entertainment!
BE: Well, it’s a lot of fun and it also kind of answers the question, “Do you keep in touch with people you’ve worked with in the past?” I mean, you had Johnny Ramone, Henry Winkler…
CH: Of course I do. I mean, I feel like I have good will around my colleagues and they have good will around me, you know. People that work together and become friends. I’m not friends with everybody I work with. There are people that, one way or another, our personalities don’t meet or hook up, and that’s cool. But I have a lot of people over the years that I have met and I would certainly jump into the foxhole with. I just felt that during “The Clint Howard Variety Show”…well, first of all, you know that Johnny Ramone has since passed. Listen, he was a great guy. I knew Johnny; he lived in the neighborhood. He lived in the area, and I would see him from time to time. Such a sweet guy. You know Adam. Adam was a guy who certainly didn’t need to go on “The Clint Howard Variety Show.” He came and did this celebrity interview for me, and…God, what a mensch, to come down to the vacant lot and do an interview. It just made me feel good. “The Clint Howard Variety Show” is something I’m really proud of, and…I don’t know, maybe someday here in the near future, in one form or another, I’m going to resurrect “The Clint Howard Variety Show.”
BE: I will keep checking the site. I do have one last question, and it actually ties right in. Henry Winkler was on the show, and, coincidentally, I just got a screener of “A Plumm Summer,” in which both you and he appear. Did you enjoy working on that film?
CH: Yes. It was a blast. I played this kind of drunken clown; Binky the Clown. It was a good choice. I made some pretty good choices, and I felt pretty good about the scene. I went up to Montana and worked one day, just like a relief pitcher. I came in and got two or three guys out and went back to the dugout and took a shower.
BE: Had you worked with Henry…
BE: Well, I knew that you worked with him before, but how long had it been since you worked with him?
CH: We cross paths a lot. He’s a great guy. I feel really close to Henry.
BE: Yeah, I know you were in “Night Shift” with him.
CH: Yeah, and “Happy Days,” too. We played on the “Happy Days” softball team together, and there’s a kinship between the Howard family and Henry. You know Ron and Henry are close, and I’m close with Henry. He’s a wonderful guy; what a great guy.
BE: Excellent. Well, it’s been great talking to you.
CH: Yeah, sure. And, listen, good luck with everything!