Thomas Jane: No doubting Thomas

Thomas Jane had a hazardous time filming his role as a South African bank robber and folk hero. Chris Sullivan meets him
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The Independent Culture

Sometimes one gets the feeling, when interviewing actors, that they'd really rather be doing something more exciting - like sleeping. Talking to Thomas Jane was one such occasion. Maybe he was really tired, or off colour, or maybe it wasn't a great day. Whatever, he wasn't a happy bunny.

Sometimes one gets the feeling, when interviewing actors, that they'd really rather be doing something more exciting - like sleeping. Talking to Thomas Jane was one such occasion. Maybe he was really tired, or off colour, or maybe it wasn't a great day. Whatever, he wasn't a happy bunny.

We didn't get off to a great start. After I congratulated him on his astounding performance as Andre Stander, a lieutenant in the Johannesburg homicide division who became South Africa's most wanted, audacious and best-loved bank-robber, I casually remarked that it looked like he had a lot of fun driving fast cars and wearing wigs.

"I don't go to work to have fun," Jane growled. "I turn up, say my lines, collect my cheque, and then go home to my wife and kid. I ain't there to stick around and laugh and cut up with people, and I ain't there to giggle and play jokes and pull people's underwear down and stuff." Steady on! Bit early in the day to start talking of underwear.

Maybe Jane is still traumatised by the shoot. It was tough bringing Stander, a low-budget picture directed by Bronwen Hughes, to the screen. "It was very chaotic and very busy," Jane says. "There were more locations than there were days of shooting - three locations every day. I had 17 costume changes in all and often a few different ones in the same day. It was a lot of work for everybody."

Apart from the rigours of such a schedule, shooting in South Africa proved hazardous in more tangible ways. "South Africa was tough," says Jane, who, having been born in Baltimore, knows what "tough" is.

"A member of the film crew killed a guy after work," says the actor. "Somebody stole his wife's purse so he got his gun, got in his car, found the guy and killed him. Then one of our truck drivers got shot on the way to work. It's like the Wild West, man. They've all got guns and they use them, and we were there for three months. Luckily I was too tired from work to go out."

Initially, Jane turned down the role of Stander, realising how difficult it would be to be away from his wife and child for filming. "I think I turned it down twice," he says. "It was halfway round the world and I'd be away for months. It also seemed like so much work: I had to conquer the accent, which took months; I had to capture this tormented individual and the massive emotional roller-coaster he went on; and, because he was a health nut, I had to work out, which I hate. Everything just said: don't do this movie. But I couldn't afford not to. The part was too strong. Andre and I wrestled, and I lost.

"But I could really empathise with Andre. I don't think enough people aspire to the likes of Stander and live life as they really want to. Too many people follow the rules. Initially, I had no idea who Stander was. He's been a folk hero in Africa for so long, so it's nice we can bring him to the screen and do him justice."

Originally, the script was based on conjecture and hearsay, but, as the cast and crew spent more time in South Africa, the project blossomed."We spoke to Allan Heyl, one of his accomplices, who's still in prison; Cor van Deventer, his police partner; and the warden of the prison where Andre was incarcerated," Jane says.

"We started getting first-hand accounts of a lot of the more unbelievable things about Andre - robbing two banks in a day, how he broke out of prison, that stuff - which we worked into the screenplay.

"Andre was a popular, charming guy, and my allegiance is to Andre himself, that is all. It's not to his friends, his family, his father, mother, wife, fans, or people who loved him, knew him or wanted to love him, it's to none of those people - it's to Andre. But I almost didn't do it."

Jane is now in a position where he can turn down roles without worry. "There was a time when I just did them to get the experience and training. Now I only do them because they are so good that I have no choice, and Stander was a prime example. I feel strongly that I shouldn't get involved with anything unless I'm 100 per cent committed. I don't need to go out and work so much. I just want to spend time with my kid. I am turning down as much crap as I can until I find something that really bowls me over."

None of this explains why the obviously capable Jane starred as Frank Castle in the abysmal Jonathan Hensleigh adaptation of the Marvel Comic The Punisher - or why he's signed up for the sequel. "Well, that was the first time I headlined," Jane says. "It was the kind of movie that inspired me to become an actor in the first place. It was like the movies of the Seventies - Sergio Leone, Don Siegel, Sam Peckinpah. They were very inspiring. But they weren't making them by the time I got to Hollywood. Anyway, The Punisher was made for a specific audience, and that audience got what they paid for."

Still, Jane has a good track record. He worked on The Thin Red Line with the legendary Terrence Malick. "He shot enough for another two movies," says the actor. "I was hoping that some day he'd get around to editing the rest and make another film."

Jane also worked with Paul Thomas Anderson on Boogie Nights and Magnolia. "He's a good cat. He let me do my thing and run with it." And he acted alongside Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman in Under Suspicion. "I learnt a lot from them, great professionals, real stand-up guys."

On that note, I end his misery, thinking Jane might need a lie-down. However cantankerous, I get the impression that Jane is also a "stand-up guy": after all, I had interrupted his holiday with his wife, Patricia Arquette, and daughter Harlow, on the island of Catalina. If I were him, I'd much prefer spending time with them than talking to me.

'Stander' is out now on limited release