Thomas Jane on The Punisher !

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As comic book fans have been debating Thomas Jane’s casting as The Punisher for the past year, Jane himself has thought less about the comics than about the character as an antihero. He was of course familiar with the comic books, but turned the role down several times until Marvel producers explained their interpretation of the character to him.

“I read a lot of comic books as a kid,” Jane said. “I used to draw the skull on my notebook at school, but I wasn’t really aware of ‘The Punisher’, the book, until I got into the movies. I never consider myself a superhero. Marvel had come after me for a couple different superhero parts and I’ve turned them down, as I did this one initially, because I didn’t see myself as a superheroic kind of a person. But as Marvel was quick to point out, this really was an antihero. He didn’t have any super powers. He relied on his God-given talents and his wits to overcome his enemies and that became much more interesting to me. I’ve been waiting to play this kind of antihero since I was a kid. When I grew up in the ’70s and watched movies with my dad, those ’70s action films were really inspiring to me.”

Jane would not say what other Marvel properties he turned down, but did comment on the previous film version of The Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren. “I saw parts of it, yeah. I think that’s ‘Punisher’ in name only. I think that they use that as a template to jump off and create their own sort of story and the respect wasn’t there for the source material that we have now. It was a different period of filmmaking. And again, one that we just weren’t interested in the antihero for a number of years. I guess I got the kind of face where people aren’t going to cast me as Superman or someone like that.”

To become Frank Castle, Jane put on 25 pounds of muscle by working out in the gym and trying various diets, including one liquid diet for three months. Now that the film has wrapped, he’s gone back to normal eating habits. “Krispy Kreme donuts and Guinness beer come out the day we stop. When the check stops coming, I stop going to the gym. Absolutely. My fiance said, ‘You did? I’ll write you the check, here’s the check. Here, go get back out there. Take the cheeseburger out of you’re mouth and go to the gym.’”

There is no CGI enhancement to The Punisher‘s action scenes until one moment at the end. Most of the film is real people, whether stuntmen or actors, fighting, driving and chasing. Jane said that it’s more often the real actors than stunt people, and he has the injuries to prove it. “I did 90% of my own stunts. You go into it thinking it’s like a professional sport. You go into it knowing that there’s going to be some cuts and bruises and you’re going to get banged up but I got great guys around me, fantastic people to help me come through it relatively unscathed. So that was a real help.”

The most intense stunt scene for Jane was fighting The Russian, played by Kevin Nash. “He’s 6′ 10″ He’s about a foot taller than me. That was tough, but he’s a gentleman and he’s a real pro and he really did make my job easier even though it doesn’t look it. But that was all me and I got banged up quite a bit during that. He absolutely could throw me casually across the room.”

Perhaps the most formidable opponents for Jane were comic books fans who argued against his casting. However, he fed off of both positive and negative feedback while developing the character. “I don’t have any control over that and that’s not my focus as far as playing the part, but it was helpful to go online and go to the different websites and figure out exactly who these guys who have lived with this character for a number of years felt about Frank Castle, who he was, where he stood, morally, was he insane or not. All those kind of debates were very helpful to me to figure out who Frank Castle was. Then it was my job to bring the best Frank Castle that I had inside of me to the screen. That’s where I leave it. At the end of the day, I had to please myself. I couldn’t worry about pleasing all these different varying opinions about what they wanted.”

Creating the tone for the overall movie was largely done before writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh wrote the script. “It was all on the page. It was something that we drew directly from the actual source material. The source material has a great sense of humor as well as a fantastic violent sensibility that’s cathartic in a way. All of that stuff is culled right from the pages of the comic book and I think that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

The film’s violence is not played for laughs, and Jane feels that in fact it drives the characters. “There’s a couple different reasons why I think it works. I think one is that we understand Frank as being a family man and devoted father and someone who’s dedicated to his job. Near the beginning of the film, he’s upset when people are killed on a job of his. He says, ‘No one was supposed to die out there.’ And then when he strings up Mickey Ducca, he needs information out of him, he could just blow torch him and get it, but he does it in a humane way and he scares him out of the information. And then he ends up converting Mickey to his cause, so we understand where his allegiances are and why he does the things that he does right away. And then just the cathartic feeling we get out of watching him kill everybody is because we’ve seen what he’s been through and we can empathize with him. And then Rebecca’s character points out, ‘What makes you any different than they are?’ And that brings back the sort of moral ambiguity of how far is too far? But yet we understand why he goes to the lengths that he does, and the violence is not gratuitous in a way that it’s overkill or he takes out a whole building or a whole restaurant or blows up half the town to get done what he does. A lot of the stuff that he does is he turns these people’s evil natures against themselves and he watches as they destroy themselves in a way. And then the humor that we injected into it, a sense of humanity, but it’s a fine line. It’s a hard type of movie to get right. If you get too sentimental, then it’s just come on, already, get on with it. Come on, this is an action movie, not Faust or something. And then if it’s too much B-movie just blowing sh*t up and going crazy, then we’re like come on, what the f**k is this? Jesus, go blow up and a hundred ninjas come out of the ceiling. It gets ridiculous.”

Should the film be successful, Jane is already on board for more ‘Punisher’ sequels. “I think Avi [Arad]‘s got me down for 16,” Jane joked. “I think it’s three. Being a fan of comic books and knowing how dedicated people are to the source material, I’d like to continue to draw on that source material. There’s a couple of great characters from the books that we haven’t touched on. There’s a guy named Jigsaw who’s a wonderful bad guy, so I’m sure that he’ll be in the next one.”

The Punisher opens April 16.

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