In Episode 6 of Ride With Norman Reedus, Norman meets up with old friend, Clifton Collins Jr. for a ride through the Kentucky wilds. The Westworld actor chats here with amc.com about his acting process, his lifelong love of riding motorcycles, and breaks down the difference between riding Hollywood horses and quarter horses.
Q: How did you and Norman first meet? In the episode, Norman mention that you guys go way back.
A: He saw a performance of mine, and had connections to me through our agent, Tracy Brennan, who is a dear friend of both of ours — a family member, if you will — and he wanted to meet me. We clicked right away, and then slowly the Boondocks Saints thing unfolded, and we just remained friends. He’s my bro, he’s my family. You don’t always click like that. I think that’s one of the joys of this business, making new family and friends.
Q: You mention in the episode you really dig deep into your characters when you’re working. Can you describe more about what your acting process is like?
A: I don’t want to skew the method, per se, or misrepresent it, but I just love to get lost in other worlds. I think one of the beautiful gifts of being a character actor is the privilege and opportunity and honor of being taken in by different communities and cultures, wherever that character may fit in one’s world. And you get to learn a lot. Your capacity for empathy and compassion expands because you get to know what other people are going through that you, yourself, with your normal life, may not cross paths — like going to Kentucky! Although I studied quite a bit about Kentucky.
Q: How did it come about for you to come on Ride? Norman mentions it’s a good way for you to learn more about horse-riding for an upcoming jockey movie.
A: Well, I had no immediate desires or plans to go to Kentucky, first of all. [Laughs] That said, there were such beautiful people there. I love people everywhere, especially when you get to know them and get to the truth of situations. But he just called me and said he’d love to have me on the show. I had a little bit of down time. I was mourning the death of my aunt and uncle who got killed in a car accident, so it was kind of perfect timing to just get out and be distracted. When you’re on a motorcycle, it’s kind of like meditation. You have to be highly focused on the road. All your senses are enacted, so it’s a good way to heal and connect, and hang.
Q: Probably even more so in such a beautiful and serene environment like Kentucky.
A: It’s really quite gorgeous. Unfortunately, due to a lot of the regulation liftings on chemicals being dumped into the waters, even though a lot of the streams there looked beautiful and I was like, “Yo, we can throw in a little fishing in here,” the locals were like, “No, no no, do not fish in there.” They said, “You can fish in there if you want to find out what WD-40 tastes like.” I was like, “Really? It looks pure, like baby Jesus took a bath in there.” And they were like, “No, do not eat or drink anything that comes out of there.” I was like, “OK! You should put a sign up.”
Q: When did you get into riding motorcycles?
A: I think I got a mini bike when I was 8. … So I started then, and then I got my first XL75 Honda I think for my 13th birthday. My feet could barely touch the ground. And then at 15, I would steal my stepdad’s Yamaha XT250. I think that was in ‘87. I’d have to go to the curb to kickstart it because my feet couldn’t touch the ground. I would dress like I looked older, so I’d wear a black leather jacket and a full face helmet with sunglasses, gloves. At the red lights, I’d have to get off the bike and keep one leg hooked over the seat and just gun it when the light changed. I’d drive all over Culver City, just waving at cops, giving the old head nod, but I’m just like 15. [Laughs] I’d fill the gas tank up so my stepdad never knew any was missing — you know the tricks kids do.
Q: And how long have you been riding horses?
A: My grandfather was a contract player for John Wayne, so I grew up in the cowboy world and being exposed to cowboy stuff, and outlaws, and the old west and John Wayne and all these things. I think I started riding also when I was about 8, and I would ride periodically throughout my life. I really ramped things up when Season 1 of Westworld was happening. Going back to delving into characters, you’ve got to really understand a horse to understand the kind of character that I was playing in Westworld. Anytime they called me and asked if I wanted to train on a horse or ride a horse — any opportunity to work with the amazing techs that we had on Westworld, I always took advantage of. … I think that’s the natural process for most artists. And also it’s based in my legacy, so I’ve got this very dysfunctional governing mechanism where I hear my grandfather’s voice in my head saying, “Don’t embarrass the family, don’t embarrass the legacy.”
Q: Norman mentions a little about the difference between Derby horses and Hollywood horses, but can you describe more of the distinction in the riding experience?
A: Quarter horses are very different from the rodeo horses like they have on Westworld. Don’t get me wrong, even though I can jump cactus trees on Westworld… quarter horses are like the drag racers of the horse world. Especially the ones that just go straight for a mile and it doesn’t even turn! It’s very, very different — there’s no real saddle, per se. They call it a saddle, but it’s like a thong with a little sponge that goes on the horse and it has very thin stirrups with strings. It’s just two points to keep your body weight on the horse’s shoulders while he or she runs. You don’t really sit on it, you more or less stand. Whereas in a rodeo saddle, you can sit on it, you can stand, you can do whatever. And, with the quarter horses, like a dragster, you’re not trying to do strong turns. You don’t see a guy doing turns in a drag race, he’s just going straight. So you’re just trying to guide [the horse] a little bit while he rockets through the other horses to take the lead and the win. But it’s very different from rodeo horses — especially a good rodeo horse. A good rodeo horse means you can control him with just a little squeezing of your thigh, or putting just a little bit of pressure on his rear right belly to get him to move over. And that’s without stirrups; I don’t use stirrups, just my natural heels. A well trained horse will be like, “Oh, you want to go here? Okay cool, let’s go.” Whereas the quarter horse, it’s like falling in love with this beautiful foreign woman that barely understands your English and is about to take off. You either follow her lead or jump off.
Watch Westworld‘s Clifton Collins Jr. trade his bike for a Kentucky horse in this clip:
Q: In the episode, Norman jokes that you’re having a hard time on the horse. Care to set the record straight?
A: I asked him if the horse is well trained, and he’s like, “Oh yeah, super well trained.” And I asked, “Is he responsive?” And he was like, “Oh yeah, the best.” But I was ignorant to the difference between quarter horses and rodeo horses, and he wasn’t really elaborating either, which is kind of typical of a jockey, now that I know the jockey world the way that I do. I can imagine now he meant, “Yes he’s responsive…if you’re a jockey.” A rodeo horse, you do your little clicks and she takes off, and you can go “Whoa!” which is like the universal word for stop. It’s like rodeo horses are born knowing what that word means. A quarter horse? They don’t give a f-ck what you’re telling them once they take off. …But it would be nice, as someone who was first learning about the world, to get the heads up, but I didn’t really get that. And then once I realized, once I started studying horses and things of that nature on the level of quarter horses and that word, I came to realize it’s very different. You can’t say you ride if you’ve never ridden a quarter horse.
Q: What makes you feel so drawn to horses?
A: They’re not like dogs. You can get a dog’s personality pretty quick. But horses, you’ve got to spend some time with them, and as soon as you spend real time with them, there’s certain horses that are gonna gravitate towards you, and there’s certain horses where you’re gonna gravitate towards them, and you’re gonna notice that your filter starts to get polished and nuanced, and you start to really get them on a much deeper level. I just watched a beautiful foreign film recently… and I could see all the horses across the field, and looking at those horses, I could see which ones were very uncomfortable, I could see which ones might be a little bit sick or didn’t get good sleep, I could which ones were really happy to be there, one that’s just like, “Here we go again.” They’ve got such beautiful personalities once you know what to look for. They’re like cats in that way. People who don’t know cats are like, “Cats are all the same,” but when you really get to spend time with cats, you see they’re all so different, and they all have unique personalities and character traits. And horses are another level deeper than that, and it’s quite beautiful.
Q: Maybe this is a bit silly, but are there any similarities between riding a horse and riding a motorcycle for you?
A: The lean — when you take a corner real tight with that horse, you gotta be careful, you’ve gotta lean into the turn but not put too much weight, because that stirrup attached to that cable that’s attached to that little piece of saddle, the horse feels those things, so you’ve gotta be careful. You also have to be mindful of your inertia. It’s like a car or a motorcycle, or really anything taking a turn at 40 miles per hour: if you don’t lean into it, you’re gonna get thrown off. That’s just the way it goes, and it’s the same way on a motorcycle.
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