In the final Main Stage panel of the day at Emerald City Comic Con, and one of the last panels of the entire show, the Vincent D’Onofrio Spotlight panel, the enthusiasm was still there from fans despite it being the end of a 4 day show. But that’s often typical of ECCC, a show which ebbs and flows during the day, but always seems to have peak periods, even plenty of energy on the Sunday, when many other shows seem to flag.
On his first convention panel appearance ever, D’Onofrio was met with thunderous applause, unsurprisingly. Asked what his con experience has been like at his first show, he said it was so cool that it was hard to express. He said he knows that people enjoy what he does, but one tends to think of them as a mass, and then when one see those people individually at a convention, it makes you feel even better about that.
Starting with Daredevil, and his role of Wilson Fisk, he was asked how he approached the role. He said the first season had excellent writing, and certain artists like David Mack and Brian Bendis, and others did drawings that influenced him a lot for the “emotional aspect of the character”. “He’s a very emotional guy and he’s all about his past”, D’Onofrio said. He can be a “baby sometimes” and sometimes a monster, he said. Asked if Fisk is a villain, D’Onofrio said, “I think he’s just misunderstood”, to applause.
Asked about Full Metal Jacket, and how he was cast for the role, D’Onofrio said he used to be a bouncer as well as an actor. He’d do a play, then bouncer work, then sleep all day. He knew a bunch of actors in his generation in NYC at the time, and one time Matthew Modine walked by. He said he was doing a Kubrick thing and said one of the roles wasn’t cast. He decided to send a tape of the monologue from his current play. At that time, video cameras were huge in size, but they sat on a stoop at 10th ave and 22nd street, and taped it. Then he sent it to Kubrick. Then “Stanley” called him, and he hung up in disbelief, then Kubrick called back. And they talked. He was 24 years old when he made the tape, and it was expensive to rent the video equipment for the tape, he said.
Doing Adventures in Babysitting right afterward, playing a Thor-like character, he is often credited as the first on-screen Thor. Then there was Men in Black, when he was asked not to talk about acting at the first conversation during the casting process. He read the script, having no idea what the film was, and it was very different from other films at the time, D’Onofrio said. “So he wants me to play a giant bug that came from space and steals someone’s body and walks around like that, but I’m not allowed to talk to them about it??”, D’Onofrio said, to laughter.
He said that he watched bug documentaries and was so bored that he was watched this beetle cross a porch in super slow motion, and asked himself “What am I doing? This is not helping at all!”. He went about it differently, with emotional frustration as the key. Wanting to come up with “the walk”, he saw a sporting goods shop with braces that sports players wear on their knees, and he taped them to his legs with duct tape. He did the same with his ankles, not letting himself bend his legs or ankles at all, and that’s how he came up with the walk. For the voice, he took John Huston’s voice, with long vowels, and combined it with other elements.
Talking about Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which he did for over 140 episodes, he was asked how handled such a long running show. In a show that runs that long, the first few years are more interesting in developing it, and then after that you have to maintain it. He found the character interesting, developing the persona, but then eventually it reached “enough” and they decided to stop it.
Moving on to Daredevil, he was asked if he felt any hesitation in going back into TV. D’Onofrio said yes, but that he had watched Netflix streaming being born, and he felt this was an opportunity that he needed to take. Things have been leaning toward the streaming version of TV, even for his recent role in Emerald City. Doing a streaming show is shot very much like film, he said, and it’s all “taken care of with top notch talent”. You feel like you’re in good hands, he said. He spoke very highly of working with Charlie Cox as well.
Talking about Emerald City, D’Onofrio said the wizard “suffers from worthlessness and has to come up with it in other ways”. He projects his character in different ways. He’s a “strange dude”. “He’s one of the most pathetic human beings I’ve ever played in my life”, he said, and that idea made him want the part. While working on Magnificent Seven, D’Onofrio heard that a new version of Wizard of Oz was going to be made, so he called the director right away and asked for the part, and was granted it immediately, he said.
Working on The Cell was one of the “darkest parts that I’ve ever played”, said D’Onofrio. He still has nightmares based on some of the research he did for that film. He said his wife refused to stay around him when he was researching the film, saying he was “so fucking creepy”, to laughter from the crowd.
Asked what was the most difficult role to play in his career, D’Onofrio said that because he was young, it was probably Full Metal Jacket. A lot of actors around him were getting fired, and he just didn’t want to get fired. The pressure was really on because Kubrick expected you to just “bring it” without a lot of discussion, he said. As a more experienced actor, now, the most recent one is Fisk, D’Onofrio said. Stephen Knight’s writing in the first season is a high mark, he said. That character has to be deep, he said, and more than one level. He needs to be both “more human and more disturbing” than other characters. He’s “more of a monster than any of the other ones”, D’Onofrio said. That’s the struggle he needs to achieve, to keep Fisk a human, a child, and a monster at the same time, D’Onofrio said.
When asked to play a villain in Jurassic World D’Onofrio said he was just happy to be in a Jurassic film after so many years without one, rather than feeling contemplative about the role.
Asked how he came up with the character for Magnificent Seven, since he’s so idiosyncratic, D’Onofrio said it was entirely up to him to develop the character. The Producers didn’t know he’d be doing the “high voice”, he laughed.
Asked about how he managed the difficult things he’s had to do for roles, he said it’s “always the task at hand”, which you put yourself into. If you address it in that way, you can move forward.
Asking how he approaches a role, he said that he “excludes his performance and just looks at story when approaching a role”. To make sure he’s making the same film the director wants to make. Then, when he has a grasp of that, he approaches the character. The more he works on it, it comes through research, ideas, people he’s met in life. The last few thoughts he has at night before going to bed are usually ideas that end up in movies. “There are many different things, but you take your time and ask yourself why”, he said. Such as why do the characters do different things, questioning everything. All that thought motivates choices that you decide to commit to, he said. Asked how much preparation he needs for a role, he said 10 to 15 years, to laughter. At least he prefers that.
D’Onofrio said that he’d been shooting a film at Comicon that he is going to splice together to present at school for his 9 year old’s son Daddy’s work day. He asked the audience to participate in a scene for the video, which they happily obliged.
“Art is a variation on a variation on a variation on a variation”, he said. “You have to be a master thief and find with all that influence, yet another variation”, D’Onofrio said, and the best directors are like that, in his opinion.