Bruce Boxleitner on ’51’ and ‘TRON 3’

We hear he fights for the users, and now to keep alien life a secret in 51.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani

Science fiction luminary Bruce Boxleitner has been in everything from TR0N to Babylon 5, but this week he's got a somewhat smaller project out on DVD: 51, a Straight-to-Video action movie set in Area 51, and guess what? It kicks ass. Boxleitner was kind enough to get on the phone for an interview this morning about the production of his latest sci-fi thriller, an update on the next TR0N, and how he'll feel with Babylon 5 gets remade one day.


CraveOnline: I actually loved ‘51.’

Bruce Boxleitner: Good! Good for you. I do too!


This sort of budget, and content, and Straight-to-Video distribution, creates a stigma against these kinds of movies. But this one is particularly smart, and well shot, and well acted. I’m sure you probably read a lot of scripts in this vein… What stood out about ’51?’

Well, the strange thing is I auditioned for this. This just came along like any other thing. I went over to After Dark Films, but I was dressed in a suit and tie. I auditioned for the newsman that John Shea played. I did my audition and, oh well, there’s another one… [Laughs] I walked out and two days later I get a call from my agent saying, “You didn’t get the part.” I went, “Ah well, that’s typical.” An actor lives with that kind of rejection all the time. “But they want you for the Colonel!” And I kind of went, “Holy God, okay! How cool is that?” “And you’re on your way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana in two, three days.” So off we went. But that’s kind of how it came about. I read the script and I thought it was fun, and I went in and auditioned for it, and didn’t get the part I auditioned for. A very good friend of mine, John Shea got it, which was more icing on the cake because John and I did a mini-series together back at Universal [in] 1980, I think. So I hadn’t really seen John in all those years, and it was a great reunion and we had a ball doing it. So that was that. I don’t know, I just thought it was a fun piece. Other than that, there wasn’t much more, you know?


Your character was actually a lot of fun to me, because you see a lot of the quote-unquote “Colonel” characters in this sort of sci-fi movie.

Yes, yes.

They tend to be very hardnosed, and this guy’s a lot more complicated, and he’s really intelligent and engages in mind games with the other characters. Did you get a chance to work on the character with director Jason Connery?

Yes, very much so. Jason, being an actor himself, and more directing now, and the son of one of my all-time favorite actors, Sean Connery… A little side note, he was on the phone with “Dad” one day and I almost peed my pants. [Laughs] Sean Connery to me, a kid from the Sixties, you know… James Bond, and everything else he’s done since. It was quite a treat that day. But Jason is a very creative man, and of course we approached these things trying to give it more than what’s on the written page. I thought the Colonel was pretty well written that way, and to answer your earlier question I think that’s what really attracted me to it. He was intelligently written, and what I loved about it was that even though he was a hard ass and devoted to his mission, to keep these people from seeing what was really going on [at Area 51], I thought that in the end he revealed that he was horrified by what they were actually doing down there, with the experiments and everything. I think he was totally in sympathy with… What was that giant penis-looking guy? [Laughs] He understood the mission and he was going to carry it out, but he didn’t… Deep down inside it horrified him, you know what I’m saying? […] But hey, he isn’t hardassed the whole way. He isn’t a complete Gestapo guy. He’s actually got a soul, and sympathy for these creatures.


Yeah, and actually that sympathy really struck me in the film.

That’s what really got me as well, when I first read it. Oh, this is a nice variation on the sort of stock “badass” Colonel that we’ve seen in so many projects like this, so many films. […] I like the confrontation between… I actually sometimes rail at the newsmen because of their phony B.S. They’re pompous. I thought John played that perfectly, so he was a great foil for my Colonel. Sort of a pompous, “We’re going to find the truth…” “You can’t handle the truth!” Certainly none of us can handle that truth. [Laughs]


The truth, in ’51,’ is a very elaborate backstory that never gets fully fleshed out. Did Jason explain that to you at all, or was that left to mystery?

He was kind of… I’m thinking back on it now. He may have. I think it was mostly left to mystery. I think we want to keep Area 51 in a mythical place, don’t we? We don’t really want to know. I think it’s a bunch of people who go to work every day. I think it’s a lot of nonsense, probably. But we have this great mythology built up around it, and I think it needs to stay there. I think we need our myths and boogeymen and stories, you know? There’s probably a lot of really good things in reality that have come out of there. I mean obviously we need a place where experiments can be done, where certainly we know stealth technology and all those things were developed. You can’t in a realistic world, we can’t do that stuff openly. You know that. There are secrets that are necessary. If I identify with the Colonel in any way, I think that was probably it. I don’t believe that kind of transparency is necessary. Certainly there’s evil things going on, but I think that most of what’s probably developed there is for our own good, or own safety and security, and the furtherance of science and technology.

I’m sure there are people there who see this movie and just have an absolute kick, an absolute laugh. “Look at the latest nonsense they thought up about us!” [Laughs] They have a bunch of people who probably come in, have government clearance, but they go to work every day! And they’re going, “Oh my God, thank God it’s Friday. Tough week,” like everybody else, like every other working Joe in the country. But I think they must have a real laugh. Can you imagine? There’s probably a library in the real Area 51 labs there, where they have the all the films, and books written on them, and just go crazy. And maybe some Martians sitting there too. I don’t know.


One of the things I like about ‘51’ is that it relied on practical monster effects.

Yes. Wasn’t that refreshing?

It was so nice! And they were really nicely done.

Yeah! There are people out there who are still doing these things. You’re talking to Captain CGI here.


I was just about to ask, yeah.

I was in the first CG experiment in a feature film. Certainly Babylon 5 and many of the other things I’ve done. […] So I was happy that we had this old school, and Jason was right up front with it. He showed us some of these things, and I said “Yes! Actually an old school thing.” So that was kind of fun.


Speaking of ‘TR0N,’ I was really happy to see your appearance in the short film on the ‘TR0N: Legacy’ Blu-Ray.

[Sing-Song Voice] Teas-ing…!


It was really cool, and had me excited to see the next movie. Have you seen the script yet?

No. That’s all in development right now. I mean, anything can happen but it’s still being done. I think it’s common knowledge. It’s been out there on sites, there was a news thing in Variety and Hollywood Reporter as well, that there’s a writer on it, [David] Digilio… He’s in development writing it now.


But that’s looking good?

I guess so. I don’t know. They don’t talk to me about these things. But I do know that the plan now is that I’m included in that as well. I’m sure I will be.


Everything is getting remade these days. ‘Hawaii 5-0’ even got remade.

Yes, I did three of those. The original. [Laughs]


How are you going to feel when they inevitably announce a remake of ‘Babylon 5?’

I in fact saw Joe Straczynski [creator of Babylon 5] not too long ago and we talked about that. You know what I would say? It would be as far-fetched to me now as when they said “We’re going to do TR0N again.” I said, “Why?!” [Laughs] “Why?” But you know what? I was the most surprised. I got the call from Sean Bailey and Joe Kosinski, the director and the executive producer, would I do this? I said absolutely. So if Babylon 5 comes along again, you never know. I’d be a fool to say no, but I’m just going to say look… It’ll be a total surprise to me. Maybe I’ll relive my whole career over in sort of a Groundhog Day thing. [Laughs] But you know what? That’s okay. That’s okay.