Interview: Jason Clarke of 'Zero Dark Thirty'
'We're not making some superfluous movie that needs this or that and a romance to get it done.'
Broad-shouldered with a majestic corona of curly hair, Jason Clarke is far removed from Dan, the tough-but-taciturn CIA field man and interrogator who later becomes a suit-clad desk man to save his soul and sanity in Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty." We spoke with Australian-born Clarke in New York about history, secrets and serving the film by underplaying the part.
MSN Movies: I was talking to Miss Bigelow and I was saying this isn't a 'whodunnit'; we know what happens.
Jason Clarke: Yes.
It's a how done it.
It's all of the hidden material.
Very good. Yeah.
I'm curious, what did you learn making this that you didn't know about the empirical facts of Osama bin Laden's death?
I didn't know there was a girl at the heart of it. I remember going and reading the script for the first time when Mark (Boal, Screenwriter) handed it to me with such secrecy because it was so well-researched. I didn't know all the people that did it. We all know what happened or we all think we know what happened. This is where it starts; this is where it ends. And what Mark wrote and what Kathryn brought to the screen so amazingly is how it happened, and who did it, and the day-in, day-out of all these people, and the excitement, and the danger, and the courage, and conviction, and selflessness of these people, of everybody involved. She takes you right there, you know?
One of the great about the movie is that in a lot of ways, despite the fact that there are guns and danger, it's a movie about people at work.
They're in their office feuding. There's stuff about your job you don't like. Was that important to catch that quotidian element of, "I have to go to work"?
Absolutely. That is part of the dangers of war often, and everybody thinks it's a SEAL movie and things like that. We think it's the soldiers at the end of the day wearing night-vision, and yet. It's the CIA people. You go from the guys like Dan in the field, the field agents to the pen pushers in Washington to the politicians in Washington, and it's this whole world meeting that gets this man hunt done.
In the film at one point your character stops doing fieldwork and stops essentially doing waterboarding and other forms of extreme interrogation slash torture… But how hard were those scenes to film?
You know, it's physically hard to wrestle a guy to the ground. For me it was always sticking to the facts. Is this being used as a device, is it gratuitous? As soon as I read this story I knew this is what happened, you know? I was proud and excited by the fact that Kathryn and Mark were making a film that was factually based, that doesn't shy away from what happened 'cause you go on the whole journey of how we got here. It starts here and then we go into a car dealership and we're buying a Lamborghini. There are extraordinary things. I'm in a bar talking to a guy, I'm having to go in and make a deal with The Wolf in Washington These things happen and the fact that we stick to the facts. We're not making some superfluous movie that needs this or that and a romance to get it done. This story is an extremely exciting manhunt, and we follow through and there's no need to embellish it. Here it is ... but come with and see it from a human side, which is where I think the power of cinema can lie.
Like you were saying, is it great to get a movie like this and know that the whole scene where your character says "I can't do this anymore" is done through the eyes and not through a five-minute long speech?
Yeah, and all through it, guitar solo (mimes playing guitar). As an actor you come to think, "I love this scene. I want this and all that," but then you shoot it and it can move so quickly. And at that point, everybody was so on board and committed to this, it is what it is. It came out, and you're there. I'm being my character; I'm playing it. They took my monkeys. That's another thing, my monkeys. And the other story line going through is you get to understand the CIA and these people's journeys and lives. And Dan, one of the main ones you see it through, as he makes his progression from being a field agent grizzled and bearded and out on the frontiers and puts his heart and soul and life on the line, and you come back and see him in a suit. You're having to see him make the adjustment. You have to see that there's a different world to operate in, and you've got to be able to operate in this world to get it done.
For more about "Zero Dark Thirty," see our video interview with the cast and crew: