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Sideshow In A Desolate Land
by Hafidah Samat, New Straits Times (November 20, 2004)

Some actors are born for bad guy roles. Clancy Brown a.k.a. Brother Justin, seems to be one of them. by Hafidah Samat has the inside story.

For many moviegoers, horror and action dramas are synonymous with actor Clancy Brown, much like the classic screen dancing pair Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Indeed the tall, intense, hulking actor, who was a natural to play Frankenstein's monster in The Bride, has utilised his menacing persona for a career's worth of villainous roles, most notably in films such as Highlander (Kurgan, the giant sword-wielding protagonist) and Stephen King's inspired Pet Sematary 2 as Gus.

With looks that are somewhat Neanderthal, he sometimes gets to play the sympathetic character, and has been equal to the task.

Six-foot four with a square jaw and a steely glare - Brown leaves a deep impression on most people. That's why Brown's always playing guys who look mean. "Mean" doesn't necessarily spell "bad".

Sure, there's bad "mean", like the prison warden in The Shawshank Redemption, but Brown can play a whole stable of hard cases, from cops to lawyers to...uh, more cops.

Occasionally, he plays some modern-day Little John, like John Dazinger, the tough-colonist-single-father in sci-fi television series Earth 2 - big men with bigger hearts.

But mostly, Brown plays cops and robbers.

His brawler build and gritty voice tend to attract more heavy roles than leading man parts. For example, he recently co-starred in The Hurricane (which also starred the Oscar-winner Denzel Washington) as a cop.

Born on Jan 5, 1959, in Urbana, Ohio, the son of a newspaperman turned United States congressman, he was raised in Urbana and Washington. He claimed to have been introduced to acting by a neighbour who got him into Shakespeare at a young age.

"My father is my hero and has encouraged me to follow my path. He told me that he's in Congress because he has a successful paper, and he has the successful paper because he wanted his children to have the freedom to do what they wanted to, and that I should never feel obligated to follow him," he said.

His acting career started in high school and during his teenage summers before enrolling at Northwestern University on a track scholarship as a discus hurler.

He graduated with a degree in speech and went on to mix drinks in Chicago while working in local theatre.

His first film role paved the way for his future career.

He appeared as Viking in the Sean Penn "bad boy" drama Bad Boys, in which he flexed his muscles as one of the detention centre's intimidators.

Next, he appeared in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984) as cowboy Rawhide followed by the cult classic Highlander.

Numerous roles as a bullying thug, often a corrupt cop, followed in films like Dead Man Walking and The Hurricane in the late 1980s and 90s.

The most memorable among these was Captain Byron Hadley, the crooked prison guard with the deadly club in the multiple-Oscar- nominated The Shawshank Redemption.

In 1997, he played one of his few good guy roles as Sergeant Zim in Starship Troopers.

He also had a prominent recurring guest TV role as a doctor on NBC's ratings champ ER.

His television career also included a role in Earth 2. In 2002, Brown appeared The Laramie Project, the made-for-HBO film about the beating-to- death of gay Wyoming teen Matthew Shepard.

This year, he took on the prominent role of Brother Justin Crowe in Carnivale, HBO's cryptic period drama. In this, he joined a talented ensemble cast, once again tapping into his dark side.

Directed by David Knauf, Carnivale is a fictional tale of supernatural suspicions, fantasy characters all embedded in a very real time.

Set in the `30s American Dust Bowl era, it traces a caravan of travelling freaks and sideshow performers as they travel through the desolate land. It was a time of titanic sandstorms and drought, which were seen to be a sign of God's fury, leading to an inevitable apocalypse.

"What's most impressive is the look of the show," said Brown (Brother Justin) in a phone interview from his California home.

"Everything about it - the photography, production, design - it's mesmerizing, stunningly gorgeous, I think it should be shown on the big screen!" Brown added.

Playing Brother Justin, who exemplifies the goodness in man, proved to be a challenging task for Brown.

Always looking out for his congregation, he takes the Okies (immigrants) under his wing.

There's even something dark and mysterious about this man of the cloth, who claims God has spoken to him, and that he's acting under orders.

"What's attractive about Brother Justin is that he's immature. I'd like to take the first season as his best - spiritually. It's about him coming to grips and understanding what the destiny holds for him," said Brown.

"The most intriguing part of the show is that he (Brother Justin) realises he's destined for greater things but finds himself trapped in a backwater town so there's no way out but to put his abilities to good use.

Drawing parallel to a few historical figures, Brown modelled his role after Father Crawford, a Roman Catholic priest, who became the first tele- evangelist.

"The power got to his head and he tried to run for president, got ex- communicated, so he was far more political than Brother Justin."

He added: "Through the first season, Justin is sure that all his visions are coming from his divine authority, all-knowing, all- loving. He is sure he's doing God's work, he's a man on a mission, he feels righteous in his mission, but gets challenged right at the end of the first season."

"There's not much more you can do but read, watch movies, listen to the series music, to get into the character role. So I do the most I can, then the next thing you know, they're making you spew coins out of someone's mouth, there's no preparation for that!", said Brown, referring to a scene in which his "power" granted him the ability to make an old woman spat coins from her mouth after she was caught stealing at the church.

Brown, however, admitted he practises his religion in a "moderate" way.

"I do believe in some kind of cosmic design, but there's always a dark side that sort of balances everything. I may not go to church every Sunday, but I do read the Bible, and I am raising my kids to believe in a higher divine authority.

"But at the end of it, I'm not a preacher, I'm just a guy," he added.

According to him, his theatre background has helped quite a deal in playing the role.

"It's one of those rare roles that I simply couldn't resist and I got to stretch myself in every possible way and the only thing I couldn't do is my cartoon voice," said Brown laughingly.

Brown is also well known for his distinctive voice which has been in high demand, resulting in dozens of voice-over credits. He was the "voice" of Mr. Krabs in Nickelodeon's popular animated series Spongebob Squarepants and super-heroes cartoons like Spiderman and Superman.