The Punisher, Jane poster

Question & Answer: Thomas Jane

by Erika Hernandez


LEFT: Thomas Jane stars in The Punisher

When Thomas Jane was cast as Mickey Mantle in the HBO film 61*, no real controversy arose. The conventionally attractive, theatre-trained actor had already proven himself onscreen as versatile with smaller roles in films like Boogie Nights, The Thin Red Line, Deep Blue Sea, and Magnolia. When Jane was cast to play comic book hero Frank Castle in The Punisher, dozens of comic book websites echoed with discontent—posting after irate posting.

One could speculate as to why diehard fans of The Punisher comic book series gnashed their teeth over Jane playing Castle: (1) Thomas “Tom” Jane had never read the comic before Marvel offered him the role—in a fan's eyes, a crime punishable by death. (2) Around the time this casting decision was announced, Jane appeared in Original Sin, The Dreamcatcher, and The Sweetest Thing—hardly bona fide action hero flicks. (3) Throughout his acting career, Jane has been billed as “Thomas Jane,” “Tom Jane,” “Tom Janes,” and “Tom Elliott”—and that is just annoying. (4) Comic book aficionados are a notoriously thorny lot, and can never be appeased.

Despite the clamor, Tom Jane was cast for the title role of Frank Castle in The Punisher, and tackled it with great zeal. At a recent roundtable in Beverly Hills, Jane discussed the business of humanizing a superhero, which apparently involves being flogged by a Navy Seal. He also provided his take on those who disapproved of Marvel hiring him. It goes a little like, “Me, Jane. You, F*** off.”

[Read the AboutFilm review of The Punisher]

Thomas Jane is THE PUNISHER
Thomas Jane as Frank Castle, aka The Punisher.

Question: You must be enthusiastic about this role.

Jane: Well, this is the first time that I am headlining, so it was important that I do something that was important to me. It was the kind of movie that inspired me to become an actor in the first place. It was movies of the ‘70s, of Don Siegel, of Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, those films. They were very inspiring me. I used to see them with my dad. But they weren't making them by the time I got to Hollywood. So, it was kind of a rare thing that this would come together.

Question: You worked very hard training for The Punisher. What was that like?

Jane: I did wonder on a daily basis why the hell I was putting myself through this. It was six months of training. It took up every hour of my time, and then three months of shooting. With that and the preparation, it was almost like a year of my life dedicated to making this movie.

AboutFilm Question: Didn't you train under a Navy Seal?

Jane: Yeah, a couple of Navy Seals. They came over to my house every day, and they beat me with a stick, until I submitted to their will. They submitted me to everything I could imagine, you know. The training was intensive. All the edge weapons training and the hand to hand combat stuff and military incursion training. I tried to keep it as real as possible, and I am sure I made some mistakes that the Navy Seals will probably be writing about online. But, I really did my best.

Question: I read that you were a big fan of the comic.

Jane: No, I am a big fan of comic books. I had never read The Punisher until the project came to me. I wasn't so interested in super heroes as a kid. I didn't really get into them. That's why I initially turned the part down when [producer and CEO of Marvel Comics] Avi Arad offered it to me. He had to explain to me that this was not a super hero and didn't have super powers and can't climb walls or shoot lasers out of his eyes, or funky stuff. This guy was just a regular guy who relied on his God-given talents and his wits to overcome his enemies. I could relate more to that than some of the other comic stuff.

AboutFilm Question: I understand that many Marvel fans were upset that you were playing Frank Castle. Can you address that?

Jane: Oh, absolutely, man. Yeah, they hated me. That's the word. You know, I say fuck ‘em. What do they know? They are a whiny bunch; you know, they are hard to please. Who do they want, [Steven] Seagal? Everyone had their ideal as to who would be the perfect Frank Castle, but at the end of the day, until they see the movie, they don't know. I knew that I had something to give to the part. Otherwise, I wouldn't have done it. I didn't trust anybody else. I thought anyone else would just screw it up. So, I had to come out with the Frank Castle that I thought was my version.

Thomas Jane in DEEP BLUE SEA
Thomas Jane is a tenacious shark hunter in Deep Blue Sea.

Question: At what point did you feel you had a shot at making something other than the standard comic book character hero, here?

Jane: When we started to get the script down, and it was more or less in line with the comic book, The Punisher. We weren't watering it down, or turning it into some Hollywood joyride or something. And [director] Jonathan Hensleigh's enthusiasm for making the violence as graphic as we could and still keep an “R” rating. He didn't pull any punches. I thought we could be making something really cool, here. But you never really know. We knew we had a shot at making something for the books, and so we gave the best of ourselves to it. It's entertainment, you know. It's not about body count or blood. It's entertainment. It was a lot of fun. I mean, who gets to take a character out with a paper cutter? It was just awesome. And that's not from the comics, but that sensibility is from the comics.

Question: Will The Punisher have a sequel?

Jane: Oh, absolutely. They've inked it up. You know, I want to go darker. I want to go more apocalyptic with the second one.

Question: Did you ever find Travolta's presence or reputation intimidating? He is a star, but he is playing your co-star.

Jane: No, he's a complete gentleman. But, we did feel that his presence was needed to play the bad guy. It just elevates the stakes. And it was important that John played it real, that Castle and Saint have to be dead real in the movie for us to take it to these kinds of larger than life places. Travolta understood that.

AboutFilm: Travolta actually said that he watched footage of you as Castle and used that as a springboard for his approach to the antagonist.

Jane: Oh, thanks. I really appreciate that. Wow.

Question: I also heard that the more straight you played it, the funnier it got.

Jane: Yeah, what we don't remember about the violent Peckinpah films is how funny they were. At times, they played it dead straight. And it made for some great humor.

Thomas Jane with Cameron Diaz in THE SWEETEST THING
Thomas Jane tries to match smiles with Cameron Diaz in The Sweetest Thing.

Question: The film seems to be all about family.

Jane: Yeah, that's exactly what it's about. When Frank gets together with those misfit people in that tenement apartment, the movie starts to become about family and our human relationships. And what happens when you take all that away, where's that humanity?

Question: It works to humanize him. It's an odd choice.

Jane: Yes, and I think that we got away from that in the Eighties. It became more about body count, and taking no prisoners and rippin' shit up, and then we just ceased to care after a period of time. For me, when I read the comic books and saw him doing all of this wild, wild stuff, he was so cut off and so broken. I thought to myself, “This is a very sensitive person.” This guy has been hurt. But, he was also very loving and very vulnerable at one time, because that's how you create a monster. Sometimes there is not going back. It's him trying to claw himself back to some sense of humanity. I think that's what keeps us engaged.

AboutFilm Question: It seems like you are going for a kind of Popeye Doyle angle with your character. I always thought that he should be in a comic book.

Jane: Yeah, that's cool. I would love to see that. I know exactly what you mean. Give him a little character. Those characters are really inspirational to me, and to Frank Castle.

Question: What roles do you want to do after this one?

Jane: I like movies like this. I have been waiting to do this kind of movie for a long, long time. If this thing works, and it finds an audience, then I would love to do more stuff like this. To find the humanity and the soul inside of these action films is really challenging. When I was doing character films, I would always try to find something to subvert the standard. You know, to play them exactly for what they are. That's the fun for me.

AboutFilm Question: How did you apply that philosophy to your character of the “aspiring drug dealer” in Boogie Nights?

Jane: He was this sneaky kind of guy who was looking to rip everyone off, and take the money and run. That's how he was written. But as we were shooting, I started to improvise. I thought that he had a bigger plan; that he was someone greater than some street punk cocaine addict guy.

AbtoutFilm Question: Yes, he kept stammering in the climactic scene, “I've got a plan… I've got a very good plan.” What was the climate of filming that scene?

Jane: Yeah, yeah. He had these dreams of grandeur. Like he was a warlord, like he was going to lead some army and take over. Just something that gave him a tragic quality, you know. Because, he is really none of those things. But really, he just wanted to be loved. [Laughs.] And, yeah, a lot of it was improvised, especially toward the end before the shootings.

Question: When is The Punisher the sequel coming out?

Jane: I think they are thinking about 2006, in the summertime.

[Read the AboutFilm review of The Punisher]

[Read the AboutFilm profile & interview with John Travolta]

Feature and Interview © April 2004 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Images © 2004 Lions Gate Films. All Rights Reserved.
© 1999 Warner Bros. All Rights Reserved.
© 2002 Sony Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Related Materials:  

  Talk about Thomas Jane on the AboutFilmBoards
  Official The Punisher site
  IMDB page for Thomas Jane
  IMDB page for The Punisher
  MRQE page for The Punisher
  Rotten Tomatoes page for The Punisher