Audiences have been watching Jon Voight’s performances for decades, but the actor credits one particular role for the second half of his legendary career.
Voight says few thought he could convey the gritty antihero in 1985’s “Runaway Train,” the tale of two convicts who break out of jail only to wind up on the titular train.
His screen image up until then lacked that brand of dangerous persona.
The ex-con character of Oscar “Manny” Manheim was the toughest guy in a tough prison, Voight explains. The Academy Award winner for “Coming Home,” renowned for his delicate features and gentle characterizations, seemed a longshot for the film.
“No one would have chosen me for that part. It came to me in a magical way, in a sense,” Voight tells The Daily Wire.
The role earned him critical honors — an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe win — and a career rebirth.
“Without that performance, I probably wouldn’t have done ‘Heat,’ ‘Anaconda’ and ‘Ray Donovan,’” he says, ticking off three tough guy gigs in his career. “That’s what contributed to my longevity, being able to play the villain and the tough guys … I broke the mold.”
Voight, an icon who humbly calls himself a “character actor,” plays a curious chap in his latest project. “Dangerous Game: The Legacy Murders” finds him anchoring an ensemble of bickering family members in a life or death struggle.
Voight plays Ellison Betts, an eccentric millionaire celebrating his birthday with his extended brood. Tensions are high as the siblings reunite in Ellison’s sprawling mansion, but that’s nothing compared to the threat awaiting them.
A hidden voice demands they play an immersion-style whodunnit game, one with a shockingly high body count.
Voight reunites with director Sean McNamara for the film. The duo recently completed work on “Reagan,” the 2023 eagerly biopic of the nation’s 40th president. The actor wasn’t sold initially on “Dangerous Game,” but McNamara coaxed him to come aboard.
“He found this so delicious, the way he spoke about it, I thought, ‘this is gonna be good,” Voight says, adding the veteran director makes coming to the set a joy. “He’s very positive … he always says, ‘that’s genius,’ at the end of every take, and he means it.”
For “Dangerous Game,” McNamara had multiple cameras shooting at the same time, with the director orchestrating from his booth in the back of the set, the actor explains.
The film arrives during a mini crush of murder mysteries, from the emerging “Knives Out” franchise to twin Agatha Christie remakes – with a third film, “A Haunting in Venice,” recently greenlit. Plus, Steve Martin’s “Only Murders in the Building” Hulu series keeps audiences guessing with a dash of humor.
Those projects aren’t as dark as “Dangerous Game, though, which veers from mystery to horror long before the end credits.
Voight’s career began with a pair of little-seen roles (“Fearless Frank,” “Hour of the Gun”), but his breakout performance in 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy” changed everything for him. The X-rated smash garnered Voight his first Oscar nomination, paving the way for follow-up movies like “Catch 22,” “Deliverance” and “Coming Home.” The latter earned him a Best Actor trophy, cementing his status as one of Hollywood’s most gifted stars.
His “Runaway Train” performance ensured he’d stay busy for as long as his creative fires burned. Even his willingness to express his conservative views, something most right-leaning stars keep to themselves, haven’t dimmed his Hollywood stardom.
He’s actively supported President Donald Trump and slammed President Barack Obama during the latter’s two terms in office.
You won’t hear him getting political on a film or TV set, though. He famously agreed to disagree with his longtime “Ray Donovan” colleague Liev Schreiber, a policy he maintains in other work environments.
“Politics is not to be dealt with on a set. You’re there for the work, not there to proselytize anything. That’s the way I am,” he says. “Other people will try to get me into saying something, and I say, ‘hey, let’s do our work, fellas.’”
His remarkable, seven-plus season run on Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” gave Voight the chance to do something he couldn’t for much of his career – stick with a character and watch him grow.
Mickey Donovan, a loving father to Schreiber’s Ray and an unrepentant killer, gave Voight one of his best roles yet. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done that kind of a lengthy series. It was a lot of responsibility for me to craft it … we had to protect [the characters],” he says.
Voight’s next major project after “Reagan,” in which he plays a retired KBG agent, is co-starring in Francis Ford Coppola’s comeback vehicle, “Megalopolis.” The highly anticipated film features a who’s who of Hollywood stars, past and present, including Adam Driver, Laurence Fishburne, Dustin Hoffman, Talia Shire, Forest Whitaker and D.B. Sweeney.
The craft of acting still casts a spell over Voight, much like his longtime friend Al Pacino.
“I love his passion,” he says of “The Godfather” star. “I’m passionate, too. I wanna solve these characters. We get to make them something that gives people an experience.”
Voight may be 83, but his enthusiasm seems untouched by time.
“I’m an older fella … things change, but I’m always pretty much the same fella. I come to the set with the same intensity,” he says. “I don’t mail anything in. I don’t do that. I’m still very excited [by the process].”
Christian Toto is an award-winning journalist, movie critic and editor of HollywoodInToto.com. He previously served as associate editor with Breitbart News’ Big Hollywood. Follow him at @HollywoodInToto.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.