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August 2004
Stander: An Interview with Thomas Jane

By Todd Gilchrist

Stander: An Interview with Thomas Jane

Thomas Jane may currently be best know for his turn in this spring's "The Punisher", but he continues to work in low-radar films that advertise less of his biceps, but more of his talent. "Stander" is such an example, a film about a cop who during the late seventies turns to bank robbing after he becomes disillusioned with the South African government. Jane recently spoke to blackfilm.com about the experience, about choosing roles, and finding a suitable niche for his singular talent.

Were you aware of the story before it came to you?

Thomas Jane: No I had no idea about who Andre Stander was. I don't think a lot of people in America know who he is. It's nice that we bring this story to a wider audience. He's been a folk hero in Africa and most of the world for so long. And this story has been attracted to get made in a number of different ways so it's nice that we can finally bring it.

Do you see any parallels to The Punisher at all?

TJ: I guess in the sense that they're two anti-heroes or people who go against the grain or go their own way yeah. I think The Punisher did the wrong thing for the right reasons and Andre did the right thing for the wrong reasons or vice versa, I'm not sure. But I'm interested in people who don't always do the right thing. It's much more akin to what I know about life.

Has the awareness of The Punisher helped to sell this movie any better?

TJ: I don't know. I leave that up to the money guys. I know I've made a lot more fans from The Punisher who are going to go see Stander because of that so in that way, I guess it's helped. It's great for me because I think with The Punisher and Stander, I'm defining for myself what kind of roles I like to do and what's appealing to me as an artist. They're 2 similar things but at opposite ends of the spectrum also in terms of the kinds of stuff that I'm interested in.

We also heard that with the stuntwork that you got so gung-ho that you were actually driving too fast for the stunt driver.

TJ: Yeah. On The Punisher I was throwing myself through walls and shit. That is part of the job that I enjoy. I like getting dirty. I like doing all that stuff it's a lot of fun. I've always liked that stuff.

Standing in the sun roof during the car chase you liked that? TJ: All that fun stuff, yeah.

Any precarious situations?

TJ: I do like to do as many stunts as I possibly can. I guess you get in trouble sometimes. We had a stunt where we're coming around the corner in a car doing a 90 degree turn at 60 mph and I was supposed to be in the car. At the last minute, they had to pull me out and put in my stunt double. The car went around the corner and something mechanical happened to the car and the car ended up wrapping itself around a tree and my stunt man ended up in the hospital. He went through the windshield. A lot of the crew thought it was me because they pulled me out at the last minute so it was kind of hairy. In a lot of ways I wished it was me and not my stunt guy.

Don't you take into account now being a family man, taking these risks now?

TJ: I'm of the mind that life is a risk. Everytime you leave your house, it's a risk. I see no reason to go through life with my hands behind my back for any reason. It doesn't mean I'd be stupid or foolish but I wouldn't let anything stop me that I felt I could do. Risks are what make life a real thrill.

Was the development of this character all on the pages of the script or what did you have to do to develop a background or more information?

TJ: It's a good question. There are newspaper articles and a couple inflammatory books written on Andre but nothing really substantial. The script was based on a lot of conjecture and a lot of tall tales. It wasn't until we actually got to S. Africa and started talking to guys who really knew him, the warden of the prison where he was incarcerated, his partner Cor Van Deventer, some of his girlfriends and Allan Heyl who's still in prison and started getting real first-hand accounts of who Andre was and what he did. That's when the script really came together so we did a lot of work in Africa as we were learning this stuff. And a lot of the more unbelievable things about Andre - robbing 2 banks in one day - a lot of the crazier stuff is stuff that really happened and he really did. We were able to work it into the screenplay because it was so fascinating. How he broke out of prison and all that stuff - it's all real.

Did your view of him change from the first time you read the script to as you're learning more about him?

TJ: Yeah, you're constantly learning everyday and always try to keep the door open and never try and formulate an opinion one way or the other about Andre - or anybody that I had the honor to portray. Everybody will give you inherently their opinion of who Andre was in recounting tales of him and what he did in trying to give you a better picture of who the guy was, it has to be filtered through a person. But my allegiance is to Andre Stander himself and that is all. It's not to his friends, his family, his father, mother, wife, fans, or people who loved him, knew him or wanted to love him, it's to none of those people - it's to Andre.

How did you feel about those nude scenes?

TJ: (laughs). Um... I don't know, I don't have an opinion one way or the other. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. (laugh). We had a woman director and I believed in her. I think seriously that everything I do tries to inform the character in some way and the nude scenes, hopefully point toward sort of the wild man or uncontrolled nature or outsider, something untamed about Andre. And I think one of the most basic and visceral ways to get that across is to get naked. So it served the story. It did its thing.

There was a hectic shoot but at the end of the day, what did you do - did you retreat to your trailer or hang out with others?

TJ: Slept. It was very hectic and very busy. Three locations everyday. There were more locations than there were days of shooting. I had 17 costume changes and often multiple costume changes in one day of shooting. It was a lot of work for everybody. I knew that going in and I didn't want to do the movie. I think I turned it down twice. It seemed like so much work. But I'm learning that when I don't want to do something, it's usually a good sign that there's something in there that I need to do. And also, I keep getting the opportunity to play these people that lived - Neal Cassidy, Mickey Mantle, Andre Stander and I'm getting ready to play Glen Shirley who was locked up in Folsom Prison for 13 years and sung his way out of prison. He toured with Johnny Cash and became this big country western star and then killed himself. These people keep coming to me and I'm learning not to say no.

What ultimately changed your mind to play Stander?

TJ: I just couldn't not do it. The price of not doing it was more than the price of doing it. The accent, embodying this other tortured individual, emotional roller coaster ride that he went on, he was a health nut and I had to work out, the shooting schedule, being half way around the world - everything just said don't do this fuckin movie. But I couldn't not do it - he was too strong. Andre and I wrestled and I lost.

This was shot before The Punisher so did this give you momentum in terms of workout preparation?

TJ: I try to eat as many donuts as I can in between movies. I nearly get myself into a flaccid state before every film. I usually end up starting from scratch again. I don't like going to the gym - it's a pain in the ass.

Did you find that the period details on this were significantly better, different, worse than the things you have done in the past?

TJ: It's a more noticeable element but whenever you take on a role you have to consider the time this person existed whether it's fictional or not and the place and who that person thinks they are within the context of that society that they're living in - what their social status is, what they aspire to be and who they think they are. So those things are sometimes more noticeable than others. If you're playing a guy who lives down the block and took place yesterday, you're not going to notice. If you play a period piece, these things are more noticeable and all they do is serve to reflect ourselves and our time that we're living now and hopefully, wake us up a little bit to the trappings of whatever we're dealing with today. We look at pictures of ourselves from 10 years ago and you're like What was I thinking? But you were, you were thinking a lot and making choices based on who you wanted to be and what you saw around you. The same is true with Andre and no 2 characters come from the same place at the same time no matter what or else you get into generic bullshit.

Will The Punisher be easier the 2nd time around?

TJ: No, probably not. No, that movie was really hard to make. I didn't want to do it, I turned it down twice. I did. Certainly a sign I'm supposed to do it.

Have they talked about what type of action sequences they'll throw you into?

TJ: Yeah. I know that the scene at the end of the 1st Punisher where I go up there and take everybody out, that's going to be the opening of Punisher 2 where he'll be taking out another set of guys in another place - whole other context. But Punisher 2 will open with that type of scene and it'll get worse from there.

When did Lions Gate officially green light the sequel?

TJ: I don't know. I know that everybody wants to make it. We don't have a script. We don't a budget and we don't have any other actors except for me so everything is a go until somebody says it's not. That's how these things work, you know. That's how the first one worked. It was a go and didn't like the script... it's going till it's not.

How did you feel about the hype for that movie - was it too much or too little?

TJ: It was too much of not enough. (laugh) I like what it did and I like the place that it ended up having. My expectations for the film were not exceeded and I wasn't let down either. I didn't ever think it was going to be a blockbuster film because of the nature of the material and the brutality of it and under the conditions we're living in today. It's just not. If this film had come out in the 70s, it would have been a whole other story but today, we're just not as a massive culture, into that. And I knew that. That's why I did it. These movies, there needs to be a market and what we're seeing of films today is the over bloatation of selling Happy Meals and rides and shit to ride behind a film which is fine and there's a place for that and more power to 'em. But what's happening is the balloon is getting so big at the top, there's nothing in the middle man. It's either that or you're watching Internet porn. What's in the middle is being neglected. What used to be great about rock n'roll is you could have a #1 hit in Tennessee but nobody heard of you in Chicago. With television, radio and mass marketing, if it's a hit, it's a hit everywhere. But that leaves out some of the more cultural spice, some of the more niche market stuff is gone. The Punisher was made for a specific audience and it catered to that audience and that audience got what they paid for. I toured the country and guys who would come to advance screenings or guys who went to opening weekend, that was the audience. They were cheering, clapping and laughing in all the right places. That was our film. I'm very proud of its flaws and limitations and I'm very proud of its success. I wouldn't want it to be anything bigger than what it is. Of course, I'd like to make a movie that's more massive appealing but that's not my priority. I like making movies for a certain kind of person.

Is it harder to choose between Happy Meal movies and indie projects like this as you try to prove yourself as box office draw or as your profile continues to rise?

TJ: It's a hard juggling act, you know. The more well known I get, it seems the more limited my choices become. So I have to pick and choose and I have to pick a pigeon hole I'm comfortable in. The curse in being pigeon holed is getting stuck in something you really don't like. I had to find something I like and so w/the Punisher and Stander, I'm creating a niche for myself that I enjoy and I have something to contribute to whereas if I kept doing movies like The Sweetest Thing, I'd probably be flipping burgers by now.

What's next for you?

TJ: Glen Shirley. That's the title.

Who else is in it?

TJ: Nobody yet. We're still putting it together. In fact we just got a director.

Who's that?

TJ: I'm not allowed to say because nobody has signed a contract. But it's just all coming together now and hopefully we'll be filming by the Fall. It takes places in 1971 and there's this fantastic story about freedom - how you can take the man out of prison, but you can't take the prison out of man. Good story. It's another one I turned down.... (laugh)

Are you going to be singing in this one?

TJ: Yeah. Absolutely. It's another skill I have to learn. He had some fantastic country songs in the early 70s, he had some #1 hits recorded by Johnny Cash and another guy. He himself had an album. He was a sensation for a short period of time.

Play guitar too?

TJ: He taught himself guitar in Folsom Prison. So I'll be playing guitar but that's something I already do, thank God.

What brings you to a movie as an audience member?

TJ: Uniformity of vision. I like all different kinds of movies. I like broad comedies, hard core action, serious drama, science fiction, I love horror films. What draws me to them is their purity of vision that they are exactly what they say they are - that their a great embodiment of a horror film or a great drama. I guess that's what draws me to a film - the quality of a film. I try to stay open and try to encourage not to pigeon hole themselves - I don't like these stupid comedies but chances are there is a stupid comedy out there that you would like.

How has your life changed personally since The Punisher?

TJ: I guess I get a lot of attacks by goobers now. I've changed in a lot of great ways. I'm writing a comic book. I'm actually doing a Punisher four-issue arc for Marvel and then I'm writing my own comic book called Bad Planet, sci-fi alien invasion comic. I've got introduced to great artists and writers, people that I admired my entire adolescence. It's opened the doors to me creatively in a number of different ways. It's just a great experience all the way around. I'm a self professed goober. I've been reading comics since before I could walk so for me, in a lot of ways, it's a dream come true and I've always wanted to contribute to that and I'm now getting the chance.

What's Bad Planet about?

TJ: It's an alien invasion comic - sci-fi comic about alien parasites.

Are you illustrating it too?

TJ: No I'm just writing it. Believe me, you don't want to see any comic illustrated by me. (laugh). I'm going to get a terrific artist to paint it for me.

When it's coming out?

TJ: My first script is due at the end of August. Then depending on the artist and his schedule, I'm thinking it will come early next year. Right now we have two 6 issue arcs so that's 12 and then depending on how those do, we have the potential to keep it ongoing.

Is that with Marvel also?

TJ: No, that's with IDW.

If you had the chance to ask Andre Stander a question, what would it be?

TJ: Why did ya do it man? (laugh). I would have loved to known what his favorite rock n'roll song was, I would have loved to have known what his dream car was. Stuff that you can only imagine or guess. I'd loved to know what he loved about Becky, what kept them together...just simple stuff...what he liked on his eggs. Stuff that I had to invent. It would have given me a clue to who he really was.

You probably would have tried to talk him out of what he did?

TJ: Oh no. I wouldn't talk anybody out of anything. Everybody's got to do what they got to do. Andre wouldn't have been Andre. No, no. I would have been in the car w/him man. I don't know if I would have been a part of the gang.

Favorite disguise?

TJ: Yeah, I like that Doobie Brothers disguise.

When do you do the 4 series Punisher?

TJ: They're working that out w/Marvel now. They're such a machine. They find that gap and put it in. I'm not sure when the scripts are due. We just finalized that a few weeks ago.

Want to do any projects with Patricia now?

TJ: Who knows. Gosh. It's all up to the gods, but certainly wouldn't be opposed to it. She's a great actress.

I don't suppose you can tell us what your 4 issues are going to be?

TJ: Gosh. (pause). To tell you that the Punisher is going to be infiltrating and breaking down a criminal organization who do real bad things. Then when he gets to the center of it, he's going to be confronted with... the guy at the center of it is going to be a family man with a wife and 2 kids. So he's going to be confronted with taking out the guy and taking food out of these kids' mouths. Finding that moral justification. That's where the Punisher fascinated me. It's like OK, you're doing what you're doing and going to kill the bad guys but the bad guys have kids and those kids are going to school and maybe one will be a doctor... you're spreading the disease, man.

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