Interview with “The Croods” and “The Office” Actor Clark Duke
by Kyle Anderson on March 22, 2013
Clark Duke is on a bit of a hot streak. After being a series regular on the ABC Family series Greek, and appearing in movies like Sex Drive, Kick-Ass, and Hot Tub Time Machine, he’s become one of Hollywood’s go-to nondescript, bespectacled funnymen. In 2012, he became a cast member for the last season of The Office, and today, his voice appears alongside Nicolas Cage, Catherine Keener, Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone, and Cloris Leachman in the Dreamworks animated film The Croods, about a family of cavemen who are forced to leave the safety of the cave when something earth-shattering happens. We spoke to Clark about the voice-over process, joining a hit show as it’s winding down, and the future of Clark and Michael.
NERDIST: Tell us a little about your character, Thunk, and how he fits in with the rest of the characters in The Croods.
CLARK DUKE: My character is the son of Nicolas Cage and Catherine Keener’s characters and I’m kind of the least… the least everything. I’m the most likely to die; I’m the least qualified to do anything, and Emma’s character’s the much better hunter and more what Dad wants out of a son than I am. So, I’m kind of just always in danger, for the most part.
N: Was it fun to play a character who just doesn’t get anything?
CD: Yeah, it’s fun. You know, the funny part about it is that he’s dumb — well, he’s more naïve than dumb, almost. The thing I kept thinking was, “Would he know this word?” Because we couldn’t say things like “Velcro” or stuff like that because it didn’t exist. He kind of walks this weird line of “how much does he know?”
N: He sees new things all the time, so how do you convey that he’s not afraid of literally everything he sees?
CD: Well, I think at one point the Sun is scary to him.
N: Was this your first time doing animation voice work like this?
CD: I had done quite a few episodes of Robot Chicken which is kind of the same general principle, but this is the first thing on this scale that I’ve done, certainly. It’s pretty crazy because, once I started seeing some of the animation, it was amazing how they animate it to reflect some of your vocal ticks and pauses and stutters. The animators record you the whole time and then watch that video to animate the character to mimic your face to some extent. It’s pretty amazing, the scope of it. I think the directors [Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco] have been working on it for almost a decade, which… I would go crazy.
N: At what point did you record your audio, or were you constantly going back in to record more stuff?
CD: It’s kind of been over the last two or three years. Usually, it’d be, like, once a month, I’d go in for a couple hours at a time. It’s a pretty bizarre job; a lot of the times you go in and record things by yourself. You’d almost never see the other actors. Maybe one time I was recording at the same time as somebody else. It was just little pockets of work spread over, literally I think, two or three years.
N: Was it a case of you having to come in and re-record something based on how one of the other actors recorded something?
CD: I think so, yeah. You’d definitely go in and re-record some of the stuff. I think a lot of that also reflects the changes in the script. Yeah, there’s a lot of that. They do multiple cuts and screenings to kind of reevaluate it… Animation’s crazy. [laughs] They’re essentially making the movie eight or nine times.
N: How much freedom did they give you in the booth to play around and come up with stuff?
CD: They give you a ton of freedom. As an actor, you kind of go in, and this might just be from not understanding how it works that much, thinking you have to stay within the confines of it, but they’re actually really encouraging and want you to play around with it and find funny moments. They’re probably way more open to improv than a lot of jobs.
N: Some of Thunk’s scenes that stand out are when he’s teaching Douglas, the dog-alligator creature, to do tricks; was that one of these cases where they just said, “Hey, have at it!”?
CD: Yeah; I mean, even his name, “Douglas,” is named after my agent. [laughs] But we even had a debate about that; like, why would he know the name Douglas? Where does the name Douglas come from? Cuz their names are all, like, “Eep” and “Thunk” and stuff. Where does Douglas come from? But I think the argument that it was funny won out in the end. You gotta suspend some disbelief at some point. But, yeah, a lot of that stuff is a good example of just riffing in the booth.
N: Overall, did you enjoy the process of recording the voice for The Croods?
CD: I did. Like I said, it’s such a weird, specific gig. It’s hard to compare it to anything else, but yeah I really enjoyed it. I would do another one. I kinda didn’t know how I felt about it the whole time I was doing it, but then, once I saw the movie, I was like, “This is amazing!” You just can’t believe that your weird voice is coming out of this beautiful, 3D, animated cartoon.
CD: At first, it was a little daunting. Like the first week or two. Everybody there was really lovely, but, like you said, there’s this legacy that the show already has and I don’t want to be like a Ted McGinley or something. You don’t want to ruin the show, but I don’t think I did and I had a blast and, you know, the reason I wanted to do it is because this is sort of our Seinfeld or Cheers; this is my generation’s big show. Culturally and historically, it’s this era’s most important show. And I was a fan of the show, and the British Office was incredibly important to me, too. So, for me, it was kind of a dream job just to go in for one year on this big, established thing. There was never anything riding on me, so there was no pressure. So, it was kind of like I’d won a contest or something, especially when you walk on the set for the first time.
N: At this point in the season, you’ve taken a much more central role, being in Jim’s chair; was that something you knew about from the start, or was that a development that came along as the season progressed?
CD: I think I’ll move chairs a little more before time’s over with. They don’t tell you a whole lot in advance. I remember when there were six or eight [episodes] left, all the actors met with the writers to talk about what we wanted to see happen towards the end, but as far as specific beats and story stuff, they didn’t tell me a whole lot. I’m sure they told Krasinski and Jenna and those guys because they’re producers on the show, but I was as surprised as anybody.
N: We’re big fans of the Clark and Michael webseries you did with Michael Cera; seeing as he’s a co-founder of the JASH network, is it possible the show will come back?
CD: I don’t know. You know, Eric Wareheim [also of JASH] has been on The Office a couple of times this season, and I was talking to him about it the other day. I haven’t talked to Mike about it at all. He had mentioned the JASH thing to me a few weeks ago and I told him I had an idea for a short I wanted to make, but, I don’t know, it’d be a pretty good platform for it, I guess. I don’t know that I’d want to do another whole series of it, but I definitely think you could do a special, the way The Office or Extras have the Christmas specials…. It would be so dark! It would be so dark I don’t think people would want to see it.
N: [laughs] Yeah, your characters would have to be in a pretty dark place.
CD: Well, I never told anybody this on The Office, but in my head, the Clark on The Office is Clark Duke from Clark and Michael.
N: Oh, that’s awesome!
CD: I don’t think we ever establish my last name on The Office, so in my head I just thought this was Clark from Clark and Michael and he’d just washed out and ended up at this job. I play to the camera a lot, so I thought he’d be used to having cameras around and be aware of them. [laughs]
N: That makes me want to go back and watch the whole season again with that in mind.
CD: [laughs] Well, I’ve got to say, as a fan of the show, I think it’s been a strong season. The last few episodes are pretty exceptional. The last four episodes are super satisfying as a fan.
CD: I mean, it’s just another bucket list dream come true. I think I was the only person on the first movie who was super excited to meet Mark Millar. No one understood why I was so excited to meet him. I’ve been collecting comics since I was five years old. I legitimately love Kick-Ass; I love the comic and I love the first movie, and I think Mark Millar just gave me a costume because he knew how much I wanted it.
N: Did you do a lot of training for action scenes?
CD: I did a little bit, but nothing like Chloe [Moretz] and Aaron [Johnson], who trained for weeks. I think I might have had, like, a day. [laughs] It was fun, but it was really hard to shoot, physically. We were over in England and, you know, these are not big-budget movies, so the pace and the page count per day is kind of grueling. We were working a lot of weekends, six and seven day weeks and that kind of thing. So it was physically the hardest thing I’ve ever shot. Plus, just the realities of wearing this 25-pound costume every day. That being said, though, the movie is going to end up being the most rewarding thing for me. Being on Monday Night RAW was a bucket list thing, playing a superhero is a bucket list thing.