A Conversation with Michael Clarke Duncan of The Green Mile

By: Matthew Kinne; ©2000
Read what Michael Duncan had to say about his role in the movie The Green Mile, and how he got the part. The interview will also give you an insight into his personal philosophy.



EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael Clarke Duncan plays John Coffey in The Green Mile. His character possesses a remarkable ability to heal physical ailments, which is off­handedly attributed to Jesus Christ. Mr. Duncan was born and raised in Chicago, and worked as a bouncer and a security job before landing a job in a beer commercial. The 6’5”, 315 pound talent then took some small TV roles before landing the job of Bear, one of a group of roughneck oil drillers in Armageddon. On that set, he befriended Bruce Willis, who encouraged him to try out for the role of John Coffey in The Green Mile. Now, there is Oscar talk for the gentle giant. Mr. Duncan is very friendly, very humble and as gentle in real life as he is in The Green Mile. Please pray for him, that God would use his talent for His glory, and that Mr. Duncan would come to a saving knowledge of who Jesus Christ is.

MOVIEGUIDE: Are other people in your family big too?
MR. DUNCAN: I have a very small family. I have one sister and she is 5’7”. My mother is 4’11”. They are average. I guess I’m the odd-ball.
MOVIEGUIDE: When did you start to grow?
MR. DUNCAN: I was big throughout growing up. Kids would pick on me because I was the biggest kid in the classroom. I knew I was always the biggest one in every class. I was proud of being big, but everybody teased me.
MOVIEGUIDE: How did you first get into acting?
MR. DUNCAN: Well, my mother had me into what she called “reading with feeling.” You know the DICK AND JANE books? I couldn’t read it normally. My mother had this notion that I was going to be an actor, so I might as well start practicing in grammar school how to read scripts. So, when I read the book, I had to (with great feeling), “SEE TOM RUN! RUN,TOM, RUN!” Back then, nobody but me was reading like that.
MOVIEGUIDE: Tell us how you got the role of John Coffey?
MR. DUNCAN: The role came about by Bruce Willis. He told me about The Green Mile, and he said, “This will definitely change your career. I’m going to call Frank Darabont when we get back to LA,” and he said, “Mike, go buy the novel now, so that when this audition comes up, you’ll have a little bit of a better edge than the rest.” We got back to LA, four days later, Frank Darabont calls me. He says he wants me to come in for an audition. I went in…. I bring the emotion up. He says, “Can you come back?” I said, “O.K.” I didn’t hear from him for about three weeks. He then said I want you to come in for a screen test. That is the big Hollywood thing. They hired me an acting coach, but the role means a lifetime achievement for me. Armageddon put me on the map and let people see me, but, now this role is a breakout role, my first break out role.
MOVIEGUIDE: What did you learn working with Tom Hanks?
MR. DUNCAN: Professionalism. Being a professional. Being prepared at all times. Having patience. Tom is the kind of actor that I never saw had a bad day. This is a man who does not care about little bitsy things. He can be a good friend, he can be a good confi­dant, and he is also someone who could help you. He’s always about the movie.
MOVIEGUIDE: How many hours did you work in the cell every day?
MR. DUNCAN: Out of 16 hours a day, I was in there about 10.
MOVIEGUIDE: Why was the story appealing to you?
MR. DUNCAN: John Coffey. He was a huge black individual who was afraid of the dark. He wasn’t the regular type of prisoner. He is totally different than the rough guy. I said, finally, I’m going to play a prisoner who is not even violent.
MOVIEGUIDE: Do you believe in miracles?
MR. DUNCAN: Of course I do. I’m sitting here in Atlanta, GA at the Ritz Carlton being interviewed. If you told me 10 years ago at my job at the gas company that I was going to be at the Ritz Carlton and …work with Tom Hanks and … also work with Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck. Of course I do.
MOVIEGUIDE: Do you think the miracles are by divine intervention?
MR. DUNCAN: I think John Coffey is an angel. That is the best way I can describe it. Any time you give of yourself and don’t ask for anything in return, I think that is very angelic. And, to want to see the simple things. I think that says a lot about his spirit. And, you have this man if he could, if he had the heart of a villain, there would be no cell in that town that could hold him. It is very humble, and nice and sweet.
MOVIEGUIDE: What are your thoughts on winning an Oscar?
MR. DUNCAN: I would love it if it happened, but I would really love it if Tom Hanks got best actor, Frank Darabont to get best director, best picture, best screenplay, you know all those other accolades that mean all of us. Not just one individual. If I got an Oscar nomination, that’s just weird to say it, but I would love it. But if I didn’t, it’s one thing that people can’t take away from me. I just love it.

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