Jason Clarke

Jason Clarke, the 43-year-old Australian actor, arrives for his interview at New York City’s Bowery Hotel listening to his iPod. What’s playing is not music but “vocal homework” as he calls it—a library of conversations he’s recorded with “regular dudes” whose accents he uses for character study. “Your voice is important—it gives away everything about you,” says Clarke. “The mouth is a muscle you have to work like you’d work at the gym. You put in three hours a day, and eventually it’ll get strong, and you can apply it when you’re under pressure.”

In the recently released drama Lawless, Clarke drawls and dribbles as Howard Bondurant, a hard-drinking hulk of a man living in Prohibition-era Virginia who unloads on cops and brews moonshine in the hills. Working on the film with fellow Aussies John Hillcoat (director of The Proposition and The Road), Nick Cave, and Guy Pearce, Clarke stomped through his scenes like a vengeful, snarling boar. In preparation for the role, he followed his usual training method and listened to Virginia-based
religious radio stations to perfect his accent. “Each county has its own style,” he says of the Southern dialect. “They’re really going for language: big words, big metaphors, a lot of god out there.”

Clarke was born in the small Australian outback town of Winton in Queensland—“If you really want to see some strange shit and take a far-out trip, go to Winton”—and worked his way through drama school in Melbourne, from which he graduated in 1994. After a string of roles in Australian television shows and films (including the 2002 Olsen twins movie Our Lips Are Sealed), he moved to New York City and, just recently, landed a string of roles in high-profile projects. Perhaps most notably, he will appear alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire in Baz Luhrmann’s new reimagining of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby as the vendetta-driven mechanic George Wilson, who Clarke describes as “having his balls taken away by life and a woman.” Since he was tasked with portraying an American workingman, Clarke prepared for the role by spending a lot of time around garages. “All these careless rich people out there, and my character is the one paying the price,” he says. “They’re getting the orange, and he’s getting the peel.”

In addition to Lawless and The Great Gatsby, Clarke also recently wrapped production on Kathryn Bigelow’s forthcoming Osama bin Laden film, which has been shrouded in secrecy, and recently finished a run playing an acerbic detective fighting internal corruption on the Fox series The Chicago Code. “The amount of adrenaline you release in some of these roles is so intense,” Clarke says. “Hopefully when it happens, you’re in a safe environment where people can handle it when you totally lose your shit.”