Thomas Jane Would Return As The Punisher
From The Punisher to Bulletproof, a bleak, gritty ‘Code of Blue’ thriller, Thomas Jane’s cinematic journey of exacting justice continues.
His slipping ‘n’ sliding in Deep Blue Sea was unforgettable, his wailing amid The Mist traumatised legions of movie-goers. However, it was Jane’s iconic turn as Frank Castle that made him a legend among comicbook fans.
While it’s been eight years since his acclaimed Punisher short Dirty Laundry, Jane’s new film Bulletproof is eerily reminiscent of his vigilante days. ‘In certain extreme situations, the law is inadequate. In order to shame its inadequacy, it is necessary to act outside the law. To pursue… natural justice.’
Check out the trailer for Bulletproof below:
To mark the release of Bulletproof – formerly known as Crown Vic – we rang Jane up for a natter about cop movies in today’s climate, being at the centre of the most devastating movie moment of all time, and the possibility of him donning the skull one last time.
UNILAD: Hey Thomas, how you doing?
Thomas Jane: Well, right now I’m feeding the cat. She’s very particular about what she eats, so right now I’m making up a little food for her. She don’t go for that cat food sh*t, she eats like a real person.
UNILAD: What does she eat?
TJ: I cook her a chicken. [Background murmuring] And now my daughter wants chicken too. We make her some chicken and a little roast beef now and then.
UNILAD: That cat is eating better than I am.
TJ: She’s got it made, man. [Background meowing] The thing is with my cat, she doesn’t do well when I’m not around. So when I travel, she destroys the house because she’s very upset that I’m not there. So for the past several years, I travel with my cat everywhere. Any job I get.
TJ: Kat, with a K.
UNILAD: Let’s dive into Bulletproof, or as it was formerly known, Crown Vic. I watched it last night – really enjoyed it, very similar vibes to End of Watch.
TJ: It’s David Ayer who did End of Watch, right? I recently got to know him a little bit. He’s a wonderful writer and director, love him. That’s a compliment, thank you. I gave David a copy of Bulletproof, because I told him it was inspired by some of his work. That’s nice to hear, thank you.
UNILAD: What drew you to the role?
TJ: Well, what draws me to any project is the script, the story. Joel Souza, the writer-director, was a sharp, thoughtful guy. He had a passion for writing this and making this story, so that’s what I always – as an artist – like to support. If they’re passionate about what they do, and they’ve done a fantastic job writing the script, it’s my job to show up and support them, and do the best job I can, you know?
TJ: Well, it takes place in Los Angeles – but as you know, hardly anything actually takes place in LA. We shot in Buffalo, New York. Most of it was at night, so we could change some street signs and digitally put in some palm trees – boom! You’re in LA.
We shot for about a month. All nights, which is great for me because I’m a night person. I don’t like getting up earlier than 3.00pm. I got up earlier than that for you, but it’s not my preferred schedule.
I love the fact the whole damn thing took place at night… it was quick. Joel’s cinematographer [Thomas Scott Stanton] is an extremely talented guy, and I like the choices they made. Most of it, you’re just right up there in these two guys’ faces. Most of it is a medium shot or a close-up for the entire film.
The anamorphic widescreen, the lighting; it just gives you this really fantastic feeling which isn’t the way normal movies are shot. It’s not what you’d expect from a film like this, so that turned me on.
UNILAD: Like you said, so much of it is bonnet-mounted cameras. It’s all very intimate with you and Luke Kleintank, I take it you got on with him?
TJ: He’s a fine actor, I had a good time working with him. The hard part was when they strapped the car up to the ride-along, the tow. They strap it up to the film truck, so you’re not really driving, you’re being towed along.
They shined all these lights at us. That got really distracting for the first day, because you’re not looking at anything; you’re not looking at the street anymore, you’re not driving anymore, you’re pretending to drive. You’re not looking at anything except all the crew and you’re staring at a whole bunch of lights.
It’s fine because after half a day, six hours later, it just was what it was, then we got back into it.
UNILAD: Did you do much actual driving then?
TJ: We did a lot! Most of it’s just me actually driving. They’d strap the camera to the hood of the car or the door. There was just a couple of nights where they towed us around. But I love to drive – most of what you see is the real thing.
UNILAD: Did the driving help you relax while acting?
TJ: It just gives you a sense of reality, you know? We were in a cop car, in the Crown Vic, driving around. It gives you a sense of control, reality and feeling. You feel like a cop; driving around in a cop car, wearing a cop uniform, you start feeling like a cop after a while.
UNILAD: Did you see much crime while filming on late nights?
TJ: Well, the fun thing is that even though we shot in Buffalo, I hooked up with the LAPD here in Hollywood two weeks before I left. I hooked up with Sgt. Dunster and a couple of other guys, and rode around with them for about two weeks. Not every night, but over a two-week period.
Dunster said: ‘Listen, it’s called the curse of the ride-along. It’s funny, when people want a ride-along, then hardly anything ever happens. There’s no real dramatic action.’
Well, the curse didn’t catch us: I got into a high-speed car chase with a helicopter and three other cops; I saw a shooting; I was there when they busted an illegal gambling den.
I was like: ‘Dude, is this what you call nothing much happening?’ He said: ‘Well, you know, it’s sort of an average night.’
UNILAD: That is wild.
TJ: It was incredible. I mean, these dudes can drive too – like, f*ck.
UNILAD: Police movies and TV shows are viewed differently now, particularly after incidents and protests over the past few months. Should we be framing these stories in another way?
TJ: That’s a good question, thank you. Like I said, I’ve hung out with cops. All night, night after night, I’ve gotten to know them.
Every single cop that I hung out with was in it for the right reasons. They were at various levels of experience – some older, some younger.
But boy, they are public servants, they are dedicated to serving the public. By the way, I watched them bust speed freaks in a parking lot, they came up on them when they were shooting drugs in their car. What a nightmare that must have been, for them.
I watched them be rough with people, because that’s what was required at that moment, but they were all in it for the right reasons. I asked them: ‘What about all these shootings and sh*t?’ They said: ‘Hey, look around man. In any job, there’s some bad apples.’
TJ: It’s an incredibly intense job with a lot of power over human beings; you have the ability to arrest them and throw them in jail. That kind of power does get abused by a very small number of people, and those people deserve to be punished.
Here’s the problem, in my view: 98–99% of cops are in it for the right reasons. It’s a f*cking hard job; you don’t get paid a whole lot of money and if you wanna be one, you are inducted into a fraternity of service. Some dudes abuse that power.
The problem is that the police union and the ‘Code of Blue’ – you never turn against one of your brothers in blue – has so much power that the bad apples can’t be punished appropriately. That needs to happen.
TJ: It’s not about defunding the police, that is an idiotic idea. Can you imagine somebody breaks into your home, you call the cops and you get a busy signal? No thanks, you can’t defund the police, but there’s systematic changes that need to be made.
Bad cops need to be weeded out, it gives all those cops a bad name. Now people go around, they hate cops, they’re afraid of them. That is not their intent, then there’s a couple of percent who are complete f*cking assholes and are maybe a little bit nuts. But with the Code of Blue, you can’t.
TJ: Put yourself in a cop’s shoes for a second. They see more sh*t in a night than you will your entire life – one event where you had to call the cops, that’s it.
These dudes are there every f*cking night: blood, sh*t, crazy people, crime, car chases, you name it, and they never know what’s gonna be thrown at them the next night. They have to leave their wives to go off to work, and they don’t know whether they’re ever gonna come back home. So I am not okay with the attitude the public has towards the police today.
UNILAD: So where does Bulletproof fit in then? It deals with some pretty bad apples, but is it a timely movie or more of an escape?
TJ: Joel Souza wrote a script, he tried to tell the truth. He wanted to explore what it’s really like. He had to cram a year’s worth of bullsh*t into one night so we could make it entertaining. But there’s nothing in the film that I’d say is untruthful.
There are some bad f*cking apples out there, and I love the way he handles that. As a normal police officer, your hands are tied man. Code of Blue… you can’t go against your brother, even if you know he’s an insane maniac. That’s reality right now, and I hope that changes. That cannot stand.
TJ: I’ve been starring in a show called The Expanse. Amazon bought it, Jeff Bezos said it was his favourite show. So when SyFy cancelled it because it was too expensive to make, he stepped in and bought it and now he’s financing it through Amazon.
So, I went to Amazon and said I wanted to direct. I had to prove myself, I had to shadow a director for a month. They gave me the job, so in January I directed my first episode. That’ll come out… whenever the hell it comes out. The end of the year, I guess. That was a blast.
I also started a company called Renegade Entertainment with my partner Courtney Lauren Penn. We optioned the rights to a Stephen King book, he gave us the rights to From a Buick 8, so we’re in the process of developing that.
TJ: We also have another cop movie that we’re in the process of producing. We have a Western that I actually have a part in, and we’re gonna shoot that in October. I’ve got a couple of little movies I’m looking to direct, through Renegade.
What’s exciting for me is that Renegade is already getting traction in Hollywood. We’re looking for more material… edgy, tough material.
UNILAD: So, you’re basically saying you’re one of the busiest people in Hollywood, despite the circumstances?
TJ: My girlfriend is Anne Heche. We just shot our own little short movie in our house during quarantine. We’ve just edited it and sending it off to festivals right now – we’ve actually just submitted to Sundance. It turned out really well. It’s called T&A: Love and Sex, I love it!
UNILAD: You mentioned Stephen King – how does it feel to be attached to, probably, the bleakest movie ending of all time in The Mist?
TJ: The Mist was a great experience for me. I was friends with Frank Darabont because we were both friends of a comicbook artist named Bernie Wrightson. Bernie did some work for me, I had a comicbook company for some time. I’d always been a huge fan, we became friends and that’s how I met Frank Darabont.
One day, on my front porch, I saw a manila envelope. It had a script inside it… and it was called The Mist. I’m an avid King fan, so I’d read the short story. So I read the script, and the ending was in there.
Frank called me and asked what I thought, and I said: ‘I think it’s f*cking phenomenal… but are they gonna let you do this? I mean, my god. Is Bob Weinstein gonna let you shoot this ending?’
TJ: He said: ‘Well, Bob offered me double the budget if I change the ending. If you change that f*cking ending, I’ll give you twice as much money.’
Frank and I were thinking about it. He asked me and I said: ‘F*ck no, man! F*ck no.’
He said that I wouldn’t make as much money, with the budget cut in half, and I’m like: ‘F*ck all that sh*t, we gotta film it.’
TJ: Stephen King came to the set, we had dinner. He said: ‘Frank, if I had thought of that ending, I’d have written it.’ [Laughs] He loved it, we were all excited about it.
Bob Weinstein then decided to release the movie Thanksgiving weekend. This is when everybody eats a whole bunch of turkey, gets fat and they all march off to the movies. What the f*ck else are they gonna do? That night, all the families go to the movies.
Can you imagine, sitting there as a family in middle America, and watching that ending? It’s the dumbest idea, I was like: ‘Are you f*cking insance, what the f*ck?’ It’s almost like they were trying to make it fail.
Spoiler warning… here’s the ending to The Mist:
TJ: I think movie companies do that sometimes. They get some sort of tax, they benefit somehow when they can show their movies lose money. So I think the movie got thrown under the bus, but it has since got the attention it deserves.
If you haven’t seen it, for your readers, hunt down the black and white version. It’s on the blu-ray for The Mist, and I think it’s the best version.
UNILAD: It’s been eight years since you played The Punisher. What would it take for you to come back?
TJ: I turned that part down three times. Then, the head of Marvel at the time Avi Arad said to me: ‘What? Why?’ I said: ‘I don’t like superheroes.’ He said: ‘This is not a superhero, this is an anti-hero, dummy!’
He sent me some of Tim Bradstreet’s comicbook covers. His Punisher covers were why I agreed to do the part. I could see it, I saw what the part could be.
TJ: It became a sort-of battle between me and Marvel to push The Punisher towards the Travis Bickle version. I won some battles and lost some battles, and I wasn’t entirely satisfied with what I thought the part could be.
I invented a short film, I came up with the outline, the idea, the story. Then I found a wonderful writer named Chad St. John, I found a fantastic director named Phil Joanou, I found a guy to finance it and give us some cash.
TJ: We made a little 10-minute short called Dirty Laundry. It’s on YouTube, it’s sort of my definitive version of Frank Castle. I was unsatisfied with the film, and I wanted to deliver who the character was, and the potential, who he could be, what he could say, the fun of it.
So I’m done. If somebody came and asked me to do it again… if the script was good enough, I’d probably do it. But it’d have to be a damn good script.
Signature Entertainment presents Bulletproof on Digital HD September 7 and on DVD September 14.
If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
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