Clayne Crawford on 'Lethal Weapon' Debacle and 'The Killing of Two Lovers' Acclaim | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Clayne Crawford on “Lethal Weapon” Debacle and “The Killing of Two Lovers” Acclaim

Did The Killing of Two Lovers Vindicate Clayne Crawford?

May 13, 2021 Web Exclusive
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In The Killing of Two Lovers most intimately framed shots, audiences can’t see what is behind stars Clayne Crawford (of TV’s Rectify and Lethal Weapon) and Sepideh Moafi (The Deuce, The L Word: Generation Q) as they discuss their imploding marriage while driving in their stiflingly small Utah town. What viewers are left with: literally up-close performances, every nuance magnified. Technical benefits aside, it’s also a fitting metaphor for the drama, because “I don’t know if he can see past the steering wheel at times, because he’s so consumed by what’s happening in his life,” Crawford says of his embattled protagonist, David.

Those snugly shot scenes were the result of the movie’s equally tight budget, prompting director Robert Machoian to epitomize the old saying about necessity mothering invention. With a budget of $50,000 put up by Crawford (who also produced) and an even scanter twelve days to shoot, “we needed to choreograph each scene carefully, so Robert told me ‘I want these to be like living photographs,’” says Crawford.

“We wanted to make these closeups so gorgeous that boredom wouldn’t set it,” Machoian says of capturing the actors’ pained expressions, and zeroing in on the riches the production did have so that its shortcomings wouldn’t show. As much as that idea impressed the cast (and subsequently critics, with the Hollywood Reporter calling the movie “a masterpiece”) Machoian was all the more struck by how the actors worked within such confines. The director — whose tiny raw indies, for which he cast non-actors, have been screened at major festivals like Sundance — says: “This was the first time I got to work with actors who do it for a living. Because of how good they are, I wanted to just sit with their performances for three or four minutes past the dialogue, and let them do their thing. Many actors are used to fifteen seconds. So, them being excited to work in that space, and exist in it, was very valuable.”

Those long takes, along with “the intimacy of our tiny crew and camera itself allowed me to truly be in the moment,” says Crawford. “I don’t know how often we get to do that as actors. It’s usually such a manipulated situation. So this was a great resource for me.”

Those elements lived up to Crawford’s high hopes of working with Machoian, which had been a long time coming. After seeing Machoian’s short, Charlie and the Rabbit at Sundance in 2010, Crawford was floored by how the director wrung multitudes of tension out of tracking shots of his son toting a BB gun and cycling down a street. “You’re holding your breath the entire film because you don’t know what’s going to happen to this little boy,” Crawford recalls. When he met Machoian after the screening, they made plans to work together and the director soon sent Crawford a script, which he loved. But they had no luck finding a producer. After nearly a decade of bumping into each other at Sundance and mulling over how to kickstart the movie, Crawford finally said “Look man, why don’t I pull some cash out and we just go shoot something?”

Machoian says: “Clayne told me ‘Let’s try. If it doesn’t work that’s okay, I can go shoot a TV episode and recoup the lost money. My wife won’t leave me if I invest this amount. Though if I invest more, maybe she will!’”

His experience co-directing features with Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck “for zero money” equipped Machoian to make the most of the minimalist shoot. “I knew what was possible in the 12 days we had,” he says. Aside from that practical knowledge, he brought an equally crucial ethos to the project. “A director needs to finish the movie. You either need to say no in the first place, or get it done and not complain that you didn’t have enough money or time. Keep your integrity intact.”

The same can be said for the cast. Crawford reached out to Chris Coy, with whom he’d worked on Lethal Weapon (and who was also on The Deuce, sharing some scenes with Moafi) to play Derek, who is having an affair with Moafi’s character, Nikki. Casting Moafi was also a delight for Crawford and Machoian. Crawford reached out to the same casting directors from Rectify — a little seen but critically adored series that he co-starred on from 2013-2016 — for recommendations. Moafi topped their list. “I don’t even remember what she was doing in the audition tape, just drinking a glass of wine or something, and we turned it off after 30 seconds and said ‘Yeah that’s her,’” Crawford recalls of the naturalism and subtly she exuded. What’s more: both Moafi and Coy’s indie and theater experience primed them The Killing of Two Lovers’ lean setup. Coy was “just a dynamite actor and his work ethic was through the roof” on Lethal Weapon, says Crawford. “And you need people who are dedicated, and not coming with a bunch of B.S. Because there’s no trailers, we’re in small town Utah, and we’re hanging out at a mercantile when we aren’t shooting.”

It all sounds like a stark departure from Crawford’s experience on Lethal Weapon. Crawford infamously feuded with co-star Damon Wayans on that FOX procedural, the former griping the latter lacked commitment and was prone to divadom. The big-budget production became so troubled that Crawford butted heads with an AD, was sent to anger management, had audio of an argument with Wayans leak online, and grew estranged from the top brass that he deemed unsupportive. Crawford was accused of being belligerent, for which he apologized. He was nevertheless fired at the end of season two, and alleged colleagues blackmailed him with threats of slander to sabotage his career.

“It was sad that it ended the way it did,” Crawford says, before summing up the situation with as much nuance as he brings to the screen on The Killing of Two Lovers. “I felt grateful to play a character on prime-time with an arc that ended. If I hadn’t had that experience, I wouldn’t have met Chris. So much of the crew for my subsequent movies came from Lethal.

“So do I feel vindicated? I’ll tell ya what,” he says of his new movie’s success after the biggest opportunity of his career was cut short. The Lethal debacle “allowed me to take a step back and ask ‘Why do I chase my dreams and leave my family for such long periods of time? Because if it’s for the money, I probably need to do something different.’”

That’s why he put up his own money and pursued this passion project with Machoian. “We’ve only led with our hearts this entire process, and had no one to answer to, except each other to keep each other in check,” Crawford says, adding that The Killing of Two Lovers’ rave reviews make him feel like “my cup is overflowing right now.”

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