In the first season of Westworld, actor Clifton Collins Jr., as Mexican outlaw Lawrence/El Lazo, delivered one of the best “motherfucker” lines ever filmed. With the second season making its long-awaited debut on HBO this Sunday, April 22, I skyped with the 47-year-old vet. His career spans Poetic Justice, Menace II Society, Traffic, Star Trek, Ballers, a cookbook titled Prison Ramen, and even a healthcare app. We talked about how he got involved with Westworld, what fans can expect from the new season, and how he helped make Super Troopers 2.
VICE: How did you get involved with Westworld? And what did you think of your role in the beginning?
Clifton Collins Jr.: Originally, I auditioned for one of either Ben Barnes or Jimmi Simpson’s roles. I got a phone call that the showrunners wanted to meet with me for something different. I wasn't really even sure what it was. [Screenwriter] Lisa Joy sat me down and spoke to me about some of my previous projects that she was a fan of. She started to put through this idea of the Man in Black (Ed Harris) having a sidekick. I was intrigued. Who doesn't love Michael Crichton? Who doesn't love the original Westworld?
They literally tailored and handcrafted this role for me, which is really special because my grandfather was a contract player for John Wayne Westerns. After 30 years of acting, I got a legitimate Western. It's kinda ironic that I wouldn't do any Westerns until I got something that was fantastic and brilliant. It’s a dream gig for me, truth told. I wake up pinching myself every day. I'm sad when I'm on hiatus—I miss being on set.
What can fans expect from Westworld and your Lawrence/El Lazo character this season?
That's a loaded question, and you're gonna experience the loaded answer when you're watching. That's a spin I can't even articulate. It's interesting, when you watch a show like Westworld, it really sets the bar high. Having been in the business as long as I have, one always hopes for the best, but they've really done it.
This new season's gonna blow people's minds. I mean, when you've got your cast members showing up to set and their jaws are on the floor like, "Did you read the scene last night?" And like, "Holy shit!" It's just mind boggling, man. It's not gonna let anybody down. I’ll put it that way: It's gonna meet everybody's expectations, and even surpass others.
Your “motherfucker” line is a personal favorite of mine. How much preparation was involved in delivering something like that?
There was a lot of preparation. There's so many emotions in the show that one has to go through, but in addressing a cool little line like that, it's almost a line that could be branded. The king of “motherfuckers” is one of my mentors, Samuel L. Jackson. I can only hope to recreate something [like him]. I can't even articulate to you how many hours I spent “motherfuckering” and saying “motherfucker” to everybody I saw, met, and spoke to. With friends, I could say it 'cause they know [me]. But running into people in everyday life, in my mind I would say, Oh thank you very much. I can hardly wait to read this script, motherfucker. Just finding ways to do it in my head.
How did your character’s relationship with the Man in Black evolve over the course of season one, and how do you see it evolving in the new season?
You've got an idea on the page when you read these scripts, but they're so intricate and so complex, one never knows how an edit's gonna turn out. The show's so cerebral, the rewrites continue to the very end—'til the show's actually presented. Another way to rewrite the story is through edits and taking pieces from other episodes. I'd venture to say that there's an evolution of consciousness, which for me is the most effective art. Art that touches society most is the art that reflects society; art that reflects the moments that we are all experiencing as human beings. What I can say is, there's some dope-ass horseback riding and I'm alive to talk about now. It's been a blast riding with my compadres.
You published a book, Prison Ramen, with your homeboy who was in prison. How did that come about?
I was on set and saw the headline “Riot at Chino Prison.” My buddy Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez was there. I was finding out about people getting shot on the yard by the National Guard and was worried about my friend. I eventually got ahold of Goose days later. He explained to me everything that'd happened. In Southern and Northern California, blacks and Latinos generally don't get along. Goose spent a total of 13-and-a-half years in prison, and through that he's learned a lot of tremendous life lessons that help to encourage and promote empathy and compassion.
After the riot, a lot of the black inmates were locked outside of their cells and per usual, forced to fend for themselves. It was cold. It was smoky. People were bleeding, hurt, in need of attention, and nobody's helping them. Goose took it upon himself to collect everybody's ramen noodle packets and make a giant spread that he passed through the hole that was made in the steel security door that was busted open before the riot was calmed down. Goose brought unity to everybody in that prison through ramen. And as a result, he was like, "I want to spread more of this kinda unity." He goes, "I wanna write a cookbook.”
I said, “Cookbook? You just survived a prison riot. I can still smell the burnt wood, and you wanna do a cookbook?" I just didn't get it. Ramen is a form of currency and staple of food in prison. I said, "Wow. Well, how do we extend this message and provide unity? How do we get more human powers involved?" And that brought me to Father Greg at Homeboy Industries. I brought Father Greg in to help out, and we donated a portion of the proceeds. A lot of my celebrity friends like Danny Trejo, Jacob Vargas, Mister Cartoon, and Shia LaBeouf helped out tremendously with the book. Samuel L. Jackson wrote the foreword. Every recipe comes with a story.
What's your secret as a actor? How do you slip seamlessly into so many different roles?
I never felt that I was good enough to portray myself on film. Clifton Collins Jr. is not good enough to be Clifton Collins Jr. But I could present to you this other character. I saw this dude in the hood that was very intriguing to me. I saw this other kid walking on the street. I was hanging out with my redneck uncles and I can create a character. Unbeknownst to myself, I was exercising survival tools. When I went to hang out with the homies in the hood, the Latino ones, I would act and speak accordingly.
When I was hanging out with my Crip friends, I would switch to the ebonics that I exercised. Let me present that to you most recently with John Hawkes in Small Town Crime. But the truth of the matter is, it was a tool of survival. Growing up around so many difficult cultures and having to travel, and not having a father figure, I was always being inspired and influenced by others. As a kid, I would imitate the characters that my grandfather would act with, whether it was John Wayne or Walter Brennan. I would do these voices as a kid.
Not only is Westworld debuting this month, Super Troopers 2 is coming out too. How’d you get involved in that?
I'm a fan of Super Troopers. I'm friends with all the Broken Lizards. They're great guys, and they're fans of mine, which is weird to even say. They reached out to me to help them with this film. There were a couple of surprises involved with that film as well. It was weird because I was like, "Guys, why don't we get a big name, like an Anthony Hopkins, Sam Jackson, or Morgan Freeman?" They were like, "No, you're great. You're the guy we want.” I hooked them up with Emmanuelle Chriqui, who ended up playing the lead actress in it. This is a great cast, including Linda Carter and all kinds of great people.
Finally, what can you tell me about the app you helped develop?
I've partnered up with this app called FaceCure. It’s the first urgent-care application. If you're sick, just download FaceCure. If you can't make it to a doctor's, or you don't have the time to set up a meeting or a car to get there, you can have a certified medical assistant come to your house. If you don't have insurance, we're doing a trial where you just pay $99. We have the hardware and the gear to actually do live stats on you—your lungs, your heart—in addition to all kinds of other applications such as IVs and B12 shots. Once they run all your stats, they're able to put you on with a live doctor who will assess you. You'll meet the doctor live on-camera. He doesn't have to come to your house, and you don't have to go to his office. He can give you a prescription right there and they'll have the meds delivered right to your door within the hour. It's the future of medicine.
Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.
Follow Seth Ferranti on Twitter.