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Wednesday, October 15, 2003


By Rob Allstetter/Comics Continuum

TAMPA, Fla. -- Thomas Jane checks the mirror, not once or even twice, but three times. Each time he plays with his jet-black bangs, positioning them just so. After a few make-up touches, Jane releases the mirror and any illusions of vanity.

Because the camera takes a fuller look. Jane is also wearing a long black coat and a black shirt with the smeared-but-familiar logo of The Punisher, Marvel's vigilante anti-hero who is being brought to live-action, this time by Artisan Entertainment more than a decade after a version starring Dolph Lundgren never made it to theaters.

Jane, perhaps best known as Mickey Mantle in HBO's baseball film *61, has taken on The Punisher full throttle, more than just looking the part. He trained with Navy SEALs extensively for the action-packed role and in the last week of production, his game face is obvious, even during a lunch meeting with the media before the day's final scenes were filmed.

When asked about how he finds his character, who seeks vengeance after his family is murdered, Jane pauses. Director Jonathan Hensleigh then intercedes, saying that is a private matter. And Jane nods.

It reflects the disturbing nature of the origin story of the story, in which operative Frank Castle squares off against John Travolta's villainous Howard Saint.

While friendly with the press, talking sports and the baseball playoffs, Jane seems to carry an edge the whole day. That becomes very cleared when he is asked what The Punisher's skull signigies.

"The skull means two things," says Jane, puffing on a Camel. "It means if you see me coming, I am the angel of death.

"It also means that I'm dead. All of the contraints, the physical bounds of society and the rules that you live by and all the things that physically constrain you to a social and a more life, I am dead to all of that. Which makes me extremely dangerous. Because I don't give a fine fuck if I live or die or if I'm right or wrong. It's not for me to say or judge or do.

"So you're dead. The skull means those two things.

"I think the skull being more than a target -- something for the bad guys to shoot at -- the significance is that I am not of this world and fear me. Because I am dead."

Yikes! Jane is also forceful when he talks about his martial arts training and how The Punisher is not going to look like Iron Fist in the film.

"I trained with Navy SEALs, did a bunch of training with those guys," he says. "It was about guns, weapons and handling, hand-to-hand combat, edge weapon fighting. I trained for months with those guys. How to clean and take apart your weapons. How to carry yourself. It was the mind, body and attitude of what it is actually like to live the life of someone who has dedicated themselves to service of one's country. It's a very interesting and admirable mindset. "One thing I'd like to make clear is that when I say that I've trained in all these martial arts -- Japanese, Thai, Israeli, Philipino -- people get it miscontrued that I will be doing martial arts in this movie. But I have to preface that by saying that I've been trained by Navy SEALs. And the way a Navy SEAL uses martial arts is very different than the way Jet Li uses martial arts. A Navy SEAL employs martial arts to the extent which it gets the job done and only gets the job done. Jet Li uses it as a dance, where he's going to fly off the walls or bounce off the ceiling and stuff. A Navy SEAL will poke your eyes out and leave it at that. He'll break your neck and walk off. It's not flashy.

"When you say martial arts, it implies some movie lingo of Jackie Chan. It's not the case at all. In real-world martial arts, they're extremely simple, brisk moves that are designed to take out the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible and move on. That's how a Navy SEAL trains and uses his different techniques that he picks up along the way. He's a cannibal; he'll use absolutely anything from any culture to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible. He's always staying one step ahead of everybody else. It's a cutting edge of material, of weapons, of guns and knives and hand-to-hand.

"I think it's been misconrued that because I've been trained in martial arts, I'm going to be like wha-pu, wha-puing around. It's not the case at all."

A sense of realism is also key to the film. The Punisher's always been as grounded as any Marvel character.

"I did as much research as I could about this man as if he was a real person," Jane says. To me, he's a real person. But there's no footage (of Castle) and sometimes that the way it is.

"It's pretty much your interpretation, to the best of your knowledge, of how this person behaves, thinks and does what he does. I treat Frank Castle the exact same way. As a real, living, breathing human being. And I'm giving my interpretation to him."

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