He has been both the Punisher and Volstagg in Marvel movies, but oddly enough it’s in a movie from Finnland, of all places, that Ray Stevenson gets to punish Samuel L. Jackson. In Big Game, Jackson is an unpopular and weak U.S. president whose plane goes down over Finnland, and Stevenson is the Secret Service agent gone bad who helped orchestrate the whole thing. For the first time in years, Jackson is the underdog.
The movie is currently out in limited theatrical release and on-demand, but when we got an opportunity to talk to the big man, we couldn’t resist asking him about some of the other properties near and dear to our hearts as well.
Luke Y. Thompson: I’ve got to tell you – you were always my favorite Punisher, and that took a lot of doing, because I loved Dolph Lundgren.
Ray Stevenson: Oh, thank you! I just was – it’s a shame it wasn’t really sold well. There were the hardcore fans waiting and clamoring for it to come out, and even they didn’t know when it was released. It was just – I don’t know, whatever goes on in there, but I really enjoyed playing Frank.
LYT: Well, I think it showed.
RS: I thought, you know, we had great writing – it’s a tremendous character, and it’s like Garth Ennis’ writing, oh my god! I had never been aware of the comic before, and when I started reading, I said “What? Where has this been?” There was an emotional sort of sophistication to this writing. He sees people in such – such human extremes, without it being farcical, and you think how do you get out of this? And then the story would evolve, and it just – you know, a very, very dark side of things, but I loved playing Frank, and there are so many places to go with him. But there you go. It is what it is. I’m just happy to be part of the history of it.
LYT: Now that they have a new one in the Marvel universe, I know however unlikely, but he could cross the path of Volstagg. What do you think would happen then?
RS: I would have liked to have done that! [chuckles]That would be really cool if I was Frank and Volstagg.
LYT: That would be amazing.
RS: But yeah, I did hear – I heard today on one of the chat things that somebody said they’re bringing Punisher into that. I said “Great! Good luck!” I’m so happy knowing Frank – he’s got that eternal quality. It’s something that needs worked out, because essentially it’s an R-rated comic book, very difficult to make him accessible, because what are you throwing out? What would you throw out? What would you lose, and what would you gain? Because it certainly has – if you want to go back in history, he was brought in initially to kill Spider-Man.
RS: He’s an assassin brought in to kill Spider-Man. In a blue leotard and white boots. [chuckles]Very different Frank. But yeah, you know – it is what it is. I mean, the one thing I have learned through my years of acting is I don’t – I don’t over concern myself with that, apart from I’m happy to have played him.
LYT: Well, from trying to kill Spider-Man to trying to kill Samuel L. Jackson, how did you get involved in a Finnish action movie?
RS: I know – isn’t it weird? Basically, this script came out of the blue and I read it, and I went “What on earth?” Then I spoke to the director, and I don’t know – some of those voices came across as this – there’s this English devil-may-care sort of attitude, sort of childlike glee at certain things, and a passion. I thought, “You know what? This is so out there, it’s either going to be absolutely brilliant, or it’s going to be a bit naff!” [laughing]
I figured it was absolutely brilliant. I think, you know, he’s got something that has a nostalgic feel. I remember growing up with Where Eagles Dare and The Great Escape. Those mountain scenes – we shot on location – you can’t beat that panning camera work. Such largesse! A story about getting the President into big game to be hunted – it’s like, really? And yet the core of it is a 13 year old Finnish boy’s rite of passage. Why not? I think it’s great. He stuck to his guns.
LYT: In the sequence where the helicopter is dragging the container that Sam’s inside – how much of that was practical?
RS: Actually, they did have a helicopter. It was flying with the attached freezer – I don’t know if Sam was inside. It was one of the days I wasn’t there. But I would imagine they used a high crane and basically dragged it through the forest floor. I mean, or used a helicopter to drag it. If it smashed, you’re into some serious danger. So I don’t know. I think it’s just movie magic.
LYT: It’s really different to have Sam Jackson be a character who is intimidated. Is it a challenge to intimidate him, or does it come naturally to you in character?
RS: Well, he was essentially playing a President that, to all intents and purposes, was weak – low in the polls, etc. And I think that my character was – I had taken a bullet for him, and this piece of shrapnel is killing me, and they’re putting me out to pasture. It’s my last tour of duty, and I’m really very bitter about this whole turn of events. He’s a weak President, who I think is weakening America itself. So part of this big sort of scheme, or plan – basically, to confuse and confound, smoke and mirrors – but basically, get rid of him, in order to bring in someone to replace him.
So essentially, my character is a fundamentalist patriot – the most dangerous sort of patriot – in his own eyes. In his own mind, this is his last great gesture, to basically bring strength back to America, or whatever, by getting rid of the weakness.
LYT: As an actor, is there any intimidation there, or is it like “My first movie was with Helena Bonham Carter and Kenneth Branagh, so you know…”?
RS: No, no, no, no. It’s like, you know, I worked with Denzel as well, and I’ve worked with some tremendous people. It just appears to be such a great, warm, cuddly, teddy-bear feeling is the fact that the bigger they are, the more open and giving and consummately professional actors are – and there’s fearlessness. This is the same with Sam. Sam – god love him – he’s so prepared. He’s so prepared, and so on top of his work, that at any given chance, he can throw it out the window. He can come back to it, he can throw it out the window, and play, and you know, get to a place where he’s still trying to come back to the original, throw it out.
He’s not come with a fixed performance that negates the presence of other actors around him, which is the biggest trap – it’s the easiest trap for a young actor to fall into. They go in prepared, their lines and their acting – it’s basically fear driven – they come in with a performance they’ve modeled, and suddenly the other actor is playing it this way, and the actor doesn’t know how, because he’s prepared it this one way. And so you get people like that.
And also, with Denzel Washington in The Book of Eli, there’s a scene, and he – you saw him work this scene up from the ground, so it wasn’t working better then – he was just – you know every eye is on him, and then he just, he’s fearless. He’s not trying to either soft soap it or skim through it or whatever. He’s just committed so much, and that’s inspiring. And basically, you’re just going to work with an actor. And that’s what we all look for.
LYT: Has it been helpful to you to sort of come into success later in life? It sounds like you have an experience level that younger actors didn’t have.
RS: I think what it did, it’s a sort of life experience that makes me, I suppose, much more aware of the privilege. But I’ve been sort of blessed with how much of a privilege it is to do this, and earn my living at it, and getting the opportunity to keep doing it. I never take it for granted.
When I’m on set – I don’t know, it’s surprising – I’m in whatever world is created on that set, but I feel just so completely alive. Outside, in the real world, I’m just bouncing around, like the gods are playing tennis with me, like I’m some social butterfly. I don’t know where to sit; I don’t know what to do. I’ve got millions of jobs to do, and I half do one and half do another. Typical sort of – I try my best. I generally mess things up. And then I go to work, and I’m just so in my skin – or whatever character’s skin, I mean. If that makes sense.
LYT: I have to tell you, this is both a compliment to you, and maybe ignorance on my part, but until I did my homework on this movie, I had no idea you weren’t American. So you pull off the accent extremely well.
RS: Oh, wow! Thank you!
LYT: I have English family, so I’m usually quite picky about that, when I hear one that doesn’t fall quite right.
RS: Absolutely. That’s great to hear, because it’s when you don’t notice it that it worked. And you know, it’s also when you’re playing a scene, it’s all about the subtext. It’s not about the actual words that are coming out of your mouth, and I think that’s another thing about an actor’s got to work – you don’t want them to – it’s not about the words you’re saying, it’s about the stuff that you’re not saying. It’s about the stuff that is actually underneath – the real intention of it. When people get that, you’ve got to trust that they can get it.
And that’s like losing the accent. The accent is there – it’s like having a great suit. The suit doesn’t wear you. You’ve got to wear the suit.
RS: Usually I avoid metaphors like the plague.
LYT: I see that up next you’re playing the Transporter’s father in the next Transporter movie, right?
RS: I know! What a hoot! I had such a laugh! Because basically while the new Transporter, Ed Skrein – when was growing up as a kid, he thought I was a sort of bottled water salesman. And as it turns out, I’m actually an old spy! I just relished – I just reveled in that whole thing! I just loved it. It was great fun.
LYT: You play so many military background characters so well. I know there’s a bit in your family. Have you ever undergone training or gone to boot camp, or had to do anything like that for the research?
RS: I tried to be a pilot, but my legs are too long, and they said I couldn’t fit in the ejector seat, because I’d be… [laughing]My brother wasn’t a disciplinarian, but there’s just something about the real military people, they’re stiff, and with a rod up their backside, and standing on parade, but there is a kind of nobility about them, and a bearing of people who put their lives in the service of others, and had lives entrusted to them, and a humility that allows you a sort of soft, quiet authority. It comes from someone who’s actually been there and done it, and then you can’t impress them. And they are not out there to impress.
I don’t know – there’s something about a sort of warrior’s creed that I think most men recognize it. I think if you can get the humanity of that, rather than the military background – I think Harrison Ford did it brilliantly in things like Patriot Games and things like that. There’s accessibility to someone that I think in that situation maybe on a given day, I would make the right choices and behave in the right way. Whether that’s military or just a human bearing, I don’t know.