EXCLUSIVE: How 'Westworld’s Clifton Collins, Jr. is One of Hollywood’s Most Woke Actors

EXCLUSIVE: Westworld’s Clifton Collins, Jr. is One of Hollywood’s Wokest Actors
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Clifton Collins, Jr. is woke. How woke you ask? So woke that in honor of his legendary actor grandfather (Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez), he started his acting career as Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez. It’s a decision he made to pay homage not only to his grandpa but all the Latino trailblazers before him. He eventually reverted to his Collins surname because, well, it’s his real name.

In Westworld, the provocative sci-fi HBO series, Collins continues to pay respect by wearing a gun belt worn by his abuelo in the western classic Rio Bravo. The Mexican and German actor isn’t woke because it’s hip to be woke…he’s the real deal.

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Westworld is getting a lot of great buzz. What can you share about your character, Lawrence?

We can say he’s an outlaw type. The series is really engaging and will suck you in. You’d do one episode and you can’t wait to read the next one. It reads like a graphic novel. With these sets, it’s so easy to think that you’ve gone back in time. The original film, the 1973 Michael Crichton film, was a great table setting for this beautiful world. The show addresses your fears, desires and passions. What would you do if you knew you could do anything you wanted to do without consequences? That’s a very important timely question, especially in the times we’re living in.

You wore your grandpa’s [legendary actor Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez] belt throughout the series as well. How did that come about?

Grandpa gave me a bunch of stuff. I have his original Rio Bravo script. I’ve got all his movie scripts. The majority of them say, “Please return to studio upon completion of filming.” [Laughs] How it came up? I knew they were designing this cool ass gun belt for me and I said, “Well I might have a little gun belt for you guys.” I mentioned it to JJ first and he got really excited. My prop master asked me what the story on the gun belt was and I said, “Well it’s the gun belt my grandfather wore in Rio Bravo. His eyes got really big and said, “You have to wear this. Can you? Do you need me to make another one that looks just like it?” Jonathan Nolan was all over it too. There’s just something beautiful when you work with people that love what they do. When they love the movies, the history and the genre. I feel kind of like Superman; the last piece that goes on me is my grandpa’s gun belt and my peacemaker.

You’re very active on your Twitter timeline in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a celebrity, was it difficult to comment on it initially?

My grandpa would drop off my grandma to go do the laundry and wash their costumes for their shows and for my mother, uncle and aunt. He would leave her there and come back to get her and she’d still have a bag of dirty clothes. And he’s say, “Que paso?” She’d say, “Que crees paso, Pedro? Look in there, they said all the machines are broken.” And he’s looking in and watching all the Texans and women washing laundry. She goes, “They’re not broken, Pedro. What do you think?” So they had to go do the show in dirty clothes. Even eating in the back of restaurants, blacks, Mexicans and dogs had to eat in the back that was the sign they had. My grandfather became a contract player for John Wayne and went back to many of those restaurants with his convertible Cadillac. Not only was he allowed to eat in the front, but also the owner would come out and even open the door for him. I grew up in a neighborhood, middle to upper class. When I went to the projects, I realized, “Whoa, you guys have a whole other police system. I’ve never seen this before I thought the police were always the good guys. Bad apple? What the hell is a bad apple? I’m not used to that, they don’t send bad apples to my neighborhood, there’s too much money.” When I saw the unfairness at such a young age it was eye opening. My grandfather campaigned with Nixon and Regan. He was always rubbing elbows with the upper echelon, but he was always giving back.

There are a lot of great cops out there. My cousin is a sergeant. We have a lot of family in the military and politicians. I tip my hat to to the good cops, my cousin’s one of them. But you can always tell the squirrely ones. Not the good squirrely, the bad. I steer away from them but I stick to the cops that have that heart of gold and deal with a lot.

As someone who’s had a long, healthy, diverse career, where do you see the state of the Latino leading man in Hollywood?

I’m Latino but then Latino breaks down to — I’m Cuban, I’m Mexican, I’m Puerto Rican. We find all these ways to divide ourselves. It becomes through race instead of unifying under the banner of humanity. We’re all humans, every single last one of us. No matter how messed up or great we are. We still fall under the human race. In regards to the kind of roles, it’s difficult. When you’re on a TV show, especially like Westworld, it’s a big commitment of time. Every episode took us about three weeks to a month to shoot. To me, personally, I’ve always said, I don’t want to take a role because it’s white or Latino. I want to take a role because it challenges me as an artist. It will help me grow as an artist, I can touch people lives, and I can make people think. I do believe the diversity is getting more attention now. That’s important because the entertainment we see whether it is film or TV, should really reflect our environments and country.

You’ve been able to play racially ambiguous roles throughout your career — you were Oscar Isaac before Oscar Isaac.

I started acting under my birth name, Clifton Collins Jr. I heard my grandfather complaining about nobody recognizing the trailblazers. That’s when I decided to take my grandfather’s name. I was like, “Grandpa, what if I took your name — Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez?” Since Clifton isn’t a Mexican name it would provoke a conversation and I could talk about my grandfather. Really it was an homage to him. I did the opposite of what a Latino actor normally does. When I took the Gonzalez name, that’s when all the white auditions stopped. The casting directors where like, “What’s your background? Clifton Mexican Mexican — that’s what they were internally saying.” I could say I’m half German but they don’t hear that, they just hear I’m half Mexican. Which is hilarious. I had to fight 10 times harder because there were so many nos. The doors were closed in my face. I wasn’t even allowed to audition. It’s an ugly double standard. Why don’t you just give me a chance? At the end of the day I’m going to make you laugh, think or feel something. It won’t be an entire waste of time.