After more than 20 years in film and television, Christian Clemenson has only recently emerged as a popular actor. He memorably played the shady fall guy Abel Koontz on the cult hit Veronica Mars as well as one of the passengers in the haunting, Oscar-nominated film United 93. Now he plays Jerry “Hands” Espenson, a lawyer with Asperger’s Syndrome, on Boston Legal.
Last year Clemenson shocked many when he won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for the role, beating out actors like Michael J. Fox and James Woods. This year he’s nominated again, and it was recently announced that he is being promoted to a series regular for Boston Legal‘s fourth season, which has a special 90-minute premiere Tuesday, September 25 at 9:30pm, following the first performance show for Dancing with the Stars.
Christian Clemenson spoke to BuddyTV about the new season, the genius of David E. Kelley, and why Boston Legal deserves it Outstanding Drama Series nomination more than Heroes. Below you will find a complete transcript of the interview as well as the mp3 audio file.
Hi, this is John from BuddyTV, and we’re talking to Christian Clemenson from the ABC series Boston Legal. How are you doing?
I’m doing great, John. Nice to talk to you.
Nice to talk to you as well. First off, congratulations, last year you won the Emmy Award for Guest Actor in a Drama. This year nominated again, how does that feel?
Sometimes it feels like I’m living someone else’s life. I think that I’m settling into their shoes, whoever that might be. It’s kind of amazing, I mean, you have a career that goes on for a certain number of years, and you think you know where your career is going, when all of a sudden, this happens.
I’m just amazed, I’m grateful, and I certainly am glad it’s happened at a stage in my life where I can appreciate it. I mean, I know how hard it is to be an actor, I know the struggle. To have your work appreciated like this is totally gratifying.
Everybody always says that line about like, it’s nice to have the appreciation of your peers, but there’s this real truth to it. These are people who make television and know what television is about, and they are looking at your work and saying “Yes, good.” It’s really a wonderful feeling.
And it’s not just your work, but also on the show, James Spader, William Shatner, and the series itself nominated for Emmys. That was a big surprise to a lot of people. Are you surprised, is the cast surprised? How are you taking the Drama Series nom?
I think everyone was surprised. We are starting our fourth season, and you sort of have a sense, generally a new show comes on and it gets nominated for drama series in the first couple of years. But to come in after four seasons and to be nominated, it is kind of a surprise. I think that David E. Kelley himself admitted that he was surprised.
He said that he wasn’t even aware that nominations were coming out, he sort of feels that he’s that far out of the loop of Emmys these days. But the cast is thrilled, I mean it’s really exciting, and I will absolutely maintain that the nomination is deserved. I mean, there are so many shows that deal with perhaps fantasy aspects of life.
Yes, that’s an entertaining question: “will the cheerleader save the world?” Yet I think that what the Emmy voters are saying is that there’s room on television for a show that asks other questions. Like, what have we done to the country by stripping away habeas corpus? What are we doing with the death penalty, is it being over-applied? What’s happening in Guantanamo? What’s happening with detainees?
These are real important questions that our country is facing, and week after week on Boston Legal, we deal with issues like this. I think the academy members are saying we want to have television like this. Everyone is thrilled with it. You know, we wanted to bring more people to the show but can’t, but it’s really a great thing for the show.
I would definitely have to agree. I actually personally wrote an article defending Boston Legal‘s Drama Series nomination, because there are a lot of people out there whining and complaining that it’s not deserved. But for those who actually watch it, I think it definitely is.
Those who watch the show know what it’s about. I think you can just lift it as something silly, because there are hijinks that go on. Each show deals with an important issue, and yet as David himself has said, there is a lot of humor, a lot of comedy that sort of helps the medicine slide down a little easier.
And I think people have complained that there’s not a consistent tone. Well, if you want consistent tone, you certainly don’t want to read Shakespeare or anything like that. Consistency is not necessarily something that I would aspire to as an artist.
Yeah. Now speaking about the upcoming fourth season, the last two seasons you’ve been a recurring guest star, and now you’re being bumped up to a series regular. I’m wondering, how is that different? What does that mean for your character?
It is great, it’s really… what it means for me personally is I have a greater sense of responsibility for the show, that I take almost proprietorial interest in it. That’s why I’m happy to talk about it with you today, because I’m so passionate about the show, and feel a sense of responsibility. I really want to get the word out to everyone how great this show is.
It also means more work, which I’m not going to complain about. James [Spader] is a longtime friend of mine, in fact, my oldest best friend in the world ever since I was 14 years old. He has also complained about how hard doing serious television is, especially doing an hour-long drama, and for the first time I see what he means. I’ve had, since we’ve been back, yesterday and today are my first days off.
And to me, it seems like if I’m not working, I’m preparing to work. So like, 95 percent of my working hours seem to be involved in Boston Legal, so it does mean a lot more work. Oh man, I’m happy to do it, this character means so much to me. All the time I spend doing it is just a joy, whatever work I have to do as well.
Now your character Jerry Espensen, he has Asperger Syndrome, and we’ve seen him dealing with that. You’ve created some very quirky personality traits, and I’m wondering how much of that is from you as an actor, how much of that is in the script?
It is all written, everything. That’s one of the great things on working on a David Kelley show, every script you get is pretty much filmable as it is in its first draft, which is kind of amazing when you think about it. Serious television usually, first drafts are just like a springboard, then they’re totally rewritten by the time you get to shooting.
On a David Kelley show, a first draft is really close to what you’re actually going to shoot. Everything about Jerry is on the page, I bring myself to it all the time, and that’s the thing I love about doing it. But I have to give all credit to David Kelley and the other writers. There’s actually a series of writers who have written Jerry.
The amazing thing about serious television that I still can’t get my brain around, is the fact that a single character is the product of several different writers .So it’s, everything that exists about Jerry is on the paper, then I guess I add something to it in bringing it alive. But I want to credit the writers, absolutely.
And with the new season… because towards the end of last season, his character’s very socially awkward. But then he started compensating for that with a cocky bravado, which was absolutely hilarious and enjoyable to watch the transition between those two characters.
Totally a blast to do, because it is completely outside of my own character. I mean, Christian Clemenson is much closer to sort of Jerry Espenson, than he is to Jerry Espenson with a cigarette. There’s something about having a cigarette in your hand that just gives you permission to do anything, almost, and I mean I love that. And yes, you will see more of, I call him ‘Bad Jerry,’ there’s lots more Bad Jerry in the new season.
And with the new season, can you give us any hints as to what kind of cases you might be working on? Or are there any big guest stars coming up in the early episodes?
What can I tell you… that’s a good question. It begins with a big murder trial, there is a new lawyer named Katie Lloyd, who’s played by a wonderful actress named Tara Summers. The two of us represent a man everyone presumes to be guilty, and that will be a two-episode arc.
And then other than that, Gail o’Grady is returning as Judge Weldon, her relationship with Alan is further explored. And then of course, Saffron Burrows is coming on the show as well.
And now, there was a lot of cast shakeup with this new season. I want to ask, because one of the big names coming in is John Larroquette, who a lot of people know worked famously with David E. Kelley, he won an Emmy for The Practice. So what is he like on the set?
He’s kind of amazing. I mean first of all, he’s brilliant, and he’s great to talk to. One of the great things about the show which the audience sees sometimes, is that he’s sitting around and chatting with the other actors on the show, it’s so much fun. I mean, Stader and Shatner and Larroquette are just so charming and so funny and so smart.
The conversations waiting to film are often as good as what we actually get to film, and you know what we get to film is great, so the conversations are very good. It’s kind of amazing. We did a scene last week where there were five of us seated around the table. it was John Larroquette who has five Emmy Awards, Candice Bergen who has five Emmy Awards, William Shatner who has two, James Spader has two, and me, I have one. It was like, what other television show has that sort of actor power, sitting around the table doing a scene together?
I completely agree. That’s one of the things I’m constantly trying to tell people, “Look at the pedigree of this cast.” And then when you’re talking about David E. Kelley, you know, The Practice and Ally McBeal both won Outstanding Series Emmy Awards.
He’s the only writer-producer ever to have that thing happen, in the same year. It’s come up how amazing David E. Kelley is. I’m sure you’ve heard how he writes, he writes on a legal pad, he locks himself into a room. He just writes at his pad, he doesn’t come out until he has the script.
He writes, I would say three-quarters, if not more of all the scripts during the season. And this is when writing four episodes per season used to be considered a lot, he is writing 15, 16, 17, 18 scripts. Some seasons, he writes all the scripts for the series. I think it cannot be overstated what an amazing gift he is to television.
-Interview conducted by John Kubicek
(mage courtesy of ABC)