As far as jobs go, you'd think being the Punisher would be a fairly straightforward one. You're not searching for a cure for cancer, you're not running a corporation — you put on some black clothes, sneer and shoot people in the face.
Now meet "Rome" star Ray Stevenson, a veteran actor from Northern Ireland who offers a grin, a handshake and a hearty laugh in real life to counter each gun, hand grenade and heart-targeted rifle shot in "The Punisher: War Zone."
(Are "Punisher" sequels on the way? Stevenson hopes so, and he even selects his villains, on the Splash Page blog.)
The burly Stevenson visited the MTV offices and mercifully let us live so that we could pass along to you the following discussion. We touched on topics ranging from the most violent film of 2008, Stevenson's quiet link to Daniel Day-Lewis, and why Iron Man, Batman and the other superheroes need to be punished.
MTV: This is quite possibly the most violent movie of the year. Would that title make you proud?
Ray Stevenson: Yeah. The ["Punisher"] comics are extremely violent, and this is an R-rated film. We stuck to it. It's a violent film about a violent man doing violent things to violent men — you can't get away from that.
MTV: One poor schlub dies when a chair leg is stuck through his eye socket. You hit another dude so hard that you crush his skull. Is there a particular kill you enjoyed the most?
Stevenson: I don't know. You try to dispatch people as quickly as possible. There were some nice moves, there were a few quick draws. They sort of escalate. We tried to do a body count, and I think we got to about 82 and had to stop. We were just driving ourselves insane.
MTV: So more than 82 people die in this movie?
Stevenson: [Laughs.] Yeah, we were losing count. It was like, "Did we kill him in that last scene?" Because it was all shot back to front. We were going to try and use those little decals you put on [fighter] airplanes, listing how many kills they have. We were going to try to do that on my trailer.
MTV: This might be the first and last time the Punisher is compared to Daniel Day-Lewis, but I couldn't help but notice that in the first 15 minutes of the movie or so, you never speak. I haven't seen that since "There Will Be Blood." Why was that choice made?
Stevenson: [To show] he's a sole agent — he's a nighttime predator, and he's a vigilante. He works on his own. He's not a procrastinator at all. It's not going to be like the "Bourne" series. There is an anticipation to when the Punisher is going to appear, and of course, when he appears, he is full-on.
MTV: Frank Castle is often lumped in with his Marvel brethren, but do you consider him a superhero?
Stevenson: No, no. He's got no superpowers — he's got skills that he brings to bear. He's an antihero. He's not a defender of the weak or a protector of the innocent. He's a punisher of the corrupt. If you are on his list, you die.
MTV: You've been inhabiting his skin for quite some time now. Knowing Frank like you do, what tricks would you use to escape if you found yourself on the Punisher's list?
Stevenson: If I was on his list? [Laughs.] It would just be like, "Give it up, it's going to happen. Just try to have as much fun as you can until he gets you." He's pretty indomitable. There are lines in the book that give you the truth of where he's actually coming from, when he says, "You work for the Devil. You'd better be prepared to die for him." That's it! He's not there to weigh up the odds or hear your case — you're on his list, you're out.
MTV: We all know that while Iron Man, the Hulk and Captain America have begun showing up in each other's movies, the Punisher cannot, because he is owned by a separate studio, Lionsgate. But let's pretend for a minute that Ray Stevenson ran Hollywood — would you want to team Punisher with Spider-Man and all the rest?
Stevenson: That's interesting. There is obviously the possibility of crossovers and all this sort of thing, but when you think about it, would you then drop the "Punisher" rating down from an R to a PG? Or would you try and raise "Iron Man" or "Hulk" up to an R rating? So you lose on both.
MTV: When 2004's "Punisher" came out, they made such a big deal about Thomas Jane's car. Now the Punisher just seems to pop up in places. Where'd your vehicle go?
Stevenson: I know, right? People keep saying, "Are you going to have the car? Are you going to have the motorbike?" But there is still something about a guy on his feet. It adds a heightened sense of threat. He'll come at you on the ground level. He'll come straight at you.
MTV: Some people might be surprised to learn that the director of this super-violent film is a woman, Lexi Alexander. What did that bring to the table?
Stevenson: I think she brought a lot to it, actually. She's a world-champion kickboxer, and she's not to be messed with. Frank's a warrior. He's a trained, disciplined weapon, basically. And she knows what it's like to actually step in a ring facing someone who is going to try and hit you as hard as they possibly can, and you're going to hit them as hard as you can, and only one of you is going to walk away. She wasn't frightened about exploring the vulnerability of him as well, and I think it showed an extra confidence, to allow a vulnerability.
MTV: This has been a huge year for superhero movies. Imagine we locked your Punisher in a room with Robert Downey's Iron Man, Christian Bale's Batman and Edward Norton's Hulk. Four men enter, one man leaves. Who lives?
Stevenson: [Laughs.] I really like those guys, and I feel really sorry for them. I'll write their mothers a nice letter ... maybe. I would kill them, because the others are not necessarily inclined to kill. If they're on [the Punisher's] list, he will kill them. Batman would want to put me in jail, let's be honest. The Hulk would just want to bat me away, so I wasn't annoying anybody anymore. Iron Man, as well, would just want me removed or incarcerated somewhere. But if the Punisher is in the room, and they are on his list? No questions asked. He's not there to talk.
Check out everything we've got on "The Punisher: War Zone."
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