Bruce Boxleitner is known best for his role in 1982’s “TRON”, playing the role of Alan Bradley and Tron. Bruce recently reprised his roles 28 years later in “TRON: Legacy”. He is also known for his role in the sci-fi television series “Babylon 5”. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat about “TRON” with Bruce and discuss what’s to come for the future.
Mike Gencarelli: It’s 1981 and you’re making “TRON.” At the time did it seem like just another project?
Bruce Boxleitner: We made it in ’81 and it was literally months before it was ready because they had to do all of the effects painstakingly. There were a lot of Chinese and Taiwanese names in the end credits (laughs). That’s where they went then to find that much manpower to do that much film. I’ve been asked this question many times. Yes, it was just another job. I was a very busy young actor in those days. I was in my early 30’s. I had already done a western series with James Arness called “How the West Was Won” and this was just prior to “Scarecrow and Mrs. King.” I hadn’t done a lot of feature films. I was in a small film with James Coburn called “The Baltimore Bullet.” I did “The Gambler” with Kenny Rogers for television. I had done a lot of television and it was mostly very good television. “TRON” came along as a total surprise. To tell the truth the sci fi genre’ was very new to me. It did appeal to me but there was one side that said “no…stick to what you do best.” But the other side won out. When I got to Los Angeles I went to the Disney Studios and met everybody. And I also have to say, as an actor, that they flattered the heck out of me. They wanted me for this movie. Also, Jeff Bridges was associated with it. He was somebody I had always kept my eye on because he was doing…you’re always aware of your contemporaries…the actors in your age range. He was mainly doing features so I have to say that there was a little bit of envy there. I thought “gosh, maybe I can get into movies now too,” since I’d been doing TV. for a number of years. And the project was interesting. You may laugh at this but I thought the film was kind of like “Star Wars.” Yes, it was about a big video game, but it kind of had that feel to it. It resonated in a lot of the science fiction books I had read over the years. So it had those worlds too…but in a brand new way. It intrigued me. And once they started showing me some of the story boards I was instantly IN! Being a TV guy I’m used to a faster pace. But features, especially technical ones, often have a very slow pace. We only shot a little bit each day. Only a couple of shots each day because to set up the shots took most of a day’s work. Let’s just say I read a lot of books (laughs). And of course I played a lot of video games. They had to take the games away from us we were having so much fun. One day they kept calling “Jeff…Jeff we need you,” and Jeff yelled back “I’m doing research on my part!” What was interesting in shooting the film was that Jeff was so concerned with the games. He was the “pinball wizard” so to speak, to use the parlance of the day. He was terrific at it where I was out with the stunt guysthrowing the discs. Yes, they were Frisbies, but there are a lot of guys out there that can’t throw a Frisbie. Most people are pretty awkward at it. But I had to be able to throw it like an expert. So I worked with experts. Much different then for “TRON: Legacy.” I didn’t have to learn any martial arts for that one.
MG: Looking back do you consider it a positive experience?
BB: Oh my gosh yes! I think the only disappointment was that the film didn’t do better. There were a lot of different sci fi epics out that year (among them “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” “Blade Runner” and “E.T.”). I mean, if you look back at 1982 there were a lot of groundbreaking films in the science fiction/fantasy genre. But I’m very proud of it. Yes it didn’t gain huge notoriety. It wasn’t “Star Wars.” But then nothing was. “E.T.” sucked the life out of everything that year. But I tell you, TRON would have just destroyed him! I want my aliens to be bad ass and trying to kill us all. That’s how I want my aliens. Not a cuddly little thing you take to bed with you. I hated that movie…sentimental crap(laughs)! But I should note..as Mr. Spielberg has noted…28 years later there is no sequel to “E.T.” But yes, it was a very positive experience. I still had a lot of television projects to do. I didn’t think I was going to become a movie star off of “TRON” but it was a great opportunity. I took it and I enjoyed every bit of it. It was an exhausting shoot. But I went back to the fast paced world of television. And I had a short lived television series of my own (“Bring ‘Em Back Alive”). But that came about because of “TRON.” It was kind of an Indiana Jones type character. That lasted for a season and then I went on to “Scarecrow and Mrs. King,” which lasted four seasons. But I didn’t get to the science fiction genre again until “Babylon 5.”
MG: How did you feel stepping back into the role 28 years later?
BB: I have to tell you it was such an amazing surprise when I got the phone call. I was very excited when I saw the footage from ComicCon several years ago. I couldn’t believe it. There had been rumors over the years, of course. But rumors are life in this industry. Suddenly somebody was making good on them. Then I got a call to come down to Disney Studios. And when I did it was like deja vu’ all over again. People tell me I should have been in it more, but not really. It wasn’t about me. And I understand Jeff. He’s gone on to become an Academy Award winning actor. He was the name guy they needed to get this tent pole up. He was the name that could bring in people that maybe hadn’t seen “TRON.” That was a big concern. Could they get people who had never heard of it? And the expectations for the new film were just so over the top. But I played my part and I enjoyed it. I was reunited with Jeff. Even though we didn’t get to work on camera together we hung out in Vancouver (where the film was shot). I also screentested with all of the young actors and actresses that were up for Sam and Quorra. And there were a number of them. There were some big names and some lessor names. Disney hired me to do the scene with Sam. And by the time it finally made the film I bet I had done it 150 times. For the girls we didn’t have any scenes written so we did scenes from “Blade Runner.” So I got to finally do “Blade Runner.” I love that movie! And I did the “Sam” scene with five or six different actors. And I think that maybe the people at Disney had seen my work or hadn’t seen “TRON” in a while so maybe that was also my screen test as well. I kind of liken Alan Bradley to Sam Flynn as Alfred to his Batman. We created a new young hero, but a hero that will always need Alan around to remind him who he is…where he came from…what his principles are. And that’s what Alfred was to Bruce Wayne.
MG: With “Tron: The Next Day” hinting for the future, do you think “Tron 3” will see the light of day?
BB: I think we can only hope. I think the intention is there. I haven’t heard anything or even if I would be in it. I do know that Garrett (Hedlund) and Olivia (Wilde) were signed for two pictures. Of course that means absolutely nothing. It’s great contractually but now both of them are extremely busy. It was great to work with these two young people right before they started hitting it. Which is very much the same way Jeff and I were back then. So to answer your question, it could very well be. I think it should be. There’s a huge audience for it. I know it’s not everybody’s cup oftea but still…
MG: Even if they don’t do another feature film, the legacy is continuing with the animated series “TRON: Uprising”, what can you tell us about this?
BB: It’s beautiful. The animation is really super. It stickes to the TRON world as we know it. I’ve done
seven or eight episodes already. It takes time, the animation. I did five episodes last week. I had been
away doing a film and I missed it when the scripts started coming in. I think the series is due to come out
early next year. It’s going to be good. We’ve got Elijah Wood…Lance Henriksen…all kinds of people are in it.
And I’m playing Tron. I’m purely playing Tron in this. There’s no Alan Bradley in this.
MG: What other projects do you have upcoming?
BB: I just finished a mini series called “Blackout.” I don’t know when it’s going to air. I also just did an epidode of a new series called “Chaos” and it’s already been taken off the air! It used to air on CBS on Friday night…sort of a C.I.A. comedy/adventure. I had a great role in it. I shot the ninth episode. I’m hoping they run it sometime…somewhere. I’m just trying to get a job like everybody else.