The iconic actor does some treasure hunting and myth busting then lives to tell about it
Jon Voight has become one of my all time favorite people to interview. Earlier this year during press for Transformers, he proved to be quite playful and enduring. I got the sense that he loved his job maybe a little too much. And I thought that was great. So, I was really looking forward to sitting down with him and discussing his role in the upcoming John Turteltaub sequel National Treasure: Book of Secrets.
In the film Voight plays Patrick Gates, treasure hunting historian and father to Nicolas Cage's Benjamin Franklin Gates. This is the first sequel Voight has ever associated himself with (Super Babies: Baby Geniuses 2 doesn't really count since he wasn't in the first outing). This time around, Patrick Gates is a huge part of the adventure. He is pretty much along for the entire ride, and even gets reacquainted with his estranged wife (played by Helen Mirren).
Voight had a great time reprising the character. And welcomed me into his suite with open arms to talk about the experience. Before long, the conversation turned to American history and the myths and conspiracies that plague our country. Always an intelligent and insightful source of information, it was a treat to hear him talk about some of this stuff.
Here is our complete and unedited chat:
Interview Jon Voight
Jon Voight: Where are you from?
I am from Los Angeles.
Jon Voight: Okay, good.
My first question deals with this theme of the dissolution and resolution of relationships. Why do you think that was so important to the story this time around?
Jon Voight: It is about the family legacy, isn't it? It is about the value of family, and restoring the name. Recouping the legacy is the theme of the picture. We are all recouping, and part of that is because we are revisiting. It is of the mother, and we are giving support to our son. That legacy. We want to pass on something loving to our son. That is what I think.
Okay. Well, this is...
Jon Voight: Okay? What? You don't accept that answer?
No, I accept that answer very much so, Sir. I think that is a great answer. I like that answer.
Jon Voight: (Laughs)
I was just going to say, you started out as this really dramatic actor in some of the greatest dramas of the seventies. Did you ever imagine that you'd someday be starring in two of the biggest action films of 2007?
Jon Voight: I am very fortunate to be in these two big pictures. I love the fact that I can be recognized by young people. It is great. What happened is, I saw the picture with some of you guys on Friday. At the end of the picture, an eight-year-old kid came up to me. I was sitting in the front row, and he was walking by. He comes up and says, "Mr. Voight, you were great in the movie. Congratulations." He was eight.
That is too funny.
Jon Voight: It was terrific. It is wonderful to be a part of this film. And this sequel. This franchise. I'm able to say things I like. I am able to pay my respect to the United States of America, which is my love. I am so grateful for the heritage we have been given. And I get to make contact with the younger generation of filmgoers. It is terrific.
On that note, did you go and study some of the history that is in this film?
Jon Voight: I have been a student of American history for a while. For some reason, I just had a compulsive rush to investigate all of American history. This happened a couple of years ago. Maybe fifteen years ago, almost. I read everything I could get my hands on. Maybe ten years ago. Then this film came to me. And I said to Bruckheimer, "I am pretty prepared for this. Because I know a lot about this. I know the value of this." With this film, I know when it is real. I know when it is not real. We are using a certain aspect of true American history, and then adjusting it to the Gates family. It is delightful fun. I think it is great.
Do you think the writers are onto something with some of these conspiracy ideas that are posed by the film?
Jon Voight: I don't see it as conspiracies, really. Right now we are dealing with conspiracies that are very pernicious. When you say conspiracies, I think about stuff that people think happened with our government. That this happened, or this happened. You know? I'll give you an example. I know we haven't talked about this much. A very important thing that happened in my lifetime, especially in my young adult lifetime, was the death of John Kennedy. Everybody knows where they were when they heard the news that John Kennedy was killed. It was a shock. We were traumatized for that moment in the Sixties. Maybe that is why the Sixties were so insane. It was a traumatized nation that went nuts. What happened was, they had all of these conspiracy theories about it. Who was John F. Kennedy killed by? He was killed by a Russian operative. He was killed by a communist. It was a cold war killing. And it was perverted into something else. Because they have created a whole mythology. What did we do? We said, "No, it is our government. It is the CIA." Do you understand?
I totally understand it.
Jon Voight: All of this crazy crap. And that is the same thing going on right now. And when I say crap, I mean crap. In the deepest sense. We see the same thing happened with the Twin Towers. And whom do they blame it on? The government. What!?! Are you out of your minds!?! Yes, you are out of your minds. Anyone that says that is out of their mind. It is perverse thinking. It is anti-American. It is this need to be anti-American. Anyway, we have to be very careful about these conspiracies.
Do you mean be careful about the actual conspiracy, or the conspiracy as a myth?
Jon Voight: When you say conspiracy, it means that people are conspiring to do something. There is this blame. Like this conspiracy theory that we had something to do with the killing of our own people in the Twin Towers. It is insanity. Of course, it is to the delight of our enemies that we can do these kinds of things.
Don't you think there are certain people that like to promote these ideas simply for entertainment value?
Jon Voight: I'll tell you who likes to promote it. Our enemies like to promote it. The enemies of our government. The enemies of our democracy. The enemies of our society. We are facing a pernicious enemy. A very dangerous one. And what is their great gift? Are they great warriors? No, they are great cowards. What are they good at? They are good at propaganda.
Why, in your opinion, do you think it is so easy for people, especially our younger generation, to attached themselves to these rumors. To this enemy propaganda?
Jon Voight: It is being helped by a left-wing media. By you guys.
Not me. I'm not part of the left-wing.
Jon Voight: No, I mean the media. In general. It is the media that leavens the ground. They give the ground enough space for these roots to take hold. And people are blaming America. "What did we do so that someone would hate us so much they would kill our people?" Its that question. And that is an insane question. Here, we have a villain that comes over and kills our people. And we ask this question, "What did we do to deserve this?" There is something perverse about it.
But I want to know why you think the younger generation is so eager to buy into those ideas? It's like they truly want to believe them.
Jon Voight: No! The younger generation is a victim of the media and schooling. Which is very left wing. It all has a liberal bent. They are programmed. They are innocent victims. The people that are perpetrating this stuff are the villains in our society. They're linking arms with our enemies. They are giving our enemies all the nutrients that they need to destroy us.
That is the way I look at it. I didn't mean to get off on this tangent.
Jon Voight: Hey, it is important.
When you go out, you sit at a bar, this is the stuff that the kids are talking about. And they are regurgitating stuff that they have heard. They are not talking about stuff they actually have any knowledge of.
Jon Voight: That is right. They regurgitate it. They say any kind of crazy thing. Whatever they hear, they spread it. That is how propaganda is effective. Because people don't think twice. They just hear it. And then they repeat it as truth.
I wish you'd speak more publicly about some of this stuff. It seems like this topic is very important to you. That you know a lot about this stuff.
Jon Voight: I do know a lot about it. I really looked into it. There are some guys that you have to be really appreciative of. The heroes that are really investigating this stuff. There is this guy named Steve Emerson. You see him on all of the networks. He is a terrorist expert. He has dedicated his life to keeping his eye on and reporting all of this subversion that is going on.
Do you think some of the ideas that are in this movie are keeping people from seeing what the truth might be?
Jon Voight: I think this is a patriotic movie. It salutes our legacy. It says that you have to fight for the truth. You have to go to great lengths to preserve that. That is what the movie is about, if you want to go deep into it. Here is a guy that says, "I have evidence!" But he is a greedy son of a bitch. And he wants his name attached to the finding of this treasure. For his own purposes and his own family name. He lies! He says, "I have this evidence!" And we have to fight against these lies to finally find the truth and vindicate the family name. We are trying to do that with America right now. We have to fight for the legacy that we have been given. It is almost a sublime gift we have been given. To be Americans. And I am not ashamed to say it. Do you see? America has been a gift to the world entire. Everyone studies our constitution. Because it is such an amazing Godly document, really. It is a blessing to the world. We are the beneficiaries and the carriers of it. We must be responsible for carrying it off safely into the future. We need to preserve it for the next generation. We are being attacked right now. We have to protect it from within. And from without. We are being manipulated into the destruction of our society. What does Hugo Chavez want? He wants to destroy America. He wants to destroy democracy.
I know. He came right out and said that. Blatantly.
Jon Voight: Oh, he said it straight out. What does Omak Abidjan want? He wants to destroy America. He wants to destroy democracy. We have a fight on our hands.
Well, going back to the end of the film, and what you just said, why do you think Nicolas Cage's character gives this guy's name? He tells them that Wilkinson helped find the treasure. If he is such a bad guy, why do you think his name is given at the end?
Jon Voight: Well, here's what I think. At the end of the day, he sees a part of himself in Wilkinson. He sees this aspect of family legacy being important to Wilkinson. As he sees in himself. He sees that the manipulation in finding the treasure is to preserve the name. In the end, Wilkinson, for whatever reasoned, saves his life. He saves everyone's life. That is the last gesture of his own life. And he makes that request to have his name be a part of it. If Wilkinson hadn't started this whole thing, they never would have found the treasure. And I think that is why Nic does it. But that is an interesting discussion. Where is justice there? And where is truth. That is a good question. Is the film justified? Because of this final act of decency? For what ever reason. Does that justify him being a part of history. Having his name associated with this discovery.
Do you think you'd ever be interested in writing a book about this stuff?
Jon Voight: That I would? I think there are a lot of great authors working on books about American history. I am just a beneficiary of all those books. I've gathered a lot of them. I have a wonderful library in my home. So, we have those great writers out there. They are taking the responsibility for this hour in history. And they are giving us all of the answers that we need. Personally, I am not a great writer. And I do not have that kind of time. But I can talk to you, and you can report what I say. That is a good way to do it. You can say exactly what you have said. You can present it exactly the way it is spoken.
I swear to God, I always do that. I don't manipulate my interviews.
Jon Voight: That is great. Yeah. This is good, then. Each of us can do something. You can do something, for sure. I can do something. We can each do something. We will see the truth of things.
At the start of this, you said that you see this series of films as a franchise. What do you think you'd like to see done with a third film to kind of promote those ideas of truth and democracy?
Jon Voight: I don't know. I found this one to be very truthful. Who knows how these things come about in these ways. I found that this film really has something to say. Of course it is an entertainment. And it is a terrific entertainment. And the cost in this one is great. Every element that came together is very special. When you go to set and you see Nic Cage, and you see Justin Bartha, who is quite a brilliant young actor...Diane Kruger, who has a very light, wonderful comedic touch. She has perfect pitch. She is a very lovely girl. A great actress. Then you have Ed Harris, who is a great actor. And you have Helen Mirren, who is a brilliant actor. It is some stew, to get on set and see these guys working. And when you see the way they work on set. They all know what they are doing. Their focus is on that moment when they are going to be on camera. It is very interesting to see that. You see how they come up with it in rehearsal. You see how they come up with an idea here or there. How they talk to John Turteltaub. It is great to see how it all comes together. It is a wonderful thing. They are all gifted filmmakers. They know their craft.
Was there anything about the first movie that you wanted to do but didn't get to? That you maybe wanted to bring to this?
Jon Voight: Well, I didn't have much to do in the first one. But I enjoyed what I had to do. This one gave me a little bit more room to contribute. I enjoyed it. I'm Helen's ex-husband. I enjoyed that. And I get to have a little bit of adventure. I loved that. I actually got to be a participant in the action. I loved that.
Well, that's may time. It's been a real pleasure to talk with you this afternoon.
Jon Voight: Great. Thank you.
National Treasure opens December 21st, 2007.