Clarke Peters on "La Fortuna," the stage, Baltimore, Michael K. Williams and keeping up with the Moes
In the new series “La Fortuna” on AMC+, Clarke Peters plays a character whose sense of right and wrong keeps him fighting despite the odds against him. Peters plays attorney Jonas Pierce, who starts working on a case that centers sunken treasure that probably belongs to Spain, but has been found by an American adventurer played by Stanley Tucci: Peters has been acting and directing on stage and screen for decades. He has also appeared in “His Dark Materials,” “The Wire,” “True Detective, “Da 5 Bloods” and many, many more.
It's such an interesting arc on this series, because you and the character played by Stanley Tucci are sort of circling each other for the entire run. What attracted you to this particular part?
Jonas's sense of virtue. And in particular, the closing argument that he presents in court, it resonated very much with me, and the questions that he puts forward to the court are questions that I think the Western world should be looking at and asking themselves, like, what has happened to respect, what has happened to altruism, what happened to generosity? What happened to patience? You know, these things seem to be in demand these days, but we seem to be quick to jump into the negative side of the ring, rather than trying to mediate or be mediated and resolve and find some resolution, you know, so that’s what drew me to Jonas. So he was a man who, as you said, against all odds, is just to do the right thing. You know, and I think I think we all are in that very same arena right now, as I speak.
You grew up in the U.S., you were born here, but you've worked and lived a lot of your life in Europe. Do you think you have a different perspective on the states now than you had when you were growing up?
Well, yes, yes. I do think marginally, I do. But I think, my growing up, that's your that's an interesting way to put it. As a child, I had one idea of America. As I came into adolescence, that was changing. So part of it hasn't changed and in living outside the United States….You know, for most of us who live outside the United States, we are on the front line of foreign policy for America, we get the opinions of the world before they reach America. We get ostracized, cursed or embraced and celebrated before most of America does. So, as it changed? No, I don't think it has changed too much. I think what has happened is that it's become more clear the way that I see America.
What do you mean by that?
I mean, that when I when I left America, we were in the throes. We were coming to the end of the civil rights movement. And we were going into the Vietnam War debacle on whether it was good or bad. I think that I was on the right side of both of those arguments. And I see that history has shown me that that I was. Now 50 years later, I see that some of those issues are still being debated and argued and questioned, and not just being questioned by Americans and myself, but it's also the way that the rest of the world is viewing America, its involvement in Afghanistan, its possible involvement and going into going into Eastern Europe. You know, it's the same arena politically as I saw myself view Vietnam.
I'm looking at now, you know, the civil rights movement that we were working on in the late 60s In the mid-60s, is now still a point of contention for some parties, you know, and the outside world, Europe looks at that as well and says, Yeah, well, what's happening over there? Who are you? And I have to say that, living outside of America, America has the best idea. We have the best idea of how our society should be. And if only we would live up to it, it would be great. Believe me, the rest of the world loves the idea of America, they really do. And if we can get there, we will have a beautiful, utopian existence, I'm sure.
Let me get back to Jonas for just a second. He's carrying a burden with him in this series. And I don't want to spoil that for people. But as viewers, we don't learn what that is fully until late in the series. And I was wondering, as an actor, how do you approach playing that type of detail where the character has more information than the audience does for much of the action?
You really rely on the text, you rely on the dialogue that is in the script. And you nuance that dialogue. For, for example, in the scene that you just played there's an allusion to something in the past where he says, you know, I'm the one that does this. I'm the one that you always called a party pooper. So there are hints in the script that help the actor with the backstory, with what isn't being obviou, at that particular point in time, but should be just enough of a hook for the audience to figure out well, what are they talking about?
I have another question about the character, in his scenes in your scenes, sometimes he's kind of at home and getting ready for official duties, he has to go to court and that kind of thing. And we see him relaxing. You know, we see him literally with his hair let out, and you know, having a drink and that kind of thing, strategizing. And then when he goes into court, he's dressed in a three-piece suit, his hair is close cropped. And I was wondering is that something, those details, that you brought to the character or did that come from the production itself?
That came through both Alejandro and myself. There is the work, you know, and by that I mean the footwork, the traveling back and forth, so forth and so on, you're coming in contact with people as you'll see with that first entrance into the Spanish when he arrives. You'll see with his hair down, because it's that way, you'll see him with this hair close cropped because one has got to respect the court. And so you want to present yourself, the way the court the way the court would expect you to be presented. And so donning the uniform for each of those or the costumes for each one of those moments was totally accurate.
Just one more question about Jonas, it would be hard to ignore the fact that the character lives in Baltimore, which brings to mind another of your characters, Lester Freamon from The Wire. I was wondering, you purchased a home in Baltimore about 15 years ago, as I understand it. What's your relationship like with the city today?
I moved out of Baltimore, I guess about five years ago, or so the house about five or six years ago, my relationship with the city is, it's a place that I moved through, you know. My son has a better relationship with it now than I do. Because as a child he was coming up through the 10 years that we shot “The Wire” and for the those few years afterwards, and he has some friends there but for myself, my relationship with the city, I don't really have a relationship with the city at this point in time.
I was there about two months ago, because we were celebrating or memorializing Michael. I went back again after that, because we have some friends there, my wife came over to visit me and I was in the middle of shooting the Whitney Houston film. And so we decided to fly on down to visit friends whom we hadn't seen in a couple of years in Baltimore. My son would really love, he was saying, like, yesterday, he was saying he wants to move back to Baltimore. And I said, well, good for you, son. You know, for myself, I'm looking at it, I'm looking for a more peaceful and more rustic kind of an earthy kind of existence for these lady years in my life, you know, so that's why I'm looking at going to Portugal.
The Michael that you mentioned, Michael K. Williams, of course, played Omar on the show, and he died last year, very sadly. Do you have a favorite Michael K. Williams memory you could share with us?
Not really. No, you know, Michael, and I never had any scenes together. And I didn't know him really, really well. Unfortunately, it was only after his unfortunate death that I began to piece things together. Information came to me about all the good that he had done. And part of that was with my son. My son said that when he went out to California, he saw Michael and told him who he was. And Michael told him, you know, you go home, and this is where you go. And that's where you don't go. And so, you know, for myself as a mentor, I appreciate his actions, his point of view and, and his life. Despite the fact that his life was what it was. It seemed like he did not really want to let other people who were younger than him embrace the ghosts that he was that he was battling. It seemed like he wanted to keep them away from that, you know, and I appreciate that in regards to my son. So I don't really have a Michael story. No, sadly.
It's so sad. He's, you know, he's such a great actor to have lost him this young, it feels like as an audience, you know, we're missing out on a lot of great performances to come.
Well, you know, recently I saw that they that they found some gentlemen, I can’t say gentlemen, some people who might have been responsible for that. And the first thing that came to my mind is that anyone who is selling heroin should probably be charged with pre-meditated murder. Because that's basically what you're doing to people, it is a form of genocide. If it doesn't kill you, it will at least kill your mind or your personality, it'll deteriorate your body. And anyone who's aware of the effects of that, you know, should certainly be brought to task. You know what it does. It's not like it's something new on the block, you know. I think that people are selling heroin, if you're found, and if the police do know them, and a lot of them do, that even the police who know them and allow them should be taken to task, you know, for, for accompanying or being a part of that, you know. I realize that that addiction is a disease, that these people are not criminals, I understand that deeply. And in understanding that, I think that those who keep people in this disease and do it knowingly should take responsibility. You know, I, you know, I know, these are harsh words, I probably should stop right there. But he's not the first person I lost to this to this nonsense. So I feel very strongly about it. And I probably shouldn't apologize, but just have to say that drug pushers are people who are premeditating the demise of another person's life, and that should be taken very seriously.
Let me change subjects for a moment, your musical “Five Guys Named Moe” is being put on right now in Connecticut, nearby. And this is a work you yourself have revisited from time to time over, you know, the last three decades or so. Do you keep up with subsequent productions of the show?
Yes, sometimes I do, you know, because it's gotten to another generation. And they recognize that No Max is a character who needs who needs some assistance. And that point of view has changed, you know. 30 years ago, I couldn't get away with you, I could get away with “Fat Like That,” for example, you know, but it's very delicate at this point in time, you know, with the Me Too movement, so forth and so on, going on, you know, and yet these plague young men, you know, so I do keep up with it.
And sometimes people come to me to ask me if they can alter something, , if they can change something, if they can change a point of view, if they could change a line in order to adapt it to a present time, you know? And sometimes I say yes. And sometimes they say, Oh, hell no.
Is there a part that you're dying to do that you haven't done at this stage of your career?
I'm sure that there is but I can't think of it right now. Are you familiar with a writer named Richard Bach? He wrote something years ago called “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” And another book called “Illusions.” And these books inspired me to write a piece that I called “The Alchemist,” before Paulo Coelho came up with “The Alchemist” and had that wonderful bestseller. But there's a piece that I'd written that I would love to. I'm getting too old to play that character now, but I think I could probably narrate this particular piece. But something along those lines is what I would be very interested in playing, you know, something. “Illusions” is wonderful. And should probably be made into a film. There’s another character that I would like to play. He hasn't been written as of yet. But it's almost autobiographical. It's a man named Eugene Bullard, who was the first Black fighter pilot in the First World War. And for the past, I guess, 20 years, we've been trying to raise his profile, but with not very much luck, sadly. But I think that he's a person I would like to celebrate and possibly play. Yes.
I mentioned before we started recording that you had been on our show about a dozen years ago, when you were in the Berkshires to do “The Whipping Man.” Stage has been a huge part of your life, even after your screen success. What attracts you to staying on the stage?
Just keeping my chops as an actor together, you know, the stage is like going to the gym. You know, the stages is where you, and I haven't been there for about three years, it's the place where you where you go to remember why you came into the business. It’s the place you go to really work yourself immediately to make sure that your craft is well honed. And, yes, that's what the stage is. And I haven't been since just before lockdown, actually, just before lockdown was the last time I was on stage. Yes, I do miss that for sure. Yeah.
Just one more thing. You mentioned earlier in our talk that you're looking for more peace, I gather, and that's part of why you're living in Portugal, as opposed to here in the U.S. What's your day to day life like when you're not filming something?
Oh, it's wonderful. You know, I might get out a saw and start building something out of wood, I might go down to the garden and do some weeding. Oh, gosh, there's so many things. There's so many things. Get up in the morning, get in the sauna, and then jump into an ice cold pool and wake up the body. Take a walk, paint, read. Yeah, a lot of things to do, lots and lots and lots of things to do, really. So my day can vary with all of those options. You know, before I left to come here to come here I was in the middle of building a pergola. And I had to leave it because I had to come here. I'm about to do something called “Celebrity Master Chef,” which is a cooking show. So there's lots of things to do that keep me nice and peaceful.
I was talking to my colleague, Sarah LaDuke, who interviewed you, as I mentioned in 2010, when you did “Whipping man,” and she said that I should tell you how much she loves you. And I just want to say, on behalf of both of us, don't get too comfortable not working on the stage and screen because we love seeing you and you're one of those actors every time you pop up, there's a warm feeling of recognition. So thank you so much for what you do Clarke Peters and keep doing it.
Thank you very much, Ian, and I'll take those words to heart and try to keep telling stories as long as I can. I hope maybe one day I'll e over there to cook something up for you Ian.
Name the date and time and we'd be happy to have you.
OK. God bless.