Jon Voight Talks “Ray Donovan,” “Seinfeld,” and “Deliverance”
Plus: The iconic actor on playing Van Helsing in the new reboot of Dracula: The Dark Prince.
You play Van Helsing in Dracula: The Dark Prince. What attracted you to this role, and more generally, to a vampire movie?
I thought it had a nice story to it, that there was something in it that was on the positive side of things. And I thought this character that they wanted me to do was sketched in. I thought maybe I could bring something to it. So that’s why I did it.
The character of Van Helsing has been portrayed by a variety of different actors over the years. Did you draw on any of those earlier performances? How did you make it your own?
Well, I’m very aware of the great actors that have approached it, like Laurence Olivier and Anthony Hopkins. But each piece is its own thing. This was a kind of an action figure, this guy. And I thought, well, this could be interesting. And I thought that it required a certain style, and I enjoyed approaching it. [The role] came to me at the last minute, and I jumped in. I got the costumes and the makeup, and they gave me a crossbow, and we went out and did it. That the story of Dracula became a tragic love story, and that the relationship between Van Helsing and Dracula was a duel of good and evil, gave it the opportunity to fetter into certain metaphysical aspects. That’s what I liked about it. I thought there were profound spiritual aspects that were interesting.
The movie does a particularly good job of achieving the sort of dark, ominous setting that you would expect from Dracula. Is that because you shot in Romania?
Yeah. Actually, Romania is very interesting. One of the nice things about being an actor in this generation is that you go visit different places in the world – you’re no longer just shooting on sound stages. And Romania is a place I’d never been. There’s this studio there, Castel Studios. Can you imagine – we go to Romania, to Castel Studios, to shoot Dracula. It seems so perfectly cast, right?
Photo Courtesy of Showtime
Let’s talk about your new hit series, Showtime’s Ray Donovan. Your character, Mickey, is remarkable. Why do you think audiences seem to connect with him, even though he’s a pretty bad guy?
Oh, he’s a bad guy. He’s a mess. But there’s also some good aspects to him. For one, he’s completely honest. That’s a terribly surprisingly element. He says what’s on his mind, and we admire it. He’s the opposite of politically correct. He tells you what he’s thinking. And sometimes it’s very shocking, but it’s also endearing in a certain way, too. I think that in some way, he’s an interesting portrait of a man – the male animal that we have pretty much attacked over the latter course of my life as a culture. That he’s still alive, I think we’re grateful for that. The positive side of Mickey is he’s a real male, and he’s funny, and he can be dopey, and he can be cruel as well, but there’s something that we respond to in that way. In other ways I think he’s like the characters that we’ve taken to heart like Archie Bunker or the Fonz, you know, these kinds of archetypes. I don’t know where Mickey fits into that, but there’s something like that going on, too.
Short of spending 20 years in prison for a crime you did not commit, as Mickey does, how did you prepare for the role?
Well, I had spent a little time researching convict life when I did Runaway Train, so I had more information than most. Although, there’s so much available to us today through the web that we can get lots of information on prison life and stuff like that, so I also did that. And then the idea that he wants to be reunited with his family – this is something that everyone understands, that sort of pull. And then I had a little bit of connection to the boxing world through movies I’ve done in that area, most notably, The Champ – I’ve kept up my interest in it, so I also have that to bring to the table. On top of that, I’ve also done “tough guys.” For some reason, my career turned around at a certain point, I think when I did Runaway Train, which no one expected me to be able to accomplish. But I’m a character actor, and I’ve always been a character actor. Once I started acknowledging that I could do these kinds of characters as well, a turn happened in my career. And then I was able to do Heat, and I was able to do more comedic forms of it like Holes and then Anaconda, too. But I can be scary, you know? And when they were looking for the actor for this role, I think that, that aspect was something that they considered, and figured I could perhaps do it.
It does seem like this role was written expressly for you. Was it?
No, it was not written for me. There were other people competing for it. There were other people competing for all the roles, I guess, even Liev [Schreiber]’s role. But once they set Liev, they needed somebody to complement him. Liev is amazing, because he immediately presents a very virile figure of a fellow who’s dangerous. I’ve been a fan of his work for years – he always steps up and does what is necessary for him to do, and does it beautifully. And then of course we have other great actors. It’s wall to wall great actors. They’re all terrific. Paula Malcomson is brilliant, and Steven Bauer and Dash Mihok, and Eddie Marsan, Elliott Gould, and on and on and on…
James Woods was also incredible…
James Woods was amazing. All these guys that I killed off, or was responsible for killing, were brilliant – James Woods, Rosanna Arquette….Everyone.
Were you surprised by how iconic your Seinfeld cameo and storyline – about whether you were the previous owner of George Costanza’s used LeBaron convertible – became?
Well, yeah, it was a big surprise. It was so funny, but as I look back, at that time in my career it was helpful to me, and it still has an afterlife. People come up to me every week probably and say, “Would you bite a pencil?” or you know, other stuff from Seinfeld. And it had a long life. Of course, the Seinfeld show was a very great show.
So just for the record, have you ever owned a LeBaron convertible?
You know, the funny thing was, the writer of that show actually did buy a LeBaron convertible that was supposed to be mine. And he asked me when I came on the set to do my little piece, to bite Kramer’s arm, he asked me, “Would you come around the corner and just look at this car, and tell me if this was yours?” And I had to say no [it wasn’t], but the funny thing is my mother did have a LeBaron, a white LeBaron convertible, down in Florida, and after I did the show, she said, “Why didn’t you get me a new car? You could’ve gotten me a car!”
If you could work with any actor or actress, living or dead, again or for the first time, who comes to mind?
I’m really a fan of so many actors. One of my favorite actors is Charles Laughton. Would I have liked to work with him? Yes. But I don’t think I’d have any surprises because these great actors, they are who they are – they’re gifted to be exactly who they are. He was such a strange character, Charles Laughton, but so brilliant. I followed the career of Laurence Olivier when I was very, very young, and he was a very romantic figure to me because he was the great actor in Britain. But then the character actors were very exciting to me, so Alec Guinness was important to me, and Peter Sellers… Of course, Bogart was quite a great actor. I would have loved to spend some time with Bogart. And I got meet Marlon Brando. But the great actors that are working today, a good bunch of them are right in Ray Donovan. They’re right there. I’m working with great artists there, as far as I’m concerned. And I’m really enjoying it deeply because of that. Great actors are gifted to do what they do, but then when they take it seriously, they take it responsibly – they work on it, they use their imaginations, they prepare. Great actors are all hard-working, they don’t just slip into it. They care about it. Al Pacino I haven’t worked with yet, and I’ve always had a great fondness for him. I really love Al’s work, and himself, and we’re friends. And we’ve worked in Heat together, but never in the same scene. So that would be something that would be fun for me to do. I like the audacity of his work, and the greatness of his work. I’m very aware of it.
Photo: Everett Collection | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2013
Do you think Deliverance could ever be successfully remade?
These are interesting questions! I think not. Well, I think it’s like Lawrence of Arabia. Could you do Lawrence of Arabia, or Midnight Cowboy, or Cuckoo’s Nest, again? Yeah, you can make them again, sure, but you don’t need to – yet – because those films don’t get old. You look at them and they’re just as fresh as can be, and they’re head and shoulders above almost anything else you can see. They’re classics; we’ve sort of achieved something in those works. You can do Deliverance, just like they tried to make Casablanca again. They had good actors and good directors, but it just didn’t have the stuff, because some chemistry comes together at a certain time. And with our film, “Deliverance,” it was made after the Vietnam War, and something happened in the ‘60s. It was an attack on manhood, in a certain way. And that was a part of it. It had depth in that time. People didn’t know it; I’m sure that you could talk to a thousand people and not one of them would come up with it. But I went through that time and I went through those questions about myself, when people were going off to war, and I didn’t want to go off to war. I joined the Reserves because I didn’t want to go fight, but if my number was gonna come up, I was gonna go fight, and I would have been very complicated about that, you know, psychically. And yet other guys were fighting and dying for the freedom of another group of people across the world. It was an amazing thing. Part of the anti-war movement was on some principle, and a whole bunch of it was cowardice. So what was the American male at that time? I think there was an underlying theme of that in the picture, when a guy has to go up and kill somebody who’s threatening to kill him and his buddy.
Dracula: The Dark Prince is now available at Walmart and via video on demand.
Photos by The Dark Prince