It started off like any normal Friday. My boss at the station was running around like a chicken with its head cut off for no apparent reason, as usual, so I had to take care of my workload and his to make sure upper-management didn’t come down on us like a ton of bricks, or the ones they have in their heads anyway. I was just about to take a late lunch after cutting up some audio when I noticed a new message in my inbox. It was an opportunity, an opportunity to speak with a man who punished people, or at least played one in the movies.
A rare window had opened up for a phone interview with Ray Stevenson, the star of “Punisher: Warzone”, coming out on DVD and Blu-ray on March 17th, 2009. I had mere moments to locate an open studio, get back to Ray’s people, and set this baby up. After bribing some unknowing intern with my lunch to get out of the studio she was using, I grabbed my headphones, and made the necessary calls to make my claim for the interview. An hour later, my Friday was forever changed as I sat down to speak with the man who had become the Punisher. Here is our conversation.
Ray Carsillo (Collider): I have the pleasure of talking with right now a man, you may know him from Punisher: Warzone or you may know him from HBO’s Rome and he has a few other projects coming up. Ray Stevenson, how you doing today?
Ray Stevenson: I’m doing great, thank you.
We are a little pressed for time so we are going to get right into it if you don’t mind.
RS: Not at all sir.
Alright, of course it is all about the Punisher: Warzone coming out on DVD. You’re the third man to take on the role of the Punisher, what do you think you did to differentiate yourself from the two men who took the role before you?
RS: Alright, well, off the top of the bat I would think I was taller. But in all seriousness, we did a complete re-imagining and what we’ve done with this one is basically we’ve not pulled our punches in any way. We went very specific along the MAX series from Garth Ennis’ writing, that world that was created in the color and texture of the writing and everything. That is what we committed to and we were allowed to play this character out to the fullest. He is a violent man doing violent things to violent people and we didn’t shy away from it, which I loved about the writing of it. It was one of my biggest draws that the writing didn’t pull any punches and didn’t shy away from the real moral issues that were bring brought up.
Were you familiar with the comic book or the previous movies? Were you familiar with the Punisher’s canon considering it is one of Marvel’s most storied characters with his origins in the 1970s in the Amazing Spider-Man comics?
RS: No, I wasn’t actually. I came completely fresh to it and then had the opportunity to immerse myself within the whole canon of his works. Thankfully we weren’t doing the blue spandex and red bandana version. It’d just be different movie. But you’re right, he was brought in as an assassin to take out Spider-Man. I mean good grief, that’s one way to make friends and influence people. But when it got to the MAX series, I think he found his own skin, as it were, and it did incredible things for the character and a mine of back stories and information and character work and issues that weren’t being shied away from and it was tremendous, a tremendous process.
What did you have to go through physically to prepare for this role? Like you said, he’s a violent man doing violent things, so what did you have to do to prepare for that aspect of the role?
RS: Well, I’m not a natural gym person myself, anyway. In fact, incidentally, the guy I was training with, a wonderful guy called Pat Johnson, is not a fan of gyms or weights or stuff like that. We did a lot of endurance work, which paid off because we had six months of night shoots in Montreal’s winter and we also did a lot of body weight resistances like push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, that sort of thing, in a regular routine. Then when the sun went down a bit and cooled off, this was while in the valley, in L.A., we then did our fight training, hand-to-hand combat, coordination skills, and all that. Pretty much ran that as a routine. And that’s what paid off. Then on weekends I’d be doing weapons awareness with Force Recon guys and Marines to make it look second nature for Frank and it’s about his training. The great thing is that he isn’t a superhero. He’s like an anti-hero. Bullets do not bounce off Frank. What he brings is his training, his attitude, and his aptitude. That’s one of the great things that really intrigued me about the character.
How was it working with those Force Recon guys and really getting hands on with those weapons?
RS: It was great. It was humbling at times because these guys have actually been in action. Many, I mean hundreds, of missions. They’re not all gung ho and hoo-hah and here’s a bigger gun than the last one. It really is about Frank being the weapon. The guy is the weapon. Frank himself, Frank Castle, was ex-Force Recon in the storyline, deep-cover and totally professional. And the weapon awareness is there, but the man is ultimately the weapon. You’ve got long-range weapons, short-range weapons, close-quarter weapons, and then ultimately it’s you. And so we did a lot of working on the mental state. They were thrilled with the fact that we wanted to do all the magazine changes on the various assault rifles and pistols. We don’t have these magic pistols that don’t run out of bullets. They always do run out. So we worked on that and worked on some set pieces. Just a lot of weapon awareness or when you’re in a hot environment and being aware of that, which again really helped because sometimes we were working in tight confines of building structures and you’ve got a load of stunt guys, who were brilliant, but were all firing fully charged blanks and if you happen to be within 10 feet of that, it could damage you, blind you, or possibly kill you. So you have to be completely aware and when you’re working at night at three, four, five in the morning, you start getting tired and that degree of training kicks in and the alertness and the awareness and you bring it to your everyday decisions. He is drawing on his military experience and training.
We talked about the canon of the Punisher so there is a lot of room possibly for a sequel. If it happened, how willing would you be to reprise your role as Frank Castle, the Punisher?
RS: I would have to be thrilled because I think we went places in there. We gave the fans exactly what I think they deserved, they deserved the MAX series on screen. We did that, we drew directly from the lexicon of the MAX series itself. I think there’s a huge potential because he doesn’t shy away from these real moral issues. He’s not judge, jury, and executioner, he’s just executioner. I think there are a tremendous amount of places that Frank can go and we can raise these issues up and play them out on the screen. I think there’s a major potential future for Frank. There’s a future definitely for that skull. I think it is one of the most potent and identifiable logos ever around. I’m sick to death of skull and crossbones. It’s about time to get a Punisher skull emblazoned across the world.
There ya go.
RS: Yeah definitely. Get this, I was on a plane once and I was watching an episode of the Simpsons and Bart is getting in with some of the rougher, older boys at the school. Three ne’er do well lads with beanies and long hair and one of them is wearing a black t-shirt with a kind of cartoony white skull on the black shirt and I went “Oh my word! The Punisher’s in the Simpsons!” I just have a strong affinity for this character and there is a tremendous potential for where it can go and what issues he can actually raise up and entertain. I think there is great entertainment to be had there.
Since we’re on the subject of role reprisals, there are a lot of rumors out on the internet about a Rome movie possibly, a script being in the works?
RS: Well, yeah, I think ever since the series got pulled and people threw their arms up in the air and then HBO realized, oops, we made a mistake when they got the figures back worldwide and that it was a hugely popular series. But the decision was made and what have you, but since then there’s always been a sort of smoke and mirrors rumor that maybe, maybe not, maybe. But I am happy to say that a script has been commissioned and developed. That said, that’s the first major part of a complex process, but Bruno Heller is, I’ve heard, dialing a script up and he was the principal script writer for Rome and so that would be, it would just be hilarious to being Pullo back. As if he ever went away.
Right, exactly. Now what else are you working on. I’ve heard about The Book of Eli? An apocalyptic western? Can you tell me a bit about this?
RS: That’s it exactly. Yeah. I’m actually in New Mexico now shooting this movie with the great Denzel Washington, who is a sheer delight to work with and Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis, and Tom Waits is in it. We’ve got a tremendous cast and it’s the Hughes Brothers, Alan and Albert Hughes are directing it, and it’s set 30 years after a nuclear holocaust has effectively almost completely decimated the planet and are you left with the last dregs of the human race or the new wellspring from which the new society can be born? It looks amazing. It really does look amazing and I’m just delighted to be part of it. Really am.
Ray I really want to thank you for talking with me today. It has been a pleasure.
RS: No worries.
I hope that you guys end up making a second Punisher because I really enjoyed Warzone and we’ll be sure to look for the Book of Eli when it comes out.
RS: Thanks. Oh, there’s also Cirque de Freak. You can see my trailer as a long-haired vampire. It’s coming out in the fall. That was shot in New Orleans. That’s a great romp. And it’s actually PG. One of the few PG things I do, but that‘s going to be very exciting. Coming out in the fall, Cirque de Freak.
Nice, I’ll be sure to mark it on the calendar. Ray, thank you so much.
RS: Alright, thank you. Take care.