Thomas Jane: I've Never Fit The Hollywood Mold


He's jumped genres, decades and mediums throughout his 20-plus year career and on March 23, Thomas Jane's work -- The Punisher in particular -- will be celebrated at The Gasparilla Film Festival when they bestow him with their International Career Achievement Award.

Jane, who will accept his award following a screening of The Punisher (which was filmed 10 years ago in Florida), recently sat down with ETonline to talk about this unexpected honor, explain how he perfected The Punisher and reflect upon the very intentional diversity of his career.

ETonline: First of all, congratulations on the Career Achievement Award!

Thomas Jane: Thank you. I have to say, I was very surprised. A lifetime achievement award is not something I ever expected ... isn't that the kind of stuff they give you when you're an old man? Maybe I'm underestimating how old I am [laughs]. I just feel like I have a lot left to do.

ETonline: Well, you shouldn't take it as anyone saying, "We'd appreciate if you could stop acting now." It's more of a celebration of the work. Especially The Punisher, which has become something of a cult classic in recent years.

Jane: Yes, I've heard that from a lot of people. I'm happy the movie has real fans out there.

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ETonline: When was the last time you watched it?

Jane: I've never really seen the whole thing. I usually sneak out of my premieres; go in the front door and right out the back [laughs]. I'm not a fan of watching my work. When I was a young actor, I watched myself so I could figure out what kind of animal I was. Billy Bob Thornton told me every actor needs to figure out what kind of animal they are so they can be that animal, but I don't think I've figured that out yet. I guess I want to be all the animals.

ETonline: What do you recall from making The Punisher?

Jane: It was hard, but rewarding. We didn't have any problems making the movie, although we tried to make Tampa look as menacing as it could ... which was troubling at times. Don't get me wrong, I had a great time in Florida, but creatively I wasn't a fan of making The Punisher in Florida. I never thought that went together very well. I thought there were better places for us to shoot the thing, but once I was down there, everyone was so great.

ETonline: In retrospect, the movie seems to have embraced a superhero aesthetic that didn't really become popular until Christopher Nolan rebooted Batman. Do you think it would be more successful if released today?

Jane: I think we were the victim of Marvel's success with more cartoon-y superhero movies. There was a strong desire to keep some of that cartoon element in our movie, but I really wanted it to be dark and I think most Punisher fans did too. But people hadn't really cracked the idea that a comic book movie didn't have to look like a comic book yet. Without trying to toot my own horn, I feel like I was very instrumental in fighting for more realistic version of The Punisher. I remember bringing in Tim Bradstreet's very dark comic book covers to production meetings and saying this is what we have to make the movie look like. I won some of those battles and I lost others because there really was no precedent. It was a product of its time. There was no Dark Knight for these guys to lean on, so I'm happy that I got as much dark realism into the movie. All that said, I still think the fight that Kevin Nash and I put together set to opera music is a really entertaining piece of work.

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ETonline: Last year you reprised the role in a super dark online short, Dirty Laundry (watch below). What fueled that?

Jane: I'd been talking about my vision of The Punisher for years, and I finally hit on the idea of a short film that could show people my ideas. Then it became about finding the perfect guys to bring that vision to life, for me, the ideal guy was Phil Joanou. I happened to have met him a few months prior to landing on this idea, so he was the first guy I called. He really got on board. Chad St. John wrote my favorite script I've ever read called Motor City, which was basically a 100 page action film with no dialogue. It was a piece of brilliance, so we hatched what became Dirty Laundry, which was very satisfying because I didn't have to explain very much what I was talking about. We all liked the same stuff, had the same reference points and it was a great lesson for me. The success of it was vindicating. It felt good that my version of the character resonated with people.

ETonline: Can you envision playing Frank Castle ever again?

Jane: It was sort of my farewell to the character. I just wanted to get that out.

ETonline: You're very much an actor who has thrived on the fringes of Hollywood. Do you see yourself as a classic leading man?

Jane: No, I don't. I never have. I wish I did a little more, quite honestly, but I accept that. It's part of who I am. I've never been in the mainstream. I think the mainstream is stupid. It's just not my cup of tea. When I was a kid, the actors I like were guys like Nicholas Cage before he got super famous. I like things a little left of center, or right of center, or upside down.

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ETonline: Do you find it to be more of a struggle then to have your films connect with your audience?

Jane: I think the cyberworld is creating a space where you don't have to be Tom Cruise to connect with an audience. That's another reason I did Dirty Laundry. I hope to see a Hollywood where we don't have to make blockbuster movies -- I'm sure there will always be space for that, but there's different niches of culture that are hungry for different types of entertainment. I think if you get them all together, they add up to a really nice collective group of people. I mean, three million people watched Dirty Laundry so that tells me there's an audience out there for that kind of material. Now it's about reaching that audience, and only that audience, without a $100 million ad campaign because odds are they're the only people who are going to see it anyway no matter how much f*cking money you throw at it.

ETonline: Do you look to the success of online original content to support your production company plans?

Exactly. For sure. At the end of the day, it's all about making a living doing what you love and creating something that’s appreciated by a group of people. Not everyone wants to rule the world. I've never seen myself as a major movie star. I never really connected with those kinds of actors in the past, so I've never seen myself in that mold. Living in America, I have to fight the programming that says I should be Tom Cruise. That's boring. I don't want that. But I don't want to end up doing supporting roles in big movies. Not that it's bad, or that I won't [laughs], but I don't want that to be my bread and butter. I love creating material for a specific audience that likes things a little spicier than normal. Those are the people I'm trying to reach.

ETonline: How much do you think perception plays into it? You seem to embrace your eccentricities, which I would imagine helps endear you further to the audience that seeks that out.

Jane: I hope so. I do fight for that and I try to excise the inauthentic elements of myself. It can be a constant battle. You can get sucked into the bullsh*t at any moment. And sometimes you do, briefly, but you have to pull yourself right back and say, "I'm sorry." I have gotten caught trying to make money. I came to Hollywood and slept in my car and on park benches and got welfare checks, so I've done movies purely for the cash that as an older guy I wish I could erase from my resume. But I get it, at the time it was crazy that anyone wanted to pay me a million dollars to do this stupid action movie, so I did it. That's why I've got movies on my resume I want to erase. But if you're awake enough, you'll always learn from every experience. You just need to do it as few times as possible to learn the f*cking lesson.

For more information on The Gasparilla Film Festival, click here.