Feature: Punisher - War Zone
Wed, 03 Dec 2008 15:58:52
When it comes to urban warfare, size doesn't matter. Just ask Ray Stevenson, star of Punisher: War Zone. "It wasn't about having the biggest gun," he exclaims with a piercing gaze. "It was about having the right gun and knowing how to use it. We did very concise work with the weapons. We had some great guys from the Marines and the Special Forces helping out."
All of that training paid off, making Stevenson the perfect Punisher. He gives Frank Castle a realistic edge that has yet to be captured by a big screen adaptation of the Marvel comic—until now.
Stevenson is the king of this war zone, but he's also one of the most down-to-earth guys you could come across. Clad in a sleek black suit with a classic white shirt, he sits by the bar at Hollywood Billiards, a sports dive on the east side of Hollywood Boulevard. He's calm, collected, and confident. Even though War Zone is about to officially premiere at the Chinese Theater in an hour, Stevenson's excited to chat about anything and everything.
Towering over six feet, he has quite a presence, but what instantly catches the eye is the gold pin in the shape of the Punisher skull on his jacket. He instantly perks up at mention of it. "I had this made as a wrap gift for the film. I really love wearing it."
Perhaps that's because he's truly become the Punisher. Stevenson logged numerous hours delving into Garth Ennis's acclaimed Punisher MAX series, which served as inspiration for the movie. His exhaustive preparation resulted in an involved exploration of Frank Castle's moral conflict. It's rare that comic book adaptations delve into a hero's conflicted and complex psyche with such precision.
“Says Stevenson, 'There's no light at the end of the tunnel, but [Frank Castle]'s chosen that path.'”
Frank Castle is multi-faceted—a father, soldier, and vigilante. What resonated with Ray personally was Frank's honesty. "There's something about Frank. One of the initial motivators for me was the fact Frank chose a path where there was no redemption for him. There's no light at the end of the tunnel, but he's chosen that path. There's something tragic and mythical, in a sense. He's honest enough to say he's not there to protect the innocent or save the weak. He's made his choices. Also, there's a price to pay for that. I like the fact that his commitment had an honesty to it."
In addition to studying what was on the page, Stevenson went through intense physical training in order to make Frank believable. "We did an extensive pre-film training period. It worked out to be about three or four months. Thankfully, we did an awful lot of endurance training. That actually paid the biggest dividends. We got through a very punishing schedule, excuse the pun. [Laughs]"
It certainly did, because Frank Castle isn't your run of the mill Marvel character. He gets shot, stabbed, burned, and much more. However, he can't fall back on any sort of super-gimmick. "The thing about Frank is he's not a superhero," continues Stevenson after a sip of his drink. "He hasn't got superpowers or anything. All Frank has is his training, his discipline, and his weapon handling. He doesn't have magic guns with magic [ammunition] that never [runs] out.
"We didn't want it to feel like it was just gung-ho [shooting]. In essence, Frank Castle is the weapon, and these are the tools of his trade. They're an extension of him."
Moreover, moral questions are just as important to the character as all of the blasting is. "There's a moral question: Is vigilante-ism acceptable? If you say it is, then you're accepting anarchy. That's what makes it complex," sighs Stevenson.
"Castle's a tragic figure," Stevenson continues, "He's doomed to a life of revenge. You don't want to be him. When you work for the Devil, you need to be ready to die for the Devil. There's no coming back once you start that life."
There's no turning back when you know you want to act, either. Stevenson always knew that he wanted to act, but he didn't begin until he was an adult. However, he's become a significant presence in a short period of time, from his fantastic turn in HBO's Rome to tackling the morally ambiguous Castle. Stevenson has the diversity to make an impact. He's also known forever that this is what he wanted to do.
"We left Northern Ireland when I was about five or six," says Stevenson by way of providing some background. "The IRA had kicked off their old troubles, and then I grew up in Northeast of England. I used to go up to the Saturday morning picture show. My brothers and I would go. There was an A-film and B-movie. They were always these great big epics—cowboys and ships. I was enchanted at an early age. I really immersed myself in that for that passage.
"I didn't tell anybody I wanted to be an actor. I knew that I did from a very early age, but it just didn't seem possible. It was like, 'That's a bit of a dream, just ignore it and get on with your life.' I kept it for a long time, until I finally admitted to myself that I had to do something about this. It's been an interesting journey. Now, it's a great thrill to be part of the lexicon of this comic book culture. It took awhile, but I'm here."
And he will be for a long time.