Western characters don’t get more iconic than DC’s Jonah Hex. With a penchant for danger and an unforgettable, scarred face, the anti-hero has been a comic book staple since the early 1970s. After a maligned film adaptation in 2010 that featured Josh Brolin in the title role, Hex is being revived in live-action again, this time on television in The CW’s “DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.”
As the Legends travel back in time to the Old West amid wagons, shootouts and saloon brawls, they’ll also encounter Jonah Hex. Played by Johnathon Schaech, who most recently starred in History’s “Texas Rising” miniseries set in the 1830s, Hex tries to teach Rip Hunter’s team of renegades what it means to be heroes to save a local town from a gang of outlaws — if they don’t get killed first.
Ahead of tonight’s all-new episode, “The Magnificent Eight,” Schaech spoke with CBR News about inhabiting the iconic role, Brolin’s take on the character in the “Jonah Hex” movie, how “Texas Rising” helped prepare him for this role and whipping DC’s other TV heroes into shape.
CBR News: What did you know about Jonah Hex before landing the role? Had you seen the Josh Brolin film?
Johnathon Schaech: I had seen the Josh Brolin movie. I remember when it came out. I was, first of all, I was pissed off I didn’t get to play him. But Josh Brolin was doing incredibly well. I would go neck-to-neck with Josh with a lot of the films we would audition for. So when he got to play Jonah Hex I was like, “Great choice. Here’s a comic book character that can really come to life on the big screen.” It didn’t work out for one reason or another, and I’m not the person to say why it didn’t come across that well.
I grew up with Jonah Hex. My father gave me the “Jonah Hex” comic books. He gave me “Sgt. Rock” comic books and “Weird Western Tales.” My father loved them. He was a police officer and came from the same kind of scenarios, where the good guy had to fight the bad guy and rise above. That was my father’s world.
In what way did the “Texas Rising” miniseries you starred in help you understand Jonah Hex and his environment better?
It’s all about the horse. For “Legends, they offered me some riding lessons and I was like, “What do you need me to do? I can do pretty much anything on a horse.” On “Texas Rising,” I was the head of the cavalry. I was on a horse for four months in Mexico. With the amount of time I rode on a horse in “Texas Rising,” with all the stunt work and charges, I was so accustomed to it.
The first time they put me on a horse, it was a Quarter Horse, which is the kind of horse a cowboy would ride. You don’t need to do anything with the horse. They would call “Action” and the horse would hit his mark better than I could. So, just being comfortable on a horse and being comfortable with my guns helped. I would have liked if they let me do more on “Legends” because I can do a lot.
What is “Legends of Tomorrow’s” take on Jonah Hex like? I understand he has some kind of past with Arthur Darvill’s Rip Hunter?
Well, that’s really what this story is about. Rip goes back to the Western time because of something he hadn’t resolved yet with Jonah. My take on the whole thing is Rip has this group that he has to get ready to face this incredible enemy. Rip brings all of these characters to Jonah and they are the Legends of Tomorrow. They have to learn to be heroes and Jonah is a legend of the past. He is a true hero and a heroic legend, rising up and facing the enemy. He’s almost a little bit of a coach. He teaches them how to do it, how to get in trouble and then how to get themselves out of it.
Going with that analogy, which hero is the worst student?
The most fun is definitely the Atom [Brandon Routh]. Jonah gets a kick out of the innocence he displays. What do you say when the Atom references John Wayne like in the trailer? I’m like, “Who is this guy?” Jonah says with a snarl, “Whatever.”
With these characters coming from the future, how much of a “fish out of water” element is there? How does Jonah help them fit into this new environment?
That’s the thing. Jonah lets them fall into it and let them rise up to what he’s accustomed to. He had to deal with all of them and he lets them get in a situation they need to get out of. He’s sort of like the father figure in the background. He takes them so far so that they can learn.
These legends possess superhuman abilities and high-tech weapons. What makes Jonah Hex formidable in his own right?
Jonah Hex has this unrelenting will to fight. Jonah never gives up. You read the comics and he gets shot at, but he just rolls his body backward, so the bullet won’t go through him. Or, he moves sideways and just gets nicked instead of hitting a main artery. It’s like he’s doing Krav Maga. These heroes are learning to become formidable, but they have a ways to go before they can stand up to this enemy that’s coming.
Jonah Hex’s appearance is unmistakable. What kind of makeup and prosthetics routine did you endure?
They took one day to figure out his costume and the Mark of the Demon. They put me in in a mold. I had to do a face casting and then we started to go from there. I had a full beard when I went up to Vancouver. Then, we started trimming the beard so it would blend. The beautiful thing with the prosthetic was this mark wouldn’t allow the growth of any hair. It just made him look more real to have a little bit of facial hair there. Every day it was pretty much two hours in the chair. I certainly did my Ron Perlman time.
How does “The Magnificent Eight” stand out from the Legends’ other time-hopping adventures this season?
It has Jonah Hex in it, number one. It’s set in a Western world. It deals with the show’s mythology a little bit deeper. The writers really have a great grasp on how these legends play out. I’m so into this episode that I can’t judge it from the other ones. It clearly states what a hero is and what you have to do to be a hero. It definitely defines what it means to be a legend.
“DC’s Legends of Tomorrow” airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.
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