Robert Harmon Interview
Michael Clarke Duncan
Interview for UGO by Daniel Robert Epstein, contributing editor

Daredevil UGO: Were you a comic book fan as a young man?

Michael Clarke Duncan: I had Spider-Man, Hulk, Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and Fantastic Four. I collected comic books and I had them on the floor because I knew that, if I wanted to trade with somebody, I could look on the floor and say, "OK, you want this."

UGO: It was organized.

MCD: It was, it was my room and I knew exactly where everything was. And one day I came in and it was all clean. I said, "Mom, what did you do with all my comic books?" She said, "I threw those things in the incinerator." And to this day, when she asks for money, I say, "Go right to that incinerator and get that 3.5 million that you might have cost me."

UGO: What does you mom think about your part now?

MCD: Oh, she loves it. One thing about my mother: I have to keep her quiet because she is so proud. She just loves what I'm doing, and she loves when she sees me on television. That is why I had to dress up today, because I'm going on TV and my mother will be watching and she critiques me. And you can't say ah and ah; she'll call me up and say, "Did you say ah and ah?" And I say, "No, mom," and she'll say, "You did, four times."

UGO: [Laughs]

MCD: I said, "Yes, mom, I'll watch it." She said, "You can't talk like that." I said, "Yes, ma'am, I will not talk like that." My mother is my biggest critic.

UGO: So what is it like playing a character that has been white for forty years?

MCD: That was my biggest concern. When Mark Steven Johnson sat me down, I thought he wanted me to be a thug or something, the usual. I said, "OK, I don't mind being the Daredevil." He said, "No, I want you to be the Kingpin." I said, "Oh, wait a minute. That guy is white. He has always been white, in the comic book he is white, and I know he is white. He's cool, but he is white." He said, "People at FOX have already confirmed that you are the best actor for the job." It's a little pressure, because people have these comic books and they keep them and they want it to be what they see in the comic book. They don't want you changing it all the way around and changing colors, and so I was really worried about that. Mark said, "Just go in there and do the best job that you can," and so once he told me that, I just went in there and tried to do my best.

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DaredevilUGO: The list you gave us that you read when you were a kid didn't have Daredevil in it. Did you read that when you were a kid?

MCD: Oh, yeah. I always liked the Kingpin, because he was a big guy who got picked on like I did when he was smaller. It was kind of ironic that this guy came to be this really big mogul in real estate, and I love real estate. When they told me to play Kingpin, I was like, "I need to play that guy." You get so empowered by the role, you start acting like Kingpin, you start talking to your assistants like they are worth nothing to you. After Daredevil, I had to calm down and take a month off and detach from Kingpin, because I was getting really aggressive.

UGO: I heard that Frank Miller came to the set. I was wondering if you had a chance to talk to him.

MCD: No, I didn't get a chance. That was one of the days that I was off. I was at home lounging with my dogs, so I didn't get a chance to meet him.

UGO: Did they have you reread his run, or did you do it on your own?

MCD: I did it on my own. All from up top.

UGO: What was the most important element of Kingpin that you took from the comic?

MCD: They took out a scene, they didn't want it to be too bloody, so there was one particular scene that Mark told me they took out where someone is leaking information on the Kingpin and I think it's my bodyguards, so I'm telling my assistant, you know someone is always leaking information. And in one instance, I cracked one bodyguard with my cane and he dies automatically and I grab the other one and snap his neck. This all just happened in, like, 5 seconds, and they felt that this was too overt. They didn't want the Kingpin to seem like this big murderer even though he is.

UGO: Yeah, even though he is.

MCD: They didn't want him to show any physicality or fighting skills until he fights Daredevil at the end of the movie. So they wanted to build up the scene - Well, what is he going to do when he fights Daredevil? So they took that scene out, they didn't want to make it too overbearing, I guess for the kids.

UGO: How did you gain weight for the role?

MCD: To me it wasn't that hard, because any time they pay you what they paid me to eat and gain weight and not really worry about your abs muscles or nothing, that was like the easiest job in the world. When I met Mark, I'm at 290 pounds and Mark said, "Well, you have to gain some weight." My manager hates when I gain weight. But when he told me that, I was like, "What weight are we talking about?" He said, "Well, like 330 pounds or 340 pounds, up in there." I just turned to my manager and said, "He wants me to gain 40 pounds." So I worked out maybe a half hour a day. I didn't do any cardio, so I had to keep the weight up. I lifted a lot, I power lifted a lot, which you only do about one or two reps when you power lift. And eat whatever you want to eat. I thought that was fantastic.

UGO: What about fight training?

MCD: Ben worked with him more than I did. I caught on to the fight scenes very quickly.

UGO: Did you bearhug him alot?

MCD: You know what; they didn't want me hurting the sexiest man in the world. So I had to take it easy on him.

UGO: [Laughs]

DaredevilMCD: Me and his stunt double were more active. The fight choreographers felt that we should go off to ourselves and kind of rehearse, and that would make it go much simpler. I tried to do that with Mr. Affleck and he is just kind of, sexiest man and fight just don't go together. I don't know how he got the sexiest man; that's another talk show. But when we were training, I was telling Ben, that is right before we did one of the fight scenes, I said, "OK, for these marks right here, these steps one, two, three, four, punch, kick." He said, "OK, we got it. Now I'm going to do it on you, let's do it on each other." I said, "Right hand," and he blocked me, he comes back with a left and comes across with a cane, and it's just really like a Broadway play, but with him it might have been doing the hustle or something. Because he had a lead pipe and I said, "OK, are you going to use the lead pipe? Do you want to change to the plastic one?" "No, I'm not going to do nothing." We were over on the side anyway, so we go, dum dum dum, and he goes, bam. I said, "Man, I just asked you." I said, "You know what, Ben? You are my boy." I said, "I need your stunt double right now."

I said we were going to walk through it. I should have said, "Get the plastic one," but I gave him the option of turning it down, which he did. And then he came right across my eyes with this lead pipe and we had to stop film for a little, while my eye went down. And I just said, "You know what? No, not you. Stunt double." I just had to tell that story because he is on the front of every magazine and I just had to bring him down a notch. He's got a fine woman and stuff; he's making all the money, so maybe I'm a little jealous, OK?

UGO: Did you do your own stunts?

MCD: I had to. I did every last one of my own stunts. My stunt double was not as big as me, so they felt that it would just be too much of a difference. I didn't mind it; it was pretty cool doing your own stunts, because you can honestly say, "That was me" every single time.

UGO: With a predominantly white cast and you're the bad guy, the black guy how did you make this character sympathetic?

MCD: I didn't. He was not sympathetic. This was real, and I was real in all of this, in all the New Yorkers mind, you know what I mean? I don't care about anybody; you guys do what I say, and that is why Mark wanted me. He said, "You don't feel sorry for this guy." The only time you feel sorry for Kingpin in the comic books is when he was younger and he was little and kids picked on him and he was chubby and everything. That is the only time, but once he got to be in power…in fact, he got to be in power by killing his boss. He used to give his boss temple massages, this guy really trusted him and he snapped his neck and just took over. I was like, that is what I'm talking about. You want something, you just go and get it like that. He just dumped the guy to the side. Everybody was like, "OK, you are the shit right now, and you snapped his neck. We're with you now." So you don't feel sorry for this guy at all.

UGO: There is one other sympathetic moment with Kingpin, though, in the comics: When he loses his wife, Vanessa.

MCD: I really wanted Vanessa in that movie. I had a lot of interesting ideas. I wanted something so I could say, "Yeah, I got a wife," just so I could get a kissing scene in there.

UGO: Who would you have wanted to play Vanessa?

MCD: Oh, it could have been Halle Berry, Angela Bassett…it could have been a slew of fine sisters in Hollywood. But no such luck for me.

UGO: You said that you were picked on as a kid. Have you had the chance to encounter anyone?

MCD: Years ago, a dude named Roscoe was my number one enemy in grammar school. He would take, like, fifty cents from me every single day. He had a lot of brothers that were always in prison. Some other guys took his younger brother's basketball and told him to get off the court. I looked down the alley and I saw these four guys coming, these were his brothers who had just gotten out of prison. I just threw the ball up and kind of faded off to the side, because no one else saw these four guys coming through the alley. So Roscoe is the main character that kind of molded me into getting tough. And just recently, Roscoe passed away of a heart attack.

UGO: One of the misrepresentations of Kingpin is that everybody thinks he is fat.

MCD: He is muscle he is a solid mass of fat and muscle, but he is very agile. When you look at him, you think this guy is really slow, but he is just as quick as Spider-Man and Daredevil put together, and a lot of people don't realize that. So maybe the second time, I'll get to do some cartwheels or something, of course with wires.

UGO: The Oscar nomination is obviously such a big deal. What did you think when that happened? Do you think things are going to change for African-Americans now that Denzel and Halle both won?

MCD: I hope it changes I don't know if it will, but I was certainly happy that night. I know what that means to sit there and then actually hear your name called, and it's your name. Just to see her up there crying, because I watched Monster's Ball, that was fantastic. I watched Training Day, and the minute I watched it, I said, "Denzel has to win an Academy Award for that." Movies like that don't get nominated because those types of movies just don't get recognized by the Academy. I said, "The movie may not get recognized, but his performance has to get recognized." I was not shocked by either one of them winning. Once again, I don't know if it will change, but I'm certainly happy that they won.

DaredevilUGO: What is your take on where black film is today and the roles that you get considering you are a big black guy? Are you getting different types of roles?

MCD: Green Mile is probably a movie that I will always be associated with. It's just like you looking at Al Pacino, and you think Scarface. I think that role turned my life around in so many areas that you cannot believe. In fact, there was going to be a point where some black institutions or groups were going to boycott The Green Mile because they didn't like the way that I portrayed the character. It was more of a hurt than anything else, because as an African-American, Asian, or Latino, whatever, you have to realize that it is not you, that it is a job that you do just like you guys have a job, but you do go home to other lives. I guess I put so much into the character that people felt that I was trying to say that the black race was ignorant or something, which I wasn't. I know that black people aren't ignorant and I know that white people and Asians, whatever creed you are, are not ignorant. But at that time in that space, that guy was like that, and that is all I was trying to portray, nothing more, nothing less. I had a job to do and I wanted to do it to the best of my ability. Come on, let's just take it for what it is. It's a movie. The guy did a good job. It's like Roots or something like that. You leave out of the movie and you're mad, but those are actors. You have to calm down and realize that. That did happen, but I was nowhere around and people have to realize that I did it because I wanted to be good at it.

UGO: How did you get into acting? Why aren't you playing football?

MCD: Once again, my mother. This was a good call she made. I wanted to play defensive end in college. I just felt that I was a football player. I had made the basketball team, but they just needed someone to knock people around. So I called my mother, and the coach said to me, "If you play two years, you will be in the top three rounds of NFL draft, guaranteed." I said, "I'm playing. I just have to get my mother to say yes. I'm in Mississippi and she is in Chicago; she'll never find out." But I tell my mother everything and in our conversation, I said, "Mom, I made the football team." And all of a sudden, I went to myself, "Ah, did I just tell her?" She said, "What did you say?" I said that they want me to play football and she says, "But you're not going to, right?" I said, "No, I wouldn't do that." She said, "Because I told you not to, right?" And here I am standing in my boxer shorts, six foot five, three hundred something pounds, saying, "Yes mom, you told me not to play." One of the guys from the football team overheard it. So once he got back to the locker room and told everybody that his mom was making him quit the team, that spread through campus like the plague. My last two years everybody teased me about being a mama's boy. That was the big thing on campus. But you know what? She was absolutely right.

UGO: What was her reason?

MCD: She didn't want me to get hurt. That was when a lot of football players were getting hurt and getting paralyzed, and she didn't want me to end up like that. So she made the right call on that. Comic books, no.

UGO: [Laughs] How did you wind up as an actor?

MCD: I moved here eight years ago from Chicago and started hustling, as I call it, handing out my resumes and going on every audition that I could. I really thought that I was a good actor, but I was probably one of the worst actors to probably hit LA. When you are acting you think you can act, but you really don't know how to act. I went on audition after audition and, about after fifty times of being turned down, I called my mother and I said, "Nothing is working out here, it's not what I thought it was going to be." I said, "Either I'm going to come home or I'm going to join the police force in LA." I felt that I worked security enough and I could do that. Some of my friends said, "We'll put you through; we need more good guys like you." My mother just started crying. She said, "Please don't do that." I said, "Mama, I need money, I need a good paying job. I'm not doing anything illegal so it's either one or the other. Either you send for me or I'm going to join the LAPD." She said, "You know what? You don't listen to me. I'm not sending for you and you're not joining LAPD." Then I started crying, "You never turned me down like that before," and I'm like all mad because she never told me no before. She said, "You are going to stay out there and realize what you went out there to do." She said, "Just suck it up." That next day, that 1994 earthquake hit. I said, "The ground moves out here, mama. I'm not used to the ground moving, I'm used to it being cold and you know that is coming." She said, "I don't care. Stay out there. If you come back here, you are going to be very upset at yourself years from now when you look on that screen and say, 'I could have done that.'" I never wanted to look up and say god, because believe it or not had I not done this, The Green Mile was still going to be made; it just would have been somebody else there, and I would have been in Chicago, probably with a house full of kids, thinking that could have been me. I never wanted to regret that, so I'm glad she told me. So that is two to one. She is two to one.

UGO: What are people's expectations of Daredevil? It's not a household name

DaredevilMCD: I think it will be really big. Just because we have Ben Affleck going, and he is hot right now, he has a beautiful girlfriend. I'm glad I'm in the movie with them, I'm tagging on, and I'm on their coattails. He could bring in his family and I could bring in my family and that will probably be enough to make the movie a hit. He is really, really good and people admire him so much that I don't think I could have seen anybody else playing Daredevil . I really hope that it's a good weekend force. But I found out when you put expectations on something and you don't reach it, you get upset. I'm not up for the number figure with it, because once you do that, you are looking for that particular number and in your mind, you say, "It has to do this." If it falls short you think you failed and you didn't.

UGO: If you could have any super power, which one would you have?

MCD: The power to read minds.

UGO: Would your mom want you to have that? [Laughs]

MCD: The power to think more clearly. [Laughs.]

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Daniel Robert Epstein lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York City. He is a contributor to such websites as Gadflyonline.com, SlushFactory.com, 3ammagazine.com, Hybridmagazine.com, Ifanboy.com, DavidFincher.net and, of course, UGO.com, where he covers the world of movies, sports, music and literature. He is also a former producer for MetroTV, where he worked on such shows as The Daily Beat, Studio Y and New York Eats, and has worked on such feature films as Tromeo & Juliet by the Troma studios and Dinner and Driving. He loves referring to himself in the third person.


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