Tom Jane Interview

Thomas (Tom) Jane as photographed by Twenty Seven and a Half Photography

Whether he goes by Thomas or Tom, Mr. Jane is one of the most talented actors working in film today. He doesn’t simply play a role, he inhabits his characters in every single project he tackles.

by Chris Neumer

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I cite the interview I did with Thomas Jane as one of the best interviews that I’ve done. Along with Mark Ruffalo and Edward Norton, Jane is one of the three most talented actors working in the industry today. Though each of the aforementioned men have all headlined huge studio blockbusters, none come with any baggage. Ben Affleck will always be Ben Affleck. Whether you’re watching him in Daredevil or The Sum of All Fears chances are good that, at some point in time, you will begin to wonder about his relationship with Jennifer Garner. Not so with Jane, Ruffalo or Lucas. The Jane that audiences see in The Punisher is a completely and totally different Jane than the one they see in The Velocity of Gary, Boogie Nights or The Sweetest Thing.

• Jane morphs in and out of characters with such an alarming rate of success–you try pulling off the clueless detective-Mickey Mantle-romantic lead triumvirate in succession–that it’s hard to get a bead on him. Is he close to the badass he played in The Punisher? The sweet, goofy guy he played in The Sweetest Thing? The drug-addled, petty criminal he played in Boogie Nights? Or the trauma survivor he played in The Velocity of Gary? It’s really anybody’s guess. The physical trait that seemed to follow Jane throughout his career is his shock of blonde hair. See Original Sin, Stander, Deep Blue Sea, The Sweetest Thing and Dreamcatcher for examples of this. Now here’s the unusual thing: Jane’s actual hair color is nothing like this. His actual hair color is sort of a light brown.

• My interview with Jane started out rather poorly. Jane was on his talking points, talking about his character in Stander, Andres Stander, and often repeating phrases that he’d given in countless other interviews… something that is never a good sign for an interviewer interested in probing new territory. Jane was reclining in his overstuffed armchair, casually popping Teddy Grahams into his mouth, delivering his answers to my first few questions with a fairly noticeable lack of enthusiasm. About five minutes into the interview, I asked him a variation of a very standard question he’d been getting since coming off of The Punisher: what are the differences between working on big and small projects (the short answer is: while in front of the camera, there are no differences)? I asked him how he prepared for acting in front of different cameras, crane versus handheld. At this point in time, Jane put down the Teddy Grahams, sat up in his chair, looked me right in the eye and told me that was a good question. He stroked his chin answered the question articulately and the interview picked up a lot of steam from there.

CHRIS NEUMER: I have to tell you that I have not looked forward to an interview with a person, actor, anybody in a long time. I saw The Velocity of Gary ages and ages ago. I didn’t like the movie as a whole, but I remember thinking, “Wow, who is that blonde guy stealing the show?” I’ve been a fan ever since. I even had an appreciation for Deep Blue Sea strange as that may seem. Then I found out that you were coming to town and I got really excited. This is a copy of the magazine, something I started about 6 or 7 years ago and contrary to the hot girl on the cover, it actually is a decent film magazine.

TOM JANE: Right on. Victoria Silvstedt.

CHRIS NEUMER: She is unfortunately a Playmate. The sad truth is that while my inner literate film person is dying a slow painful death for having to put her on the cover, it’s been selling. We’ve had to restock it.

TOM JANE: Whatever sells the stuff man. That’s what it’s about.

CHRIS NEUMER: I guess. So I was very excited and then I saw Stander and I thought it was decent, depressing and I realized that there was a really interesting contradiction at work. Throughout the course of the movie you guys were out to make him this really likable, affable character and of course, in the end he gets sort of his justice. If only they could figure out something in between where you could actually like the guy and get away with it. I guess that’s a completely different topic.

TOM JANE: It wasn’t the story. I mean it would be great if he got away with it. We love those kinds of characters. He did get away with it…

CHRIS NEUMER: For a while.

TOM JANE: And if his story was otherwise, it would have been great too. It would have told that story, but the truth is that he died a miserable, lonely death.

CHRIS NEUMER: In party town Florida at that too. That adds insult to injury right there. Daytona Beach or wherever it was.

TOM JANE: When he finally made it, his Avalon was Ft. Lauderdale. He finally made it there and it wasn’t his place anymore.

CHRIS NEUMER: Now how faithful were you guys to the story?

TOM JANE: Very faithful. That’s the story. Everything that happens in the movie is something that Andre did. All the unbelievable stuff is stuff that we learned that Andre really did, so we worked it into the screen play; him robbing two banks in one day, the way that he robbed the banks, the disguises, his wife divorcing him and marrying him and divorcing him and marrying him is all true. Stuff about him killing people … There’s more stuff that we couldn’t fit in. His brother died in a train wreck around the same time. He had an incredible life. He was an amazing man. He was the youngest captain detective on the police force. His father was a general on the police force. He was being groomed to be one of their best cops in Johannesburg at the time. Stuff he did we couldn’t fit into the movie. He used to take a plane on his lunch hour. He would hop on a plane, fly around the city, rob a bank, fly back, go back to work.

CHRIS NEUMER: Really?

TOM JANE: Yeah, he was an amazing man.

CHRIS NEUMER: I can imagine going through security today and trying to do that. See if you can get back on your lunch hour.

TOM JANE: Oh it would take too long. How could he escape from the country this man who had been arrested 3 times. That was how he did it. Nothing was made up.

CHRIS NEUMER: So there was no Monster in here. There was no, “We’ll just leave this part out because it makes her more sympathetic if we leave it out.”

TOM JANE: There was really nothing. He was a gentleman. He was admired by even the people he used to rob. His undercover days we didn’t get into. It would have been too long a movie, but it’s all fascinating. When he’s undercover he would disappear for weeks on end and hang out with these drug people and nobody knew where the fuck he went. He had numerous affairs with different women. We shot a little bit of that but it was not a necessary detail of the movie. I don’t know if that would have made him a monster. I think it would have made him more appealing in that outlaw, Robin Hood kind of a way.

CHRIS NEUMER: Was it you or was it Bronwen who said that he wasn’t Robin Hood because he actually kept the money?

TOM JANE: He kept the money. He wasn’t into charity that’s for sure. He was very generous with his money, but he wasn’t doing it for any altruistic reasons. People interpreted his actions as being political, this or that, but he was a bank robber. He said, “Fuck this” so he’d rob a bank.

CHRIS NEUMER: So his whole thing in fighting back was against ‘the Man’. Do you feel that that was a sort of a cover for “I’m getting cash” or was it actually a goal that got superseded as more money rolled in?

TOM JANE: I don’t know. Andre’s actions became more of a stab against ‘the man’ when they threw him in prison. He didn’t feel that he … part of his case was that, “I have murdered people and where is the retribution for that and yet when I rob banks and you guys get all mad. It’s okay for me to go kill people.” That was part of his defense, that he got arrested for robbing a bank. So when he got out of prison, he made a point of robbing banks next to police stations.

CHRIS NEUMER: More so than the ones you showed in the film or the task force?

TOM JANE: Yeah, the task force was real. He robbed a bank in the same building as the task force that was set up to catch him. He did that on numerous occasions; that was just one that we filmed. He would pick banks that were close to police stations all the time. He made a point of rubbing it in their face. They were idiots. He was pissed off. I don’t think it was a political thing, it was a personal thing. “You guys threw me in jail for what? I was a policeman murdering people. I didn’t like them.”

CHRIS NEUMER: Now he had this sort of conflicted nature about being pissed off personally, taking it off on the system. There’s a great quote your director gave or compliment your director gave. She said “The great challenge for an actor is to constantly play two opposing forces in most scenes. That’s what real actors can do. They say one thing but mean another.” She was describing your performance. Now how do you set this up? How do you attempt to convey through your actions that you are saying one thing but meaning another?

TOM JANE: I think it’s a matter of defining what’s relevant about a character. Having two forces run through a character is something that I’m interested in. I did that with Mickey Mantle. Did you see that 61? I played Mickey Mantle in 61. I did that film called The Punisher with Stander. In all my characters I try to find two opposite, diametrically opposed yet equal forces that exist within the person. I’m interested in that struggle and wrestling between these two things. I think it’s just a matter of making those forces powerful enough inside a person and then letting them do their thing.

CHRIS NEUMER: I know that acting is a very nonverbal thing, how you get into another person’s head, but how do you set the person up in that way so that they are fighting with the diametrically opposed forces?

TOM JANE: It’s just creating two different needs and the needs are at odds with each other. Andre has a distinct desire to please his father and to do the right thing and to be a family man and to be loved by the one who loves him, to make her happy, to be a great detective, to be an upstanding member of society and to make a contribution. And yet on the other hand he has a very strong desire to destroy that society, to undermine the values that his father instilled in him, to fly in the face of convention.

CHRIS NEUMER: Highlight the injustices?

TOM JANE: No, just for a sense of freedom. These things are ultimately constricting. Conformity is painful. You know it’s too tight. Conformity leads to rebellion. So a desire for happiness is in direct conflict with a desire for freedom. You want to please society, you want to be happy, you want to be well liked, you want to be held in high esteem and be respected. These are real things. You want respect from your peers, respect from your loved ones, you want to be looked up to for your achievements and your accomplishments. All of this requires conformity in some form or another. It requires you to conform to laws or social norms or to societal pressures that we all abide by to get what we want which is respect. On the other hand there’s a yearning for freedom, freedom from constricting bonds, freedom of the spirit, animal lust for life which is a very strong, compelling life force to follow our impulses, to be free.

CHRIS NEUMER: Now as an actor are these yearnings to be both free and be respected through the norms … Is this something that you are drawn to? I know that you have mentioned Lee Marvin’s performance of Point Blank and Once Upon in the West and figured if I could get you not to answer Clint Eastwood to a question today, I’d be doing something no one else had done. Is this type of personality something that is drawn to you as an actor?

TOM JANE: I’m interested in both of those desires and I’m interested in the fact that they are inherently in conflict with each other. I look for characters where I can express that in some form or another. Stander is a good example of that. Mickey Mantle is a good example of that and Neil Cassidy in The Last Time I Committed Suicide is a good example of that and The Punisher is a good example of that. It’s something that’s just interesting, deeply.

CHRIS NEUMER: Shifting the subject here slightly, I’ve seen in another interview that you said that you really didn’t change your methodology of acting going from something like Stander to The Punisher . They are sort of polar opposites. I was curious to know, I had spoken to Gale up in Toronto last year and she was talking about how professional you were in this, and then I had talked to somebody else. I realized that one of the major differences between The Punisher and this was that it seemed to me that there was a lot of hand-held camera that was being used in this. Do you change your methodologies reaction to cameras. Like if you are shooting 3 or 5 cameras, something like that on a big movie set, does that mean that you approach it slightly differently than if you have just one hand-held camera?

TOM JANE: Ah, that’s an interesting question. I think that as much as acting is doing, it’s also not doing and sometimes the camera can do for you what needs to be done. If I were to do it, it would be redundant.

CHRIS NEUMER: For example.

TOM JANE: I had this question on The Last Time I Committed Suicide. Are you familiar with Neil Cassidy at all?

CHRIS NEUMER: No, I’ve seen Under Suspicion so you can feel free to talk about that.

TOM JANE: Do you know who Neil Cassady is?

CHRIS NEUMER: I have no idea.

TOM JANE: Neil Cassady was a best friend and muse to Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg and Timothy Leary who wrote the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. So he was an incredibly vibrant literary character of the Beat Generation. He had an energy about him that was frenetic and lustful and extremely vibrant and alive. So that was my character. I found that the director wanted to film a lot of it in that frenetic, hand-held… we tied a camera to a bungee chord and bounced the camera around to capture that feeling. I found that when the camera was doing that, for me to be doing my thing on top of that became redundant. Do you know what I’m saying? For me to be frenetic and vibrant, I found when the camera was doing that, I didn’t have to do that. When the camera was more still, it allowed me to fill in that blank. So there is a certain relationship between the actor and what the camera is doing depending on what you want to convey. Film is a camera-oriented medium. Where you put the camera and how you light a scene will tell you much more, quicker and more concisely, than the actor will be able to do with his face and body. That’s not to take away from what the actor does; he does a lot, but it’s often more what the actor doesn’t do that allows the camera, the mood and the setting to place the viewer in the proper mood, mindset, viewing intensity, blah, blah, blah. I often tell my director that if he puts the camera in the right spot, then I don’t have to do anything. The story is told. When the director is fucking up and missing the moment, he’s not catching the moment, which is about 90% of the time in my experience, 85% of the time, then the actor has to step in and do something to keep it going. That’s why all actors want to work with great directors because when they do, they don’t have to do anything.

CHRIS NEUMER: Now when you say ‘do anything’, if we could expand on this a little bit. Do something where you have to step out of character to make sure that the camera picks up on it or is it just …

TOM JANE: No, it’s not out of character. I might have to hit a note harder if it was music to get the point across than I would if I were working with a confident composer who would allow space around those notes so that they could be heard with their true value. It’s not to mean that if I’m working with a great director, I don’t have any homework to do and I just show up on the set and he does his thing. No.

CHRIS NEUMER: That’s what I was trying …

TOM JANE: You build a character and create a set of circumstances for the character that is relevant and real and true according to my sensibilities and then I let go. I don’t have to do anything, I don’t have to show you anything, I don’t have to act. There should be nothing to put on top of it. I find that oftentimes nothing comes through when the camera is not in the right spot. You put the camera in the right spot and then I don’t have to do anything.

CHRIS NEUMER: Now is the ‘right spot’ … do you mean that more metaphorically? I’m assuming like a low angle looking up maybe isn’t always the right spot, but you’re talking about the metaphoric correct spot?

TOM JANE: What do you mean metaphorically?

CHRIS NEUMER: I mean as opposed to a specific camera placement, like an overhead shot or a like a great master shot where you are coming in, something like that. As opposed to one specific shot or one specific shot for feeling, you’re talking about the best place to capture what’s going on.

TOM JANE: Yeah, the best place to capture what’s going on. The right lens to capture what’s going on, to capture the feeling of what’s happening. It’s a conspiratorial scene, then there are things that we do with lighting and with camera lens and with an angle that will convey that sense. You watch The Godfather and you see the flow, floating tracking shots with deep focus and blurry foreground images passing through the frame. You are instantly captivated by the conspiratorial, secretive, shadowy feeling. Al Pacino has to do nothing other than to talk in a low voice and to convey exactly what we need to hear. But if it was brightly lit scene where you look at the bad version on television and the camera is a little bit jerky, a thing that is so popular on TV now, it’s a little too close up and you see eyeballs and lips and stuff, you are overstating the point. You are hammering us with something and then the actor is left with … he’s vanished. Now you are looking at the hair on his lip or something. Gaudy and boring at the same time.

CHRIS NEUMER: Let me ask you this. It is sort of a two-part question. When you are picking a project do you base … I’m assuming you want to work with good directors … how can you tell ahead of time if somebody is going to be a good director. I can’t imagine going into Stander and realizing that the last thing Bronwen had worked on was Forces of Nature. I can’t see how that would instill confidence just having seen Forces of Nature myself.

TOM JANE: Yeah, it’s always a crap-shoot. Even the good directors will make a misstep and even the good actors will misstep, just depending on the material, but you want to work with the best people that you can. I do. So when I’m looking at a film I’m not looking at whether or not the film itself is a success or not because most films are not successful. That doesn’t mean that the people involved aren’t extremely talented artists or don’t have something to say. When I watched Forces of Nature the film was flawed, but there was a vibrancy to the filmmaking to create a left-of-center force of vitality of filmmaking that I found very engaging and alive. Although the movie didn’t work, I thought the work was novel and creative and searching, probing. It was pushing boundaries. It wasn’t stagnant, it wasn’t dead.

CHRIS NEUMER: So she had the right shots? The camera was in the right place?

TOM JANE: A lot of the time.

CHRIS NEUMER: It’s just that Ben Affleck was in front of it.

TOM JANE: (laughter) That’s one way to put it. So I guess I’ve gotten a little more experience under my belt and I am able to pick directors who I think I will have a good experience with. It doesn’t always mean that the film is going to turn out I worked with Larry Kasdan on Dream Catcher and it was an incredible piece of work. Technically it’s just A+ work, beautifully shot, well acted, fantastically choreographed and a superbly edited failure. I respect them. They are not all of these are perfectly cut diamonds.

CHRIS NEUMER: It’s amazing to think how many different ways the projects can fail from the time you get that first look at the script to the time you put it in the can.

TOM JANE: It’s miraculous that anything ever turns out. It’s a testament to credible craftsmanship and skill that we can make head or tails of any film that ever comes out. They’re so fragile.

CHRIS NEUMER: Now there was in Stander, and it’s weird looking at you on the poster there and turn it over here, but the scene early on where your character ended up shooting the boy, it seemed like that was the biggest scene in the movie. In terms of I’m a production designer or I’m trying to shoot, it seems that’s the big one; that’s the one I’m not looking forward to. As an actor working on that did you as opposed to the extras wrangler, did you find that to be tougher than say the one where you are running around naked on the beach?

TOM JANE: They all are challenging in their own way. You know going into a scene like that that it’s going to be extremely technically challenging, that the focus isn’t going to be on your character and therefore I have to be extra prepared in a way. When it is time for me to do my thing, it has to be there. You know there is going to be a lot of technical stuff to wade through. It will be tedious and extremely involved. The director and everyone involved is going to be distracted by … their attention is going to be pulled in many different places at once. So it is a reason for me to be even more prepared, more on the ball, more focused. I have to cover my own ass in those situations because just by nature there are extremely frantic.

CHRIS NEUMER: Where did you guys shoot that? I know that you had a 69 day schedule, something like that? Did you shoot that at the beginning, at the end, can you recall?

TOM JANE: Somewhere in the middle, somewhere in the thick of it. Probably in the second half of the shoot I think which is nice because that type of scene takes a lot of teamwork and a lot of focus. In the beginning part of the shoot people are still finding their feet, getting to know each other and how a particular operation works, how everybody works together. So it’s better to shoot those very technical, self-involved, dense scenes later on when we have formed as a unit working at our optimum speed.

CHRIS NEUMER: Again shifting topics here drastically, I realized looking online and at other magazine articles I could find on you, I know two things about you. I know that you were born in Baltimore and that was in 1969. You were in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, apparently had a small role. I think that’s it, the extent of the biography. I mean I know you are married now. I don’t really care about any of that, it’s like good luck, but what got you into acting? Did you do any college experience, did you do any training in theaters, anything funny like working as a bouncer in a stand-up comedy club. By the way, I’m not looking for dirt. If there’s something private, feel free to tell me to go to hell, but is there anything more than Baltimore and ’69 that we can put to your background?

TOM JANE: I dropped out of high school at the age of 15. I didn’t like it. A neighbor of ours told my mother that she worked next to an acting school. I had done a play in high school and enjoyed it immensely. So I started going to this acting school. Some Indians from Madras came to town and they were making a Bollywood film for a blond haired guy to be in. My acting coach sent me to the audition and I got the job. We shot Bollywood Romeo and Juliet style film in Washington D.C. and New York, Orange County, St. Louis and then we flew off to India where I lived for several months. I did another movie there and then I came back.

CHRIS NEUMER: So you were like 16 at this time?

TOM JANE: I was 16. I turned 17 in India.

CHRIS NEUMER: That’s got to be a drastic …

TOM JANE: I’d never been out of Maryland. It’s like flying to Mars.

CHRIS NEUMER: Third World Mars.

TOM JANE: Yeah, the Third World Mars. Then I came back and drove out to California.

CHRIS NEUMER: Just with the Bollywood experience, did you know people out there, just figured you’d give it a crack?

TOM JANE: Yep, I lived on park benches and welfare hotels and lived off of food stamps and ate out of trash cans, played guitar on the street for money.

CHRIS NEUMER: You knew two tunes, what was it? Something by Jimmy Hendrix, “Hey Joe” “Stairway to Heaven”, was that the other one?

TOM JANE: Bob Dylan, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, “Hey Joe” ad nauseum. Girls would come out and smoke their cigarettes and rehearse their lines for little 99 seat basement theater. I’d talk to those girls and then I would go into the theater and was on stage doing plays with them. The casting director saw me and put me in a commercial. I did a few commercials. I got a line in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I got a line in the Crow Part 2.

CHRIS NEUMER: Do you have anything else that you wish to throw forth on this, anything you wish to add, clarification or just go see this movie? Anything?

TOM JANE: I’m writing a comic book.

CHRIS NEUMER: Are you drawing it?

TOM JANE: No, I’m just writing it. I’m writing it with Steve Niles who did 30 Days at Night and Wake the Dead..

CHRIS NEUMER: These are all other comic books?

TOM JANE: Yeah.

CHRIS NEUMER: I don’t know what I’m doing with my time.

TOM JANE: So I’m writing a science fiction comic with him and I think I’m writing a Punisher 4 issue.

CHRIS NEUMER: Does that expand a different portion of the brain than acting?

TOM JANE: It’s just fun for me.

CHRIS NEUMER: The last thing for me is what is your real hair color? Is this it?

TOM JANE: This is it.

CHRIS NEUMER: So every time it’s like that, it’s just been bleached horrendously?

TOM JANE: In the movie he gives himself a dye job so I figured it would be pretty bad if he did it himself.

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