Interview: Jon Voight Talks TV, Bad Guys and Big Mistakes

by | March 16, 2009 at 10:54 AM | Interviews

Who does evil better than Jon Voight? Not many and he’s proving it to audiences again with his Machiavellian turn as the latest uber-villain on the seventh season of ‘24.’ As Jonas Hodges, the head of the Starkwood Corporation, he’s been quietly pulling the strings behind General Juma’s (Tony Todd) audacious assault on the White House and President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones). From a remote location, Hodges has been practically giddy setting up his nefarious plans like a brutal game of chess. Of course, don’t bet on an easy checkmate when Jack Bauer is sitting across the table from you – as Hodges is quickly learning.

Fancast recently had the opportunity to chat with Jon Voight about undertaking his first recurring role in a television series (at the age of 70!), crafting bad guys and his thoughts on retirement.

How did you get involved in this project?

Jon Voight: I think it was in a writing session, and somebody was trying to figure out how to make this character that they were composing. They mentioned my name, and I don’t know how they did it, but they said wouldn’t it be great if Jon would do it, or something like that. I don’t know exactly, but it was something nice like that, it was enthusiasm for my name. And then they came to me and we talked a little bit about it. And I haven’t done episodic television, so it was something new, but I had been a fan of Kiefer’s [Sutherland] and especially of this role. Early on with ’24′ I had said to Kiefer that this was very important; he was doing something important in this role. So having had that moment with Kiefer and then having this, it was almost like closing a circle in the end of time.

Has the extended duration of television production allowed you to flesh out a character more than you would in other mediums?

Jon Voight: They hadn’t completed their portrait of this guy, in a sense until something is cast you never know exactly the direction it is going to be. And whoever you cast, they’re going to take it in another direction. So it was me and I tested a few things. I have been in this area before where I have to be kind of an intimidating force and I know how to do that a little bit. I made a few adjustments physically, but not too much. And then I knew that this guy should be mysterious, and I don’t want to reveal too much, but there was a lot of what I used of myself – my sense of humor, which can be perverse. And then the writers were giving me stuff that was so great and then sometimes I’d say this is not interesting enough, it’s too on the nose. Whatever it would be, I would try to flavor it as I went with the character that I finally discovered.

What can you tell us about the rest of the season?

Jon Voight: I can tell you that everybody who is on the production team who has seen the stuff cut is very excited about the season. They think it is a great season. From my own part I say the stuff that I have been part of and have done and that actors I have worked with, they are all very top level. It’s great.

Have you worked much with Kiefer directly?

Jon Voight: One scene.

How is that?

Jon Voight: It was good, thanks to Kiefer, because he insisted it be good.

Is it hard to play an adversary to someone that you know and like in real life?

Jon Voight: No. It is like playing tennis. You hit the ball over as hard as you can and you’re so grateful when somebody hits it back with a spin and then you do something and the other guy whacks it this way. It’s great! It’s like playing in center court at Wimbledon with a really great player, that’s fun.

In your long and varied career, what are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned?

Jon Voight: I have learned a lot of things. I’ve learned some life lessons that have been pretty severe. I’ve made big mistakes in life and I’ve had to face them and that makes you a much better person and a better artist as well if you can face things. If you hide from things, it diminishes you completely.

Have you enjoyed your television experiment?

Jon Voight: I have. I’ve had a very positive experience. I don’t know how much there will be in the future for me in that area, but this one has been totally positive. And I’ve made good friends here and really everything they said about the show being a team of great people has been true. And I have come away thinking I have contributed something too, so that’s nice.

Are you quite happy just to continue working as long as the work is there?

Jon Voight: Oh, yes, absolutely. The one thing about an actor is we can always find the roles for whatever age we are, there’s always something. You can play grandfathers or mad old men or whatever it is, you can always find roles. But I’m very lucky because I was very fortunate to have the longevity of that; very fortunate. And I’m glad that I can keep doing things that are exciting to people. People say, ‘Oh, this is good, give it to Jon, maybe he’ll do something, you know, this is great.