Thomas Jane – 20 years ago he was the punisher


June 2004 By Philip Berk

Five years ago he was called the next big thing about to happen.

It didn’t, and it’s not likely to if Thomas Jane keeps changing his mind about what we should call him.

He was born Thomas Elliot, but when he came to Hollywood, he wasn’t able to use that name because someone in the Screen Actors Guild had preempted it.

So he used his mother’s maiden name.

In the course of the twenty years he’s been acting (he started at sixteen) he’s gone from Thomas Elliott to Tom Janes (for a role in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) to Tom Elliot (in At Ground Zero) to Tom Jane (in The Crow) finally settling on Thomas Jane in films such as Deep Blue Sea, Dreamcatcher, and 61

At his press conference for his latest, The Punisher, I ask him about the name changes, and all he can talk about is the stuntman who preempted his name.

“As a kid I used to look for his name on the screen,” he tells me.

So imagine my shock when a week later, the film opens in L.A. and the ads read, Tom Jane as The Punisher!

Obviously the studio doesn’t consider Thomas Jane appropriate for an actor playing a comic-strip hero, which is what he plays in The Punisher.

The film is a huge crowdpleaser, and in it he’s so buffed up, he’s almost unrecognizable.

That is, on screen.

Off screen he’s back to his normal size.

How come? I ask him.

“Once the paycheck stops coming, I stop going to the gym. It’s pretty cut and dried,” he replies.

It didn’t inspire him to change his image?

“That kind of physical conditioning is not something I’m interested in. If there’s a goal involved like portraying a character, if it’s for something that’s bigger than me, then I can get into that for myself. But truthfully, it’s not exciting for me to stay in that kind of shape, although my wife certainly enjoyed it at the time. She asked me, ‘Why did you stop going to the gym?’  I said, ‘Well, the checks stopped coming,’ and she said, ‘I’ll write you the check right now.”

And so will a lot of young girls, I tell him.

Once he takes off his shirt in the movie, hearts begin pounding — he looks that good.

So how much training was involved?

Jokingly he replies, “There was a lot of punishment involved in becoming the Punisher. I worked out twice a day for five months. I was on a very specific (high protein liquid) diet and regimen. I also had a couple of Navy SEALS training me, working on weapons training, hand to hand combat, one man military incursions. They were there every step of the way. They informed the character in a very physical way. It was a pain in  the ass, but there was a great pay-off in the end.”

Is it true he turned down the part?

“I never imagined myself playing a superhero or someone with extra human capabilities. It wasn’t something I could relate to; so I turned it down. But after Marvel (the comics and co-producers of the film) explained to me that he was just a normal, regular guy who had to rely on his God-given talents and his wits to overcome his opponents, it became more appealing to me. So I revisited the script and did some research into the comic book and found that it had a lot in common with what inspired me to want to be an actor. I always revered the films of Lee Marvin and Robert Mitchum and Charles Bronson and particularly the spaghetti westerns of Clint Eastwood. They were the movies that stuck with me as a kid and the reason why I wanted to get into this business. So I saw it as a great opportunity for me to contribute to a genre that I love so much.”

Did he feel a connection to the character of Frank Charles?

“I’ve certainly wanted to kill people from time to time, the guy who’s cut me off in traffic, people ahead if me in line at the bank. I’ve wanted to strangle my dentist a few times,” he jokes, but then seriously he continues, “I identified with his human side because he’s a devoted father and loving husband and he’s very devoted to his job.”

Is he able to turn the other cheek, or like Frank does he demand retribution?

“It depends on the day of the week. I feel a lot better at night when I go to bed and I’m not obsessing about killing people.  But there are days when my more vengeful side is definitely winning the battle.  But if someone hurt my family or me in any way, I would buy a gun and go and hurt or maim and even kill them because it’s human nature to protect the ones we love. That’s a powerful instinct, and this film I believe taps into a primordial nature in all of us.”

But don’t get him wrong, he’s not the vigilante type. 

He’s as sweet and gentle as he appears in most of his films, and his personal life attests to that.

When he talks about his family, of course he’s referring to actress Patricia Arquette, who’s the mother of his thirteen-month-old daughter Harlow.

I tell him that Patricia had brought her to a press conference (for Human Nature) when she was less than two weeks old, and because she looked so small, I thought she was premature.

“She’s doing great now,” he reassures me. “She was exactly seven pounds when she came out, which I felt was a sign from Mickey Mantle. His number was 7 and Harlow was 7 pounds on the dot;  so I felt it was a sign from Mick telling me, ‘Good job!”

Of course he played the baseball legend in the TV movie 61, which was his first big break.

The Punisher, however, will make him a star!

He refers to Patricia as his wife, but they’re not married. Can he explain?

“If I’ve had a baby with a woman, that’s as good as being married. We’re still engaged, and we haven’t actually tied the knot in a legal sense. But I certainly consider her my wife, and I hope she considers herself my wife.”

Becoming a father, what was that like?

“An incredible, incredible experience. It’s part of your blood, and you start to realize the role genetics plays. I see pieces of myself, of my father and mother, I see Patricia’s brothers in her. I see pieces of Patricia. It’s an incredible mystery, nature vs. nurture, and how a person is created. So it’s been an amazing journey.”

And is he a doting dad? 

“I am just blown away by my little girl. I love her with all my heart. It’s something every man should experience. Having a baby with someone you love is an irreplaceable part of human experience.”

Patricia is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever interviewed. How did he get so lucky? 

“I’m a very, very lucky man. She’s had a huge influence on me and and on my life. She’s made me a better man, so could you ask for more?”

How did they meet?

“At her best friend’s wedding,”

Was it love at first sight?

“For me it was. I had to ask her out a couple of times. She said no, but I just wore her down, wouldn’t let her out my life.”

Will they ever get married?


But it’s not important?

“Personally I could stay engaged for the rest of my life and be just as happy knowing that she is the mother of my child, and in that way she’ll always be very close to me.”

I remind him he was engaged twice before!

Ignoring my comment, he continues, “But for Harlow’s sake it’s nice for us to be married. Sometimes you do things for other people. I can’t wait to get married plus I want a big party.”

Will he wait until Harlow is old enough to be the flower girl?

“Oh, no, the only reason we haven’t done it is because we haven’t had the time. That’s one of the pitfalls of this business, to find the time when both our schedules come together long enough to plan the thing and invite everybody.  But it’ll happen on God’s time.” 

His costar in The Punisher,  Rebecca Romjin-Stamos (will she drop the Stamos now that she and John  have separated) claims he was in character throughout the filming of the movie and even the first time they met.

“Oh, yeah?” he asks incredulously.

“There’s definitely a part of Frank Castle that bled into my daily life. Playing a guy that’s been through that much, it’s hard not to let it affect you, and it definitely had an impact on my personal life. It was not an easy part to play. I wasn’t the most fun to be around on the set.”

So did he take the character home at night?

“I could let it go, but he was there waiting for me right over my bed when I woke up in the morning.”

Before 61, Thomas had done a number of interesting independent movies; but  recently he’s been seen in a number of studio movies he’d rather forget.

Where does he see his career going?

“I’ve always considered myself a character actor, and I’d be happy playing character roles the rest of my life. I’ve had opportunities to play leads in some films  and I’ve got attention for that which led to this film. But I consider all that  training ground and preparation for the kind of  roles I’d like to play.”

Such as?

“Characters with two diametrical forces inside them like Neal Cassidy, Mickey Mantle, Andre Stander (in his next movie), even Frank Castle.”

Did he have to audition for the role?

“People seem to  think you get to a place in your career where movies start coming to you. That may have been the case at one time, but now there’s so much competition, no matter what level you’re at, there always six or seven people vying for the same part.”

Did he discuss this with (his costar John) Travolta?

“John was incredibly gracious. He’s a collaborator; he shows up, he gives everything, he’s creative, has lots of idea, and a childlike love of his craft. He’s also a wonderful man. He called me after he saw the film and spent half an hour on the phone talking about how much he loved me in that kind of role, just giving me advice. so generous, so gracious.” 

The studio has already announced a sequel. Will he remain a loner in that?

“Frank is such a fascinating character in terms of his struggle to become human again. In the first one, he was a damaged individual, and in the next his retreat from society could become totally apocalyptic; so someone will have to try and pull him back. As human beings it’s instinctive that we reach out and connect to others. There needs to be a sense of healing. That struggle within Frank is definitely a territory that needs to be explored.”

When will they start shooting?

“I’ve heard it could start as early as November,  but a more realistic date would be some time early next year.”

Growing up, was he the type of kid that would pick a fight?

“I was a little crazy as a kid. I used to get into fights. I’m not proud of it.  I was an angry kid. I had a lot of problems. I’m much better now.”

Luckily when he was sixteen he was whisked off to India to do one of the early Bollywood movies. 

That must have been quite a culture shock?

“I don’t think I’d ever been out of my home state of Maryland before.”

While still in high school, he was discovered by two Indian producers who were looking for a fair haired young man to star in a Romeo and Juliet inspired love story that was to be shot in Madras, India.

It changed the course of his life even though he returned to the States after its completion, 

Does he still keep in touch?

“I used to get calls from India, very strange phone calls. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but obviously they were very excited to talk to me. But Patricia dug out the movies — she found them on-line —  and we had Indian food and invited all my friends and embarrassed the hell out of me. I’d love to go back there because I had such a fantastic time. It not only changed my life, it opened up my horizons and broadened my scope of what it was to be a human being on the planet. So for me it was a fantastic experience.”

Because he never completed high school, did he ever think of going back? 

“I don’t think much of the public education system so have no interest in going back to high school.”

It took him six months to build his body. How long did it take to lose it?

“Six day.”

Doesn’t he miss it?

“My wife does.”

Didn’t he enjoy it while it lasted?

“I guess there’s a certain satisfaction in putting in that kind of work and seeing those kinds of results. It’s much like the work ethic I’ve been taught. But do I miss it?  No, although it gave you a sense of satisfaction when you looked in the mirror in the morning.”

For the record he lives in Los Angeles, and his daughter’s full name is Harlow Olivia Calliope Jane.

No Arquette?

“She can be an Arquette if she wants,” he replies.