by Edwin L. Carpenter, Editor—The Dove Foundation
Jon Voight, the successful and hard-working actor of many films, received the Best Actor Academy Award for his starring role in the film Coming Home (1978). Today, he stars along with Nicholas Cage and Diane Kruger, Ed Harris and Helen Mirren in the very successful picture, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”. This film has grossed $171,033,000 in only its third week of national release. Mr. Voight recently spoke with The Dove Foundation about this successful film and some of his other roles over the years.
We began by congratulating the actor on a recent birthday, December 29, which made him sixty nine years old. We wanted to know how he became involved in the first “National Treasure” film.
“Well, you know, I’ve worked with Jerry Bruckheimer (producer) who for those who don’t know is one of the great moguls of today and is in line of the great moguls of the past, who really brought this industry some special stuff, and to get a call from Jerry is always a moment. I had done a couple of pictures with him and he called me up and said, ‘Jon, I’d like you to do this piece. I’d like you to go down and meet the director who just started the movie—it’s not quite finished. The character hasn’t been written into the end of it and that’s something that has to be done, but I think you’d like to do this.’”
“And so I jumped in my car and went down to Los Angeles where they were shooting downtown, and I saw all of these trailers and I’m looking for the director, and this guy comes up to me and says, ‘Hey Jon’ and I said, ‘Hey, how you doing? I’m looking for the director.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m the director’ (Jon Turteltaub). And we started talking and I think there was about fifty percent conversation and fifty percent laughter from the beginning with this fellah. And at the end of it he said, ‘Are you going to do it? You gotta do it. I mean, we have to have the completion of this friendship we started.’ And it was absolutely true. I couldn’t walk away from it for sure. We didn’t even talk about anything substantial. We just were playing around. And I said, ‘Well, sure, I’m going to throw in with you guys.’ And it turned out to be a very successful first movie that everybody liked so much. And then we did the second one and now everybody‘s crazy about the second one which is a good thing, because it’s a great film for the family.”
Dove asked Mr. Voight, if he were to like a third script in the series, would he do another one. “Well, it’s interesting because the writers and Jerry seemed to figure out a way to leave a question in the last part of the film. They talk about page 47 in The Book of Secrets, and nobody knows what page 47 is so it looks like if you want to find out you’ll have to write another one! I think that’s very charming but with the success of it, it seems like we’ll probably make a third. And by the way I have to say Ed, for those people who are attentive to our conversation, this is a great movie for families. It’s as good as I’ve ever seen for the whole family and for this time too. There’s a reason why people are coming out of the theater with smiles on their faces and going back and seeing it again. It’s fun. And In some ways I think it’s the best movie I’ve ever made for the whole family.”
Dove asked Mr. Voight what changes he has seen in the film industry during his career which spans many years. “There have been trends,” he said. “There have been things that you can mark. When I first started there was a big change in my generation—the young people coming up at the time I was going to acting school in New York in the sixties. We were all dying to get our hands on some of the technology to do some of the stories that we felt were important. And this was at a time when the movie industry was kind of falling away from the big studio, so something was happening. They were trying to repeat the success of the moguls of the thirties and forties, those guys had died off. And now there was nothing original in what was being done. “
He went on to say his generation wanted to express their feelings about what was going on in society. “I’m talking about myself and Dusty (Dustin Hoffman) and Jack Nicholson, and Bobby Duvall and De Niro—my guys, you know and the gals too. And then the wonderful directors who were itching to make their place. We were all connected to the things of our youth, that we had seen when we were young. We also wanted to make a contribution. And we got opportunity. Those personalities changed the face of the business. All of a sudden it wasn’t the moguls, the people sitting on top of the studios, it was the artists that were cutting a path. “
“Then it went into an area of the big blockbuster. That happened after this period of time (previously mentioned) and that happened with the action films and the muscular films. I would have to say with fellahs like Stallone and then Arnold Schwarzeneggar—those guys did that kind of fantasy stuff. Then there was a technology change. All of a sudden in the nineties there was this growing knowledge that everything was going to change because they had this computer graphics possibility. And then films became endowed with another kind of fantasy. So, anyway, there were many, many different changes. But the basic thing that remains the same is the story. The story is always going to be the center of any piece of art in film. If you have a good story, that’s going to be the heart of it.”
“You can do all the other stuff. You can make it as big as you want, you can make it as fantastic as you want but if there’s no story something’s lacking.”
And of course good solid acting adds to a film. I had the opportunity to tell Mr. Voight that I had watched the film “Glory Road” without realizing he played Coach Adolph Rupp, until I saw his name on the ending credits. “That’s great,” he chuckled, obviously pleased that his acting skills had worked so well I didn’t even know he played the role!
This led me to ask him if he had a couple of favorite roles, having played everything from a prize fighter in “The Champ”, to Pope John Paul ll and Howard Cosell in ‘Ali’.
“It’s true I have had a lot of roles,” he replied, ‘that have caught the imagination of people. So when I walk down the street and a person looks at me and comes up to me and I know they’re going to say something, I don’t know which film they’re going to talk about. I have days when it’s ‘The Champ’, I certainly have many days when it’s ‘Runaway Train’, it might be ‘Anaconda’. Certainly these days it’s ‘National Treasure’. Also ‘Deliverance’. I’ve made a little bit of everything I suppose. I’ve spent a lot of time with the troops in hospitals here, the guys who came back—the warriors, and they’ll say, ‘Varsity Blues’ is great. I just never know. I’ve done enough now that folks have their favorites.”
As we neared the end of the interview, we asked Mr. Voight what he particularly liked about his role as Patrick Gates in this new film, ‘National Treasure: Book of Secrets’.
“I think the fun thing about the ‘Book of Secrets’ is that it’s about a family and the aspect of our American history and keeping the legacy. I think the theme of recouping the legacy is very, very important to our time. We must not forget what it took to keep our country together, all the history, the battle that takes place in order to protect this great legacy that’s been given by the founding fathers. Gates has to, with his son, find a way to protect that legacy against the slander of someone who’s trying to take that away. There’s that serious meaning but on the other hand it’s tremendously witty, it’s tremendously fun, it’s full of excitement, it has a lot to it.”
Mr. Voight spoke of future projects as we wrapped up the interview, including the film “Pride and Glory”, a saga centered on a multi-generational family of New York City Police officers. He will play Francis Tierney Sr. in the film. “‘Pride and Glory’ is coming out in March,” he said. “And ‘Pride and Glory’ is a piece very different from this piece but still something I’m deeply pleased with. It’s a gritty cop movie. I play the head of a family of policemen. Ed Norton is my son, Noah Emmerich is my son, and Colin Farrell is my son-in-law. And there’s a wonderful group of men and women who are New York actors, and they do a sensational job on this piece. It’s a powerful movie, very powerful.”
Mr. Voight signed off by saying it was a pleasure to talk with me and Dove but certainly the pleasure was all ours. It is gratifying to see an Academy Award-winning actor so enthusiastic about appearing in a Dove “Family-Approved” film, “National Treasure: Book of Secrets”.
Read Dove’s Review of “National Treasure: Book of Secrets“