When director Walt Becker first talked with you about the character, what did you discuss about Tiernan’s hopes and dreams and what he wanted?
We talked a lot about how his priority was profit. He was a tech guy. That’s why he copied the Steve Jobs look, black shirt and jeans. He is just very detached, manipulative. And what I loved about that was it contrasted with this message that I believe the movie has, really a very powerful message. There’s this scene that I think exemplifies it where Darby who plays Emily in the movie, is holding Clifford as a little puppy and it’s her love that makes Clifford big. I feel like in this world today where there’s so much breaking people down, criticism, and judgment, and nobody’s crossing the aisles to listen, or celebrating differences, celebrating uniqueness, and embracing your love and how that is where growth happens. And so it’s a children’s movie but with a very adult message and an adult message, too, playing the contrast of that so highlighting, hopefully, the goodness of that.
It is not new. Everything has been said. But what’s beautiful about stories is when it’s said in a different way. And something like “Clifford,” it’s a message we’ve all heard, and we all know but to see it activated in the life of this big red dog and the acceptance—I think that’s really powerful.
You were already a fan of the Clifford books, I hear.
Clifford started in 1963. I was born in 1970. And so, I remember them from my childhood, and then when my daughter was little, I read them to her. I was thinking a lot about this and there was something about the abnormal place in the middle of the normal, and how there was always a complete acceptance of that abnormal. And to the point where it wasn’t abnormal anymore. It was normal. And that always stood out because it is a large, red dog in the middle of what we deem as normal and every day, and just how everybody fully accepted it.
What advice would you give to somebody who’s playing the villain for the first time? What is important for you to know about the character before you play him?
I love that question. I would say you’re not playing an idea of a character. You’re not playing an idea of the bad guy. You have to resonate with something in that character. I remember years ago, I was playing this character who was very manipulative and kind of a jerk. And I was like, “Oh, I just hate people like this. I don’t like people like this.” And I went to this coach, Diana Castle in LA. And she says, “Tony, you have to realize that that’s inside of you.” And she’s right. I’m not proud of it. But I’ve been manipulative, I’ve been a jerk. Because the moment you separate yourself from it then you’re just going to play an idea. But if you find that common ground, then you’re going to bring out the authenticity of that person. And honestly, I think it’s a way to look at life. I can think of, off the top of my head, people that I can’t stand. But traits about them, I have had those traits in my life. And when you do that you find common ground. You might go to more of a level of compassion rather than judgment. That’s a strong entrance into an evil character.