In the movies, on TV and even on the news, Jon Voight is suddenly everywhere. Of course, the man has been a showbiz mainstay since bursting onto the screen with a starring role in 1969's Oscar-winning film "Midnight Cowboy," which propelled him on to become one of the biggest leading men of the 1970's. After some relatively quiet years, however, Voight's career has never been busier, with the actor portraying a series of unsettling characters, including the world's worst dad in Showtime's "Ray Donovan." And in real life, Voight has in recent years become the most outspoken member of Hollywood's tiny tribe of political conservatives, making regular appearances and stoking controversy on the talk show circuit.
Currently, he's taking on storied role of Dr. Van Helsing in "Dracula: The Dark Prince," a new film out on DVD and VOD in time for Thanksgiving.
We spoke to Voight by telephone from his Beverly Hills home about battling demons of the fanged and unfanged variety.
1. Why did you want to make a monster film at this point?
Jon Voight: I have never made one, and when I was a kid of course, I thought, you know, the Dracula movies were kind of fun, and the idea of this one was quite a romantic story. They came to me at the last minute and said, “Would you do this?” I read it, and I said, “What an interesting story ... Maybe I should do this thing and could play this crazy guy.” Anyway, so a little bit of a history to my youth, you know, the fun of it.
2. How does your preparation go these days, and how does prepping for a monster movie compare to doing an intense drama like “Ray Donovan?"
JV: Well, this, when we say, the monster movie. It’s just a story, you have a character, and you try to find the things within yourself that apply to that character. Each piece is its own piece, and each piece somehow has been terrain I’ve never been in before, in some sense. So, I just go to work and see what happens. I’m researching something for Einstein, and Einstein said “Imagination is greater than knowledge,” or something like that, and I think it applies to art. Certainly that the imagination is very important ... but the knowledge of things is also important. You’re digging in your research and stuff like that, and sometimes you don’t have the time for it. So then you rely heavily on imagination. But anyway, it’s brand new terrain every time I go to work.
3. How do you begin conceiving each character?
JV: You kind of visualize what the character looks like. Sometimes I do a little sketch of the character before I start. I was just trying to clean house a little bit again, and I came across the sketch of the character I did in "Holes," and this character sketch I did is exactly what the character looks like. And I know I did it toward creating the character, you know, and I did a side view and a front view of the character, and it was remarkably accurate. It was fun to see.
4. Did working with people in Hollywood prepare you for making a movie about vampires and the undead?
JV: That’s a very good question. There are a lot of vampires in Hollywood. You must know that. Well, some of the things I say in the film, I enjoyed saying. I liked what they meant. One of them is when my character says, “You don’t want to be alone when the undead return.” Give me a break, but that the character had a kind of metaphysical aspect to him was interesting to me. And the insane, because when you get into this realm, you know, you’re facing evil. So what does this guy have to say about that, and why has he dedicated his life to fighting this particular poison. I have a piece, a little piece of writing in the middle of the piece, which I really think is quite beautiful. He says, "Throughout history, whenever barbaric poisons have taken hold, and evil seems something to flood the earth, right, ready to flood the earth. The heroes have always risen up, willing even to sacrifice themselves, that future generations may have the opportunity to seek peace. These heroes are from God himself, and I’m always humbled to be in their presence, and I seek always to be one of them.” I loved that.
5. What's that line mean to you?
JV: I loved that statement, actually, I wrote it. What I was thinking of, when I contributed that was, I was thinking of our troops. I was thinking of that oath that they take, and they have since the beginning of our country, and how they’ve put themselves in harm's way for the rest of us, that we may have freedom in this country, and I thought that was a beautiful truth to be planted in this piece.
6. Do you feel like we’re in one of these times when evil is poised to take over?
JV: Well, I think that there’s always that. You know, I was born in 1938. So, that was the beginning of Hitler’s reign, you know. And so, when I grew up, I was raised to understand many things. One of them being anti-Semitism, and I learned [about] that a very young age for a variety of different reasons. My dad was a golf professional at a German-Jewish country club, and his best friends were all Jews, and I had an early insight into their plight. That these Jewish people weren’t allowed to join other clubs so they started their own, and I knew these people to be my father’s friends, and the benefactors of my family. So, I knew they were terrific people, and I knew there was a kind of an insanity out there.
7. What feelings did that experience instill in you?
JV: Well, I could see that there was a kind of madness in the world, you know? That there was evil, and that there were good guys and bad guys. Just like in the westerns.
8. Is this what makes you feel compelled to speak up on issues? Clearly, as a Hollywood actor it can’t have done your career any good to be as outspoken as you are on the other side of the fence from most of the industry? Do you sometimes wish you’d just mind your own business?
JV: Well, I guess so. I think that, first of all, I was on the other side during the 60's. It came down to being a celebrity who was influenced by many people on the far left. At that time, being on the far left was very cool, and I fell into that hysteria at that time and I’ve regretted it. And after we pulled out of Vietnam because of, you know, those people in the streets in the 60's, the Communists came and murdered millions of people in the Cambodian genocide. So, I saw that, and the dime didn’t drop right away but it did eventually. And I saw the left turn its back on all that suffering that we had been a part of. So, anyway, I kind of feel somewhat responsible to speak out, when I see people going in what I think is the wrong direction. I feel there are consequences, and I know that I feel very badly, you know, for my participation, and those consequences.
9. So we can expect to hear more from you?
JV: This is what this country is founded on. That everybody has a right to speak. I think that, these people, our troops are putting themselves on the line, so that we can speak our peace, and that people can shut down any kind, any form of dissent, is wrong, deeply wrong, and that’s a working democracy. You can’t shut people down. So, anyway, when I feel it’s important to say something, I, you know, I weigh things, and I do my research, and then I, you know, step up.