Thomas Jane's hung up on noir
by Jim Provenzano
Taking a break from his role as a male hustler on the HBO series Hung, Thomas Jane will be at the Castro Theatre this Friday for a rare screening of his 2009 directorial debut, Dark Country, a noir-horror 3D thriller in which he also stars.
Jane shared his lifelong appreciation of the noir and horror film genres in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter.
"As a first film, I wanted to explore some of the things that inspired me to get into movies in the first place," said Jane in a phone interview from Los Angeles. "I used to watch The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits on TV as a kid; Saturday matinee movies, EC comic books with the twist ending; they heavily influenced me as a young man. So I wanted to tackle something that would pay homage to that. Dark Country also merges horror with noir, another genre I love. As a teenager, my other friends were listening to Wham and Prince while I was reading Dashiel Hammett."
It was at that time that the young high school student and aspiring actor was swooped up from his Bethesda, Maryland upbringing by a roving Indian film crew. At 16, Jane starred as the non-Indian male romantic lead in the odd 1987 film Padamati Sandhya Ragam that is viewable on YouTube.
"I played myself at 16 and 40," said Jane. "They put a wig and mustache on me and I phonetically learned Telegu (yes, that's Jane speaking his own lines, although they're often dubbed)."
Living in India for half a year, Jane traveled around the United States with the film crew in vans and RVs on a guerilla filmmaking trek. He recalls the difficulties, wonderful meals and camaraderie of the project, calling it "one of the most formative experiences of my career."
A string of small parts in hit films and TV shows followed his move to Los Angeles, until he played a lead role as Beat generation guru Neal Cassidy in the 1997 film The Last Time I Committed Suicide. Other prominent character roles followed, as did starring gigs in 61*, The Sweetest Thing, Stander, and of course, The Punisher. That role, along with his other horror movies Deep Blue Sea, Dreamcatcher and The Mist, allowed Jane to dive into the Comic and film convention circuit, where he's a frequent panelist.
A member of the Southern California Stereo Club (which, since 1950 the group has held meetings and screenings of 3D movies made since 1950), Jane says his fascination for lost genres partially inspired the 3D format of Dark Country.
3D's early roots were limited to B-movie horror flicks, and its resurgence was at first limited to animated films. In developing his directorial debut, Jane also made film history by shooting the first all-digital live-action 3D movie.
But after completion, the film got bounced around, bumped from a proper theatrical release and subsequently converted to "flat" DVD, which Jane critiques as a poor rendition. Friday's screening is a rare night for fans to see the film in its intended format. A 3D BluRay version is so far only available in France.
"I initially had a production deal to develop this script that Lions Gate bought," said Jane, who, when he proposed a 3D format, said that executives "scratched their heads and had no idea what I was up to." Sony picked up the feature, but executives there were also befuddled, said Jane. He persisted ending up being more than a year ahead of the curve. "Sony didn't know what they had. After 2009, every
Along with his advanced efforts in the new format – "purely digital, no hard stuff involved, all ones and zeros," Jane said, shooting the film also had to evolve. To aid the loose on-location style of Dark Country, Jane recruited the creative team at Paradise FX, known for their 3D rides at theme parks. Aided by specific dual and silicon-imaging cameras, the film also features the first Steady-cam 3D shots.
Calling his film "an experimental Twilight Zone " feature, Jane said he was thrilled to have the Noir Film Foundation's Eddie Muller provide some of the DVD's commentary for Dark Country. The foundation is presenting the film at the Castro Theatre.
And despite its distribution missteps by higher-ups, Jane said, "It's kind of exactly the movie I wanted to make; off the main path, a movie you have to discover by accident, like those gems in the recesses of film history. This is a direct descendant of Detour [the classic noir thriller]. As a career move, I'm not sure it's the best, but it has the life that I intended for it."
Speaking of career moves, one of his roles that did not fall into obscurity is the HBO comedy Hung, about a desperate suburban divorcee who has to make the best of his large talent by becoming a male hustler, to women clients.
Jane said he's enjoying the work, which has brought him a new audience. Hung, he said, has "allowed me to do films I didn't have the opportunity to do. Meaningful work in film is limited to a very elite crowd of people." The actor said he's not sure where the series may go, but is pleased with the new direction, which includes his character having a transgender client. Adding a new rival hustler who takes on male clients should bring some added gay fans.
Jane himself recently got a bit of buzz by vaguely mentioning in a Los Angeles Times interview that in his starving actor days, he "experimented" with sexuality. His coy reference to "letting a guy buy me a sandwich" got a lot of Internet gossip, leading Jane to clarify his quote. Jane also differentiated his own fluid sexuality, which is straight, now, and the more repressed ideas of his character Ray.
"I would have never had the opportunity to confront some of my own fears and prejudices had I not been hungry enough to be forced to challenge myself in that way," he said of his youthful experiments.
Continuing his experimental phase – as a director – Jane will once again take the directorial helm in a 2012 project, what he calls "a Western Homerian Odyssey" replete with Joseph Campbell quest themes. Jane said casting will be key, but it's also easy to lure top-notch talent, because "every actor wants to be a cowboy."
Or a superhero, hustler, baseball star, alien-fighter, or an innovative film director.
Thomas Jane attends a post-screening Q&A of Dark Country at the Castro Theatre. Friday, November 18, 7:30 p.m. $12. 429 Castro St. www.castrotheatre.com