Martin Carr chats with Jon Voight about his new movie Surviving the Wild…
How did you first get involved in the project?
I was given the first draft of the script and fell in love with it.
What first attracted you to the part of Gus?
Well the character reminded me of my father who was a golf professional and, so he was a teacher, but also a teacher of life. He was a very charming man, he never lectured when he was trying to tell us something, he always put his teachings in the form of humour, and so the character of Gus, reminded me of my father.
Given the very specific circumstances of your character, how did you and your co-stars go about playing through scenes?
The only adjustment that was made, was that some characters could not hear or see me. Only one character could hear and see me, and that was the character of Shaun, played by Aiden Cullen.
Given the amount of location work involved were there any challenges which this film presented for you?
We had wonderful locations in Kentucky, and we saw areas of Kentucky that only a very small percentage of people know about. Of course, the carrying of our equipment into these remote places was sometimes quite a challenge though. Sometimes we had to go up the mountains in ski lifts with the equipment on the chairs, piece by piece, which often took quite a long time. And there were long treks through small and beaten paths in the woods. Nature is very refreshing and good for the soul – so for whatever difficulties we had to endure, we were greatly rewarded.
Was there any advice you gave to your young co-star Aidan Cullen which you could share?
When you are working with a very talented actor, which Aiden Cullen is, you don’t want to say too much, you only want to encourage and keep the work fun. Because it is fun. I didn’t want him to feel self-conscious or inferior to me, because of perhaps my reputation and people telling him what a great actor I am – he is every bit as good an actor as I am when he plays his role properly, which he certainly did.
In terms of developing Gus are there any choices you made during filming which were not in the script? If so how collaborative were those decisions?
I always play with the pieces I get, as I search and discover the character. In general, the writers and directors understand that I am looking for a collaboration. In this film, I worked with very nice people and we continuously played with the material. Aiden had been doing work in an improvisation class, and that helped him in the film, as he did a lot of improvising.
In light of your illustrious career were there any experiences from other productions which you applied on Surviving the Wild?
The key to this character for me, is the communication with the boy and our chemistry. All the successful performances I have had in my career are thanks to the remarkable chemistry I’ve shared with the other performers, from Dustin Hoffman, Jane Fonda to Eric Roberts and Nick Cage and the same is true here with Aiden Cullen. Our relationship is the sparkling essence of the movie.
And finally, if you were stranded on a desert island and had to Survive the Wild what three things would you take along?
I would want to have a leather man, it’s a package of well-made tools in one compact unit. It is like a Swiss army knife with a few more things. A couple of good books – definitely the bible and Rashi’s commentary on the Bible. All the great writers, from Dickens to Hemmingway, Goethe to Victor Hugo, used the bible as a fountain for inspiration – and its stories inspire as well.
Many thanks to Jon Voight for taking the time for this interview.