(Warning: spoilers ahead for the first episode of “Vinyl.”)
One of the highlights of the two-hour premiere of HBO’s new series from Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, “Vinyl,” is the performance of Andrew Dice Clay as the drugged-out Frank “Buck” Rodgers, a powerful owner of a chain of radio stations.
Though his time on-screen in Sunday night’s premiere is minimal, his character is extremely memorable for his comedy, bizarre interactions with the show’s lead Richie Finestra (Bobby Cannavale), and his gruesome death that affects Richie by the end of the pilot and presumably for episodes to come.
It’s just the latest performance by Clay in the last few years that shows an acting range many thought he didn’t possess, as most remember him best for his hugely successful (and controversial) comedy persona “the Diceman” in the 1980s, which flatlined by the ’90s, leaving Clay with no work for years.
“I thank the entire business for giving me these opportunities,” Clay recently told Business Insider. (He also received high marks for his dramatic performance in Woody Allen’s 2013 movie “Blue Jasmine.”)
But the irony of Clay getting on “Vinyl” — which looks at the music business in the 1970s and was created by Scorsese, Jagger, Terence Winter (“Boardwalk Empire”), and Rick Cohen — is that he didn’t even know he was being considered for the role.
“Last year I was going onstage in Las Vegas when my wife asked me, ‘Did you call your manager today?'” Clay recalled. “And I said, ‘Why would I call him for?’ And she said, ‘I’m not supposed to tell you but you got the Scorsese thing.’ And I was like, ‘What Scorsese thing?'”
Clay was so beside himself, he went onstage and told the audience the good news. (Oh, and that night Clay was performing on the Vegas strip at the Hard Rock Hotel’s club, fittingly called Vinyl.)
“I was a fan of his as an actor before the Diceman became popular,” Terence Winter told BI of why the show cast Clay. “I was aware of him as a dramatic actor, and I think people forget that he started as an actor. So I think people are always surprised when they see him in roles like this, but I’m so thrilled to be able to show that side of him, remind people he’s the real thing.”
For Clay, the experience on the show was filled with good times. He said he spent a majority of the rehearsal period hanging out with Scorsese, who wanted to get to know the actor. But by the time filming began, Clay says, he got very Method about his character.
“Marty let me go as deep as I needed to,” said Clay, who shared a history of being cheated on with the Rodgers character. “Buck reveals to Richie that his wife has left him for his brother. I’ve been through something similar where you live with somebody and they go with your friend. So there was a lot to work with to get into character.”
And when it came time to film Rodgers’ long, episode-stealing final scene, in which he lures Richie to his Long Island mansion, where he’s been on a drug bender for two consecutive days, Clay admits he was in “another world.”
“I was like, I know my lines, so I’m going to get a little stoned so I’ll be right where I need to be,” Clay revealed. “So it was funny, on set there’s all this fake coke and fake pot, and outside I’m smoking the real pot. The producers were like, ‘Dice, there’s a million cops out here,’ but I have a good history with police in New York, so I go, ‘There’s not a cop in New York that’s going to get mad at me for getting a little stoned in the backyard of this mansion to play this role.'”
It’s the type of scene Scorsese has mastered, mixing comedy and violence to concoct a moment that’s hard to forget, like the “hit me in the face as hard as you can” scene between Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in “Raging Bull” or the Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill fight in “The Wolf of Wall Street” in which Hill’s character suddenly begins to choke on a piece of deli meat.
Clay cherishes that he’s now a part of a Scorsese moment, but admits he had to look away from a shot of a prosthetic head of Rodgers being caved in by a trophy.
The rebirth of Andrew Dice Clay will continue. He has a new show coming to Showtime in April called “Dice,” in which he brings a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” feel to his Diceman character as he tries to reclaim his old glory.
But for all the frustrations he’s endured in his career, Clay says he’s always known that he would rebound.
“I was the biggest thing in the world when my career went through the roof, and then by ’95, I was crushed,” he said. “But I always saw the light at the end of the tunnel and if you believe in you and your craft, it doesn’t pay to give up.
“That’s the real Andrew Clay Silverstein,” he said, referring to his given name. “I’m just a guy that really believes in my talent.”
“Vinyl” airs Sunday nights at 9 pm on HBO.
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