Dustin Clare on ‘Strike Back:’ The man under the mullet
Dustin Clare has something in common with the mullet he sports in the final season of “Strike Back.” Like the “business up front, party in the back” hairstyle, Clare takes his acting seriously, but still likes a good laugh.
That was evident when I spoke with the Australian actor about his role as mercenary soldier Faber. Clare has maybe 25 minutes of screen time over the 10-episode season, but he created a whole world for the character that included an American accent and, yes, that mullet.
He just wasn’t planning on wearing the mullet for so long. When filming of “Strike Back” was suspended several months in 2013, he was contractually obligated to keep “the rat on my head” even while working in another production before returning to “Strike Back” in 2014.
His wife, actress Camille Keenan, had to live with it as well.
“Oh, yeah,” he told me, laughing. “She found ways to deal with it. Strictly lights off kissing though.”
Clare returns in the “Strike Back” series finale, a week after Faber and his partner, Mason (Leo Gregory), killed Section 20 leader Locke (Robson Green) and their prisoner, Li-Na (Michelle Yeoh). The henchmen are now hunting Section 20 operatives Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) in what will be the series’ final showdown.
In our wide-ranging interview, the former “Spartacus” star gives an inside look at how he created Faber and tells some behind-the-scenes stories from filming. We also talked about “Sunday,” the indie film set one year after an earthquake devastated Christchurch, New Zealand, that will be shown at the upcoming New York City Independent Film Festival. He and Keenan co-wrote and star in the film.
I really enjoyed working with Michael Bassett. He was great. I work with a lot of action directors now and I think he’s definitely right up there. Yeah, and Rick Jacobson was great, too, on “Spartacus.” They both had a similar kind of style but very good action directors absolutely.
I think Michael likes to put you actors through the ringer.
No. [Laughs.] “Strike Back” was like a walk in the park compared to “Spartacus.”
At least you got to keep your clothes on in “Strike Back.”
[Laughs.] You know what, that is an actual first for me so there we go. Maybe I’m shifting genres from clothes off acting to clothes on acting.
You said the physicality of “Strike Back” was easy by comparison to Sparty?
Yeah, for me anyway. For Sullivan and Philip I imagine it was pretty taxing but yeah, for me—I mean obviously learning all the weapons and stuff was all new and a whole skill set I got to learn. And we did that in Thailand, which was fantastic. Some of the stuff we did you probably wouldn’t get to do on other ranges in the world, to be honest.
So it was a great learning experience and we had a great trainer and a great weapons advisor on set. This is like a whole new skill set I’ve got to work with, which was a lot of fun. But [the physical requirement] was nothing compared to the rigors of “Spartacus.”
Back in the “Spartacus” days you called Gannicus a lovable rogue. How would you describe Faber?
It would probably be a lot of black retracted lines through any document. He’s kind of a mystery and he’s supposed to be. I know people I’ve been close to who have been involved in war situations and who have worked in those kind of rogue, almost mercenary type of roles, and have done it for a living. They don’t like to have much of an identity that’s really traceable.
They’re kind of like soldiers of fortune, they’re opportunists. Both Faber and Mason are in the work for a payday essentially. And they don’t have any great moral pains about what they’re doing. They see it as a job and work and there’s plenty of people that work in that capacity in the same way.
What made you decide to make him a Southerner?
I wanted to create a character that was very different to the American character Scott in terms of the sort of general American accent that everyone sort of works on in this kind of broader production. And the great thing about America is there are so many different dialects to draw on in terms of accent.
That’s kind of what I wanted to do with the character in terms of the look as well. We worked with the makeup and hair designer to sort of work in a haircut that worked pretty well for the character. We had to push that one through the gates pretty hard but we got it through in the end and I was happy with the end result.
Dustin, it’s a mullet.
[Laughs.] Yeah, it’s a straight-up mullet. We used to say 9-to-5 at the front, 5-to-9 at the back. And it is. It’s a straight-up mullet, but that’s what I was going for. It sort of fit into the world.
I wanted to think about where that character was from and he would be someone who would have to change his appearance as well in his line of work. So you can’t be vain about that stuff. You’ve got to look at your given circumstances and where does your character come from, what does he do. And make your choices based on that as opposed to any kind of vain reason.
Was that a wig or did you cut your hair that way?
No, no. I cut my hair like that. … I fit in pretty well in Hungary with that. There are a lot of Eastern Europeans who like to rock a mullet, believe it or not.
So the southern accent—did you have a specific place you were thinking Faber came from?
We’re working with a Midwest dialect. I’m always inspired by Sam Shepard’s work. He’s written a lot about middle America in his work and I guess that’s also where he comes from. And those characters always feel really quite genuinely messed up. And I’ve worked on his sort of stuff before. He represents maybe a part of America that often doesn’t get much attention or get very noticed. [It’s always] the West Coast of America where it’s all like hyper whitened teeth and plastic surgery and Botox. There are real people that exist in America that don’t look like the West Coast actors.You want to represent, I think, a real cross section of America and I think they’re real men, you know? And also from southern parts of America, too, there are these real kind of men who still interact with nature.
It was all little things I brought into the character that helped me. Like the knife that he carried was from his father. Faber grew up hunting with his father and he’d teach Faber how to hunt. These are all little things, actor things that help you kind of grow a character that you may not ever read onto on the screen but they just sort of help us build a character.
I thought you were poking a little fun at Americans.
No, not at all. Look, I had a lot of fun with the character but it definitely wasn’t done to dis or anything like that. It was just about acknowledging the flavor that exists in America. I think it’s about representing all parts of America and also all the different dialects that exist in America. It’s actually a really colorful country and sometimes it’s a bit homogenized on screen. Not always, but I think generally in television it can be quite homogenized. It’s actually quite diverse when you travel around there and you get to see the different cultures and meet the different people.
Bassett gave you big props. He said you kind of created the character on your own and came up with all this great stuff.
That’s nice of him to say. He and Rick [Jacobsen] are probably the two most exciting action directors in television that I’ve ever worked with. They have a great sense of the edit and what they need to achieve. They have great sense and energy in terms of action but they also have a real strong handle of both character and performance, which with action directors you don’t always get. That character development and that performance element can often be lost.
I’m excited to see what Michael does next because I think he’s got a lot of talent and I know that he was actually working with Rick Jacobson on “Ash Vs. Evil Dead” in New Zealand. I think that’ll be an exciting project to watch, too, because you’ve got both of those guys on there who have such a strong skill set. So I just wish him all the best.
On “Strike Back,” I think, he was under kind of extreme time constraints. So what he was able to do with time on screen in terms of value for money was great. I think any producer or any studio or network would be pretty excited by a director like him because of what he can achieve. … You don’t always work with great people but he’s definitely one of them.
Did you have any favorite scenes you really enjoyed in this series?
I got to do a scene with Wolf Kahler. He’s a very experienced European actor whose been around the industry for a long, long time in a lot of work. He was in, I think, one of the first “Indiana Jones” movies. It’s great to work with people like that because you often don’t get to work with great European actors like that. There are so many wonderful European actors. I had a scene with him and I really enjoyed working with him.
And Leo [Gregory] was great fun to work with. I still keep in contact with him. He was a lot of fun and I think we had a similar kind of work ethic and we had a nice chemistry. It was a nice sort of dichotomy between the characters too.
In terms of the action stuff, Leo and I and Phil, we sort of spent a couple of weeks together … on a range in Thailand with a weapons instructor, who was an ex-Marine. And we got to really work those weapons. Philip’s amazing on the weapons; he’s just been doing them for years. He really stands out when you see that guy on screen and off. He’s the real deal. They’re not cutting around that guy, you know? He really knows how to use weapons. We had fun working together. I loved scenes with Philip on the show; both Leo and I did.
Years ago I asked you what you would do if you weren’t being an actor and you said that you studied to be a fish farmer. Robson Green’s a big fisherman. Did you guys bond through fishing?
We did talk a bit about fishing. Rob’s a funny guy. We talked Australia fishing in his time down here in the places that he really enjoyed. He’s got a pretty sweet gig there with that fishing show.
We actually had a day in Thailand where most of the cast were out scuba diving and Robson and I were snorkeling and we had some weights and we were doing a bit of free diving together and it was a lot of fun.
Michael Bassett actually lost his GoPro in about 15 meters of water and no one could find it. We were jumping off boats, like two-story boats into the water sort of thing having fun. And he lost his camera. He lost his GoPro in the water and they put in divers to go and find it and stuff. And I actually spotted it and I got it for him. I was free diving. I got it for him and took it back to him and I said to him, “You owe me another gig. I just found your GoPro.” So he owes me one, that guy.
Tell me about working with Robson, and Michelle Yeoh. In Episode 9 you all have a very epic scene together.
Robson and Michelle have been around the industry for so long and worked and had such long and varied and interesting careers.
I really enjoyed working with Robson. He’s a lot of fun. He takes everything light and he’s a professional. There’s always stuff that kind of goes down and relationships don’t always work when you’ve got people working in intense environments like that. But Robson is a great mediator and a great neutralizer of any tension. So he’s great to have on the set and I think everyone appreciates him on the set.
And Michelle was obviously a very experienced martial artist. I think I kicked her in the leg and Leo shot her. I had one fight with her. There you go.
But it’s great working with such experienced actors. They’re a lot of fun.
You didn’t have any scenes with Christian Antidormi, but was it nice to sort of reunite with your old “Spartacus” pal?
I bumped into him briefly in Thailand. It’s nice to see all those people keeping on to different things. It’s great. And he’s a young Australian actor so he’s going great guns. You’ll see him do a lot more work.
Do you keep in touch with any of the “Spartacus” folks?
No, not really. When you have a family, they’re your kind of priority as opposed to keeping up relationships I think with people that you worked with before.
Liam’s [McIntyre] someone I sort of touch base with here and there. He’s just a really lovely person in the same way that Philip is. They’re just both really warm and generous and there are no ulterior motives, there’s no angst. They’re just good, genuine people and they’re really lovely. I think that’s why I enjoy working with people like Liam and like Phil is because they have really generous personalities but they’re really grounded and they’re not divas. They’re people you want to deal with.
Dustin Clare as Faber in “Strike Back.” (Liam Daniel/Cinemax)
Dustin Clare as Faber and Leo Gregory as Mason in “Strike Back.” (CInemax)
Faber (Dustin Clare, left) and Mason (Leo Gregory) butt heads with Section 20 in “Strike Back.” (Liam Daniel/Cinemax)
I watched “Anzac Girls” on this streaming service called Acorn TV. I really enjoyed it and was happy to see you in it.
Todd Lasance [from “Spartacus” as well] is on that, too. He’s another guy that’s great to work with.I think he’s doing “The Vampire Diaries.” He’s a great guy. He’s from sort of the same part of the world as me, so we got on really well when we started working together.
Did you enjoy working on that show?
I’m really passionate about Australian history so yes. We were able to tell a story from the feminine perspective of war, which rarely gets told. … I think that’s really important for society to acknowledge the feminine contribution to the war …It was a six-part miniseries and it did really well in Australia and the cast won the ensemble acting award from the Actor’s Union down here. So it was well received and well recognized. That’s a company that I’ve worked with a lot before in the past on things like “Underbelly” and other things in Australia.
I’ve seen “Underbelly.” That is a great series. You obviously love Australia, but would we ever see you move to LA?
Absolutely if the opportunity is there. You move where the opportunities are and if the opportunity arises, then I’ll be working out there. But until that happens I’m in a great part of the world that I love and enjoy.
Last year we were shooting in Thailand, we were shooting in Hungary. I made a film back in Australia. That’s a real privilege getting to travel like that and I get to take my family with me and we get to see all these different parts of the world. So it’s a really wonderful opportunity.
Where do you live in Australia?
I live near a place called Byron Bay. Most people kind of know that area. It’s between Brisbane and Sydney and it’s on the coast and it’s really warm and we’re kind of just surrounded by the water. So it was a good place to grow up and it’s a nice place to bring my family back to as well and have kids grow up here and that kind of thing.
You still surf?
All the time. We’ve had a lot of shark attacks lately. So there are fewer people in the water.
You star in, co-wrote and produced the indie film “Sunday.” Will it come to the U.S.?
Absolutely. We play New York City Independent Film Festival in October. At the moment we’ve got a festival in Germany and a festival in Austria. We’ll have a release of “Sunday” on iTunes.
That was a story that I was really proud of and we got to tell a story about a place in New Zealand that had been through a lot. It’s a real story about relationships and I guess maturing from your 20s to your 30s and the impact of having family and all the choices that you’ve got to make when you’re maturing. This story was really about that.
Camille [Keenan] and I got to tell it together, which was wonderful for us to get to work together in that capacity. It’s a long process making an independent film but I’m proud of the results and we got some great reviews and now we’re playing some festivals all over. It’s been well received in Australia and New Zealand and hopefully we can get the international audience to take a look at it as well.