×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Playback: Jason Clarke on ‘Chappaquiddick’ and Damien Chazelle’s ‘First Man’

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

A bit of a journeyman actor who turns up, with equal aplomb, in everything from “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” to “Everest” to “Mudbound,” Jason Clarke tackles perhaps the most complex role of his career in “Chappaquiddick” this month. Portraying the late politician Ted Kennedy in the aftermath of that infamous 1969 Martha’s Vinyard car accident, which left campaign specialist Mary Jo Kopechne dead, Clarke sinks his teeth into a story of human frailty and moral corruption, turning out a gripping performance that might be his best to date.

Listen to this week’s episode of “Playback” below. New episodes air every Thursday.

Click here for more episodes of “Playback.”

“That was one of the toughest things, when I decided I wanted to do this, was how do you follow a lead character when he commits a heinous act or crime very early on,” Clarke says. “It’s very difficult because you don’t want to hate the person but you don’t want to sentimentalize. The script stuck to the facts. Watching a man be responsible for his own moral corruption, for his own moral destruction, almost — we all want to live. We all want to save ourselves. He has many, many opportunities to be true to the truth in his soul, and he keeps taking these small diversions. But there’s no getting away from what Ted did.”

Playing a real-life character brings with it the usual necessity of steering clear of impersonation, particularly with an identifiable, larger-than-life persona like Ted Kennedy. The trick is finding an essence, something true that isn’t distracting for the audience.

“I guess that started with my look,” Clarke says. “We were never going to do prosthetics. We did a wig to get that classic line and then said, ‘Let’s do some teeth.’ That took months to get them right, just the thinness, so I could still speak without a lisp. And then I had bleeding issues, when you have it in there for 14 hours — any little rub. It had to be intimate. You either accept me early on or you don’t. It’s an emotional journey, and for that the audience has got to just go in and forget about it.”

Later this year, Clarke will star as astronaut Edward Higgins White in Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land” follow-up “First Man.” Clarke was in awe of the youngest filmmaker to ever win the Academy Award for best director, and the project — about the 1969 moon landing — makes for an interesting bookend to the events depicted in the run-up to that moment in “Chappaquiddick.”

“He’s a behemoth in terms of his understanding of film and love of film,” Clarke says of Chazelle. “It’s his commitment. I’ve seen that with different directors. I would watch the monitor with Damien to watch his other stuff with big group scenes. His eye for what he’s after is really unique. You can see it on camera. His ability to distill story, to really understand what he’s showing in a scene — he’s just got a very clear picture of what he’s saying. He goes to sleep dreaming of the movie. He really does.”

For more, including a final look-back on a year of “Mudbound” and Clarke’s thoughts on how director Matt Reeves concluded Fox’s “Planet of the Apes” trilogy, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

iHeartRadio
Hear more episodes of “Playback” at iHeartRadio.
Subscribe via iTunes.

Jason Clarke photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback Podcast
Dan Doperalski for Variety

More Film

  • Fox Searchlight logo

    Film News Roundup: Fox Searchlight Launches Searchlight Shorts

    In today’s film news roundup, Fox Searchlight starts a shorts channel, Uma Thurman signs with ICM and Miramax signs animation exec Michael Lachance. SEARCHLIGHT SHORTS Fox Searchlight Pictures’ chairmen Nancy Utley and Stephen Gilula have announced the launch of “Searchlight Shorts” as a collection of short films. The shorts are available on Fox Searchlight’s YouTube [...]

  • ImMature - cr: MX Player

    Indian Streamers Ramp up Original Productions

    Ever since global streaming giants Amazon Prime Video and Netflix entered the Indian OTT space in 2016, the conversation around original series has mostly revolved around them, thanks in part to market leader 21st Century Fox’s Hotstar’s circumspect attitude at the time about producing content. Netflix had great success with “Sacred Games,” while Amazon rode [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Hollywood Agents, Writers Guild Make Little Progress in Talks

    Leaders of Hollywood agencies and the Writers Guild of America made little progress in Tuesday meeting to negotiate proposed rule revisions to how agents represent writers. The WGA said after the meeting — the fifth since Feb. 5 — that talks would resume later this week but did not give a specific day. “The Agencies [...]

  • Village Rockstars

    Female Filmmakers Are a Growing Voice in India

    The Indian film industry has historically been a male-dominated one, but the winds of change are blowing across the country, albeit slowly. Better-served than the rest of the country is the Mumbai-based Hindi-language industry, where there are several active female filmmakers including Zoya Akhtar (“Gully Boy”), Reema Kagti (“Gold”), Leena Yadav (“Rajma Chawal”), Gauri Shinde [...]

  • Florence Pugh

    Scarlett Johansson's 'Black Widow' Movie Adds Florence Pugh

    “Black Widow’s” web may soon be growing. Sources tell Variety that Florence Pugh is in talks to join Scarlett Johansson’s standalone superhero film. Pugh has been on the hot list for this second lead role since last fall, but Marvel wanted to open up the field to other actresses at the beginning of the year. [...]

  • Mira Lesmana Sets up Indonesia Remake

    Mira Lesmana Sets Up Indonesian Remake of CJ's 'Sunny'

    Indonesia’s Miles Film and Korea’s CJ Entertainment are to co-produce an Indonesian remake of Korean hit “Sunny.” The film is a female-driven dramedy about a group of adult friends who reunite 20 years after high school. Directed by Kang Hyoung-chul, “Sunny” was one of the highest-grossing movies in Korea when it was released in 2011. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content