An Emmy Nod to a Handy Journeyman Christian Clemenson
To see Christian Clemenson walk into Johnny Rockets, you almost expect him to go behind the counter and make you a milkshake. He has that all-American look that harkens back to the “Happy Days” era. That mid-West everyman persona has served him well in his performing career, and so has all his hard work to become a journeyman actor.
Christian is a joy to talk with over juicy burgers and fries, because it’s like sitting down with an old friend who shares so many of your interests. His love of summer theater, Broadway, great movies, and some of the best TV shows. He’s been part of all that. Oh yes, he won an Emmy for playing Jerry “Hands” Espenson on “Boston Legal” in ’06, and was a nominee the next year. He’s nominated again for ’09, as “Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series” for his ultra-quirky Hands-on role. “It thrills me that people got a ballot with over 200 names on it, and they remembered me, and took the time to mark my name,” he humbly told me. “That gives me goose-bumps when they say ‘we like your work.’”
Way before the Emmy recognition, Christian was taking pre-med courses at Harvard in hopes of becoming a doctor. “For fun I was doing theater, and then I met a director who taught me that acting could be something that mattered. What amazed me was the effect I could have on an audience. I learned it was not frivolous, and worth your dedication. That was a hard decision, because I was drawn to medicine and science.” Happily, Christian joins the “CSI Miami” cast this season as the new Medical Examiner and gets to play doctor. “I wish my mother were alive, because for the longest time she sent news clippings to me about forty-year-old men going to medical school. She still had hope,” he smiled.
Christian never regretted the life-changing decision, explaining the affect that the arts have on one’s life is huge. He vowed, “If I do this, I’ll do it well. So I went to the Yale School of Drama, which was intense.” He also learned doing summer theater in Iowa. “There is so little time in the day to get your work done, that you have to be efficient and disciplined. That is the lesson that stayed with me.” He honed his craft and has played good guys and bad guys, and everything in-between. “I grew up on a farm in Iowa, and I have that quiet reserve that can be seen as evil and chilling, or a real nice guy.” Over the last couple of months he’s filmed a variety of characters, with roles on “Raising the Bar,” “The Mentalist,” the last episode of “ER,” and now “CSI Miami.”
“My career exploded with ‘Boston Legal,’ and I started to become known. It’s really a great feeling, but ultimately I have to work to please myself, because before the Emmy recognition, the only thing that kept me going was that sense of self-validation that I knew I was doing good work.”
Off the set, what’s Christian like? For fun he hikes with the Sierra Club, and does handyman projects around his house in the hills near Warner Brothers. He is also a dedicated volunteer for Meals on Wheels. “It’s not just delivering meals to people who can’t get out, it’s knowing that I may be the only person they may see that day. So I’ll listen to their stories. A few of them love to complain; that’s okay with me. I understand it’s because they feel less in control of their lives. I deliver almost every week. Like most charity work, you always get back spiritually much more than you give. It’s very important to me.”
To see Christian’s face light up, just ask him about his dogs. “I have two dogs, Violet and Augie Doggie, who offer me unconditional love. The wonderful thing about them, is that they will be there to greet me after the Emmys. And even if I come home without an Emmy, they won’t care. They’ll just be happy to see me.”
The “61st Primetime Emmy Awards” will air Sept. 20 on CBS, with Neil Patrick Harris hosting the event from the Nokia Theatre downtown. Tune in for TV’s big night, and cheer on Christian Clemenson, the handy journeyman.