While some may know actor Bruce Boxleitner as Babylon 5’s John Sheridan or How the West Was Won’s Luke Macahan, to many he’s simply Tron, the hero at the heart of the Disney science-fiction franchise and the upcoming Disney XD animated series Tron: Uprising.
“I embodied him in the first place, and I’m going to be the only one who plays him and that’s it!” Boxleitner laughed as he and co-star Lance Henriksen (Aliens, The Terminator) spoke with reporters about the new show.
Set between the original 1982 film Tron and the 2010 sequel Tron: Legacy, Tron: Uprising follows a young program named Beck (Elijah Wood) as he and Tron (Boxleitner) fight the forces of the evil Clu (Fred Tatasciore), General Tessler (Henriksen) and his right-hand woman Paige (Emmanuelle Chriqui) as they try to conquer the virtual world.
For two actors best known for their sci-fi roles, Boxleitner and Henriksen quickly confessed that they are, in their own words, “computer illiterate.”
“I can’t operate my Droid at all. It’s got so many layers to it!” Henriksen laughed, waving his phone in the air.
Boxleitner also admitted that he and the cast of the original Tron were clueless when it came to technology and could never have predicted the way computers would revolutionize modern life.
“We didn’t know what they were all about when we were doing the original movie,” he said. “I mean, IBM had computers, you didn’t have one in your house, or if you did it was a big, primitive-looking thing. Now we’re making movies based on the video game? What an absurdity! But that’s the truth, and look at them, they’re cinematic, they’re so lifelike now compared to Battle Tank or Donkey Kong!”
Boxleitner, who was recently inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame for his work in Western films, reminisced about goofing off on the set of the 1982 film, and watching star Jeff Bridges play Battle Tank for hours.
“We had all those video games on the sound stages, and pretty soon they realized, this is a bad idea, half the crew is over there and you couldn’t get Jeff Bridges off the thing!” Boxleitner laughed.
As for himself, “This is going to be weird, Jeff’s stunt double and assistant Lloyd, he’s a good ‘ol boy from Texas who he met on Last Picture Show, he and I are roping chairs with lariats. What an incongruous-looking image that was!” Boxleitner said.
Turn to Tron Uprising, Boxleitner said he believes the animated version of Tron is very similar to the character he played in 1982 and again in 2010.
“In the animated series, which I really love about this, the character is consistent in many ways but these new aspects come out — in this one he’s a harsh taskmaster and it gets harsher after this first episode,” he said. “He really beats the daylight out of Beck, it’s really tough love. This guy is beat-up, battle-worn, and has much more maturity to him.”
Henriksen, on the other hand, drew on his years in theater to flesh out General Tessler, the program Clu sends to oppress Beck’s hometown, Argon City.
“Because I’ve been doing Richard III for years, I know what power’s like, I know what megalomaniacs are like because I certainly played some,” Henriksen said. “I find that Tessler is so frustrated and twisted about the power that he wants and what he’s willing to do to do it, he’s very much like a megalomaniac politician or a Richard III.”
“Clu is really my enemy, but he’s my unspoken enemy,” he continued. “I would never relate that to Paige because that might be my undoing, I’d get derezzed like anybody else.” Despite his unspoken enmity with the other bad guys, Henriksen said he believes there’s “not a drop” of compassion in his character.
“There’s something weird about Tessler!” the actor laughed.
Henriksen also reflected on his television work on the late-‘90s horror/thriller series Millennium, telling reporters there are tentative plans for a revival. “There’s a big push on it right now, and there’s a lot of crazy people involved on it,” he said.
The actor, who played ex-FBI Agent Frank Black for three seasons, believes now is the perfect time for a Millennium comeback. “Ever since 9/11, the world has changed so radically that if it were made today, Millennium would be a far more interesting show than the limited palette they had, which was serial killers,” he said. “I love the idea of a non-judgmental character like Frank Black was — he wanted to know why and how but he knew judging someone would just get in the way of funding things. I think it’s going to happen, I really do.”
Although Boxleitner has appeared in other films and TV shows over the years, he said people still recognize him primarily as Tron.
“I do a lot of fan conventions, and I’d say 85 to 90 percent of the people who come up to me, it’s about Tron,” he said. “Not about Babylon 5, not about anything else I’ve done, sci-fi or genre-wise, and that’s great. When it was initially happening after the original movie I was kind of perplexed by it, going, ‘Wow! You actually saw it?’”
However, the Boxleitner said he doesn’t mind the connection to Tron, as he feels the original film did more than just entertain audiences, it inspired people.
“Years later I’d have people come up and say, ‘I saw Tron, Mr. Boxleitner, and I went into computer software, I went into something related to that,’ and I’m always thinking, ‘Wow, I was in something that influenced people, right down to one person’. You don’t really see that a lot in Hollywood,” he said.
“Not everyone is into Tron,” Boxleitner said, “but the ones that are? By God, they’re in all the way!”
Tron: Uprising debuts June 7 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on June 7. The 30-minute prelude, “Beck’s Uprising,” airs Friday at 9 p.m. ET/PT, but can be viewed now below.