Friday 13 December 2019

Interrogation: Jon Voight on lessons he has learned

Jon Voight (left) and Liev Schreiber in a scene from Ray Donovan.
Jon Voight (left) and Liev Schreiber in a scene from Ray Donovan.

Doug Whelan

Oscar winner Jon has had quite the career, but says it's his large family, his Ray Donovan co-stars and a thirst for knowledge that keep him going...

Profession: Actor

What are you promoting today, and why?

We're just finishing up our second season of Ray Donovan. When this role came up a couple years ago it felt just right for me in terms of scheduling as well as developing a character. Some people were surprised to see me doing a TV series but I had dipped my toe in the water in that sense by playing a villain in 24 a few years before. In that series I felt a sense of comfort in the medium and it wasn't too far removed from making a film. I also liked the group of people I would be working with, especially Liev Schreiber who I had had my eye on for a while as someone whose work I admired. I had seen him doing character work for quite a while and always felt he would be a strong leading man. So I went in to it in that way and then of course I worked with the wonderful cast and I must tell you Paula Malcomson from Belfast is just wonderful, tremendous actress and as good as anyone I've ever worked with.

What is the most rewarding thing about your life?

The most rewarding thing for me is that I've learned a lot of lessons, and I think I'm productive and a better person because of it. I'm 75 years old and if I haven't learned some lessons by now there'd be a problem! I've made lots of mistakes but I've learned from them too and it's a pleasure to be able to say that.

Why do you do what you do for a living?

I met Muhammad Ali a long time ago, and I asked him the same thing: why do you want to go back in the ring? I said "You've done everything you can do so why keep doing it?" He just replied, "John, I'm a fighter." And I feel like that too, I'm an actor and that's what I do. I'm always looking to find a good story to tell and give people some insight. I just want to go to work. It's wonderful that I can still get to work at this stage of my life; I don't take as many projects as I did before, but I love what I do and I'm in a happy place when I have a job to do!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would like to go back to when I was younger, when I went through some tough times with my wife and my family. I would do that over again if I could, but I suppose those are the lessons we talk about.

What's the rumour about you that's bothered you the most?

The press has been pretty nice to me over the years if I'm honest; I haven't had to recover from any meanness. I'm fortunate in that sense I suppose. I think the reason is that I've always been very candid about everything. I've not hidden anything and I've always been available. I was at a restaurant the other day and, you know, people were asking for photographs or whatever. When that happens I'm always accommodating, I say sure let's do it and I just get right in there. A moment later I said to the person I was with, "did you see how long that took?" I could have said I'm busy or dismissed them somehow, but that would have created something negative. Let them have their photo, they can have fun with it for a week or so. It's a nice thing to be able to do and we've all had a nice experience.

Do you like being well known?

Put it this way: if you have anything decent to say then celebrity of course gives you an aspect to express it. For example I'm very supportive of the state of Israel and I find it important to understand what's going on over there. I'm a bit of a student of history. I made a comment about this to the press recently and it was widely reported across the world. And that wouldn't happen if I wasn't famous and that is when it can be a force for good.

What drives you on a daily basis?

Lots of things. I have close friends that I spend time with ever day. We go over what's happening in the world; we discuss it and debate it. I love to see my grandchildren and my grandnieces and grandnephews. I have a lot of family to occupy me and whom I delight in attending to. Now with the cast of Ray Donovan I'm happy to say that we've all become close friends too. I'm very fortunate to be among a very talented group of actors that are really top of their profession. Not only do I admire them as actors but as people and as friends. Each one of them inspires me and it's a very happy family. They are what drives me on the show.

Who is your hero?

I have quite a few. As the world comes in to different dramas, there are people who stand up. There's a fellow by the name of Charles Krauthammer who is tremendous voice in the US for the situation in the world. I get his blog every Friday and that's always very interesting. There are people like that around. There's a wonderful writer named Paul Johnson who wrote a book on the history of the Jews. It's a very important book today for what's going on.

What makes you emotional?

Not that many things. A good love story gets me every time if I'm honest. The old fashioned boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. Every time he gets her back, man it gets me every time. It's like you know the story, you've heard it before and you know when it's going to end but it still gets me right where it counts when that happens!

Ray Donovan, Tuesdays, 10.35pm, Sky Atlantic HD

Jon Voight on The General (1998)

"When I first sat down to rehearse with Brendan Gleeson, I hadn't perfected my Irish accent yet. He told me I sounded like I was from Iceland."

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent
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