In an interesting twist, the last panel of the 2017 Emerald City Comicon ended up being the first comic convention panel ever experienced by its featured guest, Vincent D’Onofrio.
In the convention’s final hour on Sunday, the actor energetically bounded onto the stage of the main hall to discuss his long career and talk about his recent role as Kingpin on the Marvel/Netflix series “Daredevil.” Actress Clare Kramer (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) moderated the panel, and kept things zipping along.
To begin with, Kramer asked the actor what he thought of his first convention experience. D’Onofrio replied, “When you’re working, you know that people enjoy what you do, but you think of them as a mass of people. When you’re here, you get to see the individual people, and you hear their stories and how they’re into what you do, and it individualizes it for you and makes you feel better about the job you’re doing. I really appreciate it.”
The moderator followed this by asking him about the complexity of playing a character like Kingpin. He explained, “Wilson Fisk is just a ball of emotion – he can be a baby sometimes…but he can also be a monster.”
One of D’Onofrio’s most well-known roles is Robert Goren on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” which he played for close to ten years. For that reason, Kramer asked if there was any hesitancy about going back to TV for “Daredevil.” The actor responded that there are still many great shows and roles on television; however, he feels streaming TV is a slightly different animal.
“When you do a streaming show, it’s like doing a giant film. It’s shot in a very cinematic way. And with companies like Netflix and Marvel, they really do take care. There are no slouches on those shows. Everyone is really top-notch and knows what they’re doing.”
The actor also had high words of praise for actor Charlie Cox and writer Steven S. DeKnight. He indicated that their efforts really helped to elevate the show and make it something special.
Kramer then moved the discussion to an early part of D’Onofrio’s resume – Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” where the actor got his first leading role as Private Leonard ‘Gomer Pyle’ Lawrence. He explained that he was working as a club bouncer when the job was offered to him. At the time, he was friends with fellow actor Matthew Modine (also in the film), who suggested D’Onofrio send in a video tape monologue to Kubrick. He did, and the director then called him up after reviewing the package.
Unfortunately, D’Onofrio immediately hung up on Kubrick, thinking a friend was playing a trick on him. When the director called back, however, the actor eagerly listened. Kubrick sent him several pages of script to perform on video, which he did and sent back. This occurred twice, and the actor was eventually hired on the basis of these videos without even meeting the director.
As part of the “Full Metal Jacket” role, D’Onofrio had to gain a great deal of weight. Due to this change in appearance, he didn’t want to do any acting afterwards until he lost those pounds. And the role he eventually took could not have been more different than Private Pyle. It was also, in a way, his first encounter with playing a Marvel character: D’Onofrio was cast as Thor in the comedy “Adventures in Babysitting.”
Another role the actor is widely known for is that of Edgar, the antagonist of the film “Men in Black.” This role was offered to him by director Barry Sonnenfeld, without even having an audition. D’Onofrio was a big fan of the Sonnenfeld's film “Get Shorty,” so he was excited about the offer, but there was a “hitch.” As explained to him when he got the call, “Barry doesn’t like to talk about acting, and he’s afraid you’re going to start talking about acting and he doesn’t want to do that. He just wants to know if you want to do it.”
The actor agreed to look at the script, and was naturally surprised by what he found. “I read it, and I’m thinking, ‘He wants me to play a giant bug that comes from space, steals somebody’s body, and walks around the whole movie like that, and I’m not allowed to talk to him about it?’”
Obviously, D’Onofrio decided to do it. He watched bug documentaries as research, but found them extremely boring. Eventually, he found his way in to the role by utilizing the frustration of his character to frame the performance. As for the other notable elements of Edgar, the actor came up with his walk by using duct tape and knee braces, and he patterned the character’s voice after two notable individuals: director John Huston’s use of long vowel sounds and actor George C. Scott’s staccato rhythm of speaking.
Most recently, D’Onofrio was seen in theaters in Antoine Fuqua’s “Magnificent Seven” as Jack Horne and on television in “Emerald City” (a new take on “The Wizard of Oz”) as the Wizard. He was pleased with the way both roles turned out, and was particularly proud of the new portrayal they crafted for the Wizard.
“We used the curtain as a metaphor for his psychology. He’s this person in life who suffers from worthlessness and feels he has to make up for it…He’s one of the most pathetic human beings I’ve ever played in my life.” He also enjoyed the experience as it reunited him with his director from “The Cell,” Tarsem Singh. As a matter of fact, he credits Singh as the main reason he wanted to do the project. This led to a discussion of different experiences D’Onofrio has had throughout his career in films.
When asked about his most mentally challenging role, the actor said it was the serial killer he played in “The Cell” for Tarsem. “To this day, that’s one of the darkest parts I’ve ever played. I still have nightmares about some of the stuff I researched for that movie.”
Regarding his most physically demanding role, he went back to the one he played on “Full Metal Jacket.” When he was cast, he knew he had to gain weight, so he put on 30 pounds before he flew to England for filming. Upon seeing him in person for the first time, Kubrick thought he just looked “buff,” not overweight. In the end, D’Onofrio gained 80 pounds for the role. This weight also led to him blowing out his knee, and he had to have surgery while they were still shooting. In short, he said, “I went from being a starving actor to a beast.”
Lastly, the toughest skill D’Onofrio has had to acquire for a role brings us back to the present. To play the Kingpin, he needed to learn how to speak Mandarin. The Brooklyn-born actor said it was a major challenge that took up quite a bit of time, especially as he had to fight against “Nooh Yawk” speech habits.