Interview: Ronnie Blevins from "Joe"
Ronnie Gene Blevins has been in some of the biggest movies of the past 10 years like The Dark Knight Rises, and Seven Psychopaths; not to mention dozens of roles on popular TV shows. The latest film I got to see him in is David Gordon Green directed drama, Joe. Ronnie stars opposite of Nicolas Cage, who plays Joe, and gives a tension fueled performance as he seeks vengeance on his nemesis. Ronnie was gracious enough to speak with us here at Movie Room Reviews and tell us all about his role in the film and the unfortunate passing of real life homeless man turned actor for this film, Gary Poulter.
Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: So Ronnie you play Willie Russell in this new film Joe which came out on April 11th. Now, let's talk about this role a little bit because he's not the greatest of guys.
Ronnie Gene Blevins: Right. I think Willie Russell is the kind of guy who never got the girl. Willie Russell never had the looks, never had the money, and Willie Russell looks to guys like Nicolas Cage's character and doesn't see why others should have what he never had. And so, he's just around to kill everyone's fun.
MRR: When you were preparing for the role, were you kind of like in your mind, "Well, let's see. How sleazy can I be?"
Ronnie Gene Blevins: Well, you know, one of the thing's that great about the script is that Willie Russell is just evil incarnate. So, when you have evil that's so fleshed out, for instance, the unfortunate scene in the back of the trailer with the young girl, so much of that evil is in the page that you don't really have to lean into that evil, and I tried not to do that. I knew that that evil was gonna be there, so if I could find ways to insert other colors then I knew it would make for more of a dynamic performance, you know?
So, I didn't feel this extra kind of pressure to be evil because just the scenarios that Gary Hawkins, the screenwriter, put Willie in, it's just evil, so it wasn't that hard. What was more of a challenge was trying to find ways of putting humanity into this despicable dude or trying to put humor in there. So, yeah, 'cause he's, like I say, it's just this guy's just evil. But I tried to give it a little bit of color. And he's also a coward. He clearly can't win a fight.
MRR: Did you have anyone in mind when you were portraying him?
Ronnie Gene Blevins: Let me think about that. I didn't really, but I did consciously think how cool it was that this was one of the first times in a long time where Nick was gonna play someone as Nick would say, very stripped down. So, I did recognize the very cool irony in that if there was anyone who gets to do the wild, impulsive stuff that Nick has done in the past, that I got the opportunity to do it in a film with Nick.
MRR: Now, you've played the villain many times. It's definitely not new to you. Do you like playing the villain better or the hero better?
Ronnie Gene Blevins: Well, if I ever get the role of the hero, I'll let you know.
Ronnie Gene Blevins: I like villains because I like pathology. I feel like as far as artistry, it gives you more colors to paint with. Yeah, I really believe that because you've got the fact that the character is committing the act of evil, and then you get how he deals with that. Does it affect him? Is it easy to commit? Is it hard to commit? So, I'm big into human psychology, and I've worked a lot with people with various degrees of mental illness, so I've studied people with some real pathology. So I guess the short answer is yes. I feel very self-expressed when I'm playing villains. It allows me to kinda go in here, and with someone like Willie, he's kind of soaking up the scenery a little bit and he's a little over the top, but I don't mind that because I feel like... And it was very intentional because I feel like Willie has a lot to overcompensate for. You know.
MRR: One thing that you did so well in this film is work with your facial expressions. Where did you learn that?
Ronnie Gene Blevins: I don't know. I really don't. I really don't know where I learned that. I can say that I've always had an interest in comedy. And I've had a couple of opportunities to play comedy, believe it or not, even though there's none of it on my resume. I think that might have something to do with it. Maybe what's creeping is my desire just to ham it up in a comedy.
MRR: Now Joe is played by Nick Cage and Gary is played by Tye Sheridan from Mud. You had a lot of heated scenes with Nick Cage. Tell me about working with him and working those scenes out together.
Ronnie Gene Blevins: Yup. Nick turned to be the hardest working actor I've ever worked with. And his intensity was very apparent from day one. And I had a lot of expectation coming into the movie because frankly Nick has always been one of my teachers and a reference guide. He's just such a terrific actor and a guy that is not afraid to be bold. He's the greatest actor I've ever seen. Now I didn't quite know what to expect, but I'll tell you that I probably knew afterwards that I would have stories of his eccentric nature. What I didn't expect is Nick's eccentricities are really just the tip of the iceberg and I can tell you now after having worked with him for a couple of months and then having gone to a few screenings, we took it to Italy, to the world premiere. I could tell you now what defines Nick is not his eccentricities but what defines Nick is his huge heart and big talent. He's actually, aside from being the most talented guy I've worked with, he's also the kindest guy I've ever worked with. I didn't know that that would be the case. You know?
Ronnie Gene Blevins: Which is cool.
MRR: That is cool.
Ronnie Gene Blevins: It's cool when one of your idols is super cool.
MRR: [laughter] Now, one thing I did wanna ask you about is Gary Poulter who played Wade in the film. He passed away right after you guys were done shooting which I didn’t realize until I looked him because his performance was so good. Can you tell me a little bit about your experiences with him and your thoughts of his performance?
Ronnie Gene Blevins: Absolutely. Gary was phenomenal. You know. Gary, I knew, honestly I knew a little bit about the back story going in to shooting and everything that's written, a lot of it is true. They did find him at a bus stop. They did audition him. He really killed it. What's not written a lot is Gary really did get sober, straightened up for this shoot and he was really quite amazing. And he really wanted to get a job done and he really wanted to clean up his life. And he did so. And he did it for the duration of the shoot. And, I guess it's just a testament to the very real nature of alcoholics because he slipped up a couple of months after shooting and he ended up passing away. But I can tell you working with him was just a phenomenal education. Just pure truth, pure raw truth. You know? That last line he says right before the end of the movie, when he looks at Nick and says, "Are you my friend?" I don't know if I've ever heard a line delivered with such soul, you know? It's a real tragic loss man.
You feel that when you've done a few projects you get used to it but such is the nature of films where you get together and you go through this process and it's great and rewarding and then everyone kinda goes away from each other for a while. And it takes a good year, a year and a half before you really see the reward of it. So I kinda wish maybe I would have talked to him, just say hey man there's a big lull and it takes a while but you will see the fruits of your labor, because we wrapped and everyone kind of goes away from each other sort of the bohemian nature of film industry but also the good thing about it is everyone gets to reunite when the film comes out and really celebrate what happened, which is a tragedy that Gary didn't get to do that.
MRR: It just blew my mind how amazing he was in that film.
Ronnie Gene Blevins: Me too man, me too, it's really cool. I believe that same way and that seems to be kind of what people are saying now which is quite beautiful really. I honestly think that performance of his will stand the test of time and he'll have posterity. So it's quite beautiful.
MRR: What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
Ronnie Gene Blevins: I just finished a film called "Crawlspace" for Warner Bros., the same guys that did "The Conjuring" and that should be out this fall, it's gonna be real scary, I'm excited about that one and I also just started a new TV show called "Navy Street", so very excited about that.
MRR: Oh sweet. I really appreciate you talking with me and I really enjoyed the film and congratulations on a great career.
Ronnie Gene Blevins: Hey man, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me and I appreciate you seeing the film and I really love to hear what you have to say about it.