The indie thriller Standoff shows what happens when an assassin chases his mark into the house of a man who turns out to be much more than he first appears. Carter (Thomas Jane) is struggling with the recent death of his young son and has turned to alcohol and isolation to cope. So, when a 12-year-old girl known as Bird (Ella Ballentine) shows up on his doorstep with the ruthless Sade (Laurence Fishburne) following right behind, suspense builds as Carter becomes more and more determined not to hand her over.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Thomas Jane talked about why he wanted to be a part of Standoff, working with Laurence Fishburne, the importance of sharing the same vision with your director, what makes a successful project for him, his approach to finding a character, why he’s so enjoyed making the Syfy series The Expanse (which has already been renewed for Season 2), and his desire to direct more.
Before getting to the interview, here’s an exclusive clip from the film:
Collider: What was it about this project that really appealed to you? Did you see something in the character that you wanted to explore, or was it the fact that you would be sharing all of your screen time with Laurence Fishburne?
THOMAS JANE: Yeah, it was a two-hander and I liked that it would just be me and Laurence in a house. That’s always really fun for an actor. When Laurence was interested, it became an easy, “Yes.” So, I went up to Canada and made the movie. It was an interesting little script, and it was like working with jazz musicians, where it’s people you admire and you like their groove and you want to play with them for a little bit. That’s what this kind of thing is about. It’s very fun. It was fun for me.
When you read it, did you know that it would be Laurence Fishburne that you were working with, or did you want to find out who the other actor would be?
JANE: When I read it, I knew that Laurence was reading it, but didn’t know if he was going to do it. I read it and said, “This could be fun with the right guy to act with.”
Do you like to meet with your director before signing on, to make sure that you share the same vision for what’s on the page?
JANE: Sharing the same vision for what’s on the page is always a good idea. The director’s job is to establish what that is and make sure that everyone sticks to it when it comes down to actually executing it. Establishing what the vision is and being able to stick to it is the job, and everyone should be on the same page, going in. With that said, first-time director or not, you never know what you’re going to get. Great directors turn in mediocre work and first-time directors turn in exceptional work. No matter how good a person can talk about what he wants, you never know. You just have to go with a good story and a script that you like and people that you like to work with.
As the actor, you can’t control what the finished product of any project ultimately turns out to be and you can’t control the box office of it, what makes a successful project for you?
JANE: It’s the work that you’re able to do. We’re in the doing business, or acting business and creating business. We’re not in the results business, so we don’t have any control over what the result is. My reward comes in the doing of it. Charlie Parker’s thing was inside of the note. He lived inside of the note. He didn’t have a Charlie Parker collection of albums that he put on his wall. He was living inside the actual notes he was playing, when he was playing them. And I think that’s true for a lot of artists.
What was it like trading those moments back and forth with Laurence Fishburne? Did you stick pretty close to the script, or did you get the opportunity to play off of each other?
JANE: Yeah, we were there playing off of each other the whole time. Some days, I would come in and just be off camera all day because they’d be downstairs shooting Laurence. And then, on other days, Laurence would be off camera, all day, just playing to me while they were shooting upstairs. It was interesting, in that respect. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before, where you’d show up to work and not have to get into make-up or wardrobe because you were there to support the other actor. That was your job that day, but that was fun.
How was it to have the young actress, Ella Ballentine, there, as well?
JANE: She was pretty wonderful. She was fun, too.
This is an intense movie without too many quiet moments. What was the atmosphere like on set? Do you like to stay focused on the character, or do you prefer to keep things light?
JANE: That depends on the job and what’s required on the day. Some days are more intense and quiet, and then other days, you feel more relaxed and are able to open up on set. It just depends on what you’re doing that day. I like to imagine that all the choices you make during the day that you’re doing a particular scene are going to feed into the creation of that scene. It’s not a movie-by-movie or a part-by-part basis. It’s a day-by-day thing, and sometimes an hour-by-hour thing.
You’re all over the map with the types of roles that you do and the genres that you work in, and you do film and television. Is your approach to creating and playing a character always the same, or does that vary with each thing you do?
JANE: Most actors have a process that they can go through, that they rely on, or that they’ve discovered, and that can evolve from project to project. With me, I don’t like to stick to one formula. That gets boring. I get bored, so I want to try different ways of getting inside something. But if there’s anything consistent with the way that I approach a part, that would be a woman named Penny Allen, who has been my acting coach for over 20 years. Penny is one of the greats. She’s a member of the Actors Studio and is one of the old school actors. She acted with Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. She’s one of the old school ‘70s, hardcore actors. She’s been the coach to a lot of great actors, directors and writers, over the years. I was fortunate enough to find Penny when I first started getting roles in film, in Hollywood in the mid-‘90s. Anyway, Penny is pretty sick right now. She’s got cancer. I’ve been thinking about her lately, and there’s been a lot of love and outpouring for her. She’s going to be missed. I’m not really sure what I’m going to do when she’s gone. There used to be a community of professionals that would get together, work together and help each other. The Actors Studio is still around, but it used to be a lot more vibrant and integral to theater and film in Hollywood. Things are changing. I don’t know if that community will ever come back. I do know that people tend to do their best work when they’re challenged and stimulated by their peers.
Congratulations on the success of your Syfy series The Expanse and the Season 2 pick-up. What have you most enjoyed about playing that character?
JANE: I love that kind of character. First of all, anything that has to do with noir and space, I’m gonna love. When you’ve got a noir-ish, pulpy detective in a science fiction show, I’m all in, in that regard. I really love that storyline and I love that character. I had a blast creating him and playing him. We’ve got Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, who wrote Children of Men and Iron Man, writing the script for us, which has been great. I love working with those guys. That’s a really fun part for me. I’m glad people like it.
When you do a show like that, does it feel very challenging to pull off what you’re trying to accomplish on a TV show with a TV budget, or do you only focus on your performance and not think about the effects or the things that come later?
JANE: I’m just there to do what I do. It’s nice that they put the money into it and hired some really great guys to do the effects and make everything look great. They built some incredible sets that we get to utilize. That made my job a lot easier. I didn’t do any acting against a blue screen. There’s very little blue screen stuff. Most of it was all on a real stage with real sets and real props. I loved it. We had great designers. Creating a world in a sci-fi show is almost the whole battle. If you have a great story and you can create a great world, as far as the acting goes, it makes my job a whole lot easier. That was a really fun one. I’m excited to go back. I think we’re going back in April to shoot it.
Have you had conversations yet about where Season 2 will go, or are you anxiously waiting to hear about that?
JANE: I’ve got a general idea how things are going and I can’t wait. I’m excited.
JANE: I could direct. Television is kind of restrictive in its directing, but it would be nice to get some chops doing TV. I wrote a Western a couple years ago, and I’ve been trying to get that off the ground for a couple years. We’ve got a great producer, named Jason Berman, who just sold the Nate Parker movie (The Birth of a Nation) at Sundance for a record number. It’s nice that we have a terrific producer on board, and it looks like we’ll get the money to shoot that, hopefully in the fall. I’m going to go back behind the camera. I’m not going to star in it or anything. I’m really looking forward to that. I’ve been itching to get back behind the camera for a long time. I’ve spent a long time perfecting the script and making it the best I can. I’m very proud of the script that we’ve got. It’s exciting. It’s been attracting some good people, like Jason Berman, and some terrific actors are interested in it. It’s going to be fun. If I have things my way, over the next few years, I’m going to be doing a lot more directing and a lot less acting. That will be fun for a while.
What’s the Western called?
JANE: It’s called A Magnificent Death from a Shattered Hand. It’s got a long title. I don’t know if that’s the title we’ll end up with, but that’s the title it has now. It’s written by a guy named Jose Prendes. I love the title, but people don’t want to have to translate that into French or Spanish. But, we’ll see.
Standoff is currently in theaters, On Demand and on DirecTV.