By Marc Strom
With a name like "Loony Bin" Jim, you don't expect the sanest of men.
The brother of Billy "Jigsaw" Russoti in "Punisher: War Zone," "Loony Bin"—as played by Doug Hutchinson—brought a level of insanity to Frank Castle's world as he tore across the screen with his distinctive physicality and unique screen presence. The character, created for the movie, also gave viewers the opportunity to see a more human side of Jigsaw with their brotherly relationship.
So, before heading out to pick up "Punisher
: War Zone" on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday, March 17 [or order it right now as a DVD Two-Disc Special Edition
or DVD Single Disc Edition
], we spoke with Hutchinson about creating a character as intensely psychotic as "Loony Bin" Jim—a character, he reveals, that he very nearly didn't play.
Marvel.com: What initially attracted you to the role of "Loony Bin" Jim?
[Director] Lexi Alexander. [laughs] I got the script from my agent, [and] I initially passed because I really didn't connect to the role, I really didn't envision myself playing the role for several reasons. When my agents couldn't twist my arm I ended up getting a phone call at home from Lexi, and she just totally pitched me for about five minutes. A few of my reservations from what I was reading off of the page was that "Loony Bin" Jim was described as this sort of wiry, slithery, greasy kind of character and I kept seeing Steve Buscemi in my head. [laughs] So I brought that up with Lexi and she goes, "No, no, no, I don't want to do it like that." And she kind of kept bringing up Anthony Hopkins, a sort of Hannibal Lecter-esque [take on the character], and she was into finding a stillness in this character, a bond between him and his brother, all of this stuff that I kind of missed in reading the script. At the end of the conversation, she said, "I don't have any other actor who I would want to do this other than you so please consider it." By the time I was off the phone she had me wrapped around her little pinky. And I found out while shooting the movie that that was her style, she basically got everything she wanted. She's that persistent, that persuasive and passionate. So it was her!
Marvel.com: That leads directly into the next question, which is, how do you approach a character like "Looney Bin" Jim who is so psychotic and still try to give him a level of sympathy, a level of realism?
With this character—because as you know he doesn't appear in the graphic novels, so LBJ was a complete fabrication of Lexi and the writers—I didn't have a lot to draw on as far as getting any materials that were already created. So that was kind of freeing in a way because with Lexi's permission, she basically allowed me to dive in with my instincts. I guess in retrospect I sort of worked from the outside in with "Looney Bin" Jim. This time around I shaved my head and I wanted to create a look, this kind of ghoulish skinheaded look with urban clothing. Lexi was right on board with the physicality of the character. I was really interested, as was Dominic [West, who played Jigsaw] and Lexi, in creating a bond between these brothers that was at times as surreal as these deranged characters are. Our hope, and my hope, was that there were little windows of opportunity for the audience to peek in and see that these two brothers really loved each other.
That initial scene when LBJ is revealed, [when he's] strapped to the hospital bed—he's been in there for ten years. He's been enduring the abuse of his orderly and whatnot in this semi-catatonic state. [Then] when Jigsaw arrives, I wake up and we have a moment between us that's been waiting for a decade, this reunion. He takes my face, and I say, "Hey, is that you? Is that you, brother?" And he says, "Yes." You can see it, there was this connection…between these characters that I was hoping would make us grounded, and more humanistic and not so two-dimensional. And there were opportunities throughout the script to do that. There were other places where we kept trying to drop that in as much as possible.
Marvel.com: So then what part of the shoot was the most fun for you? Were there any scenes that you particularly enjoyed doing?
That one I just mentioned was one of my favorites, and then, of course, [laughs] the delicious aftermath of being unbound and then eating my orderly. [laughs] Attacking and eating my abusive orderly, that was a lot of fun. That was a first for me. It was [also] fun doing the scene where I was smashing the mirrors. That was a blast. I had fun—I was working out a progression in the arc of the character where LBJ was disintegrating physically and emotionally throughout the entire film, so every scene, every next scene, was another scar, another bandage, another scratch on LBJ's face, another bit of cast on the fingers, so that by the end of the movie when I have my fight with Frank Castle, and at the climax I was hoping to literally just kind of dissolve into this emotional and physical quagmire, this mess. Every little scene that led up to that, it was fun to add just one little piece, another little layer.
Marvel.com: Were you a fan of the Punisher as a character in the comics or the movies before you started working on the movie, or was this your introduction to him?
It wasn't my introduction—well, yeah, I guess it was, now that I think of it. I was going to say I had seen the other movies, but that's not true. After I accepted the role I ended up renting the past Punisher movies, so no, I wasn't really familiar [with the Punisher]. I was a comic book collector as a kid, but I was collecting in the Silver Age. [Stuff like] Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four, Man-Thing. I think I missed the Punisher as a kid. So no, I didn't follow the graphic novel. But I certainly got it after I got cast, and I was floored. I was like, "Man, they don't make comics like they used to when I was a kid." I was impressed, floored and kind of devastated once I got a chance to check it out. I was blown away by how much comics have evolved through the years.
Marvel.com: To wrap things up, then, we were wondering if you could have one super power, what would it be?
Because I was a fan of the Fantastic Four, and it wasn't that I wanted to be her gender, but I always enjoyed the Invisible Woman. I think I would love to have the power of invisibility. I'm kind of voyeuristic in nature as it is, and I think it would be so fun to walk around invisible and hang out wherever you wanted to hang out. Kind of peek in, listen to people, you could hear what they really think about you. You could go to a meeting, then you leave the meeting, you turn invisible and you go back in the room and hear what they really have to say about you. I think it could be a wealth of knowledge that would ultimately be a lot of fun if you had a sense of humor about it.
Get "Punisher: War Zone" on DVD/Blu-ray when it hits stores Tuesday, March 17. Order yours now as a DVD Two-Disc Special Edition, Blu-ray or DVD Single Disc Edition.
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