Clancy Brown

'Wonderful and amazing'
Actor Clancy Brown talks about making
a unique movie: 'Buckaroo Banzai'

By John Orr
January 21, 2002

Clancy Brown calls on the morning of Jan. 5, 2002, on his way to breakfast with his daughter Rosie and wife Jeanie.

He's very nice about sitting in his car while the women of his family go inside to eat, not even mentioning that it was his 42nd birthday. "It's a breakfast for my daughter. She wanted to see her little pal. They're in there, they're having a good time."

He is one of many people who came together to make sure that "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension" -- the second film of his career -- gets a nice treatment and maybe a little attention in the press on the occasion of its release on DVD.

More on "Buckaroo'

Director and producer W.D. Richter talks about the movie and the DVD.

Review of "Buckaroo Banzai."

Buy the DVD.

MGM, looking through its catalog for possible DVD properties, found the 1984 comedy "Buckaroo Banzai" and hired sound producer Chris Johnston to clean it up. Turned out Johnston is a fan.

Johnston was disappointed that MGM had no plans for anything other than a quick and dirty DVD and got in touch with producer and director W. D. Richter, who started making calls. In the meantime, MGM found its recent release of the film on VHS was selling better than anticipated.

So, MGM hired Michael Arick to produce new DVD features, Richter found the original negative and other material and a number of people volunteered to work on it. The resulting package is a real treat.

Clancy Brown in Buckaroo BanzaiAnd one of the volunteers is Clancy Brown, who played Rawhide in the movie -- Buckaroo's best friend, who is fated to die from the attack of an arachoid from Planet 10. (Fear not, Rawhide fans -- writer Earl Mack Rauch, on the DVD, says Rawhide is still with us. "He's on ice." In the event of a sequel, Rawhide might be revived.)

"It was my second film," said Brown. "It was all completely new to me and wonderful and amazing. I would have had fun doing just about anything. But you put together Peter (Weller) and Lewis (Smith) and Pepe (Serna) and Billy Vera and John Lithgow and Jeff Goldblum and you know, all those cats, and just let them riff. That was one of the most fun sets I've ever been on. I laughed, I laughed so much.

"You know, it's a very simple story. Not a lot of psychological anxiety that you have to build yourself up for. You just kind of go out there and do it and try to get the joke. You know?

""Early on I decided, 'Well, you know what? I don't get the joke, so I'm just going to laugh at what I think is funny and do things that I think are funny.' I mean, obviously I didn't do it on camera, but it was just a lot of fun."

The film is fun and has built a considerable following of devotees, but its original box-office take was abyssmal, thanks, some people say, to a poor release effort by the studio. Other people just think that it was too intelligent, droll and quirky a mix of humor styles for regular audiences.

But its fan base has continued to build, thanks to video tapes, laser discs and the Internet, where thousands of references to it can be found.

Part of what Brown found special about the movie is "Michael Riva's art design,'' said Brown. ""It was just extraordinary, just so whimsical and, and ... indulgent, you know what I mean? (laughing) I've never seen anything like that.''

Maybe he's talking about the special viewing glasses from Planet 10 that are obviously made from bubble wrap. Or the Red Lectroid safety harnesses that were made from spray foam applied to overcoats. Or the "Declaration of War -- The Short Form" that the president opens.

He didn't notice that the camera crew was careful to place him in such a way that he didn't tower over Weller, who had the title role. At the time, Brown was 6-foot-4 and Weller was 6 feet even. Now Brown, because of back surgery, is 6-foot-3.

"At that time it didn't occur to me at all. But it's been a consistent technique in my career. Paul Verhoeven, in 'Starship Troopers' wanted to cut me off at the knees.

"You will never work with Arnold," Brown intones in a heavy accent.

Brown has had a busy career since Bad Boys," his first movie (which starred Sean Penn), and "Buckaroo Banzai."

Clancy BrownIn addition to the cultish status of "Buckaroo Banzai," Brown is also famous to fans of "Highlander," in which he plays Kurgan.

And, let us not forget his powerful presence as the very scary Captain Byron Hadley in "The Shawshank Redemption."

In "Buckaroo Banzai," Brown has a kind of Ben Johnson Western hero aura about him. I tell him so.

"Ah, where's Ben Johnson when you need him?" Brown said.

Clancy Brown in The Shawshank RedemptionHow did it feel to play a hardass like Hadley?

"Well ... since my child has been born I am not anxious to pursue that stereotype," Brown said, with a laugh.

"In that case, she wasn't born when that came through. That was just such a terrific script that everybody wanted to do it. I would have done any role in it ... the one role I probably would have taken pause with is Bogs -- the one that raped Andy (played by Tim Robbins). That role, I would have taken pause, but I so admire Mark Rolston (who did play Bogs) because it was such a brave thing.

"It was such a terrific script -- That's really what it is for me. If it's something that reaches out and grabs me, I want to do it. I have a lot of trouble doing things that don't grab me. So, I'm not a very good actor in that way. I can't fake it. It ends up being a miserable experience for everyone involved.

"There have been a couple of jobs I've done without thinking, without being engaged, and they just stink.

"What's really aggravating," Brown said, "is when you do something that you really love, that you're really just engaged in, and it gets buried, or is the victim of some pissing contest or something, like what happened with 'Buckaroo' and other things that I've done, actually. That's a little infuriating, especially when it has quality, or uniqueness, like 'Buckaroo.'"

Mr. KrabsAt the time we spoke -- on his birthday -- Brown wasn't working on any new feature film or TV projects, but continuing to provide the voice of the voice of Mr. Krabs on the Nickolodeon animated series "Spongebob Squarepants."

"You've got to check that out. That's the hip of the hip right now. It goes hand in glove with 'Buckaroo Banzai.' Everybody in my family is agreeing with me. That's why I married this woman. (Jeanie, a freelance journalist, can be heard laughing in the background.)

Brown -- who was born in Urbana, Ohio -- is capable of that aw-shucks-ma'am Western-hero thing that Ben Johnson did so well (say, as Trooper Tyree in "Rio Grande"), and doesn't think much of self promotion. So is modest about having his own official Clancy Brown web site.

"I got approached by Beth Blighton to start a fan club about three years ago," Brown said. "It wasn't anything that really interested me. But, she was so sweet, very persistent, very respectful.

"Now it's one of the great sources of pride, because we've raised money for various causes, mostly on the strength of the fan following. I sell off bits and pieces of the shows that I discover buried in my garage, and they do mailings, and we do dinners sometimes.

"It's been really great. That's the only reason to have something like that. Promoting a career is really lame, I think.

"Because your career is you, and if you're no good, you shouldn't have one (a career) and you know, if you're any good, it's not going to make a difference if you have a fan club or not.

"There's a lot of people out here that spend a lot of time in promotion, and that just seems like a big waste of time to me."

Brown -- who played keyboards for the Honk Kong Kavaliers in "Buckaroo Banzai" -- doesn't claim to be much of a musician off screen, but is a big blues fan.

"Lonnie Brooks played my wedding," he said. "Matter of fact, during 'Shawshank,' I sort of, like, got a bus and organized everybody to go up to that outdoor venue outside Cleveland and go see B.B. King, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, and what's his name who does all the covers.

"Call me the Blues Actor, that's fine!"