Film and TV

A Visit With Jon Voight About Lone Star

Photos by Hal Samples
Adrianne Palicki, left, and Jon Voight on the set of Lone Star
As you're no doubt aware by now, Lone Star premieres tonight on FOX at 8 p.m. It's shot here but set in Houston and Midland, between which James Wolk's Bob/Robert bounces while leading the con man's double life. And though I've seen countless comparisons to Dallas ("without the cheese," say its creators over and over again), it's far sharper than any prime-time soap in recent memory -- no doubt due to the involvement of (500) Days of Summer's director Marc Webb, who helmed the pilot that airs tonight. Which, perhaps, is why The Wall Street Journal calls it an "ambitious gamble." It's worth it.

A couple of weeks back, the great Hal Samples and I spent an afternoon on the set -- at the Dallas Regional Medical Center in Mesquite. Between takes, I visited briefly with Jon Voight, who plays Clint Thatcher, the oil magnate who tasks Wolk's character with saving his struggling Houston company. Clint's daughter (played by Adrianne Palicki) is married to Bob -- and, of course, they're all unaware that Bob's got a whole other life in Midland. A short Q&A with the Oscar-winner (for Coming Home) about his return to prime-time, following a brief stint on 24, follows.

What made you want to do this?

Here's the deal. I watched some of these shows, and I've really been impressed with much of the work. Like 24. And I thought: Maybe I'll give it a turn just to see what it's like. And I did have a very good time on 24. I enjoyed working with the team. They had a well-oiled team. And it was first-class work. Does that mean you can have the same quality you have with film, which is cared for with much more time to prepare, much more time to shoot? Well, no, you can't achieve the same thing, but if you have very, very talented people, you can do something impressive.

I was given this script, I looked at it, and I thought many things: I was impressed with the writing, I thought it was unique, I thought it was a morality tale. And they had this role for me -- this oil magnate from Texas. It was almost a little bit like cashing a check made out years ago when I did Midnight Cowboy and all these other Texas characters.

Is that why you're the only actor on TV with a proper Texas accent?

I think sometimes people are afraid of accents. They don't wanna hit 'em too hard. But I love 'em. There's also this kind of thing that ... there's a little bit of a bias against people with accents, which I find crazy. I find people with accents, somehow it acquaints with a wisdom, an earthiness and life experience. That's what I get. Also: poetry. I love doing this.

Actors who bounce between TV and film like TV because they can grow with the character ...

I think that's true.

You get to know the guy. There's evolution beyond the two-hour time frame of a film.

And you have a participation in the growth of the character. The writers look at it, and there's a little dance. People want him doing this, he looks good doing this, and wouldn't it be great if this character did that? The character participates in the writing.

Does the actor?

I poke around a little bit. Like, I'll give you an example. In terms of language, if I come up with something I'll enjoy putting it in, and I've done this all my life. I did this on Deliverance. We had little pieces where I found a character who was a really interesting guy, and I found this guy who was teaching this canoing who was a Navy SEAL from the South, and he was a real intellectual. He was a combination of an action figure and an intellectual. He threw a lot of 25-dollars words into the conversation when he could. I'd work in those words. There's a woman on the set who's in costumes, a very nice gal, and she said something, she was talking about her mother's expressions: 'Let me tell you how to carry the cabbage.' If I was gonna scold Bob [on Lone Star], I might say, 'Let me tell you how we're gonna carry the cabbage. This is what you're gonna do.' That's a great line.

You sound a little like Jerry Jones too ...

Yeah, yeah. Authentic. We're losing the accents in this generation. I think because my character's old enough to have lived in a prior generation, he's old enough to have one.

Your appearance gives the show weight ..

By reputation, but you still have to act the damn thing. You gotta bring it.

Well, it's not like you're just standing there.

That's true. I've graduated to the role of patriarch, someone who has presence. And I'm grateful for that. I've learned how to play those roles. Now I'm able to say how to do that.

If I were an actor on this show I'd be busting your balls between scenes about every film you've made, every director you've worked with ...

Every scene is a little bit of a challenge, and these kids are very talented. If you notice they're all very concerned about it. They're focused, they're professional. And I have great respect for these young people and I'm grateful: As an older actor who has seen a few things, you're always looking for a new generation to step up. If I have to give a little nod to young people, this group is a good one to do that.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky