Best known for his Academy Award-nominated performance in The Green Mile, Michael Clarke Duncan has turned in memorable supporting performances in such hits as Sin City, Armageddon, and Kung Fu Panda (which puts his authoritative baritone to good use). In his latest, Redemption Road, Duncan plays Augy, a Shakespeare-quoting country music fan with a dark past who helps Jefferson (Morgan Simpson), a troubled young bluesman, to settle his late grandfather’s estate. In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, Duncan shared some of his favorite movies, and talked about his favorite cartoon character, the misconceptions about his size, and his role in one of Major League Baseball’s most infamous nights.
RT: What are some of your favorite movies?
Michael Clarke Duncan: I’d have to say The Ten Commandments. Charlton Heston. Heston was unbelievable. Man, for me, to act like that in such a prolific film is unbelievable to see. I can sit and watch that over and over and over and over again. You can’t get better than Charlton Heston. He was just unbelievable in that film, that’s all. Of course, I do — and this is going to sound weird – I like Arnold Schwarzenegger movies. I like his movies, like Commando. I love Conan the Barbarian. I love that. I love to watch Armageddon. It’s one of my favorite movies. The Green Mile is another favorite movie of mine.
I really don’t have favorites; I’m just a fan of movies, period. When I get the chance, I’m at the theaters all the time, trying to check out the latest movies. I’m just a fan of great movies, so I can’t really say which five. I’m a fan of all movies.
Speaking of favorites, you play a country music fan who’s paired up with a bluesman in Redemption Road. Which do you prefer: blues or country?
You know, it’s funny because I can’t say I was a hardcore fan of one or the other. They both send the same message to me. They’re both about life. One just comes from an African-American perspective, and one comes from a white perspective. But I think at certain times, you have these country songs that make you go, “Oh, I like what he’s saying.” Then when you hear a blues song, say, a B.B. King song, then it’s a similar thing. So I can’t say that I like blues better than country, or I like Country better than Blues. They’re both good to me. They’re both good, and sometimes I listen to both of them.
More so jazz, more so contemporary things like James Brown. So you know, in my neighborhood, you heard James Brown a lot, the Temptations, the Floaters, things of that nature. I came up during that time when music, to me, was really music. It wasn’t about talking about a woman and calling them a derogatory name or something like that. It was real music. The old days — L.T.D., I met Jeffrey Osborne in the airport last week at LAX; man, big fan of his. Singing “Love Ballad,” which is one of my favorites, like probably the number one song that I love. So there are a lot of things that I can look back and say had an influence on me as a moviegoer, listening to music in particular.
What initially attracted you to Redemption Road?
Well, you know, it’s interesting, the things that may attract you to a movie or a certain project. First of all, it was different. It wasn’t a big time action movie, a big budget movie, it wasn’t a part where, you know, I’m beating somebody up. It’s a guy who has to deal with some truths about himself, and who has to fix something, who has to fix something in order to keep living his life. This thing that’s bothering this guy, it’s tearing him to pieces, it’s something really tragic, and he’s trying to make amends. And when you try to make amends with something, you have to find yourself first and you have to be truthful with yourself first. This guy’s truthful with himself, and he’s coming to help Bailey [Morgan Simpson] to be truthful also. So I have to say Morgan Simpson, who stars as Bailey and also wrote it, and working with the great Mario Van Peebles as a director, really attracted me to this movie, and doing something different in my career. You know, taking a chance on a movie such as this.
You’re also a co-producer Redemption Road. Is it a difficult thing when you’re working on a project and you’ve got a bigger role in its production?
No. You know, I had input into everything, but once I was concentrating on building Augy, which is my character, once I was focused on building that, I didn’t worry about the other ancillary things on the outside. Mario Van Peebles and Morgan Simpson took care of that, and we had a tone of very good executive producers. Charlie Poe was another one out of Tampa. And once I got into that, I didn’t worry about the other things. Every morning Mario Van Peebles would come to my trailer, and we would talk over the production thing or we would go over the script, and he was right on time with everything that he did, as far as the movie was concerned. So I didn’t really worry about the production side as much as you might think, because I had so much to study for in developing this character and making this movie to be a really good movie.
You know, it’s a little bit of both. It’s a little bit of both. I think that, when you’re a big person, they’re going to typecast you. I’ll put it like this: Once I did The Green Mile, they’d typecast me as a gentle giant, which, to me, is ridiculous. I mean, it was a role that I played, but you have to get out of that because you don’t want everybody going, “Oh, he’s just a gentle giant. Those are soft roles.” And I don’t want nobody thinking I’m a soft actor. So it was a thing that, once you get stuck, it’s like mud. I broke out of that rut, because I took things that were different. And sometimes it helps you, and sometimes it hurts you, because people see that. The Green Mile was such a great movie, and I can tell you it’s great because I really, truly believe that that year, 1999-2000, it was the best movie out, bar none. You know, I will put that movie up against any movie that was out at that time, or any movie, period. But the thing that’s happened is people see you as being seven feet tall, 400 pounds, and I’ll tell you, if I was seven feet and 400 or 300 pounds, or 250 or 260, I’d probably just be retiring from the NBA with a stellar career, and probably right behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, as far as points. I would have had so much money that I’d probably have my own private island, my own grills like George Foreman did, I would have so many things going. But everybody sees me… When they see me — I’m like 6’4, 6’5 — they go, “Wow, I thought you were taller.” I’m like, “No, I’m not. I’m not taller, I’m not bigger.” And I weigh 280 now! Some people saw that John Coffey, when I filmed that movie, I weighed 360. But it’s a big difference from 360 to 280. And when people see me, they’re like, “Huh? You’re smaller…” and I’m like, “Well, what did you think?” They saw a giant. They thought I was bigger than Shaquille O’Neal and heavier and walking around, so when people see me, I guess that’s disappointing when that isn’t so. It kind of sticks with you, the movie that you do. It was like when I saw Al Pacino, I wanted him to do Scarface, I wanted him to do Tony Montana. I didn’t ask him that, but deep down I just wanted him to say a couple lines from that, which was stupid. I would never do that, but I did think it, though. His career, probably, he’ll be known as Tony Montana, because he played that role so good. Whenever I look at… people put my name somewhere, they say “From The Green Mile.” They never say “From Daredevil” or Armageddon or The Scorpion King, you know, or Sin City, See Spot Run; they never say those movies. They always say “From The Green Mile.”
With a small movie like Redemption Road, do you consciously say, “Okay, I like these bit parts in the big movies, but now I gotta switch things up and I’m going to do a little movie like this,” or is it that you particularly like a story and decide to go with it?
It’s a combination of both things you said. I do say, “Okay, I’m going to switch something up, I want to do something different.” But it’s also a positive when the story is good. So it’s both of those things. Both of those things I look at every time. Like if any movie, you know, just doesn’t have the money, but it has a good cast, you could do any movie that has a good cast. It’s not paying any money, they’re paying everybody the same thing across the board, but the script is good, or you want to work with certain actors, or you want to work with a certain director. I mean, who wouldn’t want to work with Mario Van Peebles, and he said, “Hey, we don’t have a lot of money, but you’re going to be one of the stars of this movie.” Of course! You know, if Steven Spielberg did an independent movie, how many people do you think would line up? So, I think it’s a combination of both of those things you said. The script and the type of role that you’re going for; those two things really come into play. And then the third thing is the director.
Speaking of Daredevil and Sin City, I read that you were a big comic book fan growing up. Is there a superhero you’d want to play if you had the chance?
Oh yeah. I’d want to play Panthro from ThunderCats. I like Panthro. I always have. He was cool, he did the nunchucks. I think I’d have to work on my nunchuck skills; when I was younger, I hit myself on the head with some nunchucks. But Panthro from ThunderCats. I know they’re going to do a ThunderCats movie, and they’re apparently working on a show right now. I think Panthro would really suit me. I think I could really embellish that role.
I can’t see you as Orko anyway.
[laughs] Thanks, brother.
Do you have any idea what’s going on with Sin City 2?
I haven’t heard anything, but I think they finally get the funding together, and hopefully Robert Rodriguez will give me a call. Right now I am working on a contract with FOX to do 13 episodes of The Finder, which will be coming out January 5th, right after American Idol on FOX. But after that, I probably will, unless they order another nine episodes – you know, 22, fingers crossed – I’ll be ready for whatever. I’m ready to act, I’m ready to work. I love working, and I’m sure if they call me, we can work around my schedule or something can happen. But I would love to be in Sin City 2.
That’s right, that’s right. Disco Demolition Night, baby.
What on earth was that like? I read about that and I thought, “That sounds like anarchy!”
[laughs] Go on the internet and look it up. They got tons of videos. And it was a thing that… I think it was Steve Dahl or some radio DJ back in the day in the 1970s, he said it was the end of disco, and he was going to blow up all these disco records. So he had this army fatigues stuff on, in a jeep, and he was, like, a commander, and he detonated — I think the White Sox were playing Detroit at old Comiskey Park – and he detonated these disco records. But when he detonated it, the fires started happening, and all of a sudden, people just started running onto the field. I remember a friend of mine – I can’t recall his name — he just jumped from right field, which was a lot higher than it is now. All we saw was him going to the end and climbing over, and him running onto the field, and we were like, “That is a drop. That’s a good drop.” And I remember him stopping and just doing his hand like, “Come on!” And the adrenaline took over. We all jumped from that right field corner, and we all just ran up to the field and I remember sliding into second base and thinking it was a lot harder than it looked on TV. By this time, people were setting fires, people were stealing stuff. It looked like a war-torn country. That’s what it looked like. And nobody… you had black, white, Mexican, everybody… We were just on the field, and we were doing something that we shouldn’t have been doing. Now that I think back, I should have picked up second base and tried to steal that, because everybody was taking stuff, but I didn’t though. I went and slid into second and I rounded third, and I was going to do that and go home. I slid into home, and there was a bat laying there. And I picked up the bat. I was there for Disco Demolition Night in 1979, and I think that was one of the most fun times — every time I look at it on the internet, I just start laughing because I think of all the stuff that we did out there on that field.
Can you find yourself on YouTube? Are you visible in any of the clips?
No, there are too many people out there. [laughs] I look for myself all the time, but there were so many people out there. And the police were called in, and they had billy clubs, and people were running around… you swore it was a prison riot. That’s what it looked like: a prison riot on the yard. But once the police came in, by that time, the game was out of control. The second game of the doubleheader didn’t get played. The field was destroyed. I remember [White Sox broadcaster] Harry Caray on the PA saying [does Harry Caray impression” “Please, everybody! Get off the field! We have a game to play here!” Wasn’t nobody thinking about that. Fans ran to the dugout — we were looking for gloves, balls — people were throwing stuff, running with their shirts off, and just screaming for no apparent reason. I think it was 99 percent men out there — I didn’t see too many women. But it was on Channel 32 in Chicago, they were showing the White Sox game, and boy, did we have stories to tell when we got back. We were just so elated, because we were on the field at the old Comiskey Park! That was our thing. We didn’t know it was gonna be history.
After all that, I’m sure you appreciate the irony that you narrated the official 2005 White Sox World Series film.
[laughs] Yeah, you know what? When they called me I said, “Wow, how funny is this?” Now I’m this actor and they want me to do a voiceover, and they don’t know I was running around those bases so hard at old Comiskey Park. I mean, from home, to first, to second, to all the way back to home. I just wanted to see what it felt like to run around those bases. So when they called me it was very ironic, but very fun.
Redemption Road opens this weekend in limited release.