‘Punisher’ reveals his secrets

    With his handsome, rugged, everyman features, Tom Jane looks like a movie star. Yet beyond the appearance lies a pleasant demeanor that seems always to be lost in a profound train of thought. He even appears pensive while he slowly drags on his cigarette. Jane has starred in such eclectic films as “The Sweetest Thing,” “61*,” “Magnolia,” “The Thin Red Line,” and most recently “The Punisher.” His latest action-packed release is about a man’s redemption as he strives to avenge the murder of his family and his ultimate discovery that his strength and agility can be used for honorable means. Jane contemplated a few questions about the film and related matters.

    Guardian: How do you usually choose your roles?

    Tom Jane: I look for two things. I look for two diametrically opposed, yet equal, forces that exist within the character, and then how they consolidate themselves, or work themselves out, and what happens to the person as these two forces are rubbing up inside them. That is key for me as an actor. With Mantle [from “61*”], it’s this amazing self-destructive streak coupled with this incredible ability to perform athletically. Neal Cassady [from “The Last Time I Committed Suicide”] is living on the absolute outer boundaries of society, and yet, all Cassady ever wanted [was] a wife and two kids, a picket fence and a house — that’s his ultimate dream. Frank Castle [from “The Punisher”] — the lawman, the special forces operative, the believer in America, the upholder of the law, the believer of justice — had the ultimate injustice done to him and had all of those things stripped away, and how does he reconcile those two diametrically opposed forces, wanting to do the right thing and yet wanting also to kill them all?

    G: You did 90 percent of the stunts [in “The Punisher”]. How long did it take you to learn how to do all of that?

    TJ: I had six months to prep for the film and in that way I trained with the [Navy] Seals. That allowed me the skills and the confidence to be able to do that, and it was important for me to do that going in. As much as I was influenced by Lee Marvin, [Charles] Bronson and hardnosed 70s’ characters, I was also influenced by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, who brought a great sense of humor to their work and a real human three-dimensional, emotional sense of pathos and just a fantastic versatility in terms of the physicality of their roles. [It] was very strong, I mean, their roles were purely physical because they were operating in the silent medium, so I wanted to do “The Punisher” and turn him into a purely physical presence and speak as little as possible and try to tell the story with my actions. That’s challenging and it’s something I really am very fascinated by. It’s just something that I’ve always loved.

    G: Were there any unforeseen problems that occurred during the shooting?

    TJ: Well, yeah, there were some troubles. It’s inevitable in this kind of film. I kind of prepared for it like a professional sport. I fortunately came through it relatively unscathed. I stabbed my co-star Kevin Nash. I forgot to change out the real knife for the prop knife and when I went to stab him [during the shoot], it was a real knife. But he took it like a gentleman. It’s not a good day when you stab your co-star, and it was not my proudest moment. But [the injury] wasn’t bad, it was just a flesh wound and we went on with our day, but it didn’t feel good. It felt terrible.

    G: Speaking of [professional wrestler] Kevin Nash, what was it like going up against him in that one scene?

    TJ: We knew that we were making an impression with our size difference and we use it to our advantage. That fight scene is very much influenced by the James Bond fight scenes. There’s a great scene with Robert Shaw and Sean Connery. Those are the influences. Those fight scenes where they could be hardnosed and they could be bare-knuckle, knockdown, drag-out fights, but have a sense of humor to them. We just had fun, and I think it’s a memorable scene. I think it’s a scene that, well already it’s a scene that everybody’s talking about, and I hope they continue to talk about it for a long time because we had a lot of fun making that happen. And it’s due to Kevin’s [professionalism] and his abilities and his athleticism that we were able to do a lot of what we did, so it really worked out well.

    G: Do you have any more roles coming out as cool as “The Punisher?”

    TJ: I played a pretty cool part last summer. I played a guy, a South African policeman during the 1976 apartheid. He’s living under the regime where he is asked by his government to kill people during these riots and he deals with that by robbing banks during his lunch hour. It was a true story about a real guy who lived named Andre Stander. The film is called “Stander.” It comes out June 11. Bob Berney [president of distribution] at Newmarket who did “The Passion of the Christ” and “Monster” picked up the film and I’m really proud to be a part of [it]. It’s a terrific story, it’s an action drama, it’s an anti-hero, [and] it subverts the genre in a way. It’s another guy who has diametrically opposed forces operating inside of him.

    You can see Tom Jane in action as the Punisher on April 16. Also, look for his other film, “Stander,” in theaters on June 11. Shooting for the sequel to the “The Punisher” could begin as early as November 2004.

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