JUNKETRON – Dellamorte’s series of six interviews with the cast and crew of Tron: Legacy starts today. Coming Soon: Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde, and more. To Read Dre’s review, click here.
For over ten years, there’s been talk of some form or another about a sequel to the original Tron. On the laserdisc and eventually DVD special edition, Jeff Bridges talked about wearing his Tron hat and wanting to revisit the world, and Steven Lisberger was known to talk it up at great length, which eventually led to a video game.
And yet here we are in 2010, and there’s a a tentpole release that’s also a sequel to a 1982 film that is described as having a cult following. Michael Sheen and Bruce Boxleitner bring totally different energies to Tron: Legacy. With Sheen it’s the excitement of the new and the completely original, and for Boxleitner it’s the reassurance of the original. Sheen is one of the great British character actors, though he hasn’t found his niche yet in American movies, he’s already got two franchises under his belt (three if you count playing Tony Blair). Where Boxleitner has been kicking around Hollywood for years now, having done both films, and television. Their energy together was fascinating.
Side note: at the end of the interview, Sheen started talking about his favorite films, and A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven) came up, and we started trading Powell and Pressburger films back and forth. At that moment, I became a Michael Sheen fan for life.
How was it watching the film?
BRUCE BOXLEITNER: This is been a long project so I hadn’t seen — I’d only seen clips like everybody else has and some ADR things that we did. It was absolutely… my jaw just dropped. You know, it’s been a long journey. This was 20 years ago and it’s something that I know I walked away from going “well that didn’t do too well so I’m going right back to television.” And Jeff (Bridges) went on and we all went on and, well, we tried. But it’s time came. It has hung around and hung around. And now to this movie… I think it’s a good stand-alone film itself. But personally I think you need to have known the previous film, the history and mythology.
Have you ever revisited a character previous to this?
BOXLEITNER: Never, no. I think it’s a rare thing for an actor to do, to have that kind of, uh, you know.
MICHAEL SHEEN: You’re talking to someone who has played Tony Blair three times.
BOXLEITNER: That’s true.
SHEEN: Not so rare in my career.
BOXLEITNER: But you didn’t have 20 some years in between, thankfully. But I was totally surprised and enjoyed it and I was frankly so moved last night. I was near tears and I didn’t realize that I would have this kind of reaction seeing the film.
SHEEN: It’s an emotional experience.
BOXLEITNER: I think Jeff was going through the same thing.
SHEEN: Yeah, and for Steve Lisberger. But then for someone like myself the emotional thing is – I’ve been saying today already – that I watched the original film I was 12 years old and it changed my life and it’s a big part of why I wanted to become an actor. It’s a major part of why I feel film is very powerful medium that you have to take great responsibility and all that because it can really change your life and it can really affect the way you see things. And because that’s what it did to me. And this was probably the first film, the original Tron was probably the first film I ever saw where I walked in, and I didn’t know what to expect. My uncle took me on a gray rainy day in South Wales. I went in and came out an hour and a half later and my life was different from that on. And so I’m going to see the film tonight for the first time. I haven’t seen it yet. And so it’s a hugely emotional and spiritual me the idea of going and, and that 12-year-old boy who then wanted to be an actor and – and understood the power of what cinema can do. And you know he’ll be there watching it with me tonight. And I’ll be watching it..
BOXLEITNER: He will. That 12-year-old will be back again.
SHEEN: as a fan first and foremost and then I’ll be able to go oh, and I’m in it. And as you said you know all the people who’ve made this film are all fans first and foremost.
BOXLEITNER: Absolutely. This film was made for and by Tron fans. I learned that and during the process. Sean Bailey, very similar story, one of the first movies he went to with his father was a real father-son experience for him. He was 11 or 12 as well. It’s just awesome.
SHEEN: That’s why it was so great at Comic-con, then we got was it 7,000…
BOXLEITNER: We had a little more than 6000 people in the hall watching this and by the way the crowd seemed last night and they are going to be so happy, these people.
SHEEN: It’s their voices. We used them. It’s the comic-con crowd. We recorded it.
BOXLEITNER: Joe Straczynski… that’s another TV show. Joe Kosinski stood up and they had these big– what were they – applause signs.
SHEEN: Well was on the big screen.
BOXLEITNER: And he would go up, down and the audience got to cheer and stamp and it was huge hall. There were 6000 people in there. And they‘re all in the movie.
SHEEN: in the– in the gladiatorial arena stuff. It’s the comic-con crowd who is the voice of the crowd.
BOXLEITNER: They’re going to be so excited.
SHEEN: It is literally made by fans.
Mr. Sheen, I’m thinking your character is David Bowie meets George Formby.
SHEEN: I wasn’t really referencing George Formby but now you say it, I wish I had. He’s probably the only person I didn’t reference. When we talked about the character I liked the idea of this. I was thinking of what sort of a program with his character be. So I like the idea that ultimately he’s a survivor. He’s managed to survive in this world for a long time and how does he survive? He survives by adapting. So he’s constantly shedding skins and identities and able to change up, you know he’s a comedian. And so I started thinking about David Bowie as a kind of real-world version of The Thin White Duke. Yeah, that sort of comedian playing with identity and all that good stuff. I just wanted to wear heels and white hair and look like Ziggy Stardust basically. Uh, and then I like the idea–.
BOXLEITNER: You are going to be fashionable too.
SHEEN: Yeah, yeah, I suppose he was a cross between Ziggy Stardust and Charlie Chaplin. Uh, is a bit of the emcee in Cabaret there, Joel Grey and Dr. Frank’n Furter from Rocky Horror Show and Mae West, and Casablanca and there’s all kinds of other stuff. Like a popular culture jukebox, that that’s the sort of program he is. He just assimilates everything and then kind of throws it out and then underneath it all there’s something completely psychotic going on.
Alan actually get a lot of respect in this movie which I think is great. I was glad that they said that he created Tron. I was worried they wouldn’t.
BOXLEITNER: You were worried? (laughs)
Did you have any concerns that your character coming back into this, that you weren’t necessarily going to have that much to do?
BOXLEITNER: When I got the call from Sean Bailey and Joe Kosinski, first of all I was so flabbergasted that this was a reality. I did see the clip that they revealed at Comic-con two years ago which literally green lit the project, the success of that, the reaction to it. And we got the call that they wanted me. I was overjoyed because this has been rumored for many, many years and I just gave up on it. I mean why would they want to do this? It was what it was back then and that’s it. I came in and met, I think you did as well, sat and saw all the storyboarding and you know Joe Kosinski’s office alone was impressive with all of his toys. And this was a serious endeavor they were going to not go back and revisit. They were going forward in real-time you know, 28 years later. What would Alan Bradley do? Alan sort of became Alfred to young Sam’s Batman. Bruce Wayne always needed him, to say “let’s think about this,” you know. And since his father was gone that’s how I looked at it– the little bit that I get. And in the end he’s still standing there sort of bewildered now that the boy has… where did he go? He doesn’t know what happened. All I know is I go to the Flynn’s arcade and there’s the kid standing there and he says Alan things have changed. The very beginning scene? We did that only a few months ago, a couple of months ago, with the boardroom. And it was shot in the very same building that we shot the end of Tron, the original one where Jeff lands with a helicopter on top. I landed just hours before in the same place and he said “greetings program.” There’s no cameras waiting for me. I sat all by myself and we worked all night long. That was added. They needed to show a little more of what was happening with Emcom, and Alan’s irrelevance there. He’s a CEO or whatever but has absolutely nothing to do there. These young Turks have taken it over. It’s turned into a company that neither Flynn nor Bradley imagined it or wanted it to be.
Michael, give the influences of pop-culture references, how careful did you have to be to make sure that this character is over-the-top just enough that he’s still interesting or compelling?
SHEEN: Well without giving a spoiler, uh, there’s a twist to the character that– which is always useful, something like that because you kind of go “oh, I see,” so everything I do until that twist is a smokescreen. So you know having played a lot of characters that are dangerously close to caricatures sometimes, there’s something I’ve always found there is that everything you do has to be able to be connected to the source of what that character is. So I say this character is a survivor and so it’s all about illusion and smokescreens and — and sleight-of-hand and misdirection. And that helps a lot because then you see that’s what’s going on with this– that’s who he is. That’s what’s really there. Then that kind of justifies all that other stuff. So originally Joe said this character bursts into the film and gives it a completely different energy. So that was my brief. You know I had to hit these kind of notes. But it’s always most important to me as an actor to bring it back to what is actually going on for this character. So we’re trying to find that balance really.
How involved were you in creating the costume?
SHEEN: Well, we talked a lot about… there was an original costume design that I saw and he was at that point, he like a circus ringleader, that kind of emcee of a circus I suppose. And so I took it down a more ’70s glam rock because I just wanted to look like that before I get too old
Yeah, thank God you did. You said that the original Tron changed your life. How specifically?
SHEEN: Well, it was the first time I’d ever seen a film at 12-years-old that was meant for me and transported me so much that I went into that cinema and – like I said – didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t heard any hype, my uncle took me to it because he had to deal with me for a day, babysit me. And so he goes “oh, there’s a film. I’ll take him to see that.” Little did he know. And then I sat there and watched it, the lights went down and it was a perfect viewing experience. It’s what I try to replicate every time I do a play or a film. I hope that you know I always think about the lights going down and that we want to be kind of transported in some way. And that was the first time that really, really happened to me. And it made me — because I went to such another world onscreen. The equivalent journey you go on in your own head. You know you somehow seem to go into another world inside yourself and yet there’s something very familiar. You don’t ever really leave your world. You just see your world differently very and I literally did that as I came out of the cinema. And it happened you know, quite a few times since in my life where you walk out of the cinema and you’re in the film and you see your real world now through the prism of the world the storytellers have just shown you. And so it was the first time I had that experience. So not only did it give me a very emotional experience to Tron but it also made me kind of go “I want to do that. I want to be part of that. That’s what I want to do!” It made me want to tell stories in that way that could transport people and so it literally changed my life in lots of different ways.
Did making this film make you think twice about your relationship with technology and how we are dependent on it?
BOXLEITNER: I think it’s one of the larger themes in this thing. I mean, certainly as we race ahead with our technology so we’re seeing the dark side to human beings using these things. I think it’s very much reflected with Clu. I’m much more aware of it. I’m not really tech savvy as I should be, though. My wife is much, much more so that way, so I rely heavily on her. I do e-mail and things like that but I don’t want people knowing anything about me and constantly bothering me. I’m old school that way. I’d rather talk to you. Let’s go have coffee and talk. You want to do that? Instead of tweeting and twittering and you know– I’d rather talk to on the phone, you know.
SHEEN: Well I think it doesn’t matter what technology you have, it’s what you actually say that matters.
BOXLEITNER: It’s the truth.
SHEEN: I think well, one way of addressing that is by specifically looking at the whole thing of actors being able to play their younger selves. Suddenly, as actors we’re not limited to age. But there’s a fear of that and the paranoia and the insecurities that that brings up for us as well. Has technology gone mad? So that– it’s an interesting area to talk about because it’s the same thing about technology, the technology is neither good nor bad. It’s a tool. And ultimately there’s always fear about a new tool because we’re scared that that tool could get in the wrong hands and all those kind of things. It’s inevitable that it will carry on. It’s going to be exploited. It’s going to be used. So ultimately the only thing I feel that I can do is to try and embrace the technology if I had the opportunity to do it and use it to connect, to go back to the source, to go “what am I trying to do with this? What can I do through this technology that will help me connect more with other people? How can I push that forward and use technology as a tool rather than being used by technology?” But then Andy Serkis playing Gollum, that’s where you go “wow that is a performance.” That is not just some…
BOXLEITNER: that was eye-opening.
SHEEN: … some computerized animated thing. There is humanity coming through this character. I connect with it. I relate to it and it moves me and excites me. It scares me. That is always a good touchstone I think because…
BOXLEITNER: We’re storytellers. That’s what we are and this is a new tool for us to continue telling the story. I mean the larger world abuse, misuse you know all these things that I think for our particular think it helps us tell our story better, or more– or richer.
END OF LINE
SCHWAG DISCLOSURE: Disney gave everyone gift bags. I got a Tron hat that lights up, A computer lamp, a magazine, a book of Jeff Bridges pictures from the making of the film, a Tron notepad, a light-up coaster, and a miniature light-cycle. I disclose this not to brag, but because I believe I am legally required to. Picture below: