If you’re excited to see Thomas Jane popping up in Shane Black movie, you’re not the only one. Turns out the Hung star and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director have been trying to work together for years — Jane even participated in a live-read of Black’s The Nice Guys script back in 2011 (he took on the role ultimately played by Ryan Gosling in the film) — but scheduling issues and the standard minutae of filmmaking kept the pair from ever properly teaming up. Until now.
For The Predator, Jane takes on a key role in the sequel; a member of the so-called “Loonies,” a squad of traumatized war vets working through their PTSD in group therapy when they wind up running head-first into battle with the alien hunters known as Predators. And he was so ready to work with Black after all this time, he signed on for the project sight unseen.
Last year, I had the opportunity to join a group of journalists on the set of The Predator, where we watched them film some acton packed set-pieces and spoke with the cast and crew between takes. Jane was easily, and unsurprisingly, one of the most entertaining and refreshing interviews of the day, answering our questions as candidly as he could without giving too much away. He also discussed how working with Black lived up to his expectations, having the freedom to explore and improv on set, playing a veteran with PTSD, subverting action tropes, the delightful, profanity-laden tale of the first time he saw Alien, and a lot more. It’s a fun read, and you can check out the whole chat below.
Does the [Hawaiian] shirt mean you’re a pilot?
JANE: This? No. One of the guys is a pilot. No, I’m just a Hawaii lover, I guess. I’d rather be in Hawaii. There’s a guy in MASH that always wore a Hawaiian shirt, right?
JANE: I guess this is my tribute to Hawkeye. I used to watch that show [M*A*S*H*] as a kid.
I’m really looking forward to seeing how you fit into the group here. Maybe that’s a good place to start. Can you talk about the dynamic?
JANE: I don’t know. They’re all a bunch of fuckups, don’t ask me! We’re all part of Group 2, which is group therapy at the VA hospital. We’re all there in group and then it was probably Coyle [Keegan-Michael Key] or somebody who flipped out, turned over the coffee machine and caused a ruckus, then the M.P.s came and threw us on the bus, shackled us up and are taking us down to the big hospital where they’re going to lock you up for a few days.
That’s when Boyd gets thrown on the bus with us because he’s seen an alien and they want to cover that shit up. Am I giving away too much? So Boyd and these lunatics end up going on this adventure. We all know each other, except for Boyd, from this group. We’re all from different places, different units, different militaries. There’s Army guys and me and Coyle, who is played by Keegan, are both Marines. We’re the only two guys who were in the same unit together.
We were in the same unit together and there was a friendly fire incident where Coyle opens fire on his own dudes and killed all the guys. There was only one survivor and that one survivor is me. So me and him end up having to go to the inquiry and the military courts and all that shit that you do when an incident like that happens. Through that three-year period, we became friends. It’s a sort of love-hate relationship. “You killed all my guys.” He’s got all the guilt of that and he feels that maybe through this connection with the one survivor he can redeem himself somehow. I go from wanting to kill him in his sleep to realizing he’s the one guy who really understands me.
My character is sort of OCD to begin with, and after that incident it really flowered into full-blown Tourette’s. My character’s got full-blown, hardcore Coprolalia, which makes it interesting, especially on dates and stuff. I don’t get a lot of dates. We all know each other, we’re all vulnerable, we’ve all, at one point or another, cried in that little Group 2 room.
Sounds like a whole lot of character development has gone into your character, which should be a given considering it was written by Fred Dekker and Shane Black.
JANE: You try to work that stuff in, you know?
Was that surprising to you when you first read the script?
JANE: I never read the script. Shane called me up… Shane’s been trying to work with me for a while. We’ve been trying to work together and this was the one I was available for. He said “Hey, I’m doing this movie,” and I said “Great, I’m available. Show me where to be.” A lot of the stuff we came up. I know Shane and Keegan came up with a lot of that backstory themselves the day before I showed up. They laid that on me and I said, “Fuck, that’s great! I got nothin’ to add to that. That’s brilliant, let’s roll with that!”
We try to weave that stuff into the story. Of course, that’s the art of making movies, trying to create these stories and weave them in while keeping the train moving forward at all times. That’s not an easy job. Every day we’re trying to figure out how build stuff in that connects us all otherwise you just got a bunch of guys shooting guns at fuckin’ green people. That gets pretty old.
What is your character’s reaction when he first encounters a Predator?
JANE: We actually haven’t shot that scene yet, so I don’t know, but that’s coming up. There’s a lot of fun to be had with The Loonies seeing aliens. We definitely hit that beat. We know we want to have fun with it. The trick is to inject the wit into the story without getting silly with it and at the same time create the characters so you feel something for these guys. We want you to have fun with them so they feel like real characters.
There are all these tropes. We’ve seen those movies where you get a group of guys together and there’s the tough lesbian with the big gun, there’s the black guy who always gets killed halfway through… those tropes that we roll through. We try to play against that where we can or use that where we can, but also try to bring a level of depth to it. All these actors are really good. Shane gathered together a good group of guys who can really bring something to the table. I knew it was going to be that.
You’re a big horror/sci-fi devotee. Do you remember your reaction upon seeing the original?
JANE: Predator hit me at the perfect time. Me and my buddies were 13. It was a bullseye. That and Terminator, RoboCop… that was our time. Those movies hit us hard. They were really strong films. I don’t know if you guys remember this, but when Predator came out there was none of that shit in the fuckin’ trailer. It was like a war movie. It was called Predator and you just kind of went and saw it. There wasn’t any internet or nothin’ like that. You friends just go “Dude, you gotta go see it.” They didn’t give it away for you because people respected that back in the day. There was no such thing as a “spoiler alert,” you know? It was pretty badass, I gotta tell you. It was a great time.
My parents took me, because we didn’t have money for a babysitter, to see Alien when I was 8. My dad was like “Bring him along. What the fuck, it’s a movie.” He’d get me in for free. “He’s retarded, he doesn’t need a ticket. He won’t understand anything anyway.” “He’s adopted, he’s from Germany and doesn’t speak any English. Don’t charge him.”
So, I’d sit there when I was 8 years old, man. I had no idea. We went on opening day. I remember standing in line… we went to the second show. The first show got out and we’re standing in line and all we knew was this green egg that said “Alien.” Is it a comedy? We had no fuckin’ clue what this movie was. And these people were walking out and they just looked kind of pale. You know when you’re 8 you see things that adults just don’t see. I’m looking at these people and they look weird, eyes glazed over and looking pale walking out kind of quiet. I’m like “What the fuck is this, man?”
Then we sit down and the music starts… Oh, and we’re in downtown Washington, DC in a wrap-around Cinerama Dome style and then one bar shows up way over there and then another one… I’ll never forget that. When the chestburster came out my mom had a big Coke and she threw it on the person behind her and that person didn’t get up and leave! I’ll never forget that. True story, true story.
So, yeah, I was pretty captivated by all that stuff, so it was pretty neat when I got to call up my buddy Sean Walker, who was my buddy when we were 13, and say “Hey, man. Guess what I’m doing?” That was cool.
You said you’ve been trying to work with Shane Black for a while. I’m curious, what is the draw for you to work on a Shane Black movie?
JANE: Well, I heard he was just a real pain in the ass to work with and I love pain in the ass directors. They really challenge you, they tell it like it is. If it sucks they tell you it sucks. But that’s not Shane at all. He’s got a great sense of humor.