TheWrap Grills Jon Voight

On Angelina Jolie’s film debut, Obama, and the newly discovered cut of Hal Ashby’s “Lookin’ to Get Out.”

Last Updated: July 10, 2009 @ 12:25 PM

Jon Voight did some of his best work with director Hal Ashby, including the classic, “Coming Home,” in which he portrays a paralyzed Vietnam vet coaxed out of his acerbic shell by co-star Jane Fonda. He won an Oscar for his performance, reteaming with Ashby two years later for “Lookin’ to Get Out,” co-written by Voight and first-time scribe Al Schwartz. The picture opened in 1982 to morbid reviews and dismal box office, but now,  27 years later, a new edit has surfaced, available for the first time on Warner Home Video.

These days he may sound like Rush Limbaugh — but don’t be fooled. With first-rate performances in classics like “The Deliverance” and “Midnight Cowboy," Voight is one cool cat. He sat down recently with TheWrap to talk about the new edit, daughter Angelina Jolie’s first screen appearance, the war in Iraq and the passing of some of Hollywood’s greatest performers. 

All these years later, how does this discovered edit of “Lookin’ to Get Out” compare with the 1982 release?
The original was all over the place and it reflected the drama that was around the post-production. Hal was working on three films at the same time. He had teams of editors working on each of the films, and it was tough for him to see — just to see the whole thing clearly. Hal walked away from it in a battle of some kind and the picture — 15 minutes were taken out of the picture, which wasn’t a perfect picture as it was. Then Hal passed away.

At the age of five, Angelina has her big screen debut with you in the final moments of the film.
It’s a lovely little scene and it was written for a boy and my son was going to play it but Hal wanted a little girl. So Angie, when I asked her, she said “Yes, I’ll do it.” And her mother was there and she worked with Angie on the lines and probably gave her a little advice, gently. So when Angelina came to the set, she was very well prepared. She wasn’t worried too much about it. I said, “Do you want to go over the lines, Angelina?” And then she just said, “Okay.”

This sweet little girl, usually distracted by everything, by this and by that, you didn’t know where her focus was going to be or if she would get upset and say “I can’t do it,” or cry. She could have done any of those things. But she didn’t. She was very poised. When the camera went on and when Hal said “Action,” she just did it.

It’s great to have it preserved like that on film.
When you see the film, the way she looks at me when I’m bending down, you can see she feels my pain. You see it in her eyes, just little tiny things. It’s quite a lovely performance, really a lovely performance.

Did you know early on Angelina was going to grow up to be in movies?
I’d give the kids little acting things to do, playful. “You want to learn to act?” They’d say, “Let me act something!” I’d say, “Okay, let’s write a script. Now you act a script.” Angelina, she didn’t think much about that. She was just having fun as a little girl.

Have you watched the scene with her?
I don’t want to get into this too much, by the way. I don’t want to talk about Angie.

Your day job now is as Jonas Hodges on “24.” Can you address some of the criticism the show has faced for its depiction of torture?
Look, it’s about Jack Bauer doing what is necessary to do in tough situations. I like the way he handles himself, and it’s probably closer to anything we’ve seen as a portrait of the military under those conditions. For instance, in Iraq, if somebody comes at you with a knife, you can’t shoot them with a gun. Did you know that?

Can you imagine yourself in that situation that some kind of obligation is put on from a lawyer somewhere who is sitting at a desk from somebody who wants to be green or something?

These guys are putting their lives on the line for us and we’re thinking about them stepping over some kind of delicate line when people are chopping people’s heads off and throwing acid in little girls’ faces as they go to school?

Obama is pulling troops out of Iraq. Do you support this?
Wouldn’t it be nice if the president of the United States started saying thanks to our boys for what they’ve accomplished?

But do you give him credit for sticking with the Bush plan?
The generals are saying, “We can do it. We can pull back. Let’s see how they do. We’ve prepared these guys.” Look, there’s a whole bunch of stories about the Iraq situation. When these people went out and voted against threats against their lives, these people were heroic. Those people should have been on the cover of Newsweek and Time magazine as men of the year, as people of the year.

There’s been a lot of bravery in Iraq, and those people have stepped up and I’m rooting for them. But we really have liberated that country and no one has said it. It’s been a long and difficult campaign and we’ve accomplished it, and many heroic American boys and girls have produced this result.

Have you been to Iraq to visit the troops?

Listen, I’m 70 years old. If I go over there — I’ve got the most fragile white skin. I burn up in a 140-degree temperatures. I wouldn’t last four minutes over there.

Were you always right of the spectrum, or was there an event that turned you?
What’s right of the spectrum? There’s not right or left here. You want to say that a person who’s a policeman or a person who’s a soldier put their life on the line, you want to look for their political agenda? It’s disgusting.

What do you say to detractors who put you on the right of the divide?
Listen, I don’t have any detractors in places that I care about.

We’ve had some high-profile deaths in the entertainment business over the past couple of weeks. Just wondering what your memories are of some of those who’ve passed?
Each of these people that passed this week have touched us in some way. And of course Farrah was somebody who was so lovely and so healthy and so vibrant and then this last year she was very brave. She went through all this and tried to do something with this passing in terms of being courageous enough to be filmed during certain moments. And Ryan at her side at the end, that was nice to see that, Ryan at her side at the end. It moved us all.

And then of course you have Michael Jackson, a brilliant, brilliant talent. He was like a comet, he was so inspiring with his talent. I just met him once. He reminded me of a very small boy, actually, when I met him. This was at the top of his game. And then something happened when the lights went on. He was quite spectacular and he was innovative and all that.

And Karl Malden, Ed McMahon, all of these people meant so much to us. We deeply appreciate each one of these people for the very unique gifts that they had and what they gave us.