If you turned on a TV set in Australia anytime between the mid-1990s through the early-2000s, you were going to see the face of Australian actor Jason Clarke. He made the rounds — a guest spot here, a recurring series character there. Life changed for him when he jumped into film and landed the part of Constable Riggs in the drama “Rabbit-Proof Fence,” which made a stir on the U.S. art house scene. But it wasn’t till he moved to America and started getting small parts in bigger films that his fortunes really turned around. Boasting a rugged face with a mop of dark hair and piercing blue eyes, Clarke won a major role in “Lawless,” and a starring — and riveting — one in “Zero Dark Thirty,” and before he knew what was happening, he was the adult John Connor in “Terminator Genisys.”
In “Chappaquiddick,” he’s given the opportunity to play an icon. Clarke stars as Ted Kennedy, in a story that unfolds during the week of a tragic incident and the confusing events that followed it on Martha’s Vineyard in the summer of 1969, when then-Senator Kennedy’s car careened off a bridge, resulting in the drowning of his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Clarke, 48, now a resident of L.A., recently visited Boston to discuss the film and his craft. He came across as serious and focused. But he was also ready to let it be known that he’s an unabashed fan of both AC/DC and the movie “Highlander.”
Q: You’ve been an actor for a long time. Had you wanted to do this since you were a kid?
A: I grew up in very small towns, and we didn’t have movies or a cinema. When I later went to university, I watched movies rather than going to lectures. That’s really where I started watching, when I was 19 or 20. Then I went to drama school, and loved the ideas of telling stories and being different people. Every time you play a character, if you have enough time to prepare, and it’s a good character, it’s like you’re doing a little mini-life.
Q: How did you get involved with “Chappaquiddick?”
A: It was a well-known script, and it was going around. But it was a tricky film to make. The producers were looking for big, expensive names to try and guarantee it, but they couldn’t get anyone. But I read it and I couldn’t let it go. So, I really pursued (producer) Mark Ciardi with my agents and my manager to make the movie.
Q: You were a day old when the event shown in the film happened. Here in the States, the only Australians I knew of were probably Ned Kelly and Bon Scott. Did you know much about ...
A: Ned Kelly and Bon Scott! (laughs) That’s plenty, dude! Man, remember “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ’n’ roll?” There’s Bon Scott, and the boys just rockin’ it out!
Q: Did you know much about the Kennedys over there?
A: I didn’t know this story when I was growing up, but I was conscious of the event. The Kennedys were there in the big high points and events of the 20th century. To research the Kennedys is to research 20th-century American history, world history. I find it unbelievable that America hasn’t really explored Joe senior more. He just seems to be summed up in these very easy generalizations. The research on this family, apart from the stuff we usually see — Camelot and blah blah blah — is fascinating. You understand America, good and bad. And the legacy still remains. Teddy’s legislation still stands.
Q: You got to work with Clancy Brown, who plays Robert McNamara in the film. Are you a fan of his work as the Kurgan in “Highlander?”
A: I’m a huge fan of “Highlander.” I remember saying to him, “Dude! You’re the Kurgan!” I had him take me all through it, and he was momentarily kind of taken aback. But he was great as the Kurgan.
Q: You look a lot like Ted Kennedy in the film, and you put on a bit of an accent. But the familiar smile is spot-on. Were you wearing fake teeth?
A: I did have fake teeth, just to get the squareness. We didn’t want to do prosthetics or anything like that, but it had to be enough to go, “That’s Ted.” We only used the teeth a couple of times. My teeth are very small and crooked, and the fake ones affected my performance because they had to fit exactly, and even then, they’re very painful. They had to be filed and buffed, and they were always rubbing (my gums). It was fine for a little while, but after five hours of it, you can’t talk or eat. But it looked fantastic.
Chappaquiddick opens on April 6.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.