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Clifton Collins Jr. talks 'Triple 9,' police brutality and Beyonce

The acclaimed actor says the new thriller says a lot about PTSD, the cops and diversity in America.

Clifton Collins JrTriple 9

Clifton Collins Jr. knows about cops. The acclaimed actor, of everything from “Capote” to “Crank: High Voltage” to the upcoming TV version of “Westworld,” has plenty of friends and family in law enforcement. And he spends a lot of time with the charity organization, Homeboy Industries, which seeks to help former inmates and gang members rehabilitate into a normal life after prison. (He also recently released the book “Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars,” about just that.) As such, his new, star-studded film “Triple 9” really speaks to him. It’s a crime opera featuring him as Franco, a corrupt cop who works in a gang of thieves, alongside Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie and Aaron Paul.

This isn’t a film where the cops and robbers are wholly good or wholly good. Even with your character, he has a backstory that explains his actions, even if it doesn’t excuse them.
That’s what was so important. I may not agree with what Franco is doing, but I understand how he got there. I get it. These good and bad characters throughout this piece, they’re not just morally corrupt. They’re three-dimensional. There’s a rhyme and reason for everyone.

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Some of the other thieves in Franco’s gang, the ones played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Norman Reedus, are ex-mercenaries who haven’t gotten over their experiences.
I looked at the PTSD that comes with losing your platoon or watching your boy’s head get blown up right next to you, watching your boy come home a re-con mission and killing himself. You take that and you look at how they come home; they look at the world and think no one understands them or accepts them. A lot of people come back and realize the rules of engagement change when you’re over there. When you’re over there you dehumanize the people you kill. When you come home you’ve got to find a place to belong, or get some heavy, heavy therapy. We train them to dehumanize, we train them to kill. And when that’s over, we don’t train them to get back to their heart again.

RELATED: Interview: Chiwetel Ejiofor on learning how to use a gun for "Triple 9"

The same happens with prisoners. You’re involved in charity work with helping inmates readjust to society.
That’s part of the problem we’re having with privatized prisons. The charity I work with, Homeboy Industries, has a 70 percent success rate of people going through our 18 month system. The American prison system has a 30 percent success rate. That’s obviously by design, because you don’t want to have a vacant hotel — er, prison. [Laughs] America has 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated population. That’s a staggering number. I get my intel from police organizations and friends and family who are involved in that. I get it off the streets and in the prisons. I always get a far more rock solid truth from the prison system, because it all comes from the street. I knew the Rodney King riots were going to happen the day before they happened. I got calls telling me to be careful and not to be in certain areas.

There’s a real honesty in this film about how easy it is for cops to become corrupted.
I want to be honest and look at both sides. Look, police officers have a tough job. But there were zero convictions in 2014 for police killings. Zero. We need transparency, we need community policing. Because if you’re from there you’re going to care about it, because it’s your neighborhood. That was the original foundation of the police. United we stand, divided we fall, and if you divide the people and the police institutions then you each side starts to demonize the other. Protect and serve is the opposite of us versus them.

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The debate over police brutality has too often been twisted into this idea that any criticism of policework is a condemnation of all police officers. It’s been aggravating to see an important discussion get perverted by the wrong side.
This whole thing with Beyonce — “she got a police escort, we didn’t know she was going to do [her Black Panther routine at the Super Bowl].” Beyonce has been speaking passionately about the Black Panther movement through her entire career. It’s not a secret; they’re just now paying attention. But people say her video is anti-police. It’s anti-police because it’s about “stop shooting us”? So what’s pro-police: “keep shooting us”? If you want your husband to stop beating you, does that make you anti-husband? It’s very easy to demonize the [Black Lives Matter] movement, that what they’re doing is anti-police. They’ve reiterated it thousands of times that there are anti-police brutality.

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All this talk over the last year and change about equality and diversity has perhaps inevitably spilled over to talk about Hollywood. It was great to see the Academy so quickly react to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign, but they’re just a small part of a bigger problem.
We know that change is happening because the Screen Actors Guild has already made efforts to change. They stepped it up in a matter of days. It didn’t take a year. Positive change in the police department, that can take years. [Laughs] I think the film industry will follow suit closely behind. But you’ve got to remember you’ve got these old grizzled dinosaurs who are Academy members, who were alive in the Jim Crow days, who aren’t used to seeing interracial couples. They’ve got an older way of thinking, and we’re far more progressive now and we’ve overcome so many obstacles in regards to race. But it starts at the top. Hollywood is just a small entity that’s affected by the top.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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