Throughout his career, actor Clancy Brown has left a legacy as impressive as his physical stature, as the various projects he's been apart of often result in his performance and character becoming a standout component of the experience. From an otherworldly warrior in Highlander to an intimidating warden in The Shawshank Redemption to a sergeant taking on intergalactic insects in Starship Troopers, Brown has spent decades captivating audiences, no matter how much screen time he has. In his latest film, The Mortuary Collection, Brown has the opportunity to instead take a backseat to the story, as his role serves as the connective tissue between a number of unsettling anecdotes in the anthology horror film. The Mortuary Collection is now streaming on Shudder.
The film follows as a young woman (Caitlin Fisher) applies for a job at a decrepit old mortuary, only for the eerie mortician (Brown) that lives there to treat her to several tales of madness, macabre, and monsters from the many books he keeps filled with morbid stories. But things take a turn when she realizes the final anecdote just so happens to be her own story.
ComicBook.com caught up with Brown to talk his new film, his connection to horror, and if he would return to any of his famous franchises. The Mortuary Collection is now streaming on Shudder.
ComicBook.com: Audiences might know you from a variety of genre projects and I know you've said that you don't necessarily seek out horror movies as a viewer yourself, but are there any particular horror projects you do especially enjoy?
Clancy Brown: My favorite horror films? Yeah, there's a few. I like the anthologies. I like Tales from the Crypt and Tales from the Darkside and Creepshow and the Twilight Zone movie. I like those. Those were fun. Longer form, Twilight Zone, that's one of my go-to binge shows, in all of its iterations, believe it or not. So, sure, I enjoy horror.
I don't actually go out of my way to see it. I wouldn't count myself a horror geek or anything. If it's a good movie, if you hear good things about it and it's a good movie, I'll go see it. They're not taken as seriously as they should be, because horror movies constantly push the envelope of technology and storytelling, and they do all sorts of innovative things. They're sort of the pointy end of the spear in cinema that way. And so, that becomes a fun thing to do.
When Blair Witch Project came out, I was talking to one of the producers who just didn't see it as what it turned out to be, sort of the vanguard of the whole found-footage storytelling idea. He just said, "Oh, it's just a gimmick." And I said, "None of these are just gimmicks." They're not just gimmicks. They changed the face of cinema.
And you go back and you look at King Kong and Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. Those things were just ... nobody had seen anything like them at the time, and they seem a little hokey now, but at the time, they were absolutely terrifying and magical in a way that excites your medulla oblongata, I think. They just scare the sh-t out of you that way.
I remember when I was a kid, The Exorcist was that way. It was like, "How did they do all that?" That was as much of a story as anything else, but it was also a great story and a terrifying movie. So, they're good movies, and there's some schlocky ones, but there's also some really compelling ones. Some of the ones in the [A Nightmare on Elm Street] series are just kind of astounding.
You talk about The Exorcist, that's this top-tier drama that just happens to deal with supernatural themes. So you hook people in with William Friedkin and Ellen Burstyn, and the same thing with like, Get Out.
Yeah, Get Out. Right.
Drawing people in because of Jordan Peele, maybe looking like a fun popcorn movie, and then all of a sudden you're saying things that you couldn't say or reach an audience you couldn't reach by approaching it as a traditional drama.prevnext
When audiences first meet you in The Mortuary Collection, you initially scare someone away with your stature and then we realize how much more to your character there is. I wondered if you've noticed fans have a similar reaction to you, since you're this physically large person that maybe they're intimidated? Also, based on your career, if there's one movie project you're recognized for more than the others?
I can't speak for anybody. I don't know why they would be, but I don't know if people are intimidated by me. [Writer/director] Ryan [Spindell] says he was intimidated by me, and I'm like, "What are you talking about? You're the boss."
I think whatever the fans think are favorites, whatever are fan favorites, really has more to do with the quality of the film and the work of the director and all that stuff. Russell Mulcahy in the Highlander put together a really fun movie and allowed me to have some fun doing it. And so, that became a character everybody remembers. Shawshank is a beautiful script and beautifully executed and shot, everything, great performances. And so, that's a good movie, so that becomes a fan favorite, Captain Hadley becomes a character [recognize me for]. So it has to do, really, mostly with the excellence of the director and the writer and all that stuff. I'm just in it.prevnext
Crafting the Character
Also speaking to when you first show up in The Mortuary Collection, when I first saw your silhouette, "Oh, that's Angus Scrimm from Phantasm." And then you get to bring so much personality to the character, to make it your own. With both the look of the character and taking the character from script to screen, was there much collaboration on your part, with the makeup team and with Ryan, to really find a look and tone that you were happy with, or were you just totally in service of what Ryan wanted to do?
Well, I think directors are in service of the script and if the script is also being directed by the writer, then you're even more in service of it. I didn't disagree with anything that he had drawn. Ryan draws, and he's a sketcher and so he had drawn up a lot of stuff. He enjoys art. He had a lot of visual references, and I didn't disagree with any of that. We tried on the makeup, and the makeup was extensive. And Ryan, quite smartly, from the great overall work that ADI had done in designing it ... I mean, they really made a beautiful character out of it, but I was buried in it, which is fine with me. But Ryan stripped it away, he says, to see more of my face. I say it was to save time at the beginning of the day, because the more pieces you put on, the longer it takes. And so he quite smartly trimmed it down to just a few pieces and got what he wanted and then left it up to me to fill it in.
The way I think of it, as soon as you get into makeup and you read the words and you put on the clothes and you walk around on the set a little bit, you get the idea if you've read the script. And then if you're completely wrong, the director will say, "You're completely wrong and do it like this." And Ryan never said I was completely wrong. He would gently push me one way or the other, so It was a collaboration. It wasn't up to me. It was up to him. He's the boss.prevnext
Since Ryan doesn't have the same high-profile projects as some other directors you worked with, what was it about actually meeting with him about the project that won you over and convinced you to join the more stripped-down production?
Well, I'd read the script, and then I saw the short [The Babysitter Murders], and I was impressed with both as pieces of work on their own. And then it was just a matter of, I got to meet this guy to see if he's an asshole, because if he did all this stuff and if he's a really talented asshole, I don't know if I want to do it. But he wasn't. He was a sweet guy. He had been stonewalled with this project for so long. He's fond of saying, "Well, that was the moment that I made up my mind. That was a moment that was certainly, probably the straw that broke the camel's back," is what he said, that he's been trying to get this thing made for seven years, and everybody's telling him he's a fool, and there's only a few people that believe in it the way he believes in it.
And I'm like, "Okay. Well, count me in." I'm for that, because it is good. It's really good, and he's really good. And he's a nice guy, and he knows the medium. He knows how to write. He knows how to manipulate story.
Babysitter Murders, it's the last story in the show, and it walks this line so deftly, between being a total send-up and a comment and a parody and being absolutely sincere and horrifying and horrible. It's just the sense of humor, as you say, and self-awareness, but not self-consciousness. It's really clever, and he might've done that by accident. That's why I had to meet him, to see if he was actually that good. And he really is that good. And so, it was an easy call to say yes to him, as soon as I met him, because I realized that he was just trying to make this movie that he wanted to make. I was like, "Okay. Let's do it. Let's do it."prevnext
And the nature of an anthology has some advantages to other films, but also comes with some difficulties. You have an abbreviated storyline, so you have to hit all the beats precisely and end it on the right note, but you also don't have to draw out that story for a full 120-minute narrative.
Yeah, and it's not immediately marketable by the corporate bosses. Whatever the prevailing wisdom is for selling and marketing movies, whatever the formula is that changes every six months, it didn't fit into it. And Ryan didn't want to wait around for it to fit into it. He wanted to bring that formula up. And the formula has been around forever. It's just that that formula wasn't in fashion right then. And he didn't care, because he nailed it, man. He totally nailed it.
And I know he had fights. I know he had to make compromises. I know it was a struggle. But through it all, to keep that vision, that's like Spielbergian. That's like J.J. Abrams' thing, is like when you have an idea of a story, and you had a vision for a piece, and no matter what problem comes up, that vision and that idea in your head is so strong that you can solve any problem.
There's a famous story of Saving Private Ryan when [director Steven] Spielberg got to his set, and he saw that something was in exactly the opposite place that it needed to be. He wanted to have something where the sun was going down behind it, and the sun was going up in front of it or vice versa or whatever. And he just took a couple of seconds, and he figured it out, and he told the story. That's the way Ryan is. He's just like, "I got to tell the story, and there's more problem that can't be solved."
And I'm sure Ryan will appreciate hearing that, and I'm sure it's exciting for fans, knowing you can spot similarities between Ryan and one of the greatest directors of all time.
I can't say that about ... if Ryan was on with me right now, I couldn't say that, but [I can say that to you].prevnext
The concept of the movie involves you telling a prospective new employee about all of these bizarre instances of otherworldly deaths, but since they are all being relayed by your character, I wondered if, in regards to the film's actual mythology, if you think those strange incidents actually happened or if that was your character just trying to scare off the new employee?
Oh, that's a really good question. I think maybe those kinds of demises are the ones that show up on his doorstep. I think that's the whole world that Raven's End is. I think that little town is a weird little town and strange stuff happens. And boys who misbehave lose their most important part, and men who are between a rock and a hard place, who love their wives to death, eventually that kind of love drives you mad and kills you. And maybe there is an asylum there and somebody escapes, and we see the madness among us.
I mean, it's not a real place. He's not a real character, but it's an interesting little town, it's an interesting little world that was built there. I can see it being expanded into a lot of different platforms and milieu and stuff. I think it would be fun to have a Raven's End massive multi-online-player game or something.
And Shudder now has a Creepshow adaptation, so seeing a TV show continuation of The Mortuary Collection definitely seems like a possibility.
Yeah, it would be fun. That's a different thing, though. That kind of television show anthology is a really different thing than a film anthology, I think. Television anthology is really just an episodic anthology. You've got Rod Serling in the beginning, telling you something about what's about to happen, and then maybe wrapping it up sometimes, or The Creep, or whatever it is, with the Cryptkeeper, or whoever it is at the beginning and the end. But for a film, you have to be much more inclusive and subtle. And I would hope that if they did decide to do something like that with The Mortuary Collection, that they would allow the overall story of Raven's End to be part of it and lift it above the episodic idea. You know what I mean? That it has some kind of connected tissue.prevnext
You mentioned Highlander earlier and you've previously said that you're a fan of the mythology of the concept, despite not being a big fan of the sequels, and since there have been reports that a reboot of the idea is in some stage of being developed, would you ever want to return to that series?
Oh, no. My character's dead. He got his head cut off. That's not happening anymore. I'm looking forward to the reboot. I hope it gets done. I can't wait. I would love to see it, but I don't have any aspirations to be part of that franchise.
As they say, there can be only one. So it sounds like for you, there can be only one Highlander movie in which you are in it.
Yeah, it was of its time. There's no reason for me to [return], I did my time. I did my bit. It's time for other people to have fun with it.
One of your literal biggest characters was as the voice of Surtur in Thor: Ragnarok. Since you completely destroyed Asgard, there's only so many times you can feature a character that destructive, but when you signed on for the project, did that mean getting on board to potentially return as the character? Or would it just be that if they find a way to use the character, they'll come to you at that time?
Oh, yeah. That was a voiceover character pretty much. So, I mean, I would happily do it again, because it would be a mo-cap, and that would be fun, and a voice, but they didn't sign me up for any multi-picture deal or anything like that. If they call me up, and we can reach a deal, then I'll do it. If they call me up, and they don't want to pay me, then I won't. I mean, it's not that big a deal. It's not a real character to me anyway, Surtur.0comments
The Mortuary Collection is now streaming on Shudder.prev