On the new Showtime drama Ray Donovan, Jon Voight plays a murderous ex-con with a fondness for polyester. It’s another classic character from an actor who never let his leading-man looks get in the way of an interesting career. Herewith, the Hollywood legend – and father of you know who – shares his secrets for success. (For starters: Movie stars are not heroes!)
Real actors don’t count lines
When I got the script for Ray Donovan, it was just scenes here and there, but I could tell that the part of Mickey [a patriarch and murderous ex-con] was unique. Some actors would count the amount of lines a character has, but I’ve always been more interested in taking on interesting, challenging roles, and Mickey is definitely that. He has spent 20 years in jail and was maybe set up by his son. If you saw him coming, you would move to the other side of the street.
The odds are in your favour
My dad always said to me, “Son, if you’re going to bet, bet on yourself.” My brothers heard it too, but for some reason it really stuck with me and has been very good advice. I’ve never been able to go along with other people’s assessments. I have to have my own understanding of a situation, and ultimately when it comes to taking chances, I’ll take a chance on my own instincts. I’m all for collaboration, but at a certain point you have to say, “Well, I don’t see it that way, and I’m going to go with my way.” If I had followed the advice of other people, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
Don’t worship at the Church of Hollywood
For a long time in our country people have been looking to movie stars as heroes and they’re not. They’re just not. Growing up, you play little games and every kid wants to be the hero. And these days we have all the superhero movies – Iron Man and The Avengers. We have those heroes in our society – our troops, firemen, first responders. These are the kind of people that kids should look up to.
If you can laugh with ’em, you can work with ’em
Before taking the part in Ray Donovan I met with Ann [Biderman, the writer] and Bryan [Zuriff, an executive producer]. I remember in that initial meeting we laughed a lot. It’s a big commitment to do a series, so you want to make sure that the people you’re working with are people you want to be involved with. The understandings that you come to in laughter are very rich. If you start laughing with someone, you get along. It’s a very mysterious thing.
Why it’s okay to have the odd hissy fit
You hear stories about a director who goes nuts on a set, but a lot of times that’s because they have a passion for what they’re doing and that’s a good thing. Obviously you don’t want to work with people who are abusive, but passion is a very important ingredient. Most talented people have strong feelings and that’s great. I want the people I’m working with to bring strong feelings to the work we’re doing.
Acting is a racquet sport
The actors that I work with [on Ray Donovan] are geniuses, which is really what makes going to work so great. When you’re working with great actors it’s like being centre court at Wimbledon. You do your preparation, but after that you need to be flexible because you never know what the other person in the scene is going to bring. You have to stay open.
This interview has been condensed.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that Ray Donovan is an HBO-produced show. It is actually produced by Showtime.