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November 2004
National Treasure: An Interview with Jon Voight

National Treasure: An Interview with Jon Voight

By Todd Gilchrist

For decades, Jon Voight has been bringing his not-so-quiet professionalism to movie sets from Deliverance to Anacondas and literally everything in between. As an esteemed member of the acting community, he is now called upon more often to provide a bit of, as he describes it, "gravitas" in films that require at least a serious characterization or two. National Treasure, the latest film starring Nicolas cage, is no different, and he plays father to Cage's treasure-hunting son. Voight spoke to blackfilm.com about invading an adventure film as he himself ventures towards advancing age.

At the beginning, of the movie, you look like you used to?

JV: I'm keeping this thing because I was trying to get Adam Sandler to come to the premiere tonight and I'm just waiting to see if I can get a response from him. Anyway, so when you first saw me, I looked younger, huh? It's amazing, isn't it. You know how that happened? They got us this wig, that's the way I used to have my hair, in "Midnight Cowboy", I had my hair pulled down. Well, I'm getting a little balding in the back, so I'm trying to cover, as we do. Anthony Hopkins and me, but it gives us an older look too, a little tougher, so that's good too. Anyway, so I got this wig and, see I'm lean and, many of the roles I play, I use padding to fill in, to make myself look a little more, have a little more girth when it's required. So that's what I did in this movie. I have a little pot belly. I was so happy to take that off, and then being my trimmer self, and then use that to play the young character, and then this tremendous wig that they had. This wig, everybody was so excited about the wig.

Did you keep it?

JV: No, I don't think so. I think they have it. It was a good wig. Would I wear it as if it were my real hair? (Laughs) No, I would not! I like your hair, you have beautiful hair.

Is playing part of an ensemble as satisfying for you?

JV: Well, you know, you get to be my age and you wonder if the great roles are gonna come your way, at a certain point in your career, and it's been going on for a number of years for me, you know. I'm very fortunate, I get the knock on the door to come do these pieces and I'm very grateful for that aspect. And, these pieces are good pieces and the roles are good roles. I'm kind of an anchor guy now, you know, I kind of hold the thing in place in a certain way. Like in Heat, without that character in Heat, something would be missing. There's some kind of a, what do they call it now, instead of age, you have to have another thing. Gravitas, yes! When they need some gravitas, they call on me for things, and I'm getting nice parts that way. I'd doing the lead in a piece called The Five People You Meet In Heaven, which is a book by Mitch Album and it's a big, you know, very, very magical and mysterious and powerful drama that has been on the best seller list, it's been on the fictional best seller list, while "Tuesday's with Morrie" doesn't seem to want to leave the non-fiction and this doesn't leave the fiction. It's been on for over a year and a half I think now. But, anyway, so we've done that, and I was in every scene almost in that picture. I had a lot of prosthetics, I actually had to look older, if you can imagine. Holy smokes, this is a switch! Was that satisfying to me? Yes, it was satisfying to me to be in that kind of position, because when you're the lead in a film, it's a little easier to help the course of the story. When you have a smaller part, coming into supply a certain aspect to the story, and you've got to provide that. Now, I said this at one time, I said when you have a supporting role, you have to bring something to the table, immediately you're asked for an element in that piece and usually you don't have much time to deliver it, so you have to come on with a lot of kind of interesting aspects digested, and usually it's more theatrical because you're asked to give a certain punch to this part of the story or this part of the story, where as you can take your time, be a little more patient, you don't have to be so inventive or dramatic on a daily basis. You can pace yourself over the longer road of a film, but the fellows who come in and out, they have to come in with some real charge, so that's why you get supporting actor nominations with very extraordinary characters, the characterizations are extraordinary in that category, you know?

So was it calculated on your part to upstage the reptile in Anaconda?

JV: Now, it is a [incomprehensible] close to my heart here. (Laughs) I felt, I said, when they first started that picture, I have to just tell you this silly part about "Anaconda". When they first wrote it, they wrote the guy as a preacher from Omaha with a long beard. And I said, ĆOh, man. This is not right. This guy's got to be, he's got to be more dangerous than the snake!' So when you say that to me, it's just like a, it's like an Oscar! You're saying, you did it! You accomplished it! You were more dangerous than the snake!

Working with Nick Cage?

JV: Well, you guys all saw the movie same time I did, right? Wasn't that a nice screening? To just sit there with just a bunch of folks who wanted to see the movie and getting that kind of, you can tell the response was immediate and full, and that was great, because when you make a movie, as you know, you're thinking about that audience response. I'm thinking about myself as a child and growing up, going to the movies and having an expectation, and then when you really get excited when it takes you somewhere, boy it stays with you for days, when you're in that world. It's a wonderful gift to give people, so when you can work on making that happen for people and then sit there with the people when it happens, it's the greatest thing! When you hear those squeals and the oohs and aahs, it was very wonderful for me to be sitting there and feeling that ride with everybody, as it was with you, you know you can take the ride a little easier if you're sitting in the group. And of course, because we're all professionals, we go there, it's hard not to be a little bit focused and distracted when you're a professional looking at things, or you're trying to make comparisons or you're, ĆWell, what can I use to quote,' you have to have your professional hat on. And then you're sitting next to people who don't have that, they just have the freedom to take the ride, and it's a great reminder for me, when I go to see that the ride is the most important thing, and it helps me not to look at that other stuff. I just watch the movie and go with it.

So, Nick?

JV: I knew you would get around to it. I tried to hold off as long as I could. (Laughs) Nicolas is a, it's interesting, I started to think about it the other night, what have I said about Nicolas, have I said it right? Because he is an interesting fellow. He's very charismatic, he's very unpredictable. He's endearing, there's something very endearing about Nicolas, or at least I found, playing his father I should know, you know what I mean? There's something really touching about him. I really like Nick a lot, and we have had, you know we've said hello over the years, we're talked about working together, we've said, ĆOh, that would be great,' but you never know if that will come to be. Anyway, I was talking to him about doing "Ghost Rider" at one point and then, all of the sudden, this thing comes up and I say, ĆOkay, yeah. We're gonna go for the ride on this. I'll jump in here.' And I did, I jumped into this picture without knowing exactly what my parts gonna be, because they hadn't finished the ending and all of this, but I said, so it's Nick, I'll jump in. I found working with Nick, it was fun, because when you work with anybody, but especially a good actor like Nick is, you find his own techniques and the way he, because he's responsible, because he's got this great career going, you say, ĆWell how does he make it work?' And I found that he was really interesting. First of all, when he's on the set, and especially here because he and Justin Bartha and Diane Kruger got along like, they just all were like little kids. They were so cute on the set. It was like, ĆOkay kids, we're now going to go to the movie set now.' (Laughs) ĆOver here, you don't have to stop talking, just move the act over here. Should I say something to them? No, they'll be all right. When they call action, they'll settle down.' It was a little bit like that. They were having so much fun and Nick was not at all a movie star guy. It was like he was just a guy, and he was very candid about what he was feeling, what happened last night, he'd come in and he'd talk about it, he'd ask questions. [He said], ĆI was talking to this girl,' [and] he finally wound up marrying the girl. He says, ĆShe said to call her back, what does that mean?' ĆWhat does that mean?' He would ask me as if I was his father in a certain sense. I would try to say an appropriate thing or two. Anyway, he was wide open and full of fun. And then when he worked, he would always experiment with a scene. He would almost never approach a scene in the way that I would anticipate the scene to be going forward or indicated in the script. He would take some other point of view on the scene, sometimes very different from what it ended up being, but always you could count on to be inventive and daring, and it was fun because it also created interaction, so if I didn't agree with him, I'd have to get into it with him. I'd have to see what I felt and then the director's going to guide us to what he wants. So that's always the thing with films anyway, because you have strong personalities, it's always great, because they all bring something to the table and then you work it out, because that's what I think chemistry is by the way, I think it's just all these people vibrating off each other. If people come in and they're lackadaisical and they just come in and they just do it, well then, you're not going to get much chemistry. But if they come in with a passion to do something and a vision of what they think and it's from themselves, it will be different from you, that's why they have menus. Everybody's a little different, so its fun and we had that, we had all strong personalities here.

Did he invite you to his wedding?

JV: I think he had it, I don't know where he had it, he probably snuck off and had one quickly so he didn't have to have a lot of attention on it. I don't know whether I'm saying things out of line. I seem to be very comfortable here, like we're in someone's living room. (Laughs) But some of this stuff is going to get in the papers.

You've worked with Bruckheimer more than once. What's his secret?

JV: I would say that the secret to Jerry Bruckheimer is this. Can you imagine, saying it like that, because I asked him, ĆWhat's the secret Jerry?' And he said to me, ĆIt's simple Jon, I just make movies that I want to see.' That's it. And that's his answer. And the fact is, that's what he does. He loves movies, he loves stories and he hires people who he's excited to work with and he gives them all sorts of support in the process of it, but he's always there if he's needed, you know? He's like a gardener. He's got something going on over here, something over here, and if anybody needs something, he's right there to give them a little water and sunshine and moves onto the next flower.

Angelina says that you will never reconcile?

JV: Well, look at my face, this is a dad's face here when I get that- I love my daughter, I'm crazy about my daughter. I will not stop sending her my messages of love and trying to reach her always. I'm crazy about her. I can't give a response like, I'm sure there will be an ending as all parents hope that they will have a resolve. I'm concerned about her always, I love her deeply and that's just it, I have nothing but little love notes to send her way.

Is that you top priority, to reconcile?

JV: Of course, you're children are the most important things in life. I love my children my children more than my life itself.

Did you see her in the hotel?

JV: I didn't but I sent her a little message. I don't want to get into that, but obviously, any parent knows that's where your heart is, no matter what kind of a face you put on things, but also I can't allow it to bring me down. I have to stay positive in thought and send her my love and prayers continuously and that's the way it is.

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