LOS ANGELES—At 68, Jon Voight is as steely-eyed and baby-faced as Joe Buck, the hayseed hustler in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy. More importantly, 30 years after accepting the best-actor Oscar for playing a paraplegic Vietnam war vet in 1978’s Coming Home, the distinguished actor remains relevant to today’s movie audiences. Having Angelina Jolie as your daughter keeps your name in the gossip rags. But more contributory to Voight’s cross-generational appeal is his own hot body of work. That includes his newest role as Defense Secretary John Keller in the Transformers, director Michael Bay’s live-action version of the popular robot TV show, comic book, and toy line, opening in Vancouver on Tuesday (July 3).
In recent years, Voight has introduced himself to younger audiences in box-office hits like Zoolander, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and Mission: Impossible. And this summer, Voight will reprise a role in National Treasure II. Plus, for better or worse, Cowboy lives on. Last year, Borat spoofed Joe Buck’s arrival in New York City. And who can forget that classic Seinfeld episode wherein Voight, as himself, sinks his teeth into Cosmo Kramer’s arm?
“I’ve been in all sorts of desperate places!” the actor said with a wince, in a Los Angeles hotel meeting room.
On-screen, there’s not much that’s more desperate than battling ill-tempered, form-altering robots murdering U.S. military personnel in Qatar in their quest to locate the Allspark life source before the Autobots do. So when casting the government bigwig who would take on the Decepticons, Bay made his pitch to one of Hollywood’s most credible elder statesmen.
“I was given the script to read and somebody was going to wait by my door until I finished it,” Voight recalls. “Honest to God. He was supposed to wait until I finished it, and I was supposed to show it to no one else and stuff like that. We didn’t do exactly that. But it was one of those things where, you know, ”˜the secrecy of this piece’. And it’s fun. I said, ”˜Good! That’s cool. I’ll do that.’
“When you get to my age, you know, there’s a certain kind of gravitas just from the age,” Voight added, laughing. “I’ve been around a long time. So they come to me with roles of authority now. I think it’s somewhat a compliment that they come to me.”
Voight said he evaluates the roles he is offered according to their worthiness, contemporary relevance, and positive message for children. But he wouldn’t confirm, when asked, if he wanted to battle robots in Transformers so that Maddox, Pax, Zahara, and Shiloh could watch the film and say, “There’s Grandpa.” Voight has been estranged from Jolie since he questioned her mental health on an American television program five years ago, and he’s never met his grandchildren. However, if recent reports are correct, father and daughter are on the verge of reconciling. In the meantime, the actor will only allow that these days he makes movies for kids in general.
“It’s nice to do things that the young generation sees. I’m excited about that. I put more focus on the little ones than I am on the older fellas at this time of my life. Because I know they’re coming up, and you want to send them on the way to good stories, and it becomes a part of their lives and their dreams and stuff.”
Hear that, Ange?