Boldly relying on your natural versatility, inner strength and instinctive determination to achieve your purposeful goals is a resolute characteristic of any person ambitious enough to go after what they truly want in life. From the unwavering protagonist of the new crime drama, ‘Broken Horses,’ who persistently tries to save his older brother from the dangerous life of crime he inadvertently found himself involved in after their father’s death, to actor Vincent D’Onofrio, who portrays the mystery film’s villainous crime lord, the movie is enthrallingly driven by strong characters and actors. The drama, which opens in theaters on Friday, marks the English feature film debut of Academy Award-nominated director, Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who co-wrote the script with Abhijat Joshi. The movie also powerfully highlights the filmmaker’s brave journey of being the first Indian helmer who shot a Hollywood film with an entirely American cast and crew for an American audience.
‘Broken Horses’ follows a young boy, Buddy Heckum (Henry Shotwell), who witnesses the murder of his sheriff father, Gabriel (Thomas Jane), at a shooting range 15 years ago. While his father’s assassin is unseen, the impressionable youth is soon taken under the guidance of local crime lord, Julius Hench (D’Onofrio). The criminal unrepentantly takes advantage of Buddy’s desire to take revenge out on the man who killed his father, and trains him to become a hitman throughout his adolescence and early adulthood (Chris Marquette takes on the role of the older Buddy).
Buddy’s increasing involvement in Julius’ gang allows him to take care of his younger brother, Jacob (Anton Yelchin). However, the music prodigy determinedly sets out to make a better life for himself, outside the confines of the criminal underworld that has taken control over his hometown. After setting in New York, he begins auditioning for jobs as he prepares to marry Vittoria (Maria Valerde). During his engagement, Jacob decides to return home for he first time in eight years, in order o see the wedding present Buddy has created for him. When he sees his brother again, he’s astonished to discover that not only has Buddy has joined Julius’ gang, but the ruthless leader has manipulated him into becoming a killer.
With Buddy acting like Julius’ surrogate son who blindly does as he is told, Jacob is unable to convince his older brother to leave his new gang. Drowned in guilt for having abandoned him, Jacob quickly realizes the only way to save Buddy is from the inside out, particularly since the leader would rather kill his best hitman than see him willingly leave their lifestyle.
D’Onofrio generously took the time recently to talk about ‘Broken Horses’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the actor discussed how he was drawn to play Julius after met, and discussed the crime drama’s story, with Chopra, who he has described as being one of the best directors he’s worked with on a movie, as he completely immersed himself in all aspects of filmmaking on the set; how he enjoys the fact that with a crime film like ‘Broken Horses,’ an antagonist like Julius is included in the script for a specific reason, and has a set intention and backstory; and how he also embraces his characters he has played on the television series he has appeared on, including Wilson Fisk on the upcoming sci-fi action series, Netflix’s ‘Daredevil,’ as showcasing their continued evolution is also very satisfying.
ShockYa (SY): You portray Julius Hench in the new crime mystery film, ‘Broken Horses.’ What was it about the character, and the script overall, that convinced you to take on the role?
Vincent D’Onofrio (VD): Well, I met with Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the film’s director, here in New York, and we hit it off so well. He pitched me the whole story, and we talked about life. Then once I read the script, I thought this film would be a really good one to get into with him. It turned out it was-he’s a really amazing guy, and he’s one of the best directors I’ve worked for in my career.
SY: Speaking of Speaking of Vidhu, he made his Hollywood feature film writing and directorial debuts with the drama. What was the collaboration process like with him on the set?
VD: It was great-we really understood each other, and were always on the same page. He always had great ideas everyday on the set. He’s one of those directors who involves himself in all aspects of filmmaking, including the acting, the story and the overall look and design of the whole movie. If you have someone who’s that passionate about their project, that inspires you everyday you go onto the set.
SY: Since you’re primarily known as a character actor, what is it about independent films like ‘Broken Horses’ that appeals to you? How does the process of approaching your characters in indies like this drama compare and contrast to the way your bigger studio movies, like ‘Men in Black’ and the upcoming ‘Jurassic World,’ are filmed?
VD: Well, both types of projects are fun-it actually really depends on the material. You can finish a film like ‘Broken Horses’ for a month or two, but the bigger movies can take four or five months. That’s the only difference, really. If a director is inspired and the script is great, I feel the same about both types of films.
There are more parts for me in the smaller films, because I’m not the blockbuster type. So I think I’ll always be doing more of those types of movies, which I always have done throughout my career. But I also love the big movies, especially the kinds they’re making these days.
SY: Julius is a crime lord who rules the rural community where the Heckum brothers, Jacob and Buddy, have been raised. Julius has manipulated the naïve Buddy into becoming a convenient killer for him, and refuses to let him leave with Jacob to start a new life. What was the process of building your character’s tense relationships with Buddy and Jacob, who are played by Chris Marquette and Anton Yelchin?
VD: I loved working with both of them, but I acted with Chris more than I did with Anton. They were both committed actors, and showed up on the set ready every day to do anything and take chances. So I was extremely impressed with both of them. Chris, who I had most of my scenes with, was a great person to work with, as he was really present. He knew the story as well as anyone else on set, and he was all about doing every scene right. They’re two very impressive actors.
SY: ‘Broken Horses’ was filmed over 34 days throughout the L.A. area, including Victorville, downtown, Santa Clarita and Polsa Rosa Ranch in Acton. How does filming on location, particularly for an independent film like this one that was shot on a shorter schedule, help influence the overall tone of the story? Do you prefer working on location on your projects?
VD: Well, these days a lot of bigger budget films are also shooting on location. But for me, I don’t often work on big sets in big studio lots. But locations are great, because it helps that you’re always shooting in a real place. They can also enhance locations to look like the way they’re supposed in in the film, or they naturally already look like how the movie’s setting is supposed to look like. It feels nice to act in a real location with real people and a real skyline with clouds up above, and real dirt beneath your feet. Locations can help lend themselves to the performances.
SY: How does the process of creating a character like Julius, whose arc is established and resolved within a film that’s 100 minutes long, compare and contrast to continuously developing the open arc of a television series like ‘Law & Order: Criminal Intent,’ on which you played Detective Robert Goren for 10 years?
VD: Well, making films and television series are two different processes. The ‘Law & Order’ series was episodic, but there were some continuity and evolution in the characters, but it was very little. The Netflix series I just filmed, ‘Daredevil,’ featured much more of a character arc than ‘Law & Order,’ because it was a serial show, and not episodic.
If you’re playing a substantial character in a movie that has a good script and is so well thought-out, than over the arc of the whole story there’s an evolution of the character that should work. Most of the time the characters do work, if they’re written well. So both are very satisfying. The 13 episodes I did with Marvel and Netflix for ‘Daredevil’ were very satisfying, because we approached the series like a 13-hour movie.
With a film like ‘Broken Horses,’ the character is there for a reason. He was written in a very full way, with a lot of intention and backstory. But his main purpose was to be the antagonist in the story, so the protagonists have a much bigger arc, which is the way it usually works.
But at the same time, with a director like Vidhu, he’s known for writing full stories that are told in a multi-layered way. I think he achieved that with ‘Broken Horses,’ in part because there was a lot to my character, even though he is the antagonist.
SY: Speaking of Vidhu’s approach to making ‘Broken Horses,’ he both co-wrote and directed the crime drama. Overall, do you prefer working with helmers who also penned the script?
VD: Auteurs are always interesting to work for, because the project’s innately in them. They’ve written and developed the story, and they’re now trying to execute it, which is a unique thing. But having said that, I’ve also worked with some great directors who didn’t write the project, and they’re visionaries on their own. They’re like great captains of ships, as they’re able to guide big projects in and do them right as well as make them extremely entertaining.
So you can have the best of both worlds, as there are some filmmakers who were born to write and direct. There are also others who are just directors, and can do great things with other people’s material. It’s all in the matter of the execution. For me, it’s all in the matter of how we’re working together, and how we’re telling the story that’s in the script.
SY: Having seen the way Vidhu approached making ‘Broken Horses,’ are you interested in penning and helming another film yourself, after you made your feature film writing and directorial debuts with the 2010 horror comedy, ‘Don’t Go in the Woods?’
VD: Yes-I can’t talk about it specifically yet, but it looks like there’s a project I’ll be directing that’s set to begin filming in November or December. I’ll also have hand in writing the project, as well. It’s a story that I came up with, and then hired a writer to write. He and I then collaborated on the writing process together.
SY: With many independent films like ‘Broken Horses’ being released in theaters and on VOD, and television series like ‘Daredevil’ being streamed on such on-demand Internet streaming websites as Netflix and Amazon, do you feel the VOD platform is a beneficial and crucial platform for these types of projects?
VD: Absolutely-I watch a lot of films on Netflix and Apple, and I think it’s the future of these projects. It is the venue these days for many films, although I hope that movies never leave cinemas. But at the same time, you have to accept that the new venue are these personal screens. I have to confess that I watch a lot of films on my big screen television in my office, which has a great sound system, and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. But on occasion, I’ll take my family-my wife and kids-to the movies, and that’s a blast, as well. So I hope that experience stays, as well.
SY: ‘Broken Horses’ is making film history, as it’s believed to be the first movie to be shot by an Indian filmmaker in Los Angeles with an American cast for an American audience. Do you think movies like this one will continue to transcend expectations about the way films are made?
VD: I hope so, as it’s a good idea to have different cultures working together on films. It’s a wonderful concept, and I know Vidhu wants to make another movie. I’d work with him again in a second on another project. This film had an all-American crew on the set, and everyone adored Vidhu; they all thought he was amazing. Good filmmakers have a way about them that make them magnetic.
Written by: Karen Benardello