The Integrity of Joseph Chambers premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and we got to interview star Clayne Crawford and talk about how the film came to be.
Robert Machoian’s follow-up film to The Killing of Two Lovers, The Integrity of Joseph Chambers, had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 9th, 2022. The story follows Joseph (Clayne Crawford, Lethal Weapon), a man hoping to prove his worth to his family, but most importantly to himself. One morning he ventures into the woods to go deer hunting all alone. Joe’s seemingly peaceful and boring trip in the woods is short-lived when he begins to be tormented in the wilderness after a terrible incident. From here, chaos ensues in an eerie and immersive piece of work that seeks to explore what a man is capable of when pushed to his limits. The film also stars an excellent Jordana Brewster (F9: The Fast Saga), a heartbreaking Michael Raymond-James (Sweet Girl), and the charismatic Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead).
What makes a film like The Integrity of Joseph Chambers stand out amongst other similar survival dramas is its unique approach to this story. From its incredible sound design that helps the audience place themselves in the protagonist’s shoes to Crawford’s emotionally draining performance, director Robert Machoian’s care to bring all of these elements together draws as much dread as humanly possible. This creates an unforgettable viewing experience that allows the movie to be one of the highlights of the festival thus far. To discuss how the project came to be, the challenges that surfaced with it, and what he learned from his past experiences working with the director behind the camera, we had the honor of interviewing Clayne Crawford regarding his newest film.
Clayne Crawford on What He Learned from The Integrity of Joseph Chambers
You worked with Robert Machoian on The Killing of Two Lovers, a very intense, sorrowful character study of a man who seems to be losing his wife and family, and a bit of his mind as well. What was that experience like and what did you learn from it that allowed you and Robert to move on and work on The Integrity of Joseph Chambers?
Clayne Crawford: I had confidence that we were going to create something really special. I put a lot into what I do as a performer, and I want to make sure that, when I walk on set, if I only do one take, it’s going to be a take that I’m proud of. Robert comes to set with an understanding of the technical process: camera movement, placement, framing, lighting. He’s so specific because he’s a photographer, and I knew he was going to create something very beautiful for me to live within.
When we worked together on The Killing of Two Lovers, Robert didn’t necessarily give me ‘actor-direction’. He let me kind of just do what I did, and that was so exciting: it gave me so much confidence. Many times, directors have “prove their value” by giving you direction that may not necessarily help the character or the scene, just because they want to make sure that they’re kind of justifying their position. Robert is so focused on the technical aspects of his films: even in his scripts he talks about where the camera is going to be, not necessarily saying what the actor’s going to be doing – it’s all about what the camera’s going to be doing. This allowed me to give a performance that I’ve always wanted to give without interference. I appreciate and love having a director help navigate a performance, but I understood David so well that I just wanted to go, and it was kind of the same with Joseph Chambers: I knew this guy inside and out.
I’m also in charge of casting: I try to bring in actors that I’ve worked with before, or that I have a dear friendship with, so that we can communicate off-set and get where we need to be as actors. When we show up, we’re ready to give Robert everything he needs.
How The Integrity of Joseph Chambers Came To Be
How did you get involved in The Integrity of Joseph Chambers?
Clayne Crawford: I don’t slow down, ever! That’s why I bought a farm, so that I don’t dry everyone crazy and I can actually just go out and work on the farm instead of always having to shoot something, you know? [laughs] But I called Robert and told him, “we gotta go make something!” I felt that we had two opportunities. I thought, everyone’s at home because of COVID. Right? So, we can call and we can get people to come to the set that we would not normally be able to get. Jeff [Dean Morgan] and Jordana’s [Brewster] schedules are so crazy. I would have never been able to have those guys come to Alabama if it had not been for COVID. So, I felt that we needed to capitalize on that.
And then, the other thing is that we talked about making this film back in 2008. We even tried to shoot a proof of concept in 2015. And again, 2008 was right after the housing crisis, so that’s what kind of motivated the story. With COVID, it just seemed more relevant than ever, because people were feeling the things that Joseph was feeling, and I thought that there would be an appetite for such a story. So, I kind of pushed everyone to make this happen, even during a very scary time when everyone was kind of at home: I just felt like we needed to go tell a story.
I actually watched The Killing of Two Lovers for the first time in preparation for this new film of yours, and I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but I couldn’t help but notice similarities between Joe and David, at least thematically. Whereas David is still holding on to something that many would consider a lost cause with his family and wife, somebody like Joe is trying to prove his manliness and his worth to himself and his family.
Were any of these thematic similarities intentional, or is it just something that sparked on its own?
Clayne Crawford: They definitely feel like chapters in the same book, don’t they? Yeah, I think Robert and I are both interested in modern men. I certainly grew up with very strong men. At 12-years-old, I was learning how to hunt and fish. I grew up in a small town in Alabama, in the middle of the country, where I was not that far removed from people that had to survive for a living. My grandfather, who passed away in 1995… He provided for his family, with traps, hunting, and fishing. He grew up as a little boy eating fish for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, because it’s all that his father could catch. I was very fortunate to have had a great balance of that and also the traditional man, who’s very nurturing – we are a generation of men raised by women, right? – and more willing to say “I love you” than the men in my family were.
There are many men in the world who have no understanding of survival in any facet, and I don’t think that’s something that we’ve had to consider for quite a long time. And then, with COVID and, again, some of the financial issues that this country has been dealing with, I think there’s fear. That’s why people are making mass exoduses out of the bigger cities and trying to find little farms and communities outside. So I guess I’m interested in exploring men. I don’t think it’s toxic masculinity that Joe is dealing with. I think Joe is looking to learn how to survive and be self-reliant, and he has no roadmap. Nor does he have the emotional understanding of how to navigate a real challenging situation.
Clayne Crawford Talks About Collaborating with his Cast & Crew
The film is almost in a way like a one-man-show led by yourself at some point, especially once we get to the second act in the woods. What challenges were presented to you as an actor knowing that a lot of this would be carried on your shoulders?
Clayne Crawford: I don’t think about that: I want to play guys that are vulnerable. I tend to only play the heavies: guys that are very confident, sometimes very mean. I enjoy playing those roles because the bad guys are usually the most fun, as it relates to different choices that I can make. But, as an actor, I have a strong desire to play vulnerable characters, because it is such a separation from who I am. You know, if I had been cast in The Killing of Two Lovers, I would have been cast as the boyfriend! [smiles] Right? I’d have been the boyfriend beating up David by the truck. And if I had been cast in Joseph Chambers, I’d have been Doug, you know? I’d have been the guy that was too tired and too sick to go on the hunting trip.
And as for me being the only guy on screen… You know, I work for free, so it’s much easier to have me on camera all day: I had Jeff [Dean Morgan] for less than 24 hours and Jordana [Brewster] for two days, so I didn’t really have much of a choice! [laughs] We’re hoping to get to a place where we’re making films where I don’t have to be the main guy on screen, if on screen at all. But when you’re making these smaller films, Robert and I kind of have to carry the load.
Something that I noticed almost right away was the fantastic sound design by Peter Albrechtsen and his team, particularly once Joe is walking through the woods and you can hear people in the distance cheering for him and how those cheers eventually become paranoid screams once things go sideways. I think this does a great job at placing the audience in the character’s shoes and what he’s feeling in that moment.
Were you aware of Peter’s work here and if so did it help you get a better grasp on your character’s state of mind?
Clayne Crawford: When we did The Killing of Two Lovers, I had no idea what Peter was going to do, and neither did Robert: he surprised the heck out of both of us! We got the first cut back with sound, and he was taking the sounds of metal against metal, the clicking of the weapon, and what sounded like the creaking of an old ship… It was never intended to be throughout the whole film, but we were so blown away with it, in those opening moments when David was running home! We were like, “man, this is going to build the character out!” So we just told Peter to go for it! Peter Albrechtsen is such an artist, you know? He lives in Copenhagen, and those guys are just not following the traditional norms, which is super exciting.
What I learned from The Killing of Two Lovers I definitely carried over into Joseph Chambers, knowing that he was going to come on, if we were lucky enough to work within his schedule. What Peter’s able to do with sound design takes a lot of pressure off of the actor. It’s like how knowing what Robert was going to do with the camera on a technical aspect informed me of how subtle my performance could be. What I did not anticipate at all was what he was going to do with the sound design as it relates to the audience clapping when he’s up on the tree stand, or the baseball stuff: none of that had we anticipated. When we saw it, I found myself laughing in the first half of this film, and then the other night at the [Tribeca] screening people were cracking up in the first 30 minutes of this film! It’s so nice as it doesn’t really fit within a genre.
But to answer your question: I knew what he was going to do was going to be special, and I knew that it was going to help delve into the mindset of the character. As a performer, everything is internal: I don’t have to show you anything. As long as I’m thinking it and feeling it, with Robert’s camerawork, Peter’s sound design and William Fritch’s score, I knew that the audience was going to be right there with Joseph.
What’s Next for Clayne Crawford After The Integrity of Joseph Chambers
What’s next for you after this? Any projects we should be looking forward to? Can we hope for another collaboration with Robert?
Clayne Crawford: I don’t know. I think Robert and I are probably going to take a break, and I think Robert needs to go explore other actors, especially as a director. I kind of want to work with other directors as well: I started [production company] Back 40 Pictures to give Robert an opportunity as a filmmaker; I’ve been singing his praises for years and trying to get people excited about the work that he was doing, especially from a shorts standpoint, so it was great for me to give him a voice as a director in the features landscape, but there are also so many other directors I love, who I think are so talented! [smiles] Last year, I worked with Summer Shelton on a film called You & I, and with Ashley Shelton on a film called Best Clowns. We’re finishing up post-production for those two films, hoping to find a great festival home for them – a platform to let the world see their work. I want to continue that journey and keep finding these great stories.
We’re also building a film community right now, on the blockchain: we’re going to break up the films and start selling frames of the films as NFTs, creating a film community where people can come to the screenings. Like, there’s been winners who have been coming to Tribeca screenings, and we’ll pick two winners today for tonight’s screening. And we want it to be where the fans can actually come to set: we want to give extra roles and speaking roles away. I have a very big picture of what it is I want to do, and Robert will always fit in that, but I think he and I both have a desire to kind of go out on our own and do some fun things and then we’ll find our way back to one another. Hopefully in the near future. [smiles]
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Integrity of Joseph Chambers premiered at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival on June 9, 2022. Read our review of The Integrity of Joseph Chambers!