Interview: Clark Gregg from “Choke”
The Massie Twins recently had a chance to sit down with actor/director Clark Gregg of the new movie “Choke,” adapted from Chuck Palahniuk’s novel of the same name.
The Massie Twins: What drew you to the project of adapting Choke for the big screen?
Clark Gregg: I’d read Fight Club and I thought beyond being the funniest and darkest writer I’d read in a while, Chuck Palahniuk was on to something important culturally, really looking at the underbelly of American society, and I was just fascinated. So when someone sent me “Choke” before it had been published and I found out it hadn’t already been optioned, I freaked out a little and did everything legal and a little bit illegal to just get a hold of it and make it.
MT: There’s been a gap of about nine years between Chuck Palahniuk novel-based films. What gives?
CG: In Hollywood’s twisted logic, and at that time, Fight Club was considered a little bit of a disappointment, because it had cost a lot of money to make and didn’t make a lot back. You gotta figure that it’s made that money back by now. Perhaps there are other factors involved, but with Choke I think the fact that it’s about a sex-addicted colonial theme park worker who may or may not have been cloned from the foreskin of Jesus – that might not have been considered too commercial.
MT: For the fans who have read the novel, how similar is the movie to the book?
CG: They’re very similar and a lot of the changes are pretty subtle. When everyone reads a novel, they see a movie in their head – and this one’s pretty damn close to what I saw. At the end of the day you just can’t keep everything that’s in a book in a movie. It’s like moving from one city to another by plane – if you try to take your house too, that plane’s not going anywhere. You can basically take only the things you need and that’s the new city called “Movie.” I just made that up. (laughs)
MT: That’s a great analogy.
CG: I’m pretty sure it doesn’t make any sense at all.
MT: When you were writing the script, did you have actors in mind?
CG: I really don’t do that. I’m embarrassed to say this – and I guess it’s not a big secret since I wrote, directed, and acted in it – but there’s some narcissism in my personality. I actually kind of picture myself as all of them. (laughs) I guess sometimes I picture old movie stars.
MT: If you envision yourself in all these roles, how did you decide upon playing Lord High Charlie?
CG: (laughs) It’s not because I really think I’m a jackass. At least I hope not.
MT: But you win in the end with Bijou Phillips!
CG: I’d like to think that in terms of a movie, you’re developing an idea and telling a character’s story. And the ideas about the ways that people deal with the damage that’s done to them in order to be able to give and receive love you start to see manifest in all of the characters. Lord High Charlie’s story is developed, not because I knew that I was going to play him, but because of the crucial scenes between him and Victor that is actually of paramount importance to Victor’s journey. I wasn’t going to cast myself, but I do play some jackasses like that and I enjoy it.
MT: Was it difficult to direct yourself and then later on edit those scenes?
CG: Normally you’d watch stuff through monitors so you’d know what’s being captured and not captured on film, and playback to watch the scenes. We didn’t have that. Someone would say “I think the microphone was in the shot,” and we’d say “I don’t know, we’ll check the dailies,” but in a couple days when it’s too late to do anything about it. Luckily I had a couple producers who I trusted who would say “I’m not saying you stunk in that one, but you might want to do one more take.”
MT: Was there anything in the novel so outrageous you didn’t want to use it or anything filmed that might have run into MPAA problems?
CG: No. I feel like I sound full of shit even as I say this, but it’s really true. There was nothing in the book that I thought was too shocking and if at any moment I thought there was something too shocking, another voice inside me would say “you coward, you better put that in the script.”
MT: What was it like watching the film for the first time with Chuck Palahniuk and a full audience?
CG: I was sick to my stomach. I think I had to walk out. He saw it the first night when it premiered at Sundance, which was three days after it was finished. People had told me it wasn’t funny and it was dark and sick, and there were publicists who didn’t want to work on it. I thought it was going to be like one of those dirty jokes I love, that are so dirty that people are offended and leave the room while I’m howling by myself. And with Chuck there also, I thought I was going to faint from the anxiety. And when he liked it and when the audience laughed at the places I laughed, I realized either it wasn’t that dark or people are just as sick as I am.
MT: That’s probably what it is (laughs). People appreciate that sick kind of humor more these days.