Talking Film: An Interview with Actor Graham Clarke
In 2007, I was a zombie and I was murdered by a man named Graham Clarke. Okay, I was actually a hungry film student in Los Angeles and I was working on a short film in which Graham played the hero. In student films, "working" also means being the token extra and that's how I ended up doing my best
In 2007, I was a zombie and I was murdered by a man named Graham Clarke. Okay, I was actually a hungry film student in Los Angeles and I was working on a short film in which Graham played the hero. In student films, “working” also means being the token extra and that’s how I ended up doing my best zombie shuffle in Among the Dead. Graham, myself, and the rest of the cast were raging it up in the Barstow desert for a few days and we really hit it off, not least because I found out he spoofed Jack Bauer in his very first audition and Jack Bauer makes my heart go boom. In 2010, we got back in touch and I began mildly Facebook-stalking him, mostly checking out the credits he’s been racking up. I can tell you this much: it’s been pretty damn impressive.
Graham manages to live in Los Angeles, paying his way as an actor. To some that statement may seem rather generic, but rest assured that I can guarantee it’s no mean feat. Garnering credits on major television productions like Modern Family and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Graham also finds time to star in short films and indie features. I recently sat down to have a transatlantic chat with him about exactly what life is like for a successful actor in LA.
There are a lot of actors in LA. Most of them aren’t good, most of them are delusional – maybe I’m delusional.”
Most interviews are done face to face, but ours was over the phone while I was actually out on date night with my fiance, Gregg. While Gregg patiently waited, Graham started telling me about how he got started in the film industry.
A late bloomer, Graham originally moved to Los Angeles to work in computers at Microsoft. While there, a friend played a pivotal role in his life. First, they started working on a screenplay together. Second, he gave him a book by Uta Hagen called Respect for Acting. This culminated in attending Sundance and Graham realised that what he truly wanted to be doing was acting, so he propelled himself into it with everything he had.
Graham set out on this path with a unique sense of humility, a rarity in Hollywood. As he told me, “There are a lot of actors in LA. Most of them aren’t good, most of them are delusional – maybe I’m delusional. So when I started, I had the attitude that everyone knew more than I did and I just listened and worked on honing my craft.”
I recalled this from when we met in ’07. Graham was super friendly and approachable and it got me thinking…
Jacqui for Film Inquiry: Did that help you in auditions?
Graham Clarke: My second acting coach told me, ‘When you’re under 18 and you F up, maybe they’ll give you a second chance, but if you’re over 18 and you F up, the casting director may never see you again, or it may be several years. And this is a small town, people talk. That may have been the best advice I’d ever gotten, and I’m thankful that I heeded it. So, I abruptly stopped submitting and pursuing auditions in order to get my legs firmly under me. About two and a half years later, I started putting my work out there and was a far better actor, continually striving to imporve.
FI: What about going in “method”? Sometimes that requires a bit more brutality…
GC: I’ve never found that going in as the character works, maybe a blend between you and the character. I had an audition once for this really intense character in a horror flick where I went in intense and with a Cajun accent; then I left intense, never breaking character. I knew the casting director whom I saw out in the hall after returning to ‘me’ and she just laughed and was like, “What are you doing?” She later told me I looked like I wanted to kill her when she gave me an adjustment, which is horrible because I love this woman. I explained that I was in character, and because she knew me she understood. They want to know what you’re like; they don’t want some asshole on set. It’s important they see both the character and what you’re really like. It’s also important because if (for a variety of reasons) you may not be the right fit for a particular role, casting might keep you in mind for subsequent roles or projects if you leave an authentic piece of you in the room.
“The comedy comes naturally; I was always a class clown.”
I can’t express the importance of that enough – that nobody wants an asshole on set. In my own capacity as either director or crew, even occasionally actor, nothing brings down the mood on set like a diva. Aside from his acting chops, Graham’s personality does him plenty of favours.
GC: I’ve been very lucky to maintain great relationships with casting directors. The other day I got a phone call out of the blue from a casting director just saying that they saw my episode of Modern Family and they wanted to say congratulations. That was really nice and unexpected.
FI: You tend to do a lot of comedy when you do mainstream TV but I’ve noticed a lot of your short and indie roles are dramas.
GC: Yeah, my strength has always been in comedy comedy since I was a class clown. While I never thought of it at the time, in retrospect I was working on my comedic timing for years much to the chagrin of my parents and teachers. I recognize that not everyone can play the comedic notes, the music of it and finding a great dance partner is not always easy. That’s why certain actors and I have remained friends after working together a few years ago. I also came to the stark realization that when I do comedy—either in an audition or on game day, I generally wake up chipper and eager to face the world. Whereas, with drama (depending on the role), I wake up with a heaviness and sometimes dread to live in that dark place. But, I like to push myself out of my comfort zone and figure there is more growth for me there as an artist, plumbing the depths of despair in a healthy fashion. In the end, it will only enhance my comedy.
FI: I guess that’s good that you can avoid being typecast.
GC: I don’t necessarily agree that typecasting is a bad thing. Bonnie Gillespie said, “Don’t spread yourself too thin.” She likened it to hiring a plumber who then offers to fix your roof and then fix the crown molding. When you engage people for their expertise and they present themselves as jacks-of-all-trades, you have to wonder about their actual expertise in any such discipline. You want the best plumber, not the guy who might potentially half-ass everything. Most people are good at one or two things. I feel blessed that I have a range as an actor who can do comedy, broad comedy, and drama. The comedy comes naturally, but I do shorts and indie features to push myself in the dramatic world.
FI: But you sound like you really enjoy the dramatic roles. Surely you wouldn’t want to be thought of as only a comedy guy.
GC: Yeah, it’s a double-edged sword. That’s how people think of you for the roles, but then that’s only how people think of you. I suspect most casting directors think of me as comedic and not the heavy, so I really hope this pilot I recently did takes off because I’ll surely open eyes as the main bad guy. I’m not at liberty to discuss it, but it’s a dream role.
We chatted a while longer and it became immensely clear that Graham truly studies his craft. If I’m honest, sometimes it was hard to keep up with him – he was just that knowledgeable on the subject. When he’s not acting, he’s studying or coaching acting. His list of credits speaks for itself, really. He’s continuing to land solid roles (sometimes small, but memorable) on major productions. There’s more freedom in the independent world of cinema, but less notoriety.
I have to admit, I love being able to tell people, “Did you see last night’s It’s Always Sunny? My friend Graham was the psychologist!” Because we can all name drop if we want to, but we spent several days together in the desert with no showers, running water, or proper food and had a blast doing it. So I take more pride in knowing Graham than I would in saying I ran into INSERT RANDOM CELEBRITY HERE on the street.
Graham reminds me why I do what I do – passion. He reminds me that without a true desire and hunger for what we set out for, without an honest yearning to be the very best at it, and to share our knowledge with others (something we didn’t get into, but Graham does – he has a studio set up to help other actors with audition tapes and the like) – but without all of that, it really is meaningless. I am incredibly proud to call this man friend, and I hope that in sharing his story, I’ve allowed him to inspire us all.
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