A tall, lean, sometimes bearded actor with a career lasting more than forty years, David Clennon is also a very vocal political agitator. In 1967, during the most savage years of U.S. aggression against Vietnam, Clennon turned in his Selective Service System identification card (a federal felony) and joined the draft resistance movement. His anti-war, anti-draft activities are included in the book “Confronting the War Machine,” by Michael Foley. Appearing in Sam Shepard’s “The Unseen Hand” in 1970, he began to establish himself in off-Broadway theater. He also performed in several regional theatres, and on Broadway, in Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard” (1977). He began his film career as a background actor in “The Way We Were” (1973). His first speaking role was in “The Paper Chase” (also 1973).
As his career developed, he always tried to follow his moral and political convictions. He has turned down roles in films (e.g., “Just Cause,” which promoted the death penalty) and television (e.g., Fox’s “24,” which promoted torture). In 2018, Clennon engaged in a campaign to alert Emmy voters to the half-truths, distortions and omissions in Ken Burns’ PBS series “The Vietnam War,” which is nominated for four Emmys. (It received none.) He has been arrested for civil disobedience, and he has clashed with the Hollywood establishment.
In spite of the prevalence of type-casting, David has managed to demonstrate considerable versatility. To every role that he plays, he tries to bring a sense of reality and a spark of humanity. He tends to be cast as educated, white-collar characters, but he occasionally breaks that mold with working class characters like Palmer in John Carpenter’s “The Thing (1982).” He got his first film role in 1973 in “The Paper Chase” and followed up with Bound for Glory (1976), “Coming Home” (1978), and “Being There” (1979). In his movies, he has worked with Jack Lemmon, Sissy Spacek, Meryl Streep, and Susan Sarandon. He moved into TV in the drama “The Migrants” and, with several roles, in the classic comedy “Barney Miller. He is most famous for his role as Miles Dentrell on the acclaimed drama thirtysomething (1987).
David was a regular on the CBS series “The Agency” (2001) playing the computer and forgery expert Joshua Nankin. When he publicly criticized the show for its pro-CIA slant, and its propaganda supporting George Bush’s invasion of Iraq, he was attacked by Sean Hannity (with actor James Woods piling on) and political consultant Dick Morris.
Clennon appeared in three films by the late Hal Ashby and four by Costa-Gavras. He lists among his favorite films (or roles) “Being There,” “Coming Home,” “Go Tell the Spartans,” “Missing,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Dos Crimenes” (Mexico), “Silver City,” (Mort Seymour) “Syriana” and, of course, “The Thing” (Palmer).
In 2019, Clennon refused to audition for the upcoming Netflix series “Hit and Run” because it is co-produced by an Israeli company and he chose not to work under the authority of what he calls “a racist, apartheid state.”
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