Bruce Boxleitner Interview: Area 51
Gabe gets a friend to interview Tron himself about this After Dark original...
That is correct, Boxleitner was the young actor that portrayed Tron, in the movie that went by the same name, along with its more recent sequel Tron: Legacy. He also played Tron’s human counterpart, Alan Bradley, in both films, sans tights and computer augmentation. But even if you aren’t recalling his name off the top of your head, Boxleitner is no one-Tron pony, he’s actually had a long, occasionally even illustrious career, including appearances on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Hawaii Five-O, Gunsmoke, Tales from the Crypt, Chuck. Heroes, and long stints on the popular science fiction series Babylon Five, where he played Capt. John J. Sheridan, and Scarecrow and Mrs. King, where he played Lee "Scarecrow" Stetson.
Boxleitner’s latest film is an After Dark Originals production entitled 51, or Area 51, depending on source. Before its DVD release through Lionsgate Studios, 51 premiered on the SyFy channel. This should give you an indication of what kind of film to expect from director Jason Connery, and his modest budget. Assuming you know what you’re getting into, 51 is a pleasant surprise – a silly, fun sci-fi/horror hybrid that stands above the usual made-for-SyFy rabble thanks to old-school practical effects, more graphic than expected bouts of violence, and likeable characters. Boxleitner plays Col. Martin, a gruff veteren of Area 51 tasked with giving a pair of popular reporters (John Shea and Vanessa Branch) a tour of the secretive base. While Martin puts on a brave face, and shows off a handful of the military’s less extraterrestrial Area 51 projects, including mostly weapons and survalence equipment, some of the super secret alien residents hidden below the surface escape, and a bloody battle for survival ensues.
Along with this new release comes the press coverage, and the chance for cast and crew interviews, which is where I come in. Though I suffer an acute allergy to interviewing filmmakers and actors (I tend to break into cold sweats, and suffer shortness of breath, along with fits of stammering), I agreed to talk with the man himself.
You might assume I’m just bluffing my way through this Boxleitner crash course based on wikipedia and imdb.com, and normally you’d be right. But I actually knew a thing or two about Bruce before this interview ever came my way. This is thanks to my good friend Jena, who is an unequivocal fan of Boxleitner and his work. My friendship with Jena mostly revolves around meeting up for what I like to call cultural exchanges. We take turns showing off our favourite movies and television shows, in an ever expanding effort to broaden one another’s cultural palette. I introduced her to Dario Argento, Deadwood and Jeffery Combs (among other things). She introduced me to Deep Space Nine, Supernatural and Bruce Boxleitener (among other things). The Boxleitener collection, much of which is still not available on US DVD, has been quite fun to gather, and our efforts have exhumed some real diamonds in the rough, including The Baltimore Bullet (co-staring James Coburn), Aces 'N' Eights, Louis L'Amour's Down the Long Hills, and Contagion (2002). This last has been the Holy Grail of the collection thus far, as it stars both Boxleitner and Jeffery Combs.
When Jena says Boxleitner is her favourite actor she means it. She doesn’t say it with the blasé obtuseness of the man on the street that claims Al Pacino is his favourite actor simply because it sounded like the best answer to the question. She says it with utter sincerity. She was on her way to my house for the express purpose of watching episodes from Boxleitner’s popular sit-com/spy series Scarecrow and Mrs. King with me (as someone hardwired to hate almost all television from the 1980s, the fact that I’m more than willing to watch the show should speak to its quality), when I got two pieces of vital information – 1. I would be interviewing Boxleitner in two days, and 2. I had a family emergency that was likely going to require my attention.
So I did what any friend would do: I sprung the situation on Jena, and asked her to do the interview in my stead. Fortunately for everyone involved, including me, her, Bruce, the filmmakers, the marketing people, and most importantly, you, the reader, Jena is much better at this than I am.
What follows is the transcript of that interview, with the questions in bold.
Jena: I am actually standing in for a friend, so I have some questions I'm supposed to ask for him, but I have to be shameless and before I actually get into those tell you that… um… you are literally my favorite actor.
Bruce Boxleitner: Oh my god. Of all the actors out there, me?
Full stop. There's not even a close second.
Oh, you're sweet.
When my friend found out he might not be able to do this, he knew if he went to anyone else I would disown him.
That's very sweet of you. Thank you. That's good for me to hear once in a while, out here normally you generally hear the opposite.
I imagine it's kind of a difficult atmosphere.
It is. You want to go where people love you, and… every human being wants to be appreciated. But here they want to tell you the negative first generally, what they don't like. It's a tough outfit out here.
Before I get to the questions I'm supposed to ask, I also really want to know how you managed to finish this movie covered in less blood than the civilians. Because I was really impressed with that.
*Boisterous laughter* I know, it was pretty bloody wasn't it?
The bleeding from the eyes was badass, though.
That was pretty good, wasn't it? Come on, that was good.
It was good.
Yeah, that was… Aliens do strange things to you. *laugh* You know Area 51… This one was just a total lark, and total fun, and ironically I auditioned for this, and I auditioned for the role of the newsman that John Shea played.
Yeah, I came in a suit and tie, and I looked like I'd just stepped off of the afternoon news, behind the desk… or the evening news. And I thought, “Well, that was a lackluster performance”. So I thought nothing of it, and then two days later my agent calls and says "They want you to play the colonel. And you're leaving for Baton Rouge, Louisiana", where we shot the whole thing. Very far away from the Nevada desert, by the way.
Just a little. Yeah.
They did all that stuff when they came back. I didn't get out to the desert at all. I was inside a warehouse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana the entire shoot. And it was fun.
Significantly more firearms than if you'd been the reporter.
That's right. Thank god. Yeah, and [John Shea] hated guns and everything like that, so he didn't get to fire any… Well, he fired blanks when we found out—
Oh yeah! When he wasn't actually the reporter anymore.
He'd been infiltrated, if you want to say. But yeah, John Shea, another… John and I had done a miniseries together, at Universal Studios, back in 1979 or ‘80? Somewhere in that vicinity. And we hadn't really seen each other since then. I think maybe I saw him once in all that time. He lives in New York, and I was predominantly out here, so it was a great reunion, and we just hit it off great again, and you know. Went to the jazz and blues festival in New Orleans one weekend. All of us had a great time.
On the special features, the behind the scenes stuff, there was at least one photo of him covered in, like, colorful beads and necklaces and things.
Yeah, John got into it a little bit, yeah. I may have taken that photo. We had a good time.
Does your genre work help in dealing with special effects, and working with actors in heavy creature make-up, or does that kind of stuff really never come naturally?
Because I've been doing so long I'm just used to it. If I'm not staring at somebody with six hours of prosthetic makeup on, I'm not happy.
As long as it's not me, okay? I've only had to do that maybe once or twice in all the work I've done, but uh… I don't know, I seem to get those projects, typical Hollywood, you know, if you've done anything with a slight modicum of success, they keep coming at you with those things, so. I enjoy them. I wouldn't do them if I didn't enjoy it.
But working with special effects, I think… Once I'd gotten onto Babylon 5, I'd already done Tron, which was the birth of computer graphics. Not a green screen, but a black screen.
And you'll never have less to work with visually than you did on that set, right?
That's right. Exactly. So. I was trained very well by the time I got on Babylon 5. I mean, it was nothing to be fighting a major space battle with a piece of tape on the wall. I did that, hands down.
I will still continue to be impressed. Were you given the chance to improvise at all, shooting the scenes?
In 51? Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, Jason Connery is a wonderful director. He really is. He's the son of Sean Connery, which I was more impressed with. One time he got on the phone with 'dad' and I almost hit the floor. Because I'm a major fan of Sean Connery.
But no, we did. We played with the material. You only have a bare bones in the script for the most part, and everyone tries to make it real. Especially these type of fantastic things, you try to make them as real as possible.
I suppose the more in the moment you can be with that, the better.
Yes, exactly. Especially when you're not actually seeing something. You know? But that's what was marvelous about 51, and my experience working so much with CGI and things that aren't there. What was fun about 51 was the old school approach. It was like the Roger Corman way of doing it. We actually had those things. And they went to great lengths in special effects makeup and animatronics and things like that to create these creatures. It was fun, because it was right there with you. It helps you really get into it, you know? Especially that tall guy with uh, the tall penis-looking guy.
The guy with the arm-stilts? No, no, right, the pink one.
This guy was the thinnest guy. They got this really tall, thin guy. I mean, he was emaciated. He was Ichabod Crane. He was just amazing. And he had to sit in that suit for days.
There was no face! That had to be exhausting!
Horrible! I know! I was just sitting there all the time going, thank god this is not me. God, it's not me. And Louisiana wasn't exactly cold in there. It was hot and sweaty. Fun fun fun.
This is kind of along the same vein, but what's the process behind a production like 51? It said on the special features, there were only fifteen days for shooting.
That's the absolute truth. I think we worked Saturdays as well. We only had one day off. One weekend. We did have a two-day weekend one of them, but yes. We were actually shooting in that amount of time. What did they say, fifteen, or eighteen?
It might've been eighteen, I thought it was fifteen. Either way…
I thought it was more like eighteen, but I could be wrong, too. That doesn't necessarily mean I worked the full eighteen. They started on other things before we got there, you know? Some of the stunts and things like that were done without us. Yeah, that's your standard… A movie of this type of budget, that's just about the way they're done. I mean, any movie for television now is done, some of them are thirteen days. Those are long days. Long, long days. Let me tell you.
Is working on something huge like Tron: Legacy, does that feel kind of like a holiday in comparison, or is that just a different kind of intensity?
Oh my god. Yeah, I mean, that year, when we did 51, I had just come off of Tron [Legacy]. And then actually went back and reshot the whole beginning of Tron [Legacy] after 51.
There's no escaping!
No, there wasn't. I thought Tron [Legacy] would never end.
I feel like I should tell you I'm wearing a Flynn Lives t-shirt right now. I swear it's a coincidence.
But yes, that's true. It's quite amazing. You're absolutely right, you kind of hit it there, it's kind of like this amazing… Because here you are in this big hundred and sixty, whatever it is, two hundred million dollar production, and it's like the size of just the sets and the size of the crews, all the toys you get to work with, all the cameras and booms… Oh my god. And then going to do 51. I enjoy being in both, I really do, because there's great advantages to both, and not having all those toys, and really having to sort of scrabble it together, you know what I'm saying? Like in 51, like I said, the old school makeup and that kind of thing, it was so different, that's what makes it so enjoyable. They couldn't be more different.
I was really surprised watching the special features just how much of, like, I thought there would be more post special effects, but it looked like almost everything was right there already.
Yeah, and that's what he wanted, too. That's what they wanted. I mean, it could've gone that way, but I think in the horror genre it's a harder thing to pull off. You really need to have it there. It makes you sit deeper in your seat going, "Oh god, don't go in that room! Don't walk through the room!" I love it when you sit in the theater and people are shouting out, "Don't open the door!" But then they do. It's fun, the genre. You can't read anything really realistic into it. Area 51, they may have the aliens from 1947 or they may not. But we want to believe that they do, right?
I enjoy that it's plausible.
Yes! Me too! But I don't really want to know. That would scare the crap out of me.
Actually, that's the next question right here on my list is, what is your opinion on the real life Area 51? Because you kind of got into this on the special features, but—
What did I say? *laugh*
You know, it was very deliberately vague. Artfully done.
Well. Good. Yes. And that's what I will continue to be. Um, no, I think probably… I don't think I've changed much about it. What we don't know is probably better. *laugh* We're probably better off for not knowing. I think there are secrets that should remain that way.
Area 51 is just a place probably where we have to do our most highly secret development of technologies, and for many, many reasons, and that's why we'll probably always have it. I think we want to read sinister things into it, but I think it's probably a place where people go to work. And they're scientists, and technicians, and that's how we have stealth technology, various things of communication, things that are being developed. That's probably what's really going on. They probably have a big laugh over there, you realize that. Everyone thinks they're crawling with Martians and stuff like that, but they're just people that show up and go to work every day.
I kind of like this thought of them showing up and occasionally just being really bored. Like everyone else is bored at work sometimes.
They're probably sitting there going, "I can't wait, is it Friday yet? I want to go home for the weekend."
Or someone's in the corner on their smart phone finding random things on the internet about Area 51, snickering and going, "Guys, check out this one!"
Oh, I'm sure they are. I'm sure they're having the biggest laugh. Can you imagine? The people who work there probably go, “This is so cool.” And like a lot of industries, they're not allowed to go out and disclose everything that they do. There's industrial espionage, constantly.
And contract upon contract saying don't. Tell. Anyone.
That's right. Because that's what it's like working at Disney. Oh, I'm serious! It's true! You're not allowed to talk about things. When we were making the movie Tron [Legacy], I wasn't allowed to talk about anything.
How many papers did they make you sign saying you wouldn't?
Oh, they need one paper. One very important paper.
That's got to be so hard. Not talking about the stuff you're immediately working on?
Well, I'm working on, I've got a recurring role on a show for ABC right now. It's called Good Christian Belles, it was based on a book called "Good Christian Bitches".
I see they had to retitle that.
Yeah, maybe for HBO, but not ABC, okay? But a great cast, really funny, hilarious. Kristin Chenoweth, and Annie Potts, and David James Elliott, a whole bunch of people, huge cast. But that's about all I can tell you. Because I think it will be on probably January, it's probably midseason. But I'm having a ball, because it's a very comedic role. Something I am never given.
Excellent. I appreciate you in serious hardass roles, but I have to say that the humor, when they let you do it? It kills me.
Well thank you. This is too funny. But anyway, it's ABC, and you get your script pages and there's your name. Printed in large type across the page. They find any pages on eBay, your name's gonna be on it, okay.
Oh yeah, they know damn well. And that's why. Because of all the social media, everything gets leaked out. And people sell things, and they leak things out way before you want, and movies, certainly the music industry has suffered from that. Movies, everything's bootlegged and what-have-you. It's out before it hits the theaters. It's not unusual to have to sign documents that say you will not talk about or disclose until a certain time, when it's good for the project.
Area 51, they never had that clause. The Christian Belles? That's all over the place already. It's like Desperate Housewives meets Dallas. It's a very funny piece. Very fun. Very satirical, dramady, I don't know what the heck you'd call it. I'm having fun, what the heck.
I am kind of a sucker for sitcoms, but the friend I'm standing in for… sitcoms aren't really his thing. (Gabe’s note: No, they really aren’t, Community and Modern Family notwithstanding.)
They're not really mine, either. I don't find a lot of them funny. It's like I've gotta be provoked by canned laughter or an audience or something. But some are. There are some really good ones. I like The Office, and those kind of wacky ones like that. Where it's not straight-line, punch-line, it's a new type of thing. I like that kind of humor.
I like it to be not too realistic, I start getting into "Oh but it's uncomfortable!" for, like, The Office. Because it's too realistic, oh my god, I could picture this being someone's boss!
[interrupted by the gentleman announcing that we have time for just one more question]
Okay, all right. I'll be good and ask one more question on the list of ones I'm actually supposed to. Are you a particular fan of horror and sci-fi movies like this outside of work?
Not so much the horror genre, like say Saw and all those things. They really get tedious. *laugh* I like good science fiction, though. And not enough of it, right now. There's not enough.
There can never be enough good sci-fi. I agree.
Right! I think television is suffering horribly from it. I think what was fun about the days of Babylon 5 is there were so many good shows on at the time in the ‘90s there.
I actually started watching B5 because it was on before Deep Space Nine, and I was just instantly sunk. I was gone.
There was an appreciation for that type of thing, and we just don't see it in television right now, and I wish we'd come back. Because I think there's a lot of good writers out there, a lot of good producers, and certainly great actors. It's kind of like, I'll quote something from Joe Straczynski who wrote Babylon 5:
"We're looking at our shoes again, and not up at the horizon and the stars."
Oh, that's good.
If we're looking down at our feet, we're gonna stumble. You know? We're gonna walk into a wall or something. But I like that metaphor. We're not looking up ahead anymore. We're not looking out at the horizon, or up into the stars. We're walking looking at the ground.
There's too much reality TV, not enough epic storylines.
You're right. You're right, I think it's needed. But I'm not in power to do that.
And that is that. Thanks again for the help Jena, and thanks to Mr. Boxleitner for being such a good sport. Area 51, or 51, whatever you’d prefer to call it, is now available on DVD from Lionsgate and After Dark Films.
Editorial by Gabriel Powers
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