Caleb Landry JonesEmerging Masters

Caleb Landry Jones: “Acting will always be strange to me”

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Short Profile

Name: Caleb Landry Jones
DOB: 7 December 1989
Place of birth: Garland, Texas, United States
Occupation: Actor

NITRAM, starring Caleb Landry Jones, is now in theaters, digital rental, and AMC+.

Caleb, do you feel free when you’re acting or performing?

I feel free when I’m making music, because it’s just me by myself, it doesn’t really matter. Nobody’s job is on the line. But with a film… You know, people are telling you do this or stay there or you’re on a leather couch so they say, “Don’t move, it makes too much noise.” (Laughs) But it is really beautiful when you’re working with people that allow you to just exist as a character. It’s great for me when I work with a cinematographer who moves with me and catches what needs to be caught. It’s a real special thing, but I think that comes down to the cinematographer knowing what he’s doing… There’s nothing I’m doing about it except for listening to instructions!

Of course. At the end of the day, you’re there to do a job, right?

I think everyone that works on films really lives for these moments of finding the right way of creating a scene. On set, you know what needs to happen but sometimes it can’t because now you’re doing it and that’s not realistic or you’re working with someone who was thinking something else. You spend so much time thinking about it and playing it out in your head and obsessing over it. And then you get on set…

“I don’t think I realized early on that acting could be as immersive as that. It’s physical stuff.”

And it all goes out the window.

“This can’t happen because of that,” or “This isn’t realistic.” You’re going with it, but inside you’re overthinking things. Maybe the scene asks you to have a panic attack but then you do it, and you keep going, and you think this is right, and then you’re having a real panic attack — does the director keep the take with the real panic attack?

Is it true there have been times on set where you’ve become so immersed in your character that you don’t even remember doing the scene?

That’s just what other actors probably say about me! “Get this guy away from me, he doesn’t know what he’s doing!” (Laughs) But no, I think the thing is that sometimes I just don’t see things in the way that everybody else is seeing. And some of my jobs have asked a lot from me… And I don’t think I realized early on that acting could be as immersive as that. It’s physical stuff.

In that sense, is it hard for you to play darker characters like Jeremy Armitage in Get Out, for example?

No, I had fun doing Get Out. But at the same time, that was a horror film and at the end, I remember feeling like, “Get me out of here!” Even for Nitram, which is about Australia’s worst mass shooting incident in the 1990s, I wanted to get back to Texas as soon as possible. I came home and watched a lot of Gordon Ramsay and ate food and made music, I did that for like a year! I just wanted a break after that movie.

Nitram was a big turning point for you: your first major leading role, which also earned you a Best Actor award at Cannes, and an Australian Academy of Cinema and Television award.

I’ll probably look back in 20 years and go, “God, there hasn’t been another one of those since then!” At least that’s what other people have been telling me: “Those roles come once in a million! Once every 15 years!” I’m sure they’re right. It’s pretty wild though, you’re right, it did mean a lot for the AACTA to recognize the film, it says a lot.

Apparently when you were younger, before you moved to LA to pursue acting, you just had this feeling that you could make it happen because you’d seen other actors’ work and knew you could get to a similar place.

It was more like I was watching a lot of actors from the seventies, and there was something in the performance I identified with. I was watching Peter Sellers, and then I got into Italian and Japanese stuff… But American guys, like Dustin Hoffman, I thought these guys have something else going on, something else that I’m really attracted to. Watching them deepened what I knew a performance could be, or what an actor can give to a film. You know, I think I’d seen Nicholson or DeNiro doing something, and I thought, “I think I know what that is.” Maybe that’s silly…

“You have to believe in what you’re doing, it all comes down to how important it is for you, what it is for you and to you.”

I do think that in the beginning stages of your career, you really have to have that delusional faith in yourself even if the odds are stacked against you.

It’s not delusional — it just seems delusional to everybody else! (Laughs) It certainly appears that way to other people that know you. But I think you have to believe in what you’re doing, it all comes down to how important it is for you, what it is for you and to you. I thought if I worked hard enough and if I didn’t screw up those opportunities, then opportunities would keep coming. If I just tried to do the best work I could all the time, eventually I could get work naturally. Something like that.

Were there moments where you wanted to quit, where things were just not working out for you in the film industry?

Yeah, all the time! Sometimes on day one, or the first week of shooting. I mean, I think not feeling like you’re good enough or like you’re not the right person for the job… For me, it’s always there. Every time you’re starting something new, it feels like you’re learning again. It’s always nerve-racking, and even if it’s not entirely true, it seems that way. It’s always messy.

Do you think that feeling will dissipate with time and experience as an actor?

No, no, sometimes you just wanna quit! I think after every movie, I think to myself, “Okay, that’s it, I think I’ve done enough,” because I don’t know… It’s a weird job. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a really ridiculous job in a lot of ways because of what you’re getting to do… It’s a job, but it still seems like a strange one. Acting will always be a bit strange to me.