One of the most recognized actors to appear on the silver screen over the last six decades, Jon Voight is someone who takes nothing for granted. A student of theater, his distinctive portrayals have shone bright throughout his career; from his earlier days with iconic films such as 1969’s Midnight Cowboy and 1972’s Deliverance, to more recent times, with a regular role on the hit Showtime series Ray Donovan. The recipient of a list of accolades which include an Academy Award, a BAFTA Award, and four Golden Globe Awards, perhaps his biggest honor came in 2019 when he was bestowed the National Medal of Arts.
Truly a prolific actor who has remained consistent and dignified through many years of hard work… there are truly few left around in the entertainment world quite like Jon Voight. Recently celebrating his 85th birthday, Voight continues to have the vitality and passion to perform both in film and television on a regular basis. Doing just that, he recently co-starred alongside Charlie Weber in new Action film The Painter. Humble and gracious to still be going strong, Voight took some time to sit down and chat little about his career, working on The Painter, as well as walking along life’s path toward earned wisdom.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in acting for many years now. Really impressive, you have achieved a great deal of success through the decades with many memorable films. Briefly tell us, how would you describe your incredible career in the arts to this point?
Jon Voight – Wow. Well, that’s a big one, isn’t it? I know every step of the way of course; and those memories are quite vivid. They’re with me all the time. I was very fortunate, but I also worked very hard to learn about acting. I have a great appreciation from my upbringing. My father was a great storyteller. He was a golf professional. He had three boys. At one time, I believe when we were between 5 and 7 years old, he told us stories almost every night for a couple of years. I don’t know exactly how long he did that for, but he was a great storyteller. I fell in love with stories because of my dad. That’s the way I trace it. The beginning, middle, and end, and the excitement of going through the process to get to the end. If you end it properly, something happens. You then have a package that reaches your heart.
That was the romance of it. Then I found myself watching Sid Caesar with my family. Sid Caesar was a comedian who did the equivalent of Saturday Night Live. They had a team of people who were good actors and good comedians. I used to imitate Sid Caesar with my classmates after the Saturday night hour and a half. I became known for that in a way. That was the beginning for me. Those are the pieces.
Then I started to fall in love with movies. My dad had very good taste in movies. Spencer Tracy was his favorite actor; which is a great role model. I loved the Adventure movies that were right from my age at the time. It was a natural process. I then realized that I wanted to do it seriously. I went to New York and I worked with Sanford Meisner for two years. I then said to myself, “Well, now I have to go out and see if I’ve got anything”… and I did.
I was able to work on a play with Robert Duvall, a young Robert Duvall, and everybody was talking about him at that time too. Through that I met Dustin Hoffman. That connection with Dusty resulted in my working with him on Midnight Cowboy (1969). All of a sudden, I was at an event. Every actor knows, in the early part of your life, and maybe even all the way through it, you never know if anybody’s going to ask you to work again after you finish a project. You just don’t know. Actors are out of work after every job they do. I’ve gone through all of that too.
I’m very grateful that I have continued to make a little bit of a mark and that I still have some energy to do this work, because I love it. That’s my answer to your question. I’m still around and I’m still excited about it. I’m very happy for the young people that I meet along the way now that can find a career that’s like mine.
Cryptic Rock – Well, you certainly have built a very prolific career; there is no question about that. You have done a plethora of things in a long, varied list of genres. Now you have this new film, The Painter. This one is a mix between Action, Thriller, and a little bit of Sci-Fi as well. So, how did this project come about for you?
Jon Voight – Well, I have a friend of mine, Steven Paul, who is a producer that has a working situation with Paramount and Republic Pictures now. We’re close friends. He looks for things to do. He’s a very clever, hardworking guy. When it says producer in the credit… I don’t know anybody who is more entitled to that than Steven.
He chooses his script and he works with the writers developing it. He casts every picture that he’s doing. He works on the post-production right to the completion; right through the editing and the music and all of that. He also okays everything along the way. He’s very active, he’s a tremendous force, and he’s a friend. He likes me, he likes my work, and he trusts me to do things. So, if he comes up with something close to me, he says, “Jon, I got one for you. You know I’d like to have you do it. Take a look at this.” That’s great and I’m very fortunate to have that at this time of my career.
Cryptic Rock – Sounds like a nice working relationship. The Painter plays out very well and you obviously learn more as everything unfolds. We do not want to give away the ending though; because it has a pretty interesting conclusion. What did you think of The Painter’s when you first read it?
Jon Voight – I thought it was clever. I had some ideas about it; and I was able to contribute a few little things to it. I thought it was a very interesting script. As you say, it’s part this, part that. It even gets into the realm of Sci-Fi too. It’s a clever script and it’s full of twists and turns, and they’re all fun. I do think it’s fun.
Cryptic Rock – It definitely is. Leaving the film, you wonder – is something like this really possible? It is kind of scary when you think it might sincerely be possible.
Jon Voight – Yeah, I think so too. Well, of course, at this time, we’ve seen a little bit of this kind of stuff; or we fear that maybe some of this is happening. We hope not, or if it is, we hope we catch it in time.
Cryptic Rock – Most certainly. In The Painter you play directly opposite of Charlie Weber. Charlie plays Peter; a former CIA agent who is also your character’s adopted son. There seems to be very good chemistry with you two on screen. That said, what was it like working together?
Jon Voight – I’m so glad you said that. Well, we like each other. When an actor reads a script, just like going to see a movie, it changes your point of view. When I read the script, I was naturally making some associations with my own life, etc. I was preparing to feel a certain way about the different performers that are playing these roles. You’re naturally doing that. You’re putting some things in your pocket so to say. You’re saying, “Well, I feel this, I feel that. This is like this. This is like me with this person or whatever it is.” Then, when you meet them finally on the set, they fill in all of that, and you’re encouraging that relationship. That’s what it was with Charlie and I.
He knew what my character was supposed to be and what his association was, and I did too. On top of that, I think I just respected his talent, his professionality, and his abilities that even included this extraordinary athletic ability that he exposed. We had some fun. Charlie has done so much work. He’s worked on a successful television series. If you’re doing that, you know an awful lot. There’s probably lots of action stuff that he had to do prior to this piece; otherwise, he wouldn’t have been so adaptable to it. I mean, he just took to it like he was born to do it. And he was born to do it.
Cryptic Rock – You work well off each other. There is something to be said about wisdom. Sometimes in modern culture we forget, or discount, the wisdom that comes through life experience of those who preceded ourselves. Being that you have been active for so long, and you continue to be so within film and television, what are some of the most important things you have learned from your life’s journey?
Jon Voight – I think what you say is true. As was said by Bette Davis, “Getting older isn’t for sissies.” (Laughs)
The one positive thing that people say about it, and I think it’s proven true, is that the result of old age should be wisdom; to have some experience. When you look at a young person, when I look at little children, I know where they’re at, what’s going on with them, and I can help them; because I can see what’s coming out of them. I can see who they are because of my life experience. I’m a good energy for them because I’ve given them love, encouragement, and maybe a warning or two as an older person should. You can tell them, “If you keep going like that, you’re going to be in a little trouble.”
Wisdom is the badge of old age. Old age is not easy to go through. As I say, we’re learning all the time too. We pay our dues while we’re here. I think my idea about life is that we’re here to learn lessons. I think we’re all in that process. I’ve had to learn a lot of lessons. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, and then I’ve had the opportunity to recover from them. That’s the biggest blessing I’ve had in life.
Cryptic Rock – That is a blessing. Life is a non-linear line. Sometimes we think things are going in a certain direction, but we have setbacks, and it is just about learning.
Jon Voight – Yes. Sometimes you’re asked to face yourself. I think that’s a good part of what I’ve done in my life. It’s facing myself, knowing who I am. The old oracle of Delphi said, “Know thyself.” Well, sometimes that’s tough to do. (Laughs)
But anyway, that’s where the learning comes from. You say, “Well, I won’t do that again.” It is about the strength to discipline myself to do this instead. Then in terms of doing something noble or righteous, even if there’s tremendous difficulty, you realize that you can give yourself over to it and demand the discipline to see it through. Then, if you do, there is nothing that can’t be accomplished.