From writer/director Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the crime drama Broken Horses tells the story of two brothers, Jacob Heckum (Anton Yelchin), a music prodigy who left town as a child, after the death of his father, and his child-like older brother Buddy (Chris Marquette), a simple-minded young man who has been manipulated into working for a notorious drug gang. Jacob feels extreme guilt for having left Buddy behind, and is now faced with the gang’s ruthless boss (Vincent D’Onofrio), who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Vincent D’Onofrio talked about why he found this film and character so compelling, the passion of Indian filmmaker Vidhu Vinod Chopra, and how impressive he found it to work with Anton Yelchin and Chris Marquette. He also talked about what gets him to sign on for a project, the experience of making Mall, which he also co-wrote and produced, what made him want to be a part of Daredevil, how much fun he had making Jurassic World, and being a super cool dad.
Collider: What was it about this film and this character that you found compelling and intriguing and made you want to sign on?
VINCENT D’ONOFRIO: It was mainly a combination of the script and Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the director. We met in New York and we just hit it off so well. I just sensed that this was really important to him. He wanted to make his first American film and he had such a specific take on it. He’s a very passionate guy. That helped my decision a lot. I thought it would be really cool to work with him. And then, the story is such a classic story of manipulating people’s hearts and minds, and what true loyalty is with these two brothers and their connection. It’s very classic stuff, and I love that kind of stuff. And then, the opportunity to play a guy who’s a manipulator of this young boy. He kills his father, and then manipulates the son. It’s so Greek. Vinod and I got along so well. We were just on the same page. During production and in between takes, he was extremely helpful with this story and what I should do. I think it’s a classic story.
It sounds like it was really important to Vinod to blend the aesthetics with Indian cinema and the epic emotion of familial themes with the nuance of the Hollywood narrative. How was the experience of being a part of something like that? Do you feel like he took to Hollywood filmmaking very well?
D’ONOFRIO: I think so. I think we took to him, just to see the way the crew was with him, and how much they adored him and would do anything he said. He really holds the set together, as the captain of the ship. He has this team that comes with him, with his sister and the guy that he always writes with. A family comes in and works with him to get his vision across, and they all respect that he’s the artist and his vision is why they’re here. It’s a very intense thing. It’s something that you don’t see with an American director. They’re trying to serve his passion and tell his stories the way he wants to tell them. It’s quite unique.
There’s such an interesting dynamic in this film, between your character and these two brothers. How was it to work with Chris Marquette and Anton Yelchin, and what did you enjoy about playing that dynamic?
D’ONOFRIO: Anton and Chris are just so good. It’s so nice to see these young guys come in with full characters, and come in prepared, every day. They’re not holding things up. They’re enhancing the project when they’re on set. It was just so impressive to see them. They’re very good actors. I did more scenes with Chris, and he’s an amazing talent. And the scenes that I did with Anton, he is, as well. They’re all very present when they’re acting. They’re right there, in the moment. There’s no posing and there’s no nonsense going on. It’s all about the story and telling it properly. And we all got along really well. We had lots of dinners together, the three of us with Vinod. We would go to his place and have meals and just talk about life, in relation to the movie we were making. It was very cool. It was very similar to, back in the ‘80s, the way people used to make films when they would sit around and discuss stuff. That doesn’t really happen very much anymore.
The last thing I saw you in prior to this was Mall, which you also co-wrote and produced. What was that experience like for you, and how was Joe Hahn, from Linkin Park, as a feature director?
D’ONOFRIO: Joe was great. Sam Maydew, my producing partner, and I hired Joe to do it. I thought Joe was the perfect pick for it because Joe’s audience is exactly the audience for the movie. And he had such a great take on it. He understood the script immediately, and the vision that he had cinematically was so perfect that I would have been a fool not to hire him. And working with Joe is very good because he’s very quiet and very honest, and he doesn’t say anything that doesn’t need to be said. I was doing another film while I was doing that one, so he was the captain of that ship and made the film that we wanted him to make. Going there and playing that character was very intense. The stuff with the young girl was very intense. It was cool because I actually hired her. She came to my house and met my wife and we talked, and that’s how she got the job. I just knew, right away, that she was going to show up and be great, and she was, but it was very intense stuff and a very intense part.
Your casting on Daredevil seemed unexpected, but totally perfect. How did you get involved with that show? Was there any sort of casting process that you had to go through, or did they just come to you about the role?
D’ONOFRIO: There were discussions. I wasn’t sure about it. I knew who Wilson Fisk was, but I only knew what the Marvel movies were like. The thing about Daredevil is that there are no superpowers. We needed to have a discussion, so Jeph Loeb and I talked about it. That first phone call with Jeph Loeb, and then the second one with Jeph and Steven DeKnight, is when I was convinced that it would be okay to do. And then, I read the first couple of scripts. Wait until you see the series. Whether you’re into that kind of thing or not, it is definitely a Netflix series. It’s Marvel and Netflix coming together with this great new take on things.
How would you describe the tone and feel of the show?
D’ONOFRIO: The series just came out so good. It’s like a 13-hour film. Emotionally, it goes places that I don’t think anybody is going to expect. Unlike the movies, except for maybe what [Robert] Downey does with Iron Man because there’s a lot of emotional stuff with that, this gets truly deep. Everybody’s motivation comes from the core of who they are. There’s not one false moment in the whole thing. They all have very deeply thought-out, emotional lives that drive these people. It’s pretty cool. I’m very proud of it. It was unexpected, and I didn’t know I was going to have the time I had on it, but I ended up having one of the best experiences I’ve had, so far.
Seeing what a great job Marvel has done with all of the films, and considering that Jeph Loeb always says that everything with the TV shows is all connected, are you looking forward to being a part of the bigger Marvel universe?
D’ONOFRIO: They don’t tell you. You never know with them. They have their world, but they don’t like to spoil anything, so nobody knows until it’s set in stone. You don’t know. I actually don’t know what they have in store for Wilson Fisk, or my Wilson Fisk, I should say.
How cool is it to also be a part of something as hugely epic as Jurassic World? Do you enjoy getting to be a part of something that massive, or is it just totally bizarre to be on a set like that?
D’ONOFRIO: It’s both of those things. It feels great because you’re there. It’s a really good script, and Colin Trevorrow, the director, is just a really great guy. He really brought it. I just knew immediately with him. I loved his movie, Safety Not Guaranteed, so I knew I was in really good hands. You’re right, you walk around these sets and you see something from one of the other movies, and you’re like, “Oh, shit!” It’s exactly the way you think it would be. It has this real cool factor to it. It was cool because my 22-year-old and my 15-year-old were able to come and visit set, hang out and see the park. The 7-year-old is too young to get it.
Do your kids think you’re the coolest now, or have they always thought you were a cool dad?
D’ONOFRIO: That’s a good question. I hope they think that I’m cool. They like the fact that I’ve done Daredevil and Jurassic. I think it’s the first time that I’ve ever done movies they can actually see, except for Adventures in Babysitting, but that was a long time ago. Now, my 22-year-old can see everything I’ve done, but my 15-year-old hasn’t been able to see anything, at all. I’m very happy. I hope I’m a super cool dad.
You’re considered to be one of the best actors out there, and you’re so well-respected. Your career spans film and TV, you’ve done some high-profile projects, and you play bad guys and good guys. What is it that gets you to sign on for a project, at this point?
D’ONOFRIO: Well, it’s a combination of things. Some of them are practical, and some of them are creative. The timing has to work out with my family. They come first. And then, there’s the creative aspect of it. Does this have a cool factor, or is this a great piece of literature that needs to be told? I’m about to do the James Franco thing, In Dubious Battle, from a John Steinbeck novel about the apple pickers forming unions back in the ‘30s. It was just written so well, so Bryan Cranston, Robert Duvall, and all these great actors are showing up and doing it. It’s a couple weeks out of my life, and I think it’s worth doing. It doesn’t matter what they pay you. You just do it. So, it’s always different. Some stuff, you want to do because it’s a part that you’ve never played. It’s always for story. Sometimes there’s a story that you really dig, but there’s no part that you’re interested in. Sometimes you read a story and you say, “I could do that. I’ve never done that before. I could do play that part.” When I was younger, it was different. When I was younger, it was about doing something that made me nervous. Now, it’s for many different reasons. I’ve had the opportunity to have fun. I don’t know why that is, but I like it.
Broken Horses opens in theaters on April 10th.