In January of this year Clint Howard officially endorsed Ted Cruz for President, earning effusive praise from the Republican candidate himself in the process. “Clint Howard is an excellent actor and a true patriot,” Cruz said in a statement. “It is encouraging to see members of Hollywood stand up for principle.”
When I met the affable Apollo 13 actor and brother to Ron Howard last week in Tennessee, I asked him if he knew the truth* about his wannabe POTUS of choice: That (according to that one meme on the Internet, where everything you read is totally and always true) Ted Cruz is, in actuality, the Zodiac Killer.
“Wait, wait, wait—you mean THE Zodiac Killer? From the movie with Clint Eastwood?” roared Howard, veteran of over 200 movies and certified Hollywood That Guy. “That’s pretty good.”
He paused to consider the U.S. Senator from Texas. “No—Ted’s not the most handsome man in the field,” Howard laughed. “Maybe that’s why I support him.”
Ron may be the Howard with the Oscar and the acclaim, but Clint, whose first acting gig came in 1961 at the age of 2, has carved out one of the most eclectic careers in Hollywood. It’s taken him from The Andy Griffith Show to Roger Corman and Alan Arkush’s cult classic Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, to Tango & Cash and Austin Powers. Most famously, of course, the character actor with an unmistakable face and a knack for playing goofy has appeared in every movie his brother has directed.
He’s got his favorites – Apollo 13 and Frost/Nixon – but Howard appreciates the schlock as much as the Oscar bait in his filmography. He has a lot of love for German low-budget king Uwe Boll, for example, for whom he made two films in bizarre, simultaneous fashion back in 2011.
“Uwe’s a great dude! One of the most honest men in the business I’ve ever met,” he gushed of the DIY genre auteur infamous for challenging his critics to a boxing match. “If he says something, he’ll do it. He doesn’t say things he doesn’t mean.”
The two bonded over a six-week shoot in Zagreb, Croatia, where Boll had the ingenious idea of filming two separate features at once: vampire sequel BloodRayne: The Third Reich, about a half-vampire Nazi-hunting superheroine, and action comedy Blubberella, a direct spoof of BloodRayne: The Third Reich, about a plus-sized half-vampire Nazi-hunting super heroine.
“We would shoot the scene once straight, and then they’d bring in these other actors,” he laughed. “This gal Lindsay Hollister played Blubberella, she’s a big fat girl. We would spend an hour shooting a sequence from BloodRayne: Third Reich – not even an hour, we would only get one or two takes, tops, for Blubberella. And sometimes we wouldn’t even have time to figure it out – we’d just shoot it completely on the run.”
“That was also a fun movie to watch,” he added with a smile. “I mean, it’s not Dr. Zhivago, but it’s fun.”
Six months after the shoot, Howard adds, Boll won $100 off of him in a highly competitive ping pong match. “Uwe was a good boxer, he was an athletic guy, and he gladly took my hundred bucks,” Howard said. “That might be the budget for his next movie!”
Clint Howard does not seem like a man who lives with many regrets. But once upon a time, he thinks he might have had a shot at the role of the century in a galaxy far, far away. “There was a time in Hollywood when they would see everybody,” he recalled. “I read for Star Wars. I was, what, 17 years old? They weren’t even sure what they were looking for.”
“I think this is true, that Mark Hamill was there for the auditions when I went,” he continued. “Now, they did a bunch of auditions. You could go on three or four auditions before it finally got down to the wire.” Ironically, Howard suspects his memorable turn in the other biggest sci-fi franchise in history might have cost him his shot at Star Wars stardom. “Francis Coppola’s in the room, and George Lucas looks at me and goes, ‘Commander Balok, Corbomite Maneuver!’”
It was, to Howard’s dismay, an incredibly nerdy reference to his appearance as a child in an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. “He’s a Star Trek geek,” he said of Lucas. “A rich geek! Well, that’s not the way the interview was going to go in my head.”
On the occasion of our chat, Howard found himself in Tennessee for the Chattanooga Film Festival, in town to celebrate a gem from deep in his filmography: A rare 35mm screening of his 1986 supernatural teen drag racing thriller The Wraith, starring a young Charlie Sheen and a pre-Star Whackers Randy Quaid.
Sheen played a murdered teen who returns from the dead to take down a gang of bullies with his cool-guy Interceptor. Howard, sporting a legendary Eraserhead ‘do, played the gang’s resident nerd, the only kid who suspects the truth.
“It was Randy Quaid, prior to jumping the reservation, and Charlie when he was very, very young,” Howard recalled, wistfully. “We were kids, in Tucson, Arizona… it was fun. I was a young 27-year-old.”
Decades later, Quaid fled the country in spectacular fashion while Sheen revealed last November that he was HIV positive. Howard briefly reflected on his former co-stars’ personal trials. “Listen, everybody in life has their moments,” he said. “Sometimes you’re in a situation where the public knows about it, sometimes they don’t. I don’t know. What makes a guy bolt and flee the country?”
As November approaches, Howard and his brother, a Democrat who’s prominently backed Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the past, will again find themselves at odds on the Presidential race, although he insists the siblings always leave their dinner table debates as friends.
“We always end our conversations, as contentious as they may be, with ‘I love you, brother,’ Howard said of Ron. “He has a different way of looking at things. Listen, Ron’s my older brother. I’ve learned you can’t change somebody’s mind.”
So why endorse Ted Cruz, for whom Howard trekked to Iowa to volunteer at the phone banks and boost morale?
“There are a couple of fundamental points about the Constitution and liberty, both what it means to have it and what it means to live with it,” he explained. “He has those values that I appreciate. I would like to see the country turn towards a conservative direction, under conservative leadership. I don’t necessarily agree with everything Ted stands for, but I think that’s the direction.”
“I went to the Iowa caucuses,” he continued. “I went more as a boost for the campaign. The volunteers all wanted selfies. I went and did the phones for a few minutes, and I actually got a guy on the phone – which, if you’ve done phone work, which I have with no cameras around, it’s answering machine after answering machine. Finally when you get a guy on the phone – and he said he was a Ted Cruz supporter – it was like catching a foul ball in the stands!”
As a longtime character actor remembered in large part for his unique look, Howard is sensitive to the superficiality of election season.
“It’s a little sad to realize that in politics your looks play as important a role in such an important job,” he mused. “Television came into it and John Kennedy looked so good on television and Nixon didn’t. That kind of changed everything.”
That, he argued, will be a hurdle for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who must adapt to the extra gendered scrutiny of being the sole woman in the race. “When they look at her I believe what they’re going to see is a photograph of a bitter old grandma,” Howard said, sympathetically. “Eight years ago I don’t believe that would have been the narrative. But I don’t think she can help it. I don’t think she can put on enough makeup to change people’s perception of her.”
“Eight years ago she was the presumed Democratic nominee, and a fellow came along and, as they say in baseball, he boat-raced her. She was winning! And all of a sudden she got left in his wake. She’s only gotten older, and the sadness of looks being a part of it… I’m not sure America’s going to elect a bitter old grandmother.”
But much stranger things have happened than a well-qualified woman triumphing over intensely misogynist criticism. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example. “California elected an Austrian action actor as governor!” he pointed out. “Minnesota elected a wrestler for governor.”
“Anybody,” he smiled, “can be president.”