Actor Vincent D’Onofrio has earned a reputation for playing an eclectic mix of character roles and giving eccentric performances. That is certainly the case with Jack Horne, the character he plays in Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven, a mountain man who has been living on his own before being enlisted by Denzel Washington’s Chisolm to help save a small town being threatened by someone trying to steal their land.
Horne’s such a strange character, speaking in a heavy accent and carrying a ritual Native-American tomahawk that he’ll use to scalp anyone who crosses him, but it’s also a great role for D’Onofrio that proves he’s able to step outside himself to create a very different character than previous ones he’s played.
LRM caught up with D’Onofrio at the junket for the movie when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival a few weeks back. Not only did he talk about Horne but he also talked about his recent foray into superheroes with Marvel Television’s Daredevil, speaking to us about that and his upcoming NBC mini-series Emerald City which reunites him with Tarsem, director of The Cell.
LRM: One of the things I like about this movie is that it seems like all the characters are coming from different movies and just happen to collide into this one. Your character, especially, is very distinctive and interesting. You want to know more about him…
Vincent D’Onofrio: Oh, that’s good.
LRM: I have to assume you were familiar with the original movie or at least know Westerns…
D’Onofrio: Yes, yes.
LRM: There aren’t that many Westerns made any more so when you see a script, does it interest you more than other things?
D’Onofrio: Westerns, in particular, don’t interest more than any other good story. I think a good story is a good story, but I do think there’s a Western made that has a real simple structure, it’s heartfelt and yet, it’s action-packed. I think that’s a unique thing these days. I remember loving Silverado and The Unforgiven. Especially The Unforgiven was very heavy, but at the same time, it had a real Western feel to it, and Silverado wasn’t very heavy but it had a constant action-packed feel to it and the characters were fleshed out in a really good way in that movie, Silverado. This movie is like that, which is super-rare, a caliber of actor like Denzel playing the lead in it. In an action-packed Western, you don’t get that very often. There’s a lot of Westerns made that are very heavy and big stories and deep stories, but not action-packed. This is different. You have some big guns in this movie like Chris (Pratt) and Ethan (Hawke), and this is the kind of Western that I like to go see.
LRM: Back in the ‘40s or ‘50s, they used to make ten Westerns a month. Now it seems like it’s such an unusual thing that when a Western comes along, people say “We like Westerns!” but it’s still fairly rare.
D’Onofrio: Yeah, it’s not like sci-fi or superhero movies, right. They don’t bank on them. The industry isn’t built on Westerns anymore where it used to be.
LRM: What were you told about Jack Horne going into this? Or were you just given a script and told, “We want you to play Jack.”
D’Onofrio: Basically, yeah. It was like, “Here’s a script,” but it was Antoine Fuqua saying “Here’s a script” and it was my best friend Ethan saying, “You gotta do this with me, it’ll be awesome,” and Chris saying, “You gotta do this with me, it’ll be awesome.” Two of those guys are friends of mine, and so I read it, and I’m thinking, “Okay, it’s a cool movie.” The cool factor of this movie with Denzel playing the lead is so high that I would be an idiot not to do it. And so I was able to come in and work with the writer and work with Antoine and tweak this and tweak that and take my character off the page and make him have a reason and a soul, which everybody knew had to happen, so it was a blast ‘cause of that. I was able to surprise them every day with new stuff about who Horne was. Antoine is the kind of director that if he doesn’t like something he says it, and if he does, he’s just thrilled out of his mind. It’s like his birthday party. He gets so happy when his film is going well, it’s amazing.
LRM: You worked with Antoine before, right?
D’Onofrio: I did a little thing in Brooklyn’s Finest.
LRM: I couldn’t remember but I thought you did something at the beginning of that movie.
D’Onofrio: Yeah, it’s a short scene where you think it’s going to be fine and then it turns really bad at the end.
LRM: Had you been wanting to work with him again or been talking about doing something?
D’Onofrio: No, I’ve known Antoine for a long time. We knew that we’d work together eventually, I guess, and it was just the right project. He knows that anything he does, I’m in. Sometimes it happens, sometime it doesn’t.
LRM: What was your impression of Jack Horne or what was your take on him when you first read the script?
D’Onofrio: I think that once I started to feel who the character was—once we worked on it a little bit and I started to feel who he was and how Antoine wanted it—then I started to fall in love with him. Your character, it’s like Stockholm Syndrome, you get stuck in something that you have to… I don’t like it, I don’t like it, I read it and read it and read it, and suddenly I fall in love with it. Suddenly, it’s the most important thing in the world to me, and that’s what happens on every part that I play. The first time I read it, I’m like, “Oof, how am I going to do this? I don’t want to do this. Uchh… “ and I keep reading and keep reading and I got, “Uchh… uchh. “ and then one day, it’s like “Oh my God, I’ve just fallen in love!” It’s like that with every part. Not all actors are like that, but that’s what I’m like.
LRM: I have to imagine you felt that way about playing Kingpin. He’s written well in the comics, he’s written well on the TV show, because he’s just one of those great characters, but when you do a character like that you’re committing to it for a longer time. I spoke to Peter Sarsgaard earlier and he said, “I don’t want to play a character for five years or more.”
D’Onofrio: Well, you don’t have to these days. I should talk to Peter about that. You’d be surprised. You know, Marvel, the company Marvel… and especially the guy Jeph Loeb, who runs Marvel Television, he's a clever dude. All those people over there are pretty clever, and they love talent. There's no giant commitment for me at Daredevil. I didn't have to sign my life away at all. When Jeff tells me there's something coming up and if I'm available, I'll be there, and because it's written so well, I'm going to show up. I'm going to do everything I can, because the writing is so good. And then there's a company like Netflix where they're not pressuring you either. They just want good material, they want good content. They give you money to make good content, so they're not pressuring actors to sign their lives away either. Having said that, I guess I’ve been around longer than all actors, but not as long as some others, and I’ve paid my dues on television. I think there’s this common ground where they say, 'Look, if the material is good are you going to show up?' and I say, 'Definitely.’”
I just did another thing like that with NBC. I’m doing Emerald City, that’s coming out. Emerald City is a new version of The Wizard of Oz, and it’s directed by… did you ever see the film I did with Tarsem called The Cell?
LRM: Sure. Tarsem’s amazing, of course.
D’Onofrio: Tarsem directed all ten hours of it.
LRM: Wow. Tarsem doing television. I met him a few times, and he’s an interesting guy, but I can’t imagine him doing TV since it might be limiting.
D’Onofrio: Well, I’ve known him for a long time as well, and we were out there in Budapest doing ten hours of content where NBC gave him his budget and he was able to shoot from location to location to location, so we were jumping all around and it was like a ten-hour film. It’s going to be a phenomenal ten hours of content. Like Daredevil, I’m there if everything works out, but I didn’t have to sign my life away for that either. This world we live in now for actors, there are so many venues now that are fair. When I first started or even when I started doing television with Law and Order, it was so, what I think, unfair. I mean, you have to sign your life away. It’s ridiculous. That I will never do again, but will I do television? As much as I can, as much as they’ll let me now, because it’s a new world and it’s awesome.
LRM: People still don’t even see Netflix as television. They see it more like a nice twelve-hour movie that you can spend half your day with…
D’Onofrio: The thing about it is that Daredevil is shot like television. It’s shot in eight days. It’s shot with each episode is a different director. It’s very similar to what we did on Law and Order. The difference is that there’s not as many episodes. The writers get to do a real arc, not a 23-24 episode arc. They can do a 10-hour arc or 13-hour arc and the writing just gets so much better because of that, but the way it’s actually shot is the same. It’s just that you don’t have to commit for six or seven years with their option. You have the option as an actor. An actor in my position has the option.
LRM: I get the impression you want to do more Kingpin, so do you know when his story will continue?
D’Onofrio: That I can’t answer you.
LRM: Can’t answer, you don’t know?
D’Onofrio: Well, I do know, but I can’t answer… so take that how you will.
LRM: There’s a lot of great material in the comics since he’s one of the great Marvel villains.
D’Onofrio: Well, Jeph and Charlie and Netflix love the Kingpin, so Kingpin is good for Marvel’s television stuff I think, and I think they agree.
LRM: I wanted to ask about the dynamic of working with the other actors. You knew a bunch of them already. I understand there was some training involved like horseback riding and shooting. Jack has his tomahawk. Was there a similar dynamic while training?
D’Onofrio: Yeah, we were all out there in the mornings riding. I got to know Martin (Sensmeier) and Manuel (Garcia-Rulfo), because of riding and gunplay. Chris and I would go shooting targets. We hooked up with the law enforcement out there, so it was very safe, and we went out there—the law enforcement would take us out to their ranges and we were able to shoot authentic weapons of that time and shoot modern guns. The riding, I remember Martin and I bathing our horses together and taking them out of the paddock and brushing them and saddling them and then washing them at the end of the day. We used to spend full days out there.
LRM: Did you feel your character had a direct counterpart either in the “Seven Samurai” or the 1960 movie?
D’Onofrio: There’s not a Horne character; there’s not a mountain man.
LRM: That’s one of the things I appreciated about this movie is that they didn’t try to directly copy the 1960 movie and went back to “Seven Samurai” for inspiration.
D’Onofrio: That was what Antoine always told us. Antoine took a lot from “Mag 7” but he also took a lot from Seven Samurai and The Wild Bunch, which is one of his favorite Westerns, too. There was a lot of that, but our guys are pretty bad-ass guys. They’re a little grumpy and a little rough around the edges, our guys, and smart-asses all of them. It has a little bit of Wild Bunch in it, and it has that kind of undying soldier aspect of it as Seven Samurai does as well.
LRM: Did you have a lot of backstory for Jack?
D’Onofrio: Yeah, I brought the whole religion thing into the character and I brought the idea of this great loss happening, that there had been a meeting between me and Denzel’s character in that the guy suffered a great loss and that’s why he’s in the mountains and he lives in the fringes. He’s kind of like a hobo hunter.
The Magnificent Seven opens nationwide on Friday, September 23 with previews on Thursday night. Check out our interview with Peter Sarsgaard and look for our interview with Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee soon.