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An Interview with James Clinton, Star of When a Stranger Knocks

by Mike Haberfelner

February 2024

James Clinton on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie When a Stranger Knocks - in a few words, what's it about, and what can you tell us about your character in it?

 

Sky, her brother, and her husband return to their childhood cabin where Sky intends to bury her father, Samuelís, ashes. Once they arrive, they begin to discover something sinister Samuel became immersed in before his death. It only grows more sinister ďwhen a stranger knocks.Ē Moooo-oo-wah-ah-ah! J

 

What did you draw upon to bring your character to life, and how much James Clinton can we find in Samuel?

 

There is a lot of me in every role I have played but not like most people think. If a script is well written, everything I need to know should be in it. I know heís a father. Her brother, Gray perceives that Sky is his favorite. Sky left to join the military as soon as she was old enough, leaving Gray in a dysfunctional relationship with Samuel. Samuelís wife and Sky and Grayís mother died and that is when their relationships began to go haywire. Samuel is obsessed with something he has been investigating, something sinister. Things may not be spelled out for the audience but they can be, through scripted hints, for the actor. Once I have all the information, I can then begin to form a logical characterization for Samuel. My technique is to find the characterís core value system. What is it that informs the way he interacts with the world around him. Once that is found, I can then find how the character justifies his actions from his point of view. Without getting too philosophical, I donít believe human beings do bad things. In their minds, they are doing what is right. I have to find their justification. I have yet to find a character I cannot relate to using this form of character moral judgement. Some roles are big and you get to explore the many facets. Some are small and brief. Of course, this is a simplistic description.

 

How did you get involved with the project in the first place?

 

Javan Garza [Javan Garza interview - click here], the director, contacted me and asked if I was available. We worked out a schedule and I was in. No hesitation. I was there when Javan first started his filmmaking journey and was always willing to help out in any way possible. Nothing had changed. Then I met Dawn Hamil, the star and producer, and I was very happy I said yes. The only limit to working with them again is schedule.

 

To what degree could you identify with When a Stranger Knocks' approach to horror?

 


You never know how a project will turn out. For me, I have to trust the filmmakers. The only control I have is what happens between ďactionĒ and ďcutĒ, and even then, if the director doesnít like it, I have to adjust and do it again. I was only present for shooting my scenes and had no idea what else happened afterwards. Only at the premiere did I get to see the fruits of our labor and I was very pleasantly surprised. You might say, ďbut you read the script.Ē True. I knew what was said. I had some descriptions of what was supposed to happen. But film is a visual medium. You never know what you will see until you see it. I love the use black and white. I have always been a fan of the old horror flicks. I also was very taken by the psychological thriller aspects. This is not a slasher flick. Although my role is small, it is important. I am very proud to be associated with this film and especially those who made it happen.

 

Do talk about When a Stranger Knocks' director Javan Garza, and what was your collaboration like?

 

For each shot, we would discuss what he wanted and why. I would then do my best to give it to him. After he felt we accomplished what was needed, he would ask me if there was anything I felt like I wanted to do. I would ask him if he was satisfied with what I did. He would say yes and I would say, well letís move on. Except for the one scene with some awesome young actors playing a young Sky and Gray and the final scene, the rest of my work was alone. It might have been different if I was playing opposite someone in a give-and-take situation. However, I still see my job as giving filmmakers what they need. If I said yes to the project, itís because I believe in them.

 

What can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

The on-set atmosphere was loving, welcoming, appreciative, encouraging, creative, fun, everything a work environment should be to bring out the best in people. Everytime I am reunited with these people, it lifts my heart.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

I am currently exploring my retirement and have a project I would like to pursue dealing with roleplaying and first responder training. I would like to combine my 45 years in theatre, film, and television with scenario-based training.

 

What got you into acting in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

I first got into acting because of the glitz, glamor, and attention. It didnít take long for me to discover those were the wrong reasons. I then fell in love with theatre, not just acting but the technical behind-the-scenes aspects of it. Most of my experience has been in theatre as a producer, director, stage manager, actor, playwright, scene designer, scenic painter, props, stage combat. In film and television, I have been a prop person, set decorator, painter, carpenter. Itís never been about one thing for me. As long as I was doing it, thatís me doing what I love.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to When a Stranger Knocks?

 

My professional work mostly ended when I began teaching at Northwest Florida State College 23 years ago. I was mostly a freelance behind-the-scenes guy in theatre, film, and television. I built and painted a set for a film called Cookieís Fortune starring Glenn Close and directed by Robert Altman, set decorator for an HBO film, Miss Eversí Boys, starring Alfre Woodard and Laurence Fishburne and directed by Joseph Sargent. I freelanced in Atlanta building and painting Vegas industrial sets for the two largest scene shops.

 

You're also an assistant professor of Theatre at the Nortwest Florida State College - so what can you tell us about that aspect of your career, and in what way does it inform your acting, and vice versa?

 

My philosophy is about giving students real-world experiences and education. I spent 20 years getting degrees and working professionally. I was originally hired by the college as their resident scene designer without the expectation of teaching. Once they discovered the extent of my experience and how I was interested in sharing it with students, I began teaching a variety of courses. My current degrees are Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre, Scene Design, Master of Fine Arts in Directing, both earned from the University of Mississippi, and a Master of Fine Arts in Staging Shakespeare from the University of Exeter, England.

 

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How would you describe yourself as an actor, and some of your techniques to bring your characters to life?

 

I am a no-nonsense actor. Pragmatic and efficient. Did I give you what you need? If yes, letís move on. If not, letís figure out why until I give you what you need, and letís move on. I must be ready when called upon, give it my all, and satisfy the needs of the production. We only need as many takes as the director wants. My simplified description of technique is in question #2.

 

Actors (and indeed actresses) who inspire you?

 

Meryl Streep in particular. In general, any actor who engages me enough to forget myself for a while.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Too many to list. My favorite genres are action, sci-fi, horror without gratuitous violence, and war films exploring the sacrifices made.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

I base my movie-going experience on the mood I am in at the time. I donít really have any I deplore because I never last long enough to find out.

 

Your website, social media, whatever else?

 

I donít have much of an internet presence.

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

Canít think of anything. Did I give you what you need? If yes, cool. If not, please feel free to contact me J Thanks for the interest in the film and best wishes always! J

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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In times of uncertainty of a possible zombie outbreak, a woman has to decide between two men - only one of them's one of the undead.

 

There's No Such Thing as Zombies
starring
Luana Ribeira, Rudy Barrow and Rami Hilmi
special appearances by
Debra Lamb and Lynn Lowry

 

directed by
Eddie Bammeke

written by
Michael Haberfelner

produced by
Michael Haberfelner, Luana Ribeira and Eddie Bammeke

 

now streaming at

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Robots and rats,
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love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
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Tales to Chill
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Tales to Chill
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the new anthology by
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