A decade has passed since Thomas Jane filmed a movie around Tampa Bay but he never really got The Punisher out of his system.
Jane didn't think the movie did justice to his character, vigilante killer Frank Castle, and many fans of the Marvel Comics character agreed. Last year he starred in an short-form sequel titled The Punisher: Dirty Laundry that has been viewed on YouTube more than 3 million times.
"For me it was a kind of swan song," Jane, 44, said recently from his California home, "a way to say goodbye to the character, by doing it some justice before saying goodbye, just me expressing what I loved about him. It was vindicating to find out a lot of folks felt the same way."
Jane returns to Tampa on Saturday when the Gasparilla International Film Festival celebrates the 10-year anniversary of The Punisher's local filming. He'll introduce a 6:30 p.m. screening of the 1994 release at Centro Ybor 20, conduct a Q&A afterward, and pick up a career achievement award. Tickets are $15 at gasparillafilmfestival.com.
In a telephone chat Jane shared memories of Tampa and his disappointment with The Punisher. Airing his Dirty Laundry seemed like a good place to begin:
Dirty Laundry is a nastier piece of work than The Punisher, and feels closer to Frank Castle's Marvel Comics origins.
To tell you the truth, that was something that I was fighting for (in the movie) from the very beginning. There's obviously a grittier kind of street-cult crime element about the character.... the antihero, the darker side of society.
It was definitely an uphill battle because Marvel had made all their money off much cuter movies (Spider-Man, Fantastic Four). In a lot of ways we succeeded in bringing some of the darkness but in a lot of ways I failed.
I was bringing in movies like Rolling Thunder and Death Wish and Taxi Driver to the production meetings, saying I really think fans of this Punisher guy, they like these kinds of movies. We'd hit a nerve if we were to emulate them, go down this road. The Dark Knight hadn't come out yet, so a lot of what I was saying fell on deaf ears.
So, Dirty Laundry was your shot to do The Punisher right?
It has always been a kind of bittersweet thing. I don't know why we can't seem to deliver on Frank Castle's antihero roots, and capitalize on that anger that's more relevant now than it has ever been: anger at the system, feeling powerless in this society that we're watching crumble and fall apart before our very eyes. The American Dream is a joke and a lot of people are pretty p----- off about it.
What do you recall about filming in Tampa with John Travolta?
Well, I remember the thunderstorms every afternoon. They were amazing. That was really my favorite part of the day filming in Tampa. ... The lightning and thunder were just beautiful. That's my fondest memory of Tampa. And I remember it's very flat. I remember driving and wondering, where the hell could I find a hill if I had to? How long would it take me? A very long time.
Travolta was cool. You know, he flew himself to work every day. I remember he had a home (in Ocala) with a landing strip as a driveway, some little flight community where people had planes sitting outside their houses. I thought that was pretty groovy.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow him on Twitter @StevePersall.