Clarke takes on Kennedy tragedy
Jason Clarke isn’t the kind of actor whose name alone can get a film made. And he recognizes that. Ever since he arrived in Hollywood — already in his mid-30s, a veteran Australian television star with a handful of cop procedurals under his belt — he’s been cast by directors rather than producers.
“It’s not producers saying, ‘This guy can bankroll our film,’ ” said Clarke, now 48. “It’s always been directors saying ‘He’s right for the part.’ That’s who I am, and I accept that. Do I get hurt when I hear, ‘Oh, they’re out to get such and such actor and you’re way down the list?’ Yes. Does it upset? Yes. But I’m pretty happy with my lot.”
In fact, that’s what Clarke first heard after he read the script for “Chappaquiddick,” a political drama of the cover-up after Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge in 1969 — an accident that left his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, dead. Clarke wasn’t anyone’s pick for the lead role.
But when what Clarke describes as “bigger names” pulled out of the project, the actor and his manager went to bat for the part. With his team at William Morris Endeavor, Clarke found “a way to make the financials work,” surrounding himself with a strong cast (Ed Helms, Kate Mara, Bruce Dern) and finding a respected director in John Curran.
Judging by his resume alone, it’s kind of surprising that Clarke isn’t more famous. Since his breakout role in 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty” — he played a CIA operative — he’s gone on to lead action franchises (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” “Terminator Genisys”) and work with top directors like Terrence Malick (“Knight of Cups”), Baz Luhrmann (“The Great Gatsby”) and Dee Rees (“Mudbound”).
To prepare for the role, Clarke read biographies on the family’s major figures: patriarch Joe Sr., JFK, Bobby and of course Ted.
Though Clarke was sympathetic to Kennedy’s situation — especially the fact that he was raising 14 kids by the time he was 34 — he also came to the conclusion that the senator should have served time for the incident. After he drove off the bridge, Kennedy was able to free himself from the vehicle, but Kopechne was not. Though Kennedy said he tried to save her, he failed to report the accident for 10 hours. He pled guilty to leaving the scene, but only received a two-month suspended jail sentence.
“Should Ted Kennedy still have been able to sit as a senator after this? No, he shouldn’t have,” Clarke said. “There should have been criminal charges against him, and there weren’t.”
“Having to play a Kennedy is a dangerous thing,” Curran said. “You can really fail miserably taking that on. But I had faith Jason could do it, because I knew he’d play it for extremes and not pull any punches.” April 15 birthdays: Country singer Roy Clark is 85. Actress Lois Chiles is 71. Actress Emma Thompson is 59. Country singer Chris Stapleton is 40. Actor Seth Rogen is 36. Actress Alice Braga is 35. Actress Samira Wiley is 31. Actress Emma Watson is 28.