Bruce Boxleitner Interview

By now we’re all used to seeing performances out of actors that are either or amazing. Sure, there may be a dud here and there but the good stuff is what always manages to stand out since it can greatly enhance an already great experience.  Once in a while we’re truly lucky to see an actor stand to the occasion on a consistent basis no matter what the project is. Even better, it’s amazing to see an actor take a role and immediately own it to such a degree that it’s unimaginable to see someone else portraying the role. Well one actor that has done such a thing over the course of his illustrious career is none other than Bruce Boxleitner.

A veteran of the film and TV industry, Bruce Boxleitner has built a rather famous career for himself starring in these two little projects you may have heard called TRON and Babylon 5. Playing the titular character in TRON, Bruce’s heroic performance in the 1982 classic immediately made him a figure that appealed to both gamers and those who love sci-fi films. Over the years Bruce went on to make several more key roles, but the one that cemented him as a sci-fi icon was his tenure on the TV show “Babylon 5” in which he portrayed Capt. John Sheridan.  Once again in the role of the hero, Bruce delivered a multi-layered performance in the stunning space opera which to this day still holds up, even compared to things such as the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot.

After reprising both his role of Alan Bradley and TRON in “TRON: Legacy”, Bruce has gone on to voice the protector of the grid once more in the new Disney animated series “TRON: Uprising”. Now voicing a TRON that’s older, scarred, and slightly battle weary, Bruce has managed to take the iconic character and in turn deliver a performance that’s deep yet still embodies the elements fans of the series love so much.

Bruce has also returned to the world of gaming in a way that isn’t related to TRON through his role in the game “Spec Ops: The Line.” Voicing the enigmatic and highly deranged Col. Konrad, Bruce provides a rather chilling performance that ends in a rather grand narrative twist that features some truly compelling acting.

I had the huge honor of chatting with Bruce about his career, his stint playing TRON and Col. Konrad, along with his new steampunk based project “Lantern City”.

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Ian Fisher: This may be a relatively basic question, but considering everyone has a unique story can you tell us how you got into the acting industry and what made you want to go down such a career path?

Bruce Boxleitner:  Basically when I was a young kid in high-school I got into some of the plays there and I got bit by the bug. I was always into theater and television and I hadn’t really done theater until high-school. Somehow I enjoyed the experience and I guess it was just a way for me to express myself and it seemed good.  Once I heard those applauses I was bitten.  I’ve been doing it since I was a very young man so I’ve been doing it for over forty years. I’ve been extremely lucky and perhaps it was fools courage but I just kept pursuing it. I ended up in drama school in Chicago and that took me to a theater in Chicago and that theater took me to New York.

I hung around in New York for a while in 1972 and I decided that the New York experience as terrific as it was, I realized that I kept auditioning for films but essentially the jobs were out in California. I had always dreamed of going out there so I took off to L.A.  I had no responsibilities other than myself so I ended up there and I worked my tail off.  I took a few classes and got familiar to the acting world in Hollywood and I eventually got a career going. That’s kind of a thumbnail sketch of it as there were a few bumps in the road.

Ian: As an actor that is a veteran of the industry what has it been like to see things change over the years and subsequently make the leap to work in different genres such as those based in sci-fi and also lend your talents in projects that exclusively utilize your voice?

Bruce: That’s kind of the latter thing now. I’m doing more voice acting now than I am in front of the camera and that’s fine.  There have been a lot of changes in our industry both good and what I consider not to be so good.  For actors, especially for people who were in television in the last few decades, it’s been very disconcerting because of fewer roles. Reality TV has been a huge problem in my perspective and that means a lot of writers, actors, directors, and thousands of people not working because of the cheaper way to go with reality TV.  That’s my one complaint. Otherwise the new media are opening other opportunities and that’s why we can talk about things such as Spec Ops: The Line and TRON: Uprising.

I worked on Spec Ops for more than a year and every few months they would come back to me and I asked “do all video games take this long?” I guess they do and it’s a different world for me but it’s still acting. It is acting no matter what anybody thinks and you’re not using your entire instrument such as your whole body but I enjoy it a great deal.  I’ve always wanted to do it since I enjoyed animated films and it’s kind of liberating in a way since you’re not hampered by your particular look. I can play character roles now and TRON is certainly a different role and your imagination of whatever character you’re creating can be much more different than how you are physically.

Ian: Now was it difficult to do voice acting for the first time or was it relatively easy seeing as how you’re used to performing on the stage and things of that nature?

Bruce:  It wasn’t a challenge for me. I’m enjoying it so much since I found out I’m doing pretty good with it. There wasn’t anything arduous to do other than coming out of a few long sessions, especially with the character I played in Spec Ops: The Line. I was a little hoarse and needed to have some tea & honey afterward to get my vocal chords back since it was very strenuous and he’s a very over-the-top character.  But that’s what I’m saying, with that particular one I was able to take it to the wall and go more and more with it since that character was absolutely insane.  So I enjoyed that a great deal. As an actor I’ve had to use all kinds of voice levels so if it’s a really good script then no problem.

Ian: A lot of people know you particularly for a few select roles such as that of TRON and Capt. Sheridan in Babylon 5.  Obviously people loved your performances in those projects since you brought a level of detail and complexity to those roles which made them engaging and entertaining to watch. But with that said, what is it like to be known for one or two roles and have that in a way be the center of your career? Is such a thing a blessing or as an actor do you want to shed your skin per say and be known for other roles as well?

Bruce: Well it’s mainly known now since I used to be known for another show in the 1980s called “Scarecrow and Mrs. King”. But in the 90s and more recently I’m known for TRON which I’m so thankful and blessed that after 28 years they wanted me to be in the sequel, TRON: Legacy, and then all things TRON became popular again.  It’s not a mystery to me since over the years people came up to me and said how TRON influenced them and I kept thinking how it seemed to have resonated since it revolves around the very thing we’re talking about: the video game world.  When we made the original TRON we didn’t have home computers and that was something that was just on the horizon and now everybody has it. I carry around my iPhone and wouldn’t know what to do without it but somehow we got along without these things before.

So it’s TRON more so now with the movies, the animated series, and the possibility of the next film next year. I’m just so delighted to be a part of it. I think all of us that were in the original, I think Jeff [Bridges] and Cindy [Morgan] feel the same way that it’s just an amazing phenomenon. That movie has finally gotten the recognition I believe it deserved back then but it was just so kind of different and maybe the establishment just didn’t know what to do with it.  I think the kids got it, the precursors to you – the kids pumping quarters into arcades got it.

Ian: I’m in the same boat as you since I’m a huge TRON fan I’m happy that a lot more people appreciate the movie.

Bruce: Yeah isn’t it amazing? I think it’s more popular now than it ever was and certainly Legacy helped to reacquaint people.  Then people wanted to see where that came from if they were too young to see it originally. And a lot of parents and people who were my contemporaries wanted to show their children and grandchildren the film. I’ve met the whole spectrum of fans and it still delights and amazes to be part of something so many people love.

Ian: Quite a few people know you the most for your role on Babylon 5, which if I may add is regarded as one of the best sci-fi shows ever made. Your role as Captain John Sheridan was exquisite as the character grew from season to season but what it difficult in any ways to stay invested in the material for one reason or another? And I know that Babylon 5 may be in the past since the show has been off the air for a while, but looking back at things what are your thoughts on the show and the legacy it has today?

Bruce: Well first off all I’m often asked “is there going to be another Babylon 5?” and I really don’t want to do that. I’m already kind of in a redo of my career with TRON. I’m very proud of Babylon 5 and I was on for four seasons and in three of the four movies.  I love the character and I love science fiction and I thought that this [Babylon 5] was great science fiction and I think there’s a real dearth of it right now. I miss that we’re not in outer space right now and that whole part of our imagination is lacking in television.

Science fiction today mostly consists of vampires and some kind of fantasy element, which is great too, but I really miss the days when we had the space operas since it sort of expanded the imagination. And now that we have the technology even more so than we had on Babylon 5, which I think did an incredible job for what it had since my space station was made out of plywood.  The computer animation effects that we could do with the budget that we had was good for its time and I look back on it with absolute pride.

It was a great character for me with John Sheridan as I got to play everything an actor would want to play, every range of emotion.  We all had a story arc so we got to start this character one place and by the time it ended we had gone through his whole life – from his mid adult life to his untimely death that he brought upon himself for the good of all.  So it was the ultimate character hero to play but it wasn’t an unflawed hero. He was very flawed, he had problems and he had real human characteristics.  I think Joe Straczynski is a marvelous writer and that was the best material I worked with as an actor.

Ian: While Babylon 5 may sadly be over you are moving on to another exciting sci-fi based project in the form of Lantern City. Unlike other shows on the market or that are forthcoming, Lantern City is based entirely around steampunk; which hasn’t really happened before.  Can you tell us a bit about how Lantern City came to be and what made you want to put your stamp of approval on the series?

Bruce:  Well here’s how it started.  There’s a young associate of mine named Trevor Craft who comes out of a whole different industry. I worked with him on a small pilot that’s currently running online but never got sold.  I think he’s a very smart and tech savvy young man.  At this time in my life I want to help someone. Someone helped me and I think there comes a time that after all I’ve been given in this industry there’s also the need to help someone else.There’s always someone in the industry that needs a helping hand. He came to me with this idea called Lantern City and he asked for my help since I’m in the genre thing.  I also wanted to create something of my own as well and that’s what we’re in the process of doing.

I’ve always been aware of and a fan of the steampunk world going all the way back to the very first book I ever read as a boy – 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.  If that’s not the epitome of steampunk then I don’t know what is.  H.G Wells and Jules Verne are certainly the spiritual godfathers of steampunk amongst others. So I was always intrigued by it but I wondered why Hollywood never really embraced it in a scale where we really enter that world. I honestly think this is what the steampunk world is looking for.

First off all it’s a character driven saga and I think it’s an innovative approach to television since we’re inviting members of the steampunk world to participate in the series. I think it’s a world in which the mainstream audience isn’t familiar with it – especially in the sci-fi world as it isn’t a sub-genre people have seen.  The mainstream public may have heard the word or seen something but I think it’s not unlike the world of Babylon 5 or Game of Thrones in how it’s a backdrop to tell the story.  It’s very much like Babylon 5 as that show could’ve been a world in a far off desert plant but Joe [Straczynski] chose to place it in a gigantic space station hovering over this planet and there were stories that took place within that.  This is a place where we could go with it.

We’re always looking for that next thing and steampunk has been around but has never really been tackled.  That’s my main motivation with it.  I think we got a great story. I think it’s more than a science-fiction show since it covers politics, class conflict, innovation & fear, and technology but I just don’t it to be another part of steampunk. It’s got to be a backdrop to the story we tell which asks two questions “how far would you go to be with the one you love?” and “how far would you go to survive?” Those are the two basic questions of the series and steampunk is the backdrop to that and the world in which it takes place.

Ian: Besides the steampunk basis of the show one of the unique things about Lantern City is that it allows the community to contribute to the show as opposed to a showrunner plotting a five-season arc with very specific designs adhering to that for the most part. So can you talk a bit about how the community can contribute to the development of Lantern City and in turn is that something you feel that more shows should attempt to try?

Bruce: I think that’s innovative. I don’t know of another TV show that has done that before. Funding is always the big challenge and I think this is a way to help that out too.  We’ve been reaching out and having contact with a gentleman from WETA and they have a huge steampunk line and they were very excited when I talked to them about this.   So we’ve reached out to a lot of the leaders in steampunk and I think this is a viable way to go.  I don’t know if Hollywood prop houses would have a lot of this stuff so we need the type of people who make this type of stuff. But like I said we’re very much in the beginning so we need to get a network interested in it. My dream would be HBO or something like that since I think it could have an A-list cast.

A cutscene from Spec Ops: The Line

Ian: One new thing that you’ve done is lend your voice in the video game Spec Ops: The Line. Now this marks the first time you’ve done voice acting in a video game that isn’t related to the TRON universe or that particular character. Given what Spec Ops: The Line revolves around what made you interested in the project and what stood out the most for you?

Bruce: They came to me and when I read it I suppose it was the writing but the plot was also interesting. It was just an interesting character and he was described to me as a whacked out Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now.  As you know in Babylon 5 I’ve played military characters before so I thought this was something I could do. I didn’t realize just how long it took to make these things so it was like the gift that kept on giving.  With TRON: Uprising it’s an older version of the character I play so I could use my husky voice now and play with that since he’s a battle weary and an older character so that’s an interesting aspect to play.  But with Spec Ops they came to me with that and it seemed pretty good and the material was challenging believe me. I get to go from A to E emotionally in that thing.

Ian: Those who have played Spec Ops: The Line should know that there’s a big twist involving the character that you play. As an actor what was it like knowing that ultimate twist and how, if any, did it affect the direction and tone you took with your performance?  Did you perhaps go for a different sort of tone in the sections in which Konrad and Walker are talking to one another knowing that not everything was as it was being perceived by the person playing the game?

Bruce: It’s done in such an odd way. When you’re actually doing these things you have no overview of the entire plot since it’s done in little sections. So I all I could follow was the director and go by what they liked and disliked. We did it any number of times with different suggestions that the director would give.  I’m actually more surprised to see the outcome more than anybody. What do you think? It seems to be pretty popular so far.

Ian: Well the actual game itself is really fun and amazing but I was completely blown away by how good the voice acting and the performance you delivered was.  From my perspective the acting is probably some of the best I’ve seen in a game this year. The final scene between Walker and Konrad in which the reveal is made was amazing.

Bruce: Isn’t it amazing that we’re talking about a game here? Maybe it’s just me since I’m old TRON and started in the game world back in the day.  I’m just amazed at how games have become so cinematic and it’s like we’re talking about a movie. I can’t wait to see it myself.  There’s no way of knowing how things turn out since you have no visual sense and you’re just given a page with no visual description. So I’m so happy you have a great reaction to it.

Ian: Spec Ops: The Line has gotten a lot of attention since not only is it a fun game to play but it deals with some rather deep subject matter, particularly the effects war can have on soldiers through PTSD.  As an actor what was it like to see a game strive for such heavy material and has such a thing perhaps changed how you perceive video games now through knowing that they can indeed feature material that’s on par if not surpasses what’s found in film and television?

Bruce: Well it’s kind of what like I said earlier; this is a long way from old video games as it’s much more cinematic and much more darker.  I wonder now after the recent events in Colorado if some of the shooter games will get a lot of critics who think this is a big influence with the younger generation. I don’t adhere to that very much because I do feel that yes there are aberrations, but you can also get all of that out with these games. It’s very cathartic in a way to play some of these games. I do remember one sequence in Spec Ops where it’s a helicopter sequence and they’re shooting at each other between the buildings and it was incredibly violent but it was awesome too.

But I enjoy doing the performances of it and I just think it’s another venue for actors and more of them are doing it. It’s another opportunity and I welcome it. It’s amazing when a film is being done based on the video game so we’ve entered a new world in my mind.

Ian: One thing that hardcore TRON fans enjoy so far about TRON: Uprising is that it’s expanding upon the core mythology and in turn showing a new element of TRON that we haven’t seen before as a character. So what has it been like for you to add an extra dimension to TRON and more specifically do it solely through your voice as opposed to acting in the tradition kind of way?

Bruce: Well it was wonderful and they had talked about it a little bit towards the end of shooting TRON: Legacy.  There were little rumblings and if I would be interested in doing that. I said of course since I’m TRON.  I don’t want someone else playing it and if they still want me I would love to play it. As we got closer it became a reality after TRON: Legacy.
There were a number of other actors looked at to play the young character of Beck, the main character in TRON: Uprising. I really liked the idea of that because of the classic older samurai and the young samurai since that’s always a great story in the tale of heroes. And I love that it was the original TRON and that it bridges the small gap between the first film and TRON: Legacy. It fits right in there and it explains how Rinzler came about and how TRON became Rinzler that and we’re heading into that right now.

Sort of the fact that it’s just not a kiddie series or what people would call Disney, I think it’s probably a terrific departure for Disney as it has a more adult theme to it. I think it doesn’t insult adults and it’s for everybody. It has a good serious storyline and good characters.  I think Elijah Wood brings a great energy to it as well.  He and I first auditioned together and we read scenes for all the powers that be. We hadn’t met each other before and weren’t familiar with the material, but they liked what they heard and I think it’s worked marvelously. You also have all these other great actors like Lance Henriksen, Mandy Moore and Paul Reubens who has certainly been hilarious.  It also gives me a chance to do my temporary voice and give it a little spin and a little huskiness to it.

Ian: With a new TRON movie being unknown at this point and TRON: Uprising still moving forward, is there a particular direction or element you would want to delve into as the TRON character next?  With TRON: Uprising we’re seeing a slightly more dangerous side of TRON, at least in the upcoming episodes, but is there another element you would love to play up if given the chance?

Bruce: Well I had no idea what the movie is going to be and that’s always a great surprise. When Legacy came along it was so exciting to see what direction they would go with it. It wasn’t going to be a remake so how were they going to continue? With Uprising it’s very much the same thing, I really have no input into that but I love the way it’s going. We do have a two-parter coming up called Scars which is kind of taking us towards where you understand how TRON and the Rinzler character come together. So we have no idea what’s coming along but that’s kind of fun too, I’m excited by it. But when I do get to see it and it’s all cut together it’s very exciting. I’m so proud of this and I think it’s as good as the movies.

Ian: Yeah I have to agree with that as well. I’m a huge fan of the show so far and I really dig the art style.

Bruce: I think the stylization of it is so incredibly good. I think Alberto and Robert, the artists, have done such an amazing job. I first saw it and thought “well I don’t know” but I’m so into it now. It’s very stylized but that’s TRON; it’s been stylized since the first movie on if you think about it. So I’m still really happy with it.

Ian: You’ve been acting for over forty years and it looks like you won’t be stopping anytime soon, which in my mind is a good thing. But with that said what would you want your ultimate legacy to be known for as an actor?

Bruce: I always joked “Here Lies Bruce Boxleitner – The Guy Who Played TRON”.  Mainly I’m known for television but who knows.  My only ambition ever was to be a working actor.  I always wanted to be in this industry and known as a good colleague and just be a good solid working actor and I think I’ve accomplished that. I always wanted to be on television and I accomplished that. I always wanted to be in films and I accomplished that.  I always think there’s a way more to go before I tuck it in. But “Here Lies Bruce Boxleitner – He Played TRON”, I think that may be good in the end.

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The passion Bruce has for acting definitely shows through his performances as TRON is an unforgettable character and Col. Konrad may go down as being one of the most memorable villains to appear in a video game this year.  I want to extend a huge thanks to Bruce for taking out the time to chat with me and sharing some insight on both Spec Ops: The Line and everything TRON.

If you’re interested in Bruce’s new series Lantern City then head over to the official site for the project.

 

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Originally posted on August 2, 2012

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