Clarke takes on Kennedy tragedy

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NEWS - By Amy Kauf­man amy.kauf­man@la­

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.


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