The Rome and The Punisher: War Zone actor talks about his latest project

Ray Stevenson has brought us to Rome and he will bring us to a War Zone later this year. This versatile actor is certainly a rising star in the biz, and his new film, Outpost, is hitting the DVD shelves on March 11. I recently had the chance to speak with the actor over the phone about this new project and much much more. Here's what he had to say.

How did you first come across this part for Outpost?

Ray Stevenson: I was just finishing Rome in November 2006 when a script came across my desk from my London agent. She said, 'Listen Ray, they've got a very low budget, but the people are very interested in you and want you to read the script.' So I read it. I had no idea about the zombie genre or anything like that, but I really loved the script. I took to it because I saw it as a terrific ensemble piece. It was very well-structured, great characters drawn to it, so I met with Steve (Barker), the director, and as soon as I met him, his enthusiasm and knowledge of the whole genre, that was it. I was sold. I said, ''I'd just love to work with him, so let's go make it.' So, that's how I got involved.

Like you said, you haven't really done a lot in the horror/zombie genre. Did you...

Ray Stevenson: Basically, I'm not really a genre person. I'm not like a horror fan, or a sci-fi fan, but I'm very aware of the importance involved in the fan base, and what they bring to their own personal genre what they love. I started to study a bit about the movies, the Sam Raimi remake of Dawn of the Dead. Terrific pieces. Also, a friend of mine in L.A. gave me a book, the Zombie's Survival Guide, by Mel Brooks' son. That triggered off in me that this is a world that is invested in by the fan base, and the script doesn't let it down. It's really on the button there. I leave the horror stuff to them, and my job is to realize this character D.C. And that's it basically. We went to work.

How would you best describe your character D.C.?

Ray Stevenson: As all mercenaries, there's a sadness. There's a place in their life where they wished they'd turned left, rather than right. Given that, they do what they do, and they do it well. The way that he guards and treats his men, he tries to be the best officer he can, and he treats him as if he was still in any sort of governmental military, the regular army. There's no lack of professionalism, there's no lack of responsibility, and yet, he knows he's a gun for hire, and this is a world he's accepted and within that acceptance he's kind of like... he doesn't know where the end will be. The old soldier sort of thing, he hopes he'll be on a battlefield somewhere and when you resign yourself to that sort of end, I think there's kind of a predetermination about your character.

How did you prepare for the role? Did you talk to any ex-Marines or any servicemen or anything?

Ray Stevenson: I did, actually. I did. Very much so. Actually, the military advisor on Rome, Billy Budd, was an actual Marine. I had a long chat with him about what it meant to be a Royal Marine. There's a scene right toward the end of the film, where I take the beret, the green beret off and look at the badge. It's right before D.C. makes his last stand, and he just looks at the badge. You know, these boys are into their badges, and if you notice in the film, we all wear our own insignia. We all had the same uniforms, but the cap badges and caps, are all basically ours. He takes his hat off, he looks at the badge, this is his last moment, he knows this is his last stand, he earned that right to wear that cap. The way he addresses his men, the way he performs his duties, the way he maintains his authority, his respect, these are all core military beliefs. Yeah, I talked to a lot of guys like that.

I saw a few of your co-stars did a few episodes of Rome, Enoch Frost and Julian Rivett.

Ray Stevenson: I know! It's so weird hooking up with Enoch! I said, 'Enoch, the last time I saw you, I was plunging a knife into you' (Laughs). He was a Nubian assassin sent to kill Cleopatra. Well, there was no way I was going to let that happen. But it was cool to work with him. It was cool to work with everybody . They put together a terrific cast.

So was that just coincidence that you guys came onto this?

Ray Stevenson: Yep. Completely.

It seems like you can make comparisons for Outpost to Predator and any number of horror movies. Would you say this is more of a horror movie or an action movie?

Ray Stevenson: I actually think it's more of a human piece. That's what I liked about the script, was that even the genre, nobody blinked at the fact that these were zombies. I don't think the script even mentions the fact that these are zombies. That's what they are, they're the undead, but each character was so beautifully drawn, that each character there was something revealed, that greatest moment of crisis. They were close, but only in a combat sense, yet they were still able to be themselves. That's what really makes this acting stand out. You really get involved with each and every character. You begin to recognize these people. The Irish radio operator, he's still a mercenary, but you get the sense that he has a life. Enoch's character as well. Where the hell did he come from? From Somalia, from this war, to that war to bring him here. You get a sense of that, in this extreme circumstance, about what the hell is going on.

Was this ever set for a theatrical release, or was this always set for a video or TV release?

Ray Stevenson: I think you'd have to ask the producers and Steve about that, but they always hoped, I think, for a small theatrical release, but just having the facility to have the film made, and get it out there... mind you, would I, if this gets made in the way we all envisioned, would I be proud to have a copy of this on my shelf? Yes I would. Anything else is icing on the cake. I believe Sony bought the rights for 27 countries. Getting a distribution deal is all, a completely different political morass. To get to the point where you can create a script, dream up a movie, get it financed, get the people together, get the production happening and actually get the film made... at this stage for these guys involved, more power to them. I would love to see a sequel.

Do you have any favorite stories from the set?

Ray Stevenson: Well, listen, it all happened so fast. We got to the point where we were having to do terrific long-running action scenes, firing weapons inside the bunker, and we had like one take. There was this SteadiCam operator, his name was Gav. Great guy. I remember being on other movies where the SteadiCam operator plays the primadona . He's got to have a guy who holds his stand, follows him so he can immediately take this great, colossal weight off him and pant, as if he'd done some great Olympic feat. Gav was going all day long with this SteadiCam on, because, you know what, he was making his movie. He was involved. It was inspiring to do all this. Apart from being covered up to the eyeballs in mud and bullets, it did really generate a great ensemble feel.

That's awesome. I actually recently interviewed Lexi Alexander for Punisher 2 about a month ago.

Ray Stevenson: Oh you did? (Laughs)

Yeah. I was a huge fan of Green Street Hooligans, so I was really pumped to do that.

Ray Stevenson: Fantastic.

From what I heard from her, it seems like this is a much much darker movie than the first Punisher. Can you elaborate at all on that?

Ray Stevenson: Oh, are you talking about the Dolph Lundgren Punisher?

No, the Thomas Jane Punisher.

Ray Stevenson: Oh, so the second one. This is the big misconception. People have been throwing numbers at this thing, saying we were Punisher 2, and I'm going, 'No we're fucking not. We're Punisher 3.' But who's counting. This is a complete reinvention of the wheel, as it were. This is going right back to the Max series, I think the fans are really going to love this. I was so thrilled, and so humbled to be involved in this. I find it hard to talk about it, because I'm so excited about it. Warner Brothers are excited about it, Marvel is excited about it. I'm just completely jazzed about it. They showed me some poster ideas, which Tim Bradstreet himself had done as well. I think it's going to be something really really special.

Do you have any word on when a trailer might be coming out for that?

Ray Stevenson: I was shown a teaser that Lexi just put together, and (Laughs). What can I say. If you're a fan of the comic books, if you like this genre, I mean, this is an R-rated Punisher War Zone. We're not a $100 million, blow everything up type of movie. The War Zone happens internally as much as it does externally, and I think the fans of the comic book are as much into the psyche and the psychology and the philosophy behind these characters as they are into the action set pieces. I think they deliver on all levels.

Do you have any idea when we might see that teaser

Ray Stevenson: I don't. I don't, unfortunately. Put a call through to Lionsgate and see if they're going to release any trailer. I don't know. We're just in post-production.

I also have to ask about Rome. Have there been any talks about...

Ray Stevenson: Have there been talks about Rome? Oh my God. (Laughs)

There have been?

Ray Stevenson: I hate to say anything, but yes. Bruno Heller, the writer and director of the show, and Bill MacDonald are in talks now for a Rome movie project.

Really? Wow. So they want to bring everyone back?

Ray Stevenson: Well, everybody who's not dead. (Laughs) There's a lot of history there, and if Punisher: War Zone goes well, obviously our profiles may help. The tricky thing with a movie, is that HBO is pay-per-view. It has a limited audience, it has its audience. You've got to try and find a movie that will stand alone and yet serve both the existing audience and attracting new ones. There was so much maturity and so much richness and so much good stuff that came out of it, that I've got my fingers, eyes, nose, teeth and everything crossed, because, in a heartbeat I would go back and do it, but people way beyond my pay scale will be making that decision.

Is there a script for this right now, or are they still developing it?

Ray Stevenson: Well, Bruno started working on the script, and then they called the writers strike. You'd have to make a call to Bruno Heller and people like that. I'm not sure what HBO's legal position or involvement or ownership issues... I mean, these are all being discussed by other people. All I can say is that there's positive talk about it. I wish I could sit here and tell you more, because I'd probably be more excited than you would be, but I'm just quietly keeping everything crossed, and encouraging from my sideline position.

Excellent. Finally, I read that you were inspired to be an actor by a seeing a performance by John Malkovich. Is there any dream project you'd like to work with him on?

Ray Stevenson: Wow. God. I tell you what. You've seen what he's been involved in. Anything he's been involved in, I'd want to be involved in. It's that sort of thing. Maybe there's a project that neither of us have even thought about, but I would love to work with him, and many other actors as well. Gene Hackman is another actor that, he for me, is a working actor, he's a jobbing actor. He never puts in a weak performance. He never puts in an uninteresting performance. Chris Cooper as well. Chris Cooper is another one that I just simply adore. He's constantly believable in anything and everything that he does. Who knows. One day, if the film gods smile on us, or even the theater gods. I'd go on stage with John Malkovich in a heartbeat.

That's great, Ray. That's about all I have for you. Thank you so much for your time.

Ray Stevenson: No worries. You take care. Thank you very much.

Outpost hits the DVD shelves on March 11.