He’s an Oscar winning legend, who shows his diversity, whether it’s as a powerful politician in Manchurian Candidate or in his latest role in the new kids film SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2. It’s quite the switch for the veteran, but he doesn’t mind, as he cheerfully explained to Paul Fischer,
Question: What to you was the attraction of doing this piece?
Answer: I’ll tell you Paul, when you look around the world, everybody’s really in a fearful state in some way, and kids are getting that, they’re getting that fear, and they need to be given a kind of empowerment in some sense. I mean, little kids, they’ll get it. And this script offered, this script was for kids, it’s for little kids – four, five, six, seven. And these little guys, and when the first movie came out these little kids watched it enrapt and memorised it just like other older kids would with maybe Spiderman or something else. They see it as a kind of their superhero stuff.
Question: Is it an easy thing to get into the mindset of a kid when you’re reading a script like this?
Answer: Gee, you know, I don’t know. I suppose it is, I suppose I go back to my childhood and see it in that fashion. And I’m also seeing it as a parent who is a concerned citizen and I look at it for the values that it’s teaching, as I do all films. I look at them, I say what is this really expressing, and is this helpful? And in this case there were lots of nice little messages within it that are not only for children but that the children would assimilate. So I thought it was something unusual; it had a lot of nice healthy messages in it.
Question: Would you say your criteria for selecting roles, the older you get, has really changed a lot in the last few years?
Answer: I don’t know if it’s changed but I’m fortunate enough to look back and say I haven’t done too badly. But I think that it’s always been of importance to me what the movie was essentially teaching. Because it’s a way of setting an example of giving, addressing my psyche as people see it. All art is that, you know. With my own lights, whatever that is, I just say, well, that seems like it’s pretty good. Like that.
Question: Can you look back on your early work with a degree of objectivity these days or do you have trouble looking back on some of the stuff you did in the ’70s?
Answer: No, as I say, I don’t, I’ve been fortunate. I look back and I see the value in what I’ve done and I think I haven’t done too badly. I don’t have any trouble looking back at it.
Question: Do you think Hollywood has changed dramatically in the last 30 years for you?
Answer: Well I think Hollywood is probably the way neighbourhoods change; it’s probably the way the world changes around you as you get older. What is remarkable to me is how many changes take place in the matter of a decade, let’s say, right? Like if you go back to your own neighbourhood, you Paul, and you look and everything, the trees seem smaller, the neighbourhood seems smaller than you remembered it as a kid, and it’s just changed. And then of course there are many different changes that have taken place in the neighbourhood; changes in some houses have been torn down and replaced with new ones and roads have been widened and parks have been either fixed up or maybe disappeared. So things happen very quickly in the world, and you look around and you see that things have changed. And you also see that you’ve effected change, too. So in that sense it’s interesting, as you get older; you say, look, I know that this has changed for the better, and this has changed for the better, and that’s good, you know. You look back and say that human beings, individuals, can make a difference, and have made a difference in my lifetime, so I’ll try and make a difference, too.
Question: What do you love about acting today as opposed to the way you might have approached it 30 years ago. Do you love it as much now as you did then?
Answer: The fact is I really do, and I’ve always been labelled a very passionate fellow, and I’m still as passionate as I was for good things when I started. I’ve learned a lot of different things going through life and I’ve experimented with many different aspects of the acting technique, and so I maybe have a little more experience, but I’m still fresh to it each time, I still clean my table and see what’s there and try to work deeply into each project. I really haven’t changed much, maybe I’ve grown in understandings of a few things, and I yet I look back and I see the work I did on Midnight Cowboy and I see it’s quite surpassing, it’s quite extraordinary work. And then I know that sometimes you don’t have the time; you’re not put in the circumstance that is really going to give you a great deal of time so you have to work quickly with first decisions. You just have to say, well, if I have to make a decision then I’ll do this and I’ll do that. You don’t have the time to really let things sit and daydream and marinate and bring forth, you know, the work in that way. That’s what I like to do; most artists would like to have that time to really dig deep. At least those people who are interested in the kind of techniques I’ve been brought up with, you know. But you’ll always have that opportunity and sometimes you do the best with you can what you’ve got, and sometimes it turns out pretty good.
Question: Do you have a dream role or dream project?
Answer: No, I’ve been very fortunate Paul, I’ve done a lot of things that I had not envisaged doing, but when I look at them now I say well, that is a certain kind of dream come true. Right now I’ve just finished a piece, you know I’ve gotten older and the roles change and you don’t see so many leading roles for older people in the film world, anyway. In the independent films you do a little bit but not often, in the commercial aspect of things young leading men, young virile fellows are getting the roles. But I’ve just done a role from a book called The Five People You Meet In Heaven, and it called for an 82-year old man, an actor who could go into his late 40s and then do 82, and it suited me pretty well, and I was able to do that large role in this epic piece. I don’t know how it came out; I think we did pretty well, though.
Question: Is it a drama, a comedy?
Answer: It’s a drama, but it’s quite magical, it’s exactly what it says, it’s the story of a man who’s a maintenance worker at a fairgrounds, dies, passes on, and he finds out that he’s not gone and he winds up in this other realm and then somebody identifies it as heaven, that’s where you are. And he meets five people and he goes through his life and is given information by five people, a lesson from each of the five people, to examine and determine some information that he needed to have. And it’s quite beautiful; it’s a love story and it’s very interesting.
Question: If you could meet somebody who has passed on, who would that be
Answer: Oh well you know, I was talking about Abraham Lincoln today, that would be a nice fellow to meet. But I have so many people; and I have people that I’m able to be with today who I really am quite in awe of. People like Eli Wiesel, the Nobel Prize winner, a great man, and I have a few friends like that.
Question: As you mentioned before you are a very passionate person, and passionate about the world; you’ve always been politically concerned and socially aware.
Answer: I’d call myself more a humanitarian than a person who is in politics. Only because I’m kind of an independent thinker and I’m always interested in people getting better.
Question: What are your major concerns about the world today?
Answer: You’re asking this question of an actor! This is an interesting question to ask an actor. I’ll give you my two cents ’cause everybody has a two cents. I think that there’s, it’s in a perilous state at the moment as it has been in the past. Many people have laid the groundwork for a world of justice and compassion, and we look to those people, and then when we have enemies rear their heads, real monsters, people who have made real monstrosities of their lives, as Sadam Hussein is, and you feel when is the human race going to be able to refine itself so we don’t have that kind of villainy afoot? We look into ourselves and we say, boy I’ve learned a lot but I certainly have a lot of weaknesses as well and I try to be vigilant to them every day. But there has been growth in many areas of the world, we’ve learned a lot. And we’ve learned it sometimes through bloodshed and great suffering and all nations have made mistakes as well as gains. So it looks like we have a long way to go. If I could change one thing I’d say the programming of hate, I’d say wherever that programming is taught, let me be specific, I’d say Saudi Arabia has been an engine of teaching hatred in that part of the world with certain cult which has become very popular. Until we address the teaching of bigotry and hatred we’re going to have children being raised with the wrong values and violence will erupt from that. So that’s why, going back to this little film, this modest film, although it has quite spectacular computer graphics and stuff like that and it has a wide arc to it, it’s a little film for children but it’s very important because the messages that kids get, they will act on in their life.
Question: How do you want to world to remember John Voight?
Answer: You’re asking me questions like I’m just about ready to step into the other one. The world will remember me, whoever will remember me I think, I say that I hope that I will be able to in my lifetime have my children be part of that legacy, and that they’re well and safe and I hope I can do a little bit to leave a portrait of a person who seeks compassion and justice and encourages others to do so.
Question: How are you getting on with your kids these days?
Answer: My kids are doing well, they’re fine, so we’re okay.