Clayne Crawford appears in The Killing of Two Lovers by Robert Machoian, an official selection of the NEXT program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Oscar Ignacio Jiminez.
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Is Clayne Crawford a name you recognize?
Perhaps you’ve seen it via TV/film credits? Or maybe you recall reading the name in some clickbait blog about bad behavior on a set? Maybe? But the face looks familiar, right?
Of course, it does, because you’ve probably seen it many times over.
Crawford has amassed 67 IMDB credits in two decades of working in the industry–not counting his adorable debut in a 1997 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer titled, “Inca Mummy Girl.”
All confusion, uncertainty, and doubt about who Clayne Crawford is should be rectified (I had to) soon since he has delivered one of the most authentic and fierce performances in an indie in recent memory in Robert Machoian’s searing film, The Killing of Two Lovers.
His many onscreen credits include A Walk to Remember, Swimfan, A Love Song for Bobby Long, Steel City, The Perfect Host as well as a slew of TV shows that include Jericho, CSI, 24, Leverage, Justified, Rectify and, most recently playing Riggs, the Mel Gibson character, in Lethal Weapon on Fox.
For those unfamiliar with the Lethal Weapon mess, suffice to say Crawford had the audacity to fight the traditionalist network powers-that-be for better quality work and on set conduct and was gifted with threats, scapegoating and accusations of bad behavior. Oh, and then fired, not even to his face. He found out on social media.
His remarkable turn in The Killing of Two Lovers should wash away the Lethal Weapon stigma. I say ‘should’ since we do live in oddly unforgiving times.
But one thing is certain, Crawford managed to take lemons and crush them into a flowing fountain of lemonade with his portrayal of David, a man who is doing everything he can to control his rage and try and keep his family together despite being separated from his wife, Nikki (a terrific Sepideh Moafi).
The film audaciously opens with David standing in his old bedroom holding a gun to the head of his wife who is lying next to her lover, Derek (Chris Coy). Writer-director Machoian and Crawford (both producers on the film) present an unsparing, honest portrait of a desperate man at a crossroads and is one of the most potent film about a struggling marriage since Alan Parker’s Shoot the Moon in 1982. Machoian prefers long takes and shoots most of the action in long shot, so the viewers feel like peeping toms.
Interesting to note: Machoian and Crawford have already completed their second film together, The Integrity of Joseph Chambers.
The Killing of Two Lovers premiered last year at Sundance to great acclaim and is now being released by Neon.
Awards Daily spoke with Crawford and found him to be refreshingly honest and quite endearing.
Awards Daily: I love the way the film opens. It’s bold and sets us up for this nail- biting, super-trapped journey. Can you speak to that?
Clayne Crawford: Yeah, I had the same emotion when I read it for the first time. I love that we introduce this element of threat immediately. Also, it gives the audience an understanding of where David is emotionally. That he’s truly at the end of his rope. He’s run out of options that seem logical. So, it was exciting to me to challenge the audience and have them judge David immediately. But then see him with his father, see him with the children and see him in his day-to-day. What’s the perception of him going to be at the end of the film? Ironically enough, because Robert and I produced this together and I financed it, we only had one another to hold accountable. When we showed this film to less than 10 individuals who we truly respect in the industry, Eight out of eight told us to cut that first scene. It’s really interesting how fearful people were, in the current environment, to have a weapon pointed at a female’s head. Robert and I had that same concern, but we felt it was so necessary to understand each time you see this weapon, it’s completely inappropriate and to know that that weapon is going to be under the seat of the vehicle when he’s got all four of his children riding around—I just thought it was so crucial to set the tone immediately.
AD: Can you tell me about how this collaboration between you and Robert came about after all the Lethal Weapon craziness? How did that lead you to your filmic triumph?
CC: Honestly, I got canned two days after I turned 40. And for me it was one of those moments of, man, I thought I’d gotten to where I’d always –y’know, I moved to Hollywood as a teenager and started chasing this dream and I left everything that I knew and loved in my little, small town, my bubble. I felt like I had reached the pinnacle. I had a hit show on a network. And I was playing a role I loved. And it was quite empty. I was surrounded by people who, for the most part—the individuals who made the decisions—just didn’t have a lot of heart and emotion towards what we were doing or care for the creative process. So, I took a step back and I looked at myself and my life and the 40 years I had (lived) up to that point and I was like, what am I going to do with the next 40 years of my life and this industry and my career?
I’ve always wanted to work with Robert. They paid me quite handsomely on that show. At that point, I felt like it was somewhat ill-gotten money. I said, look, I’ve got to try to turn this into something positive. Everything has to happen for a reason in life. I’d always led with my heart and with integrity on that job. I kind of felt I was thrown under the bus, somewhat…So I called Robert and I said let’s take some cash and see what we could do together. He sent me a short film called, The Drift. And it was essentially that last scene in the film…I was so intrigued by this story of a father going through that in front of his children. That violence. And I said, Robert is there a way to build on this and turn it into a feature? That was in August of 2018. Two months later, he sent me The Killing of Two Lovers. And, again, with that opening scene of that weapon being pointed at his wife’s face, I immediately just fell in love. I had such a clear understanding of David. We were on set the day after Thanksgiving. We just really hit the ground running and I’m super grateful for everything I went through because, I have to be honest with you Frank, I would have continued down the road of mediocrity just assuming that I have to be given jobs and have to wait in line and wait my turn. So, to be backed into a corner and to go out and make my own film, I am super grateful for that—I agree with you—awful experience. But my cup runneth over, at this point, as a result.
AD: How did you prep for David and, since we’re never given much in terms of why the couple are on the skids, did you create a backstory for him?
CC: I did. I wanted to build that reason. That’s why I brought Chris Coy to Robert. I’d worked with Chris on Lethal and I was just so impressed with his work ethic and with his talent. And physically, even when he has facial hair, he always seems to clean cut and tight and he’s in great shape. For David, I had grown hair and a beard, I felt that David…when he had his children, he found a love he never knew existed and I think a lot of us are that way as fathers when we have our children this light goes (on). So, I think for me it didn’t matter as much as to the why… David is not real concerned about his appearance. He’s never been career driven. He even says in the car scene to Nikki, I wish I could have carried the children, I wish I could have given birth to them…that’s not something you see from males in cinema. I knew then that if we have Coy, who’s this good looking, strapping guy driving the brand-new truck who obviously has a gym membership, I’m sure it wasn’t something huge, right?
It could be that I didn’t put the bread away that led us into this huge fight…so I was excited that we weren’t exploring that aspect of it and to answer your question, the physicality was important. How David moved and how he looked…I think David felt like he had been–with the new boyfriend–I think there was a certain feeling of betrayal. And I had felt that same thing from the experience that you spoke of earlier. That was still quite fresh with me. We shot this six months after that whole thing went down. So, I was living in a place of possibly feeling sorry for myself at times. And I wanted to use, to sound like a silly actor, I wanted to use all that emotion for something positive. And to channel it into something that could be great entertainment for someone.
AD: Was there every any sense that anyone was trying to have you blacklisted?
[Long contemplative pause, he then shakes his head in the affirmative]
CC: Absolutely…I want to just say that that job—playing that character –as terrifying as it was to try and go fill those shoes, I was so grateful to get to play that guy, even in the end. To have played two seasons and played that character the way that I wanted with that kind of arc, I am forever grateful for that experience. The actors and the crew that I was able to meet that have helped me on both of my last two films. It has just been incredible. I’m getting ready to work with Thomas Lennon on our third one.
But, yeah, I was told that if I didn’t do X, Y and Z that I would never work again. And I have to say that I feel blessed that I surrounded myself with the men and women that are in this industry because it allowed me to go make a film. If I didn’t know how to go make a movie and I didn’t have Robert as someone that I trusted and cared about, I don’t know if I would have recovered. I really don’t. So, to say that I’m grateful for this experience, and I know that I continue to use that word, but there just is no other word that describes the feeling I have in this very moment right now in comparison to what I felt a few years ago.
AD: It feels like such a convergence for you because the film explores many different themes including what it’s like and what it means to be a man today in this culture…
CC: Yeah, masculinity’s a funny thing. Robert said it yesterday, you even watch the original Rocky and the original Rambo, not to jump on Stallone films, but I feel like he kind of encompasses masculinity, especially with what I grew up with. You watch those earlier films, the first ones anyway, the sequels kind of go we just want to blow everything up and rip our shirts off—but I think we as men are quite sensitive and I’m not sure where this displaced masculinity comes from. Maybe it’s a part of growing up and ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘don’t act like a girl’ and this very negative language that was thrown around. I was excited to play someone who was quite sensitive and maybe a little broken. And I say that, Frank, but I think I’m always drawn to those characters. Teddy (in Rectify) was quite broken. Riggs was obviously quite broken. I think those guys are quite complex. But as it relates to masculinity, I think we wanted to draw attention to gun violence and –Chris Coy (in the film) keeps saying to let us talk. Just give us a minute and I’ll fix this. Of course, through violence. Robert and I were excited to explore all those things that our culture has defined as what makes you a man. And I’m excited that the narrative continues to shift in this country of what that really means nowadays.
AD: You went to LA almost as a kid and have been on quite the journey as an actor. Can you take me through what it’s been like for you and where you are right now?
CC: You know, Frank, I had no guidance. I come from a very working-class family of good solid human beings, but none of us have ever had much of anything and no one’s ever ventured out past North Florida or South Tennessee. Gatlinburg was our biggest vacation each year. I went to (that) city (LA) with zero knowledge of what to expect and how to pursue this career. Agents and managers, they’re just there to get you to do as many jobs as humanly possible to generate income for them and the companies that they represent…so for me I kind of always took the approach that (it’s) what the universe gives me…and I had children very young, so I was raising a family at 25 and in Los Angeles that’s very challenging. What I didn’t understand is that I would be criticized for the jobs that I was doing, to go from a film to TV, I didn’t realize people would use the term to describe me as “an actor for hire.” I didn’t realize that was such an insult.
But to be 43 and to look back on that journey, I’ve worked on so many different kinds of projects from $100 million to $10,000. What I find is when you approach the work with the same integrity, regardless of the budget, which I’ve always tried to do, in the end it serves you well…I used to say CBS kept me employed during the rough times because I’ve probably guest starred on every crime drama there ever was. And it was useful. I had mouths to feed. But even those little jobs have given me a knowledge of how to navigate producing now and how to handle situations that, in the past, I thought were mishandled. As my dad said, you learn what not to do on your journey, more often, than what to do. And I think that’s what it’s been for me. But the jobs like Rectify and Steel City and The Perfect Host and other little jobs along the way fed my soul and the other ones fed the bank account, but nothing ever made me rich, so I never felt like I sold out in any way. I just truly love to perform. And if I’d go a couple of months without acting, I was pretty much willing to go do sonnets in the park if there was an audience. I genuinely just love it so much. And I think now all that love is somewhat paying off for me.
The Killing of Two Lovers is in theatres and on demand May 14th.