Jason Clarke Explains His ‘Hyper-Real’ Approach to Playing Jerry West on ‘Winning Time’

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Photo Source: Nathan Arizona

Australian actor Jason Clarke has played standout roles in award-winning dramas like “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Mudbound.” He’s better than ever on HBO’s true-story series “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” He stars as Jerry West, the former head coach and general manager of the L.A. Lakers. Known for his intensity both on and off the court, he helped make the team what it is today. 

What has playing Jerry West on “Winning Time” added to your acting skills?

Do not work from inside out; let the outside really see the inside. It’s a wonderful energy that I found and loved in Jerry—this madness at this point in his career. The man is feeling this overwhelming desire to find his happiness and his calm spot, because he drives everybody mental. I could come to work, put on my wig, put the clothes on, really get into being Jerry, and then just leave it behind. 

What is your worst audition horror story?

It was for a caveman movie, and it was going to shoot in Croatia. They were asking us to improvise. We put some music on and laid down. It was myself and another girl, and the director was telling us to start taking our clothes off. I opened my eyes, and I could see myself lying on the floor. I saw the girl lying across the floor, and I said to her, “Listen, I’m leaving.” I realized the power of my own no. 

How did you first get your SAG-AFTRA card?

It was for “Brotherhood” on Showtime. I was a lead on the series. You feel like you’re legitimate, because in a way, you’re not until you’re a member of the union. 

Jason Clarke on “Winning Time” Credit: Warrick Page/HBO

What performance should every actor see and why?

For theater, a great production of “The Tempest.” Prospero’s journey as the artist, Prospero being Shakespeare himself and deciding to put down his staff and the journey of being someone who is creative. He gives one of the most extraordinary speeches about what it is to be human.

What advice would you give your younger self?

There are two pieces that have stuck with me. The first one: The dean at my drama school said, “Jason, let it go. You hang onto so many things.” The other is: Enjoy it. No matter where you are—whether it’s in a scene, whether you’re struggling, whether you’re lost or you don’t know what to do with your day or you’re trying to find a part—just enjoy it. 

What’s the wildest thing you ever did to get a role?

It was one of Heath Ledger’s first films, Gregor Jordan’s “Two Hands.” The part was this lowlife gangster wannabe. I’d gone out and got myself the short Australian football shorts. Because it’s the same eight or 10 guys auditioning all the time for the same parts, I get in there and I see all the dudes, and nobody’s gone as far out there as I have in terms of dress and short shorts and socks down my pants. I went and sat in the car in the baking heat for half an hour until I was sweating like a pig. Gregor, whom I didn’t know, thought I was a lunatic.

This story originally appeared in the Mar. 17 issue of Backstage Magazine. Subscribe here.

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