In one of the most entertaining panels any convention has seen, fans were treated to an inside look at the new Marvel adaptation of "Punisher." Actors Thomas Jane, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Kevin Nash were joined by writer/director Jonathan Hensleigh, his wife (and the film's producer) Gail Anne Hurd, and Marvel's movie guru Avi Arad.
The first thing that anyone should know about this panel is that Thomas Jane is a funny, funny man. Whether trading barbs with Nash, discussing his childhood or debating the benefits of alcohol, he had the audience in the palm of his hands with a seemingly endless stream of bon mots.
For example, Jane was asked why he chose this role. He responded, "Since early childhood I've been a glutton for extreme punishment, and I figure it's payback time. I keep changing my address because I don't wanna get stoned. I'll be standing outside my house on April 16th, if any of you guys wanna come talk to me." Being more serious for just a moment, he said, "It was the best thing I've ever done. I'm a dedicated comic book fan, I knew how much it meant to get it right."
When asked about the training regimen to get into the mindset of Frank Castle, Jane said, "I had Kevin Nash come over and read me bedtime stories. You know how they say, 'I'm gonna beat it into you.' They don't lie, the guys in special forces, they really beat it into me. That's really true, that's pretty much how it happened."
Jane also didn't like the weather in Florida. "It was really crappy down there," Jane complained. "People think it's all bright and sunny down there. The sun shined like four days. It wasn't like they said it would be." Hensleigh interjected that Tampa has a higher homicide rate than New York, which prompted Jane to say, "Yeah, people are mean down there!"
"Am I afraid to fight John Travolta?" Jane asked incredulously. "Where is the son of a bitch? I thought there'd be a dance off at the end, I was gonna lose. I don't have to dance with him, do I?"
Hensleigh sighed and simply said, "They fight."
The actor also looks forward to being considered Frank Castle from now on. "I think I'm gonna get beat up on a daily basis. 'I'm gonna kick your ass, I'm gonna buy you a beer and shove it down your throat!' Great things are gonna happen."
The other members of the panel managed to get a word in edgewise.
"We've started working on a sequel," Arad said. "We've got a couple of prisoners here for three picture deals. It's a joyride and we'll make a lot more of them. 'Welcome Back, Frank' was the inspiration for all of us, for a long time."
Hurd noted that she enjoyed this film more than more special effects-laden work like "The Hulk." "I come from the Roger Corman school of film making," she said. "Being able to do the action and have actors like Tom Jane and Kevin Nash, being able to do it for real is more exciting. You get to see it right there, you get to see dailies. It's that giant concern if you do everything else right, and you don't know it on the day. Oh, and my next movie is 'Aeon Flux' starring Charlize Theron and directed by Karyn Kusama who directed 'Girl Fight.'"
When asked about how they got their motivations for their performances, Nash joked, "Because I had to kill Tom, I just thought about all the times I've killed people, a couple of early murders came to mind, basically that was my motivation."
Jane said, because he always wondered, "How many lines can I cut so I don't have to memorize them, and can go out and get drunk instead? I'm serious, After Jonathan made me run through the wall, now I've lost the ability to read."
When looking at the differences between sports entertainment and movie making, Nash said, "Thomas and I didn't hold back a hell of a lot. The biggest problem with pro wrestling is because we don't have someone like Jonathan directing us. He made this a real easy transition for me. When he did go through that wall, he took home some actual brick from that wall. I've never seen anybody as dedicated as Thomas was."
Romijn-Stamos was happy to talk about the possibility of a Mystique spinoff. "If there's some way they could make that makeup process easier, it'd be such a pleasure." She really takes the process of making comic book movies seriously, saying "These are characters people have waited for their entire lives, you don't want to disappoint. We feel the fan base, we feel you guys, and I really love it."
When a fan asked for a Bullseye crossover, Arad said, "Bullseye is [with] a different studio. It would have been great, to make peace among the studios ..."
Hensleigh then added "There is a very good chance you're gonna see Jigsaw."
Hensleigh was asked about why Ma Gnucci didn't make the cut, so to speak, and he responded, "I thought that characterization was a little broad, it went a little over the top for me. All the compromises where I went away from the Garth Ennis were discussed. Shooting in Manhattan is unbelievably expensive. That's just where the film is set, The DNA of this film, 98% comes directly from the comics." Hensleigh talked about John Travolta's turn as a money launderer, and how his research showed that the main place for money laundering in the US is in Florida.
"I wanted to make a seventies throwback version, and make it an 'R,' a hard 'R,'" Hensleigh emphasized. "We knew the fan base would reject anything watered down. The MPAA gave it an 'R' for 'brutal pervasive violence.' That's Jack Valenti's quote."
When asked about their favorite films, to get a sense of their personal tastes, Hensleigh noted being influenced by John Frankenheimer and Sergio Leone. Romijn-Stamos said her favorites are "The Sound of Music," "The Graduate" and really liking the new "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." Nash found "Raging Bull" compelling, Hurd liked "Paths of Glory." Arad and Jane took the question less seriously, citing "Batman Returns" and "Godzilla Versus Bambi" as their favorites.
Next up for the panelists is Thomas Jane playing a South African police officer during apartheid who held up banks on his off hours. Romijn-Stamos will be in "Godsend" with Greg Kinnear and Robert DeNiro, about a couple who loses a child, only to have it cloned by a mad doctor. Nash said he was happier in front of the camera than in the squared circle, and didn't expect a return to grappling soon. "I'd like to stay in this genre right now. After fifteen years of wrestling, my body can't take much more."
Hurd of course is next up on "Aeon Flux," and Arad noted that he's looking forward to "Spider-Man 2," "Luke Cage," and "X-Men 3" in May 2006. An audience member noted that Bryan Singer wanted to do another movie before returning to Westchester, to which Arad replied, "The movie is going, one way or another." As for "Hulk 2," Arad said, "We just started to deal with it, and we hope to have a writer on board in a few weeks and then we'll start. I think Ang will do other things, it probably will be another director. We're always working on new Marvel projects. 'FF,' 'Iron Man,' 'Ghost Rider,' 'Luke Cage' ... there's a load of them coming."
Arad was asked if a Thor movie was on the way, because they saw Kevin Nash as the Norse god of thunder. "I agree," Arad said.
Jane made jokes about new interpretations of the Punisher. "You don't wanna see 'Punisher on Ice?'" he asked. "I'm takin' ice skatin' lessons right now. You should see what Rebecca and me get up to on ice."
"It's also R rated," Romijn-Stamos added, getting a big response from the crowd.
Speaking of crowd responses, they played a ten-minute clip of Nash as The Russian fighting Thomas Jane. It was brutal and funny, in the same tone of Ennis' sick humor. The scene was the same one where Kevin Nash was stabbed during filming and just kept going. "One of the stunt guys switched it out and left the real knife there," Nash explained. "It was no big deal, the blade had been blunted anyway. It barely broke my skin. A lot more was made out of it than necessary."
Jane summed the panel's energy up by talking about how happy he was to be done and out of the grim character. ""I remember waking up in the shower stall like 'i'm da punisher!' My friends are like, 'Are you working out anymore?' I was like 'The checks stopped coming ...' I'm kidding, Avi!"