Thomas Jane on Slayers, Boogie Nights, and remembering Burt Reynolds
Thomas Jane’s resume speaks for itself. Jane’s ability to act in multiple genres without being pigeonholed is a rarity in Hollywood. The 53-year-old’s impressive filmography includes roles in Boogie Nights, Deep Blue Sea, The Red Line, 61*, The Punisher, and The Mist. Plus, Jane is the head of a production company focusing on films and comics. That’s quite a career. Now, Jane is looking for genre stories that are unconventional and entertaining. He found one in Slayers, a comedy horror film with vampires, influencers, and a lot of violence.
In Slayers, Jones, plays Elliot Jones, a vampire hunter and conspiracy theorist who is hellbent on avenging the death of his daughter. After years of searching, Jones finally discovers the location of the vampires who killed her. To infiltrate the layer, he enlists the help of “The Stream Team,” a group of social media influencers who care more about likes than their well-being. Written and directed by K. Asher Levin, Slayers is a witty, adrenaline-filled ride with a lot to say about influencer culture and the media.
In an interview with Digital Trends, Jane discusses his role in Slayers, explains his collaboration with Levin, and shares memorable stories from the sets of Boogie Nights and 61*.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Digital Trends: You’ve had quite a busy year. You were in four movies and a television show, with two of those movies within the last four weeks. What keeps you motivated to work at this quick pace?
Thomas Jane: Finding good material. Sometimes, there’s a dry spell where the material’s just not coming in, and then sometimes, it comes in fast and furious. Ever since I started Renegade, my production company, it’s been a beacon for people who have a script that’s a little left of center, that’s intelligent, that’s a genre movie, and it’s well-written. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a few of these come across my desk. When the going’s good, the good get going. Usually, it comes in waves like that [Motions hand up and down] so this is just another one of those waves.
Slayers is a vampire film at heart, but it involves a lot of comedy, horror, and a camp style. What stood out to you reading the script the first time?
Well, just that. We had a chance to make a midnight movie. A cult, midnight movie that was a little bit self-aware, but not too self-aware because that becomes goofy. It’s a fine line that you’re treading. It’s like riding the wave, and there’s one good path through it. This script caught that.
Asher is a smart guy. I like his producing. I like the way he put the film together with all the montages. We added the voiceover later. That wasn’t part of the original script, but Asher found that it would make a great frame to have Elliott Jones narrate this whole thing. We had a blast. We got in there, and we’re improving and throwing shit at the wall. Asher took everything that stuck and threw it up there, and I’m pretty proud of the results.
Did you model Elliot after anyone specifically?
That’s a good question. I’m sure that there are influences. I would say Kurt Russell is definitely an influence. Maybe Escape from New York, but other things as well. It’s sort of an amalgamation of just sort of what dropped out. I started with the beard. I was like, “This guy has got to have a big ass beard, and it’s got to have some stoop in it.” He hasn’t combed it in years because that’s not who he was.
He started out as a clean-cut guy, a journalist, and an investigative reporter. After his daughter gets taken by the vampires, he gets into doing a crime show, and the crime show leads him down this path where he discovers this secret conspiratorial world of vampires running the scenes, which is kind of true. [Laughs] So he connected a lot of dots on this.
Are you as harsh on influencer culture, media, and capitalism as your character?
I’d have to say yeah. Influencers don’t have your best interests at heart. They’ve got their best interests at heart. The guys who are good at hiding it are the successful ones. But you got to understand you’re being played. It’s sexy, and it looks cool, and you want to be like that, but you’re being played. It’s all about your pocketbook.
I’m not a fan of social media and that kind of culture. The potential for disease is really strong. [Laughs] I guess you’ve got to balance that kind of stuff with reading a good book, [and] having a good conversation at dinner. That kind of thing. That’s where life happens. The rest of it is we’re getting into this strange world of glass. Everybody’s behind a glass wall.
The simple things are being taken for granted.
Well, I think so. They’re also being commodified so you can’t turn around. Somebody will make a commercial about what you just said, the simple things. It’s strange, and it’s changing us in ways that I’m not too comfortable with.
This marks your second straight collaboration with Asher. What does Asher bring as a collaborator that makes you want to work with him?
He’s got a good sense of humor. He’s not afraid to step out of the box. We’re both interested in how do we bend this in a way so it’s not so straight. I love finding the curves in something so we have that in common. He’s got a pretty good sense of genre. The first movie we did was called Dig. We actually shot Slayers first. That’s where we met. But the first one to come out was Dig, which I did with my daughter, Harlow. That was a really special experience. How many times do you get to work with your kid? We have it as a little time capsule for both of us. We had fun.
In speaking with Asher for the film, he mentioned you were working with his brother-in-law on a comic book.
Yeah, it’s true. I have a comic company called RAW Studios, which is now being folded into my production company, Renegade. For a long time, it was called RAW Studios and we did comics. I loved it. I got to work with some of my heroes and put out some sci-fi books. I think the art is fantastic in the books that we did. I wrote Bad Planet, but I’m not too proud of that. That’s a learning curve, for sure. But the art is great. It’s really worth checking out the graphic novel just for the art. We did a 3D section, and it comes with glasses in the back. I got to exorcise some of those childhood fantasies and also learn a lot about storytelling. We got to make comics.
What comic books did you grow up with that shaped your love for them?
Anything that was not a superhero book. I loved crime comics. I love horror comics. I love a little bit of Western, but mostly crime, horror, and science fiction. I sucked up so much of that. Everything I could get my hands on. Reaching back into the reprints of EC Comics, the high watermark for horror and science fiction back in the ’50s. In fact, EC Comics is the reason why they banned horror comics in the state of New York. To this day, you can not make a horror comic book in the state of New York because of EC comics.
I had no idea.
It was the social commentary that they were bringing to books. I mean these books are for kids. They’re really not. You read them today and you’re like, “This is some sophisticated stuff.” With the social commentary, they were railing on communism, racism, sexism, and all kinds of stuff were folded into their sci-fi and their horror. They got the attention of the government. [Laughs]
Your career spans multiple decades, and you have worked with so many different auteurs. I saw Boogie Nights celebrated its 25th anniversary on October 10. What do you remember from that experience? What was your biggest takeaway?
We were young. It was a lot of our first jobs. It was early in our careers. My takeaway was hanging out with Burt Reynolds. We were all in this house doing that really long Steadicam shot through the house where William H. Macy blows his brains out at the end of it. In between these setups, which were really long and complicated, Burt Reynolds would sit in a big chair. I just remember all the young actors literally sitting on the floor and him telling stories about what it was like to be an actor in the ’50s, running around in New York, auditioning, [and] getting confused with Marlon Brando.
They really looked alike back in the day. You look at a picture of a young Burt Reynolds and you can say, “Yeah, I could see that.” Acting is an oral tradition. It’s passed on from ear to mouth, mouth to ear. It’s passed on from one actor to another. That’s really the only way you can really learn what you’re doing. Those experiences were really meaningful for me. They were cool.
Another film that has taken on a whole new meaning is 61* because of Aaron Judge breaking Maris’s record.
Isn’t that neat?
Yeah. I read that it was one of your favorite experiences shooting a film. Why was that film so special to you?
I had Reggie Smith teach me everything I needed to know about baseball and how to play Mickey Mantle – his swing, how he ran, the way he played, the way he threw. It wasn’t just learning baseball. It was learning “Mantle baseball.” That experience for me was a little bit like a father and a son. Reggie at one point said to me, “You know if your dad had started playing baseball with you when you were four or five years old, you might have been a player. You’ve got that thing that I can’t teach you.” That really meant a lot to me.
It’s way bigger than baseball. There’s a universe folded into that diamond and everything that goes on around it. It’s a very special game, and I see why people love it so much. That was just a great experience, playing baseball and shooting a movie. I love shooting movies and I always have. I love movies. I wanted to be a part of it since I was eight years old, and my dad took me to see Alien. I wanted to do it all my life. For me, every time I’m on set is pretty special. Getting to play baseball and make a movie was a unique experience. I don’t think I’ll ever have anything like it.
Slayers is now in theaters, on digital, and on demand.