Arkansas seems to be a world away from Clark Duke's previous work, but it's still home.
The Glenwood native appeared in The Office, Kick-Ass, Sex Drive, and both Hot Tub Time Machine movies. His directorial debut is a darkly funny crime thriller that gives him the opportunity to sport a pretty wicked man-bun and some truly outlandish outfits. (Are those Zubaz pants, sir?) Based on the best-selling novel by John Brandon, Arkansas follows the exploits of two low-level drug couriers, played by Duke and Liam Hemsworth, who accidentally get on the wrong side of their kingpin boss, Vince Vaughan.
Inverse recently spoke with Duke about the road to Arkansas, which apparently was paved in red corduroy pants and Marvel comics.
What kind of kid were you?
Bookish. I was a big reader. I was really into comics. Like a lot of kids in the 90s, the X-Men were my favorite. I like the weird late 80s, early 90s X-Men like Nightcrawler, Dazzler, Colossus, and Longshot.
I turned 35 on Tuesday, and like a lot of people that were also 15 at the time, my friends and I were making stuff that was basically Jackass before Jackass existed. Once, the cops showed up when we were going through the car wash on foot, like on those little like razor scooters. It's such a small town that the cop who showed up was one of my mom's best friends from high school.
Walking through the car wash can hurt a little too much. Don't do it.
What was your favorite band when you were 15?
Probably the Flaming Lips. I gotta throw in Weezer as another favorite as a 15-year-old. Man, if I didn't include The Blue Album and Pinkerton in that...
What piece of clothing did you wear too often in high school?
I had a pair of corduroys I sure did wear a whole lot, they were burgundy red. I probably wore them way too often.
What's your first memory of the internet?
My first memory of it was really early. My uncle had it, and I remember just randomly chatting with strangers in chat rooms, which is really creepy and hilarious. It had to be AOL probably.
As far as like, formative, high school stuff. I remember when Instant Messenger became a thing, like everybody used that all the time, all throughout school. That was even predating everybody having cell phones and texting all the time. If you did have a phone, it was like a Nokia that texting was a nightmare on, and you could only play Snake.
I remember having GeoCities pages and shit like that, just whatever a 15-year-old was capable of making. I didn't know how to code or understand HTML.
What's a truth you believed about love when you were 15?
I don't really know that I knew much of anything about it. What I did know was based on, like, Chris Claremont X-Men comics, so I don't know how accurate it would be.
So if your girlfriend dies and you meet another girl that looks just like her, that's a red flag that she could be a doppelganger.
Scott [Summers] didn't think it was weird at all that he met this woman who looked just like Jean Grey. He was just like, “I was alone almost two months! Thank God!” He's like Dog the Bounty Hunter, remarrying in no time.
What high-school teacher did you like the most, and why?
Where I grew up in rural Arkansas, it wasn't like I had somebody that made me fall in love with film, or art, or anything like that. I was more autodidactic, in the sense that I read a lot and kind of knew what I wanted to do from a pretty young age. So, not especially, to be honest.
What do you consider your first professional big break, and why?
That would have to be Clark and Michael (2007). The pilot was my thesis film in college. That really kind of gave me a career as an adult. Michael Cera was in the first season of Arrested Development at the time, so he knew Max Winkler through his father Henry, who was on the show. Max had a friend that was working at CBS at the time, when they were trying to do an internet division. So that’s how we got to CBS.
What do you consider your first professional failure, and why?
I don't know if it's a failure, because I really liked the movie a lot. But I remember like when Sex Drive (2008) came out, that was the first movie I'd really wished had bigger box office success. I still think that movie’s really underrated and funny.
I just learned you’ve gotta get used to that. It happened to me a bunch more times, you have no control over it. You can't put all of your emotional eggs in that basket, or you're gonna get totally railroaded every time. That's not a good way to live.
What’s your can’t-miss prediction for 2030 and why?
We should try UBI, universal basic income. I was a big fan of Andrew Yang’s platform and still am. Especially given everything going on right now, I'm curious to see if they'll actually give that a shot. Just as an experiment, it seems like a really interesting idea. It's worth trying. It’s sort of the best of the left and right ideologies all at once, because it's a social welfare thing, but it's also the ultimate form of capitalism.
A lot of everybody's frustrations right now with the COVID thing is that there's not really a plan. There's just telling everyone every few weeks they’ve got to sit at home indefinitely. Like, the people protesting in the streets right now. If there had been a plan for something like UBI, at least for the duration of shelter-in-place, you could have avoided a lot of that.
I'm also a movie director and probably have no business sharing my opinion on economics.
What would your 15-year-old self say about your latest project?
15-year-old me would feel really lucky, because I was really into those mid-90s Miramax directors, like the Coen brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Soderbergh – kind of all my big, glaring influences in Arkansas. 15-year-old me would probably be like, “Why didn’t you do this at 25 instead of 35?” I tried! It just took a while.
Awkward Phase is an Inverse series with interesting people talking about the most relatable period in their life. The interview above has been edited for clarity and brevity.