Jon Voight Interview
JON VOIGHT INTERVIEW CONTENTS:
- Memories of growing up in Yonkers, N.Y.
- Excelling in Junior Golf
- Moving to NYC, getting married, & finding the right acting teacher (Sandy Meisner)
- How Voight incorporates Meisner Method in his work
- Getting into character for Giovanni Ribisi & Cole Hauser
- Voight's most memorable acting experience, "A View From a Bridge", with Robert Duvall
- "Bobby Duvall showed me the example of how to approach a character, which I have never forgetten"
- Creating the villain in "Anaconda"
- "Nobody understood what I was doing on that set. I felt quite alone. Matt Damon would've been excited because he would've got it"
- "Sometimes when an actor is so locked into the part you leave him alone because he knows more about the character than anyone else"
- On "Coming Home": "I was not for the war. I thought the war was built on a lot of misinformation."
- "I understood why Al Pacino & Jack Nicholson turned down "Coming Home"
- How the 'Jon Voight Oscar white scarf look' happened
- Getting ready for "The Champ" in 12 days!
- How Akira Kurosawa's "Runaway Train" script came to Voight
- Voight's deep love for Akira Kurosawa's work. And paying tribute to the great Master
- "I probably couldn't have played 'Oscar Manheim' as well as I did if I hadn't seen Kurosawa's samurai movies. Because Oscar was a samurai in a way"
- Voight wanted to play Oskar Schindler for years
- "But Liam was perfect! If I had done my best work maybe I could hope to have been as good as Liam"
- "Why making "The Odessa file" was so personal & important
Jon Voight (born December 29, 1938) is an Academy Award winning film and television actor. He came to prominence at the end of the 1960s, with a performance as a would-be hustler in 1969's Best Picture winner, Midnight Cowboy, for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination. Throughout the following decades, Voight built his reputation with an array of challenging roles, appearing in such landmark films as Deliverance (1972), and Coming Home (1978), for which he received an Academy Award for Best Actor. Voight's portrayal of sportscaster/journalist Howard Cosell, in the 2001 biopic Ali, earned critical raves and his fourth Oscar nomination. He starred in the seventh season of 24 as the villain Jonas Hodges.
Voight is the father of actor James Haven and actress Angelina Jolie, as well as brother of singer-songwriter Chip Taylor and geologist Barry Voight.
Voight was born in Yonkers, New York, the son of Barbara and German-American Elmer Voight, a professional golfer. His maternal grandparents were German; his paternal grandfather was an immigrant from the city of Košice (German: Kaschau) in Slovakia. He was raised as a Catholic. Voight attended Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, New York, where he first took an interest in acting, playing the comic role of Count Pepi Le Loup in the school's annual musical, The Song of Norway. After graduating from high school in 1956, he went to college at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where he majored in art and graduated with a B.A. in 1960. At CUA, he demonstrated his artistic skill by designing the cardinal that adorned the center of the floor of the basketball court. This section of floor now resides on display in the school's Pryzbyla University Center.
After graduation, Voight moved to New York City, where he pursued an acting career. In 1962 he married actress Lauri Peters, whom he met while she was playing Leisl in the stage version of "The Sound of Music" and he replaced Brian Davies as Rolf; her film credits include 1962's Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation and 1963's Summer Holiday. In the early sixties, Voight found work in television, appearing in several episodes of Gunsmoke, between 1962 and 1966, as well as guest spots on Naked City, and The Defenders, both in 1963, and Twelve O'Clock High, in 1966.
His theatre career took off in January 1965, playing Rodolfo in Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge, opposite Robert Duvall, in an Off-Broadway revival.
Voight's film debut did not come until 1967, when he took a part in Phillip Kaufman's crimefighter spoof, Fearless Frank. Voight also took a small role in 1967's western, Hour of the Gun, directed by veteran helmer John Sturges. That year he and Lauri Peters were divorced, after five years of marriage. In 1968 Voight took a role in director Paul Williams' Out of It.
While Voight pursued acting, his brother Wes found success as a songwriter under the nom de plume Chip Taylor. Taylor penned The Troggs' 1966 hit, Wild Thing, as well as Angel of the Morning. Another of Jon's brothers, Barry Voight, studied geology at Columbia University and became a world-renowned volcanologist at Pennsylvania State University.
In 1969, Voight was cast in the groundbreaking Midnight Cowboy, a film that would make his career. Voight played Joe Buck, a naïve male hustler from Texas, adrift in New York City. He comes under the tutelage of Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo, a tubercular petty thief and con artist. The film explored late sixties New York and the development of an unlikely, but poignant friendship between the two main characters. Directed by John Schlesinger and based on a novel by James Leo Herlihy, the film struck a chord with critics. Because of its controversial themes, the film was released with an X rating and would make history by being the only X-rated feature to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Both Voight and co-star Hoffman were nominated for Best Actor, but they lost out to John Wayne, star of that year's True Grit.
In 1970 Voight appeared in Mike Nichols' adaptation of Catch-22, and re-teamed with director Paul Williams to star in The Revolutionary, as a left wing college student struggling with his conscience.
Voight next appeared in 1972's Deliverance. Directed by John Boorman, from a script that poet James Dickey had helped to adapt from his novel of the same name, it tells the story of a canoe trip gone awry in a feral, backwoods America. The film and the performances of Voight and co-star Burt Reynolds received great critical acclaim and were popular with audiences.
On 12 December 1971 Voight married model and actress Marcheline Bertrand. Their son James Haven Voight was born in 1973; their daughter Angelina Jolie Voight followed in 1975. Both children would go on to enter the film business, James as an actor and writer, and Angelina as a movie star in her own right. Angelina went on to receive three Golden Globe Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, and an Academy Award. She is also the Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Refugee Agency.
Voight played a directionless young boxer in 1973's The All American Boy, then appeared in the 1974 film, Conrack, directed by Martin Ritt. Based on Pat Conroy's autobiographical novel The Water Is Wide, Voight portrayed the title character, an idealistic young schoolteacher sent to teach underprivileged black children on a remote South Carolina island. The same year he appeared in The Odessa File, based on Frederick Forsyth's thriller, playing a young German journalist who discovers a conspiracy to protect former Nazis still operating within Germany. This film first teamed him with the actor-director Maximilian Schell, for whom Voight would appear in 1976's End of the Game, a psychological thriller based on a story by Swiss novelist and playwright, Friedrich Dürrenmatt.
Voight was Steven Spielberg's first choice for the role of Matt Hooper in the 1975 blockbuster Jaws, but he turned down the role, which was ultimately played by Richard Dreyfuss.
In 1978, Voight portrayed the paraplegic Vietnam veteran Luke Martin in Hal Ashby's film Coming Home. Voight, who was awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, for his portrait of an embittered paraplegic, reportedly based on real-life Vietnam veteran-turned-anti-war activist Ron Kovic, with whom Fonda falls in love. The film included a much-talked-about love scene between the two. Jane Fonda won her second Best Actress award for her role, and Voight won for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Voight's marriage to Marcheline Bertrand failed in 1978. The following year, Voight once again put on boxing gloves, starring in 1979's remake of the 1931 Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper vehicle, The Champ, with Voight playing the part of an alcoholic ex-heavyweight and a young Rick Schroder playing the role of his adoring son. The film was an international success, but less popular with American audiences.
He next re-teamed with director Ashby in 1982's Lookin' to Get Out, in which he played Alex Kovac, a con man who has run into debt with New York mobsters and hopes to win enough in Las Vegas to pay them off. Voight both co-wrote the script and also co-produced. He also produced and acted in 1983's Table for Five, in which he played a widower bringing up his children by himself.
In 1985, Voight hooked up with Russian writer and director Andrei Konchalovsky to play the role of escaped con Manny Manheim in Runaway Train. The script was based on a story by Akira Kurosawa, and paired Voight with Eric Roberts as a fellow escapee. Voight received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and won the Golden Globe's award for Best Actor. Roberts was also honored for his performance, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Voight followed up this and other performances with a role in the 1986 film, Desert Bloom, and reportedly experienced a "spiritual awakening" toward the end of the decade. In 1989 Voight starred in and helped write Eternity, which dealt with a television reporter's efforts to uncover corruption.
He made his first foray into television movies, acting in 1991's Chernobyl: The Final Warning, followed by The Last of his Tribe, in 1992. He followed with 1992's The Rainbow Warrior for ABC, the story of the ill-fated Greenpeace ship sunk by French operatives in the Auckland harbour. For the remainder of the decade, Voight would alternate between feature films and television movies, including a starring role in the 1993 miniseries Return to Lonesome Dove, a continuation of Larry McMurtry's western saga, 1989's Lonesome Dove. Voight played Captain Woodrow F. Call, the part played by Tommy Lee Jones in the original miniseries. Voight made a cameo appearance as himself on the Seinfeld episode "The Mom & Pop Store" airing November 17, 1994, in which George Costanza buys a car that appears to be owned by Jon Voight. Voight described the process leading up to the episode in an interview on the Red Carpet at the 2006 BAFTA Emmy Awards:
"Well what happened was I was asked to be on Seinfeld. They said: "Would you do a Seinfeld?" And I said, and I just happened to know to see a few Seinfelds and I knew these guys were really tops; they were really, really clever guys, and I liked the show. And so I said "Sure!" and I thought they would ask me to do a walk-on, the way it came: "Would you come be part of the show?" And I said "Yeah, sure I'll do it." You know what I mean? Then I got the script and my name was on every page because it was about my car. And I laughed; it was hysterically funny. So I was really delighted to do it. The writer came up to me and he said "Jon, would you come take a look at my car to see if you ever owned it?", because the writer wrote it from a real experience where someone sold him the car based on the fact that it was my car. And I went down and I looked at the car and I said "No, I never had this car." So unfortunately I had to give him the bad news. But it was a funny episode."
In 1995 Voight played a role in the film, Heat, directed by Michael Mann, and appeared in the television films Convict Cowboy, and The Tin Soldier, also directing the latter film.
Voight next appeared in 1996's blockbuster Mission: Impossible, directed by Brian DePalma and starring Tom Cruise. Voight played the role of spymaster James Phelps, a role originated by Peter Graves in the television series. His performance proved unpopular with fans of the series, who disowned his involvement.
The year 1997 was a busy time for Voight in which he appeared in six films, beginning with Rosewood, based on the 1923 destruction of the primarily black town of Rosewood, Florida, by the white residents of nearby Sumner. Voight played John Wright, a white Rosewood storeowner who follows his conscience and protects his black customers from the white rage. Voight next appeared in Anaconda. Set in the Amazon, Voight played Paul Sarone, a snake hunter obsessed with a fabled giant anaconda, who hijacks an unwitting National Geographic film crew looking for a remote Indian tribe. Voight next appeared in a cameo role in Oliver Stone's U Turn, portraying a blind man. Voight took a supporting role in The Rainmaker, adopted from the John Grisham novel and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. He played an unscrupulous lawyer representing an insurance company, facing off with a neophyte lawyer played by Matt Damon. His last film of 1997 was Boys Will Be Boys, a family comedy directed by Dom DeLuise.
The following year, Voight had the lead role in the television movie The Fixer, in which he played Jack Killoran, a lawyer who crosses ethical lines in order to "fix" things for his wealthy clients. A near-fatal accident awakens his dormant conscience and Killoran soon runs afoul of his former clients. He also took a substantial role in Tony Scott's 1997 political thriller, Enemy of the State, in which Voight played Will Smith's stalwart antagonist from the NSA .
Voight was reunited with director Boorman in 1998's The General. Set in Dublin, Ireland, the film tells the true-life story of the charismatic leader of a gang of thieves, Martin Cahill, at odds with both the police and the IRA. Voight portrays Inspector Ned Kenny, determined to bring Cahill to justice.
Voight next appeared in 1999's Varsity Blues. Voight played a blunt, autocratic football coach, pitted in a test of wills against his star player, portrayed by James Van Der Beek. Produced by fledgling MTV Pictures, the film became a surprise hit and helped connect Voight with a younger audience.
Voight played Noah in the 1999 television production Noah's Ark, and appeared in Second String, also for TV. He also appeared with Cheryl Ladd in the feature A Dog of Flanders, a remake of a popular film set in Belgium. The following year Voight would watch from the audience as his daughter received the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in 1999's Girl, Interrupted.
Voight next portrayed President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 2001's action/war film, Pearl Harbor, reportedly beating out Gene Hackman for the role (his performance was received favorably by critics). Also that year, he appeared as Lord Croft, father of the title character of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Based on the popular video game, the digital adventuress was played on the big screen by Voight's own real-life daughter, Angelina Jolie.
That year, he also appeared in Zoolander, directed by Ben Stiller who starred as the title character, a vapid supermodel with humble roots. Voight appeared as Zoolander's coal-miner father. The film extracted both pathos and cruel humor from the scenes of Zoolander's return home, when he entered the mines alongside his father and brothers and Voight's character expressed his unspoken disgust at his son's chosen profession.
Also in 2001, Voight joined Leelee Sobieski, Hank Azaria and David Schwimmer in the made-for-television movie Uprising, which was based on the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. Voight played Major-General Juergen Stroop, the German officer responsible for the destruction of the Jewish resistance, and received an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Director Michael Mann tagged Voight for a small but crucial role in the 2001 biopic Ali, which starred Will Smith as the controversial former heavyweight champ, Muhammad Ali. Voight was almost unrecognizable under his make-up and toupee, as he impersonated the sports broadcaster Howard Cosell. Voight received his fourth Academy Award nomination, this time for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, for his performance, extending his reign as one of Hollywoods most talented actors.
Also in 2001, he appeared in the television mini-series Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story along with Vanessa Redgrave, Matthew Modine, Richard Attenborough, and Mia Sara.
In the critically-acclaimed CBS miniseries Pope John Paul II, released in December 2005, Voight, who was raised a Catholic, portrayed the pontiff from the time of his election until his death, garnering an Emmy nomination for the role.
In 2003, he played the role of Mr. Sir in Holes. In 2004, Voight joined Nicolas Cage, in National Treasure as Patrick Gates, the father of Cage's character. In 2006, he was Kentucky Wildcats head coach Adolph Rupp in the Disney hit Glory Road. In 2007, he played United States Secretary of Defense John Keller in the summer blockbuster Transformers, reuniting him with Holes star Shia LaBeouf. Also in 2007, Voight reprised his role as Patrick Gates in National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
In 2008, Voight played Jonas Hodges, the villain, in the seventh season of the hit Fox drama "24", a role that many argue is based on real life figures Alfried Krupp, Johann Rall and Erik Prince. Voight plays the CEO of a fictitious Arms industry called Starkwood, which has loose resemblances to Blackwater USA and ThyssenKrupp. Voight made his first appearance in the two-hour prequel episode "24: Redemption" on November 23.
Voight's first roles were almost uniformly counter-cultural. In his early life, his political views were liberal and he supported President John F. Kennedy, whose death "traumatized" him. He also worked for George McGovern's voter registrations efforts in the inner cities of Los Angeles. Voight actively protested against the Vietnam War. In the late 1970s, he made public appearances alongside Jane Fonda and Leonard Bernstein in support of the leftist Unidad Popular group in Chile.
But in a July 28, 2008 op-ed in The Washington Times, he wrote that he regretted his youthful anti-war activism, calling it the result of "Marxist propaganda." He pointed in particular to the massive human rights abuses in Vietnam and Cambodia after the American withdrawal. Voight wrote about his political transformation:
“We were traumatized in the Sixties and all of that behavior — the dancing in circles, the smoking pot and saying "all we need is love" — it was because we couldn't identify evil; we couldn't believe in evil — we didn't want to believe in evil so we just hid from it. It was a very disturbing time... overwhelmingly, it was a very bizarre, selfish and hedonistic philosophy that wasn't very helpful. It attacked the family — the attack on the family was very severe because not only was there this idea of [indiscriminate love] and that would solve the world's problems, which gave rise to teen pregnancy, but also this idea not to trust anyone over 30. This was from people who were over 30 and bombed out of their minds with every kind of drug they could put into their system. Then there was the romanticization of the drugs — there were people coming out with [pseudo] scientific evidence that [drugs] increase your enlightenment — it was devastating. Today, I find that people look back at that time in a romantic way and that's as dangerous as anything is. It wasn't a romantic time. It was a time of great distortion.”
Voight endorsed former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for the 2008 Republican Party nomination. He contacted Giuliani's California finance chairperson and asked to work on the campaign. According to The New York Times, his role in Giuliani's group "brought some five-wattage celebrity to a campaign that was in distress." He worked a variety of supporting side roles in the Florida primary, such as warming up crowds. He stated on that trail that New York City had become a much safer city in the 1990s, once remarking, "God sent an angel; his name was Rudy Giuliani." In another interview in Miami with AventuraUSA.com, Voight said he first met Giuliani "years ago" at a movie premiere in New York City and the main reason for his support was Giuliani's public poise in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
In March 2008, Voight appeared at a rally aboard the USS Midway in San Diego, California for the kick-off of Vets for Freedom's National Heroes Tour. In an April 11, 2008, interview on the CNN Headline News Glenn Beck Show Voight stated that he had thrown his support to Republican Senator John McCain for President.
In May 2008, Voight paid a solidarity visit to Israel in honor of its 60th birthday. "I'm coming to salute, encourage and strengthen the people of Israel on this joyous 60th birthday," said Voight. "This week is about highlighting Israel as a moral beacon. At a time when its enemies threaten nuclear destruction, Israel heals." On July 28, 2008, he wrote an editorial in The Washington Times critical of then-Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Also in the article, Voight accused four-star General and former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Wesley Clark of having "shame upon him, having been relieved of his command" and said that Clark "has done their ['the Obama camp's'] bidding and become a lying fool in his need to demean a fellow soldier and a true hero."
In September 2008, Voight appeared in a video from the Republican National Convention admonishing viewers to support the United States Military. He also provided the narration for a video biography of Alaska governor Sarah Palin, the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee, that appeared on McCain's campaign website. Voight was a guest at the 2008 Republican National Convention.
On June 8, 2009, Voight hosted a Republican congressional fundraiser, and he also made his own speech within the event, criticizing President Obama. Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich praised Voight's speech. McConnell told Voight about his speech: "I really enjoyed that." Voight had said about criticism of the previous President, George W. Bush, in an April 27, 2007 interview with Bill O'Reilly on The O'Reilly Factor: "And they — what I hear, you know, talking about our president. When I hear people saying quite unthinkable things about our president, when I see our president defaced, which is defacing our country. He's the leader of our country. He's the leader of the free world. It — my heart is very heavy." On June 10, 2009, on the topic of Voight's fundraiser speech, Glenn Beck told Voight in a radio interview: "It's good not to be alone. It's good not to be alone." In a June 13, 2009 article, New York Times columnist Frank Rich said of Voight's speech, in which Voight called to "bring an end to this false prophet Obama," that: "This kind of rhetoric, with its pseudo-Scriptural call to action, is toxic."
When appearing on Governor Mike Huckabee's Fox News talk show, Voight said Obama was arrogant, caused civil unrest, and stood for all that this country was against during its past. He went on to state:
"I'm here to validate all the millions of people who are opposed to the Obama healthcare. We're witnessing a slow and steady takeover of our true freedoms. We're becoming a socialist nation, and Obama is causing civil unrest in this country...
"The stimulus didn't work.... We're being told what cars we can drive, how much we can make....
"Obama has made this [healthcare] a personal crusade now.... As we can see it really is about him. He is arrogant and he's adamant that he's going to get this passed....
"He's trying everything, even the so-called God card. If you love God, he tells us, then it's your duty to vote this healthcare bill in....
"They're taking away God's first gift to man. Our free will."
Voight's comments drew harsh criticism from Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher, whose article appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on September 16, 2009. Wrote Dreher:
Last weekend, I tuned into a Fox program hosted by the avuncular former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, of whom I am a fan. There sat actor Jon Voight, staring gravely at the host, who praised the thespian's "courage."...Voight then accused the president of trying to depose God and deify himself -- as, according to the Book of Revelation, the Antichrist will do. It may sound ridiculous -- after all, who looks to celebrities for political wisdom? -- but it's deadly serious to millions of Americans. To his great discredit, Huckabee, a pastor, let this crazy talk pass unchallenged.
In a letter released on September 11, 2009, Voight accused his former Coming Home co-star, Jane Fonda, of "aiding and abetting those who seek the destruction of Israel". Fonda was one of more than 50 celebrities who signed an online petition letter by John Greyson in which Greyson said he would pull his film Covered from the Toronto International Film Festival in protest over the Festival's "inaugural City-to-City Spotlight on Tel Aviv". Greyson's belief was that the spotlight on Tel Aviv would mean that the Festival was facilitating a propaganda campaign for the Israeli government.
Here is part of what Voight said in his letter:
...people like Jane Fonda and all the names on that letter are assisting the Palestinian propagandists against the State of Israel. ... Jane Fonda's whole idea of the 'poor Palestinians,' and 'look how many Palestinians the Israelis killed in Gaza,' is misconstrued. Does she not remember what actually took place in Gaza? Did Israel not give the Palestinians of Gaza the hope that there could be peace? In response, did Hamas not launch rockets from Gaza into Israel, killing many innocent people? This seems to me to be another one of Jane Fonda's misplaced 'patriotic' duties toward the wrong people. I was in Israel. I saw the rockets coming down on Sderot, and visited many families who lost their loved ones. How long can a democratic country keep from defending itself? Time and again, [Israel] offered the Palestinians land. They always refused. They don't want a piece of the pie, they want the whole pie. They will not be happy until they see Israel in the sea.
Fonda later explained that she had regretted signing the petition, saying that she had signed the letter...
...without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn't exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue...In the hyper-sensitized reality of the region in which any criticism of Israel is swiftly and often unfairly branded as anti-Semitic, it can become counterproductive to inflame rather than explain and this means to hear the narratives of both sides, to articulate the suffering on both sides, not just the Palestinians. By neglecting to do this, the letter allowed good people to close their ears and their hearts.
In November 2009 Voight was a featured speaker, at a tea party protesting the healthcare reform legislation, and again at a rally outside the capital on March 20, 2010. During his speech at the capital, Voight stated the White House was using "radical Chicago tactics" in hopes to pass health care reform.