Caleb Landry Jones | KICKING UP THE CRUD DOWN ON RANCHO HOLLYWOOD
Almond milk. hold the almonds. Is this what happens when you move to Hollyweird from The Lone Star State?
More precisely, “Lotta’ sugar and a lotta’ cream...” drawls the Garland, Texas native: Caleb Landry Jones.
He’s been acting since he was a kid.
Now he’s in the trenches, but the trenches look bright.
Seminal films are already under his belt, notably Get Out, playing sadistic brother/ son, Jeremy Armitage, Three Billboards, as the advert renter, Red Welby, and a star-turn as the character Banshee in X-Men: First Class. One mustn’t dismiss his debut role in the Best Picture-winning Coen Brothers film, No Country for Old Men, as the shocked bike rider who accepts a bribe from Anton Chigurh, the iconic villain played by Javier Bardem. The actor is reminiscent of a thespian snake, capable of the most honest channeling— superhero cape or no superhero cape.
“I want to be in great films. It’s not exactly what the part consists of, but is it a good movie? What’s the script like... and what are they trying to say?” riffs Jones, “Sometimes that means not working for a while.”
The days of not working for a while are probably numbered. The man is chameleonic to a T. A director’s daydream. You never know what you’re going to get when he’s in a scene, other than that dose of magic and energy.
Jones’ latest role is in Jim Jarmusch’s zombie flick, The Dead Don’t Die. Nothing comprehensible really happens in the movie, but you get that it’s pure Jarmusch; abstract meta-pointlessness like a shot of artistic Vitamin C. We thank Jarmusch for this. (Anyway, you need to watch Jarmusch’s Year Of The Horse, an intimate view of the singer Neil Young & his band Crazy Horse’s tour of 1996— it might be the best musical documentary of all time...)
And we also thank Jones for lending his talents to the film, which he works into a twitching oddball that definitely looks like something you would see in a zombie flick— effortless, human, bizarre, and unfortunately nicknamed Frodo.
Most of his scenes are shot in a kind of gas station/little shop of tchotchkes. The behavior he displays is that of an actor committed to his choices or behavior or whatever you want to call it, making you wonder if he just woke up on set one day with those glasses and mottled skin, organically slipping into the role. Jones has strikingly odd and memorable scenes with RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, who plays an enigmatic UPS or Wu-PS delivery man. They are both picked up off the corner outside a long-lost Brooklyn bodega—communicating more in looks than words.
At the end of The Dead Don’t Die, Jones is eaten by zombies. But not before trying to barricade himself into a hardware store with Hank, played by Danny Glover. The two of them create such an unusual pairing that you can’t help but hope they succeed. Alas, zombies are zombies, and zombies have to eat...people. On working with the cult figure Jim Jarmusch, Jones can’t really pin him down. After all, why would he want to? “Jim is one of my favorite filmmakers,” Jones says. “To try and make something with him, to fill up the space within the character is great... Jim is everything you’d expect him to be, his work is of him and therefore he—” Jones pauses. “Ahhh, I hate summing people up. I think it’s a dirty little business to sum people up, it’s like your high school yearbook.”
Bleh. High school. Please, God, don’t ever send me back.
Jones laughs on the phone. A great laugh. A drunk-hyena- kinda-laugh. Often, he doesn’t finish sentences—maybe it’s an affectation, but it doesn’t smell that way. Texans don’t do much affectation—not even John Wayne, though he was from SoCal by way of Iowa.
The man of the hour is somewhere on Sunset and Cahuenga, an alien landscape of lost wages and brake remnants glistening in the air. Sweet exhaust mingles with honeysuckle. Yum, the place where dreams come true! Finally, a vesper of millennial real emerges from Jones. He stands there. He looks like music. Speaking of that, “I’ve always been singin’ like I’ve always been actin’ and colorin’ and shootin’ basketball hoops,” he reminisces.
We’re here to talk about that—the shop of songs. An album is expected to be released by next year, but dozens and dozens of tunes have been written in the lad’s past. Prepare for an album that dives. Down. Twists. Deep. Finds some mysterious vibe between the skull where the sonic resides.
“Hopefully it’s like you’re deep sea diving and you keep coming across the parts of a great shipwreck and you slowly start to, piece-by-piece-by-piece, open up to large galleys, and to your right is a body or an animal of some kind, and you’re swimming through the water and you keep passing things” Jones details, pausing, nonpareil voice box of poetry, “like a Narnia book. You dive into a different pool and it opens up to a new world.” Sounds like a Saturday night. But where? On what? Smoked what? Drank what? Recited what? Motivated by what?
“I need to be alone sometimes to cover aspects of work, and there’s aspects of work I can only do around people,” Jones admits, and then waxes on environment. “I’m more of an outdoor dog than a city dog. Maybe I’m a suburban dog. But you forget who you are in the suburbs...but that’s the same thing with the city and the country,” he muses. “It can happen in all environments—the brain is a powerful thing!”
He yips. Guffaws. Hyenas are in the background pulling out twenties from the weed dispensary ATMs and buying coffees with boilerplate faces like emojis, asking the soon-to-be-ubiquitous question, Are we running out of water??
This world is no aberration, though, and Jones is no exception to the rule. “Sometimes mistakes put things into perspective that they weren’t yet in,” he reflects. “I’ve found great joy and fun in mistakes within a song or a scene. They can shatter whatever cage I was in before. They allow things to happen in order for something to be as good as it could be.”
You wonder if behind the face of every actor—or shall we say artist—is a burning desire to win, win everything; the gold trophies, the fame, the thing that becomes an endless yawn. But with Jones there is a different sense, like he’s lived multiple lives, like he’s down for resiliency. Perhaps that’s why he said city ‘dog’ as opposed to city ‘cat’? Dogs are not cats. They don’t want the same things, or maybe they do? Food, shelter, love.
“Getting a job at my first audition—without too much struggle, well, it still feels like it was a struggle to get to that part in No Country,” Jones shares in earnest. “I wouldn’t get an audition for half a year and I’d think, ‘that’s it. That must be it.’ Then I’d get another one. Whether I was trying to force myself to cry, it would still be a film I couldn’t believe I was in.” Ebb and flow, then pinch yourself? Jones continues on, his narrative manifesting. “It feels like it’s taken a while, step-by-step. It also feels like big steps. I’m trying to achieve the same things as to why I came to Los Angeles in the first place. Success to me might mean something different to you...”
Misty we get left. It’s good to know it’s not all about the pre-fab dreck for every person that’s made it—or making it.
After all, we give a moment of silence to unrequited artistry littering woebegone gutters from here to Timbuktu. Not everyone can hack it, obviously. The bruises get so big you can’t see. The tears run dry. The veins are soaked with fear. That’s tragedy. Hamlet in Hollywood. Beautiful tragedy.
And we can’t do it alone. Not on the streets or on the screen. A monologue is as good as the inspiration you’ve encountered. Symbiosis oozes from great actors bouncing dialogue off one another. “If they are a great actor then you wanna’ work with them,” Jones says. “I feel like sometimes people take you away from something you’re trying to do. I’m guilty of that, too. When you do that you’re making it more difficult, even if you think you’re helping because you’re giving it your all. But it’s always better to work with people.”
There is a reason talk therapy isn’t done by oneself. It takes a village. The painter needs a gallery. The musician needs a producer. The actor needs their cast.
“I don’t know if I play too many characters with the same philosophy, but sometimes you get the same end result,” Jones ponders, wondering about consistencies in his performances. “I’ve gotten to play a bunch of different characters, but it doesn’t feel like I ever play a character at all. They’re all the same and then they’re all different, some demand different things, but it’s more or less the same amount of thought and work.” X-Men or the Coen Brothers, you gotta’ perform. “I’m so thankful to be a part of so many jobs,” Jones acknowledges. “I think it comes down to what you want and what feels right. Maybe at the end of the day you’re just putting on capes and stuff like that...”
He laughs again. A reassuring laugh. Coffee gets swilled. Breaths taken, “Whether we want to or not, it feels like the world works together,” Jones admits, his fair skin rapt in the current moment, “I don’t know what’s happenin’ two months from now.”
But the music is at the forefront. Recording in the studio. Gathering information alone and in sight, “I don’t even know what I’m supposed to say about it, but I figure it doesn’t matter unless I have to go to Africa last minute to record some stuff...”
Jones trails off. Huh? He clarifies, “I was watching an interview with Kanye West and he said, ‘I’m sorry I had to go to Africa to record this.”
Oh, a Yeezy tangent. Yes. But is Caleb Landry Jones off to Africa to record some vocals?
“I’m not...no no...” he chuckles, but the fact is, “at least no one’s paid for a ticket.”
The man on the road. Thumb out or maybe tucked into pockets. You look in his eyes and you know you’ll be taken somewhere. Laugh? Sure. Go ahead. Call the whole game sappy. But sap doesn’t drip from every tree.
He starts quoting Kanye, rapping out some lines, “I’m gonna level with you guys I had to go to Africa, I had to get the environment. I had to get the people.”
Will Caleb Landry Jones be on a plane with Kanye soon?
Hand on chin, eyes up, thought process of a young man in the labyrinth of artistic freedom. Words roll off the tongue, “It wouldn’t be the strangest thing...”