When an actor who was worked with auteurs like J.J. Abrams, Stephen Soderberg and Terrence Malick signs up for a television series, it demands your attention. This year, Clifton Collins Jr. has selected ABC's Red Widow, a drama about one woman's descent into mob-madness following her husband's murder.
Collins plays James Ramos, an F.B.I. agent whose personal struggles could carry their own show, but is tasked with trying to keep the titular bereaved on the straight and narrow. ETonline caught up with Collins to find out what excites him about Red Widow's journey, what fans can expect from his role in this summer's monster mash-up Pacific Rim and why everyone will be talking about Terrence Malick's new movie, in which Collins co-stars with Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling and Natalie Portman.
ETonline: What attracted you to Red Widow?
Clifton Collins Jr: A combination of two things: the authenticity of how the piece was written and Melissa Rosenberg. Her integrity and her collaborative spirit is so rare in TV. It's something I did not experience on my last show, which might have been part of its demise. This show feels like a family. There's so much love and respect for the collaborative process, it's been amazing. ABC is pushing the envelope in the most beautiful of ways, and it's not something an actor would normally expect.
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ETonline: I feel like Ramos' arc on another show would simply be to eventually get Marta to turn on Schiller. But the pilot revealed his wife has a heroin problem, so obviously there's a lot more to this man. What excites you about the character?
Collins: Melissa promised me exciting things would happen with Ramos, and she delivers. I love what I do and to bring a reality to the screen, so doing the research on heroin and heroin addicts was so amazing. I also did a lot of research into the agents. They take on a lot in their careers, which means a lot of them have PTSD, which is one reason so many of them retire at young ages. It really is that demanding and I am passionate about bringing that reality to TV. I'm excited my process has been embraced by the producers.
ETonline: What can you tease about Ramos' journey?
Collins: You can't be a good cop by simply following the rules. The majority of cops do have an honest, moral core, but like any job, we're all human and susceptible to temptations. That said, you're in for a ride because the writers do play on all those real moral issues and dilemmas. Just know that you're not going to have any so-so episode. Every episode will make you scream and has huge cliffhangers. It's exciting to do press for this project because I love talking about it so much.
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ETonline: Well, I'd imagine you won't have any trouble promoting Pacific Rim this summer for similar reasons.
Collins: Oh my God, yes. To work with a modern day Hitchcock in Guillermo Del Toro was such a milestone for me professionally. Guillermo wrote this role for me and the honor was totally mine. I can't say enough magical things about that magical person.
ETonline: You've been in a lot of testosterone-heavy movies. How does this one stack up?
Collins: It's up there, for sure. There are so many great moments with the monsters and the robots, that it really was pretty testosterone-y. Although, there were some intensely magical moments in the second Malick movie I made that I had to journal about. Like watching Natalie Portman sashaying in a tight dress, while back-lit by the sun setting in Austin was enough to set off anyone's testosterone.
ETonline: There have been rumors that Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling share a threesome in that movie. What can you say about its sexual content?
Collins: Oh yeah, the whole thing is very sexual. It's definitely led to some moments of me wondering, "Where the hell am I?" I mean, Benicio [Del Toro] and Fassbender are there while Natalie is looking sexy and this beautiful woman is straddling me. It gets pretty intense.
ETonline: Every actor has a story about working with Malick. What's been your experience?
Collins: Malick is very much an impressionistic filmmaker. It's almost as if the entire world was created just so Malick could shoot it. It's fascinating as an artist to work with him because he's always working in such different styles; it's almost like I worked with three different directors. He's loving and kind and considerate and a lover of film. He's not an egomaniac and there's something so precious about how true he is to his artform. The whole world is Malick's stage. It's like the Jimi Hendrix of directing.
Red Widow airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on ABC.