‘Twilight’s’ Billy Burke goes to the dark side in ‘Drive Angry 3D’
There have been a number of supporting players in “The Twilight Saga” who have been able to use their newfound notoriety into bigger roles but none who have deserved the chance more than Billy Burke. Better known as Bella’s dad Charlie Swan, Burke has been working in Hollywood for almost 20 years with small roles in films such as “Fracture,” “Ladder 49,” “Along Came A Spider” and TV series roles on TV series such as “Gilmore Girls,” “My Boys” and “24.” Now, he’s getting his most significant break yet as a conniving and evil cult leader in the supernatural action thriller “Drive Angry 3D.”
Visiting the set of “Angry” in Shreveport, Louisiana a few months ago, Burke was the center of a massive action scene between his character and a vengeful father from hell played by none other than Nicolas Cage. Burke took some time off from his shooting schedule to sit down and talk to the assembled press on a very warm May night. He was as candid and classy as you’d expect for a longtime Hollywood veteran.
Burke: You think? Well, that’s what we were mildly going for. A little cross between Jim Jones, Jim Morrison, and maybe a little bit of Tony Robbins. (laughs)
Q: Is that something that drew you to the part?
Burke: Yeah. I immediately liked just the unreasonable flamboyant attitude that this guy had. So, yeah.
Q: The obvious and immediate thing that all of us nerds are thinking right away is wondering whether or not this is a little bit cathartic after having played the dad in ‘Twilight.’
Burke: It is, indeed. I started my career actually, maybe the first 10, 11 years, playing the bad boyfriend with the gun. And I got ill with that and moved on, for some reason, to playing cops all the time. And so this is quite a nice and refreshing departure from all that. I get to, yeah, let loose a little bit, do some stuff that I wouldn’t normally do; that nobody would normally do, I suppose. [laughs]
Q: What’s going on with the nails?
Burke: That was an afterthought. We started to talk about what this guy looks like and what he does. And then just before we got down here, I thought, well…I was thinking back to movies in the ‘80s and similar characters that I enjoyed watching. And I remember a particular character from a particular movie that I enjoyed watching. And one of the moments in that film started on his nails. I won’t tell you what it is because that will give too much away and I will be stealing. But yeah, that was an idea that sort of came in the midst of putting this guy together. So I went in and had them done, and now they are a pain in the ass to live with. But they are working well for this.
Q: But it’s not really stealing, it’s more of an homage, isn’t it?
Burke: It’s an homage, yeah. We can call it that. I like that word.
Q: Just throwing that out there.
Burke: Yeah. Do we know what movie I’m talking about?
Q: ‘Superman 4?’ (Laughs.)
Burke: Wow! Uh, no!
Q: I almost wanted to say something like ’48 Hours,’ but I’m sure I’m wrong.
Burke: No. It’s…I’m not going to tell you, because that’s just not….Once you see it again, you’ll figure it out. It’s a good one. ‘Superman 4’? I don’t know that I ever saw ‘Superman 4.’
Q: With a movie that is hyper-violent like this, a very hard movie, do you almost feel reticent to go over the top, that you are going over the top with the character, or are you just kind of going…
Burke: I don’t feel reticent to, but I…it’s a pretty rare moment for me when I really go that far over the top. Sometimes when something gets stuck up my ass, I can be pushed to go there. But I normally don’t like to. I like to stay within the boundaries of what I think is realistic. But in this movie nothing is realistic, so. But yeah, there is a lot of freedom here. I mean there are places that I can go that I have enjoyed going.
Q: We saw you shooting. Your character seems like a pretty intense guy.
Burke: Yeah. He’s got a vision. He’s got a vision and he feels right. And there’s nothing…As one of the lines in the movie says, ‘there’s nothing more dangerous than a righteous man with an idea.’
Q: When do we first see you in the movie? Are you right there from the beginning?
Burke: No. I think Jonah is talked about early on, we know that there is somebody out there that has something of importance to Nick’s character, and then we see glimpses of him, and then he appears in visions. And then he shows up on about page 33, I think.
Q: Do you get to drive any of the cool cars?
Burke: No. Have you seen the RV? The RV is circa 1975, maybe, something like that, which is completely fitting for what we are doing here, because it could have been a real tricked out sort of supped up thing, but Patrick wanted to stay with something that would fit the feeling of the movie. The movie is very reminiscent of some of the ‘70s movies that they used to make that were made with reckless abandon that I’m really getting a huge kick out of. I’m seeing some of the stuff that we’re shooting and it really feels like old-time Steve McQueen type stuff, but with a little bit of extra 2010 juice.
Q: What’s the story with the pentagram with the crown there?
Burke: That’s Jonah’s mark. It’s his emblem. It’s the symbol of what he stands for. I guess some would call it satanic, but I don’t really think that he is doing these things in Satan’s name. He is taking it upon himself to take what those ideals might be and putting them into his own school of thought and bringing it from there. So that’s his stamp that he puts on his followers and the symbol of what we are all going after.
Q: Is he a villain that we can kind of understand why he’s doing what he’s doing, or is he just crazy?
Burke: I don’t. (Laughs.) With what he’s doing, with what we’re actually doing here, I don’t think that anybody’s going to really understand what he’s doing, because let’s face it, we’re about to sacrifice a baby here.
Q: Well who hasn’t thought about that?
Burke: Who hasn’t done that? So no, I don’t think anybody is really going to be on his side. But saying that, there’s things being done by all the characters in this movie where you are not going to be on their side. Everybody’s almost the bad guy in this thing; he’s just the worst guy.
Was there any apprehension on your part? Because your character does apparently do some gnarly stuff in the film. Was there any hesitation for you signing on, or were you sort of like, “This is just a good part.”?
Burke: I thought about it for a second. I’ve got a daughter who is almost two years old right now who is about the age of the baby in the movie that we’re about to do nefarious things to. I did think about it for a second, but then I thought, you know, it’s just a movie. And within this movie, you need to…with all the things that are going so over the top and the places that we go to in this movie, you need somebody who is going to go that extra mile in badness. And once I figured out what we were doing and how I could do that, I said, ‘[Expletive] it. Let’s do it.’
Q: Did you go back and research any old cult leader, like real life cult leaders and stuff to get a sense of how they kind of roped people in?
Burke: I’m normally not a research guy, but I did in this case. I remembered Jim Jones from when I was a kid, and I remembered seeing some tapes, and I remembered hearing some of the tapes from back then, and I immediately thought of some of that stuff. So I did go back and listen to some of the Jonestown tapes for some of this stuff. I don’t know if anybody remembers, but that guy had a really, like, bad, gay lisp. (Laughs.) And I thought about taking that on for a second, but that would just be too much of an homage. So we 86’ed that. But I did listen to some of that stuff, yeah.
Q: How big is your following in the movie? Is it a cult of like five…?
Burke: I think it starts with a cult of about 11 and ends up with a cult of about 30? (Laughs.)
Q: Well, that’s pretty good.
Burke: I think he’s a lot bigger…I mean he thinks he’s a lot bigger than he actually is. But, no, it’s not enormous.
Q: Does your character have a history with Nic Cage’s character, or does it start here?
Burke: There is a history. Nic’s character’s daughter was one of my first followers. And she was sort of my muse, my focus. And I took her in, and once I realized what I could get from her and what she could do for me, I started to use her for…basically started to focus on her for what I could really do, and that is produce a baby from her and use that baby to, well, in his mind, bring on a new world order.
Q: What’s it like shooting in Shreveport?
Burke: When I heard we were filming here, and I’ve spoken to a few people who’ve shot here before, they all said, ‘Oh, Shreveport. Yeah, well, have fun!’ But I’ve actually really enjoyed my time here. I brought the family down, the wife, and the nanny, and the baby, and we got a nice little house on the outskirts of town, and we’re having…Actually, it’s kind of a nice little relaxed vacation. There’s not a lot to do, but it feels unforced, like we’re not really supposed to do anything except sort of work and relax and hang out together when we can. I actually kind of really like the vibe here. How about you?
Q: We’ve been here less than 24 hours.
Burke: Yeah. Well, you should check out the El Dorado casino. It’s quite nice. (Laughs.) I like to play a lot of poker in my off time. So for my first two weeks when the family wasn’t down here, that’s where my off-time was spent, playing a little poker.
Q: Cash or tournament?
Burke: There are no tournaments at the El Dorado. I do play tournament poker, but…Well, they have those daytime tournaments, but I can’t show up for those. So I play some cash games. It’s not big money, but I made some friends there and we had a good time.
Q: I am curious. How has the ‘Twilight’ success affected you? You can’t go into Hot Topic can you?
Burke: Hot Topic’s a rough one, yeah. When I’m not…when I don’t have the mustache on my face, it’s a lot easier. But yeah…Look, I’m not Nic Cage or Robert Pattinson now. But yeah, it does happen. So when I go into the poker rooms and stuff like that, they…it’s mostly like…especially sitting across the table from somebody, and with these nails, they start with that, and they go, ‘Hey, what’s that?’ And then they start to look up…It’s one of those “I know you from somewhere type of things.” And then somebody else will say, ‘He’s the da, da, da, da da.’ And then it ends up with, ‘Can you take a picture with my daughter?’ That’s where it usually goes.
Q: I know you guys are going to make one more of these things. Maybe two, I don’t know. Are you sort of happy that it’s coming to an end or are your sort of like…
Burke: The ‘Twilight’ stuff?
Q: Yeah, or has it been a fun ride for you?
Burke: It’s been a great gig for me. Let’s face it. I’ve been hanging around in this biz for 19 years now, and the advent of those movies has certainly shed a different light on where I’m at, and has pushed it into a different place. So I got nothing but love and respect for those movies, and for that character and for all the people who make the movies. For me, it’s kind of like showing up on a television show set, because I go back every time and kind of put the same clothes on and get into the same groove, and it’s very comfortable. And in terms of career stuff, yeah, it’s done a lot. So, I got nothing but love for it. And yes, we are going to make the next one starting in November, possibly here in Shreveport. We’re going to do some exteriors in Vancouver, and I hear they’re thinking about Louisiana for some stage stuff.
Q: Just buy a house.
Burke: I might as well. The wife’s already looking into it. Went down to New Orleans for a week and she fell in love with that place, as did I.
Q: You haven’t actually talked about working with Nic and against him in some of these scenes. Can you talk about his process and your process and how it’s…What’s it like to kick his ass?
Burke: I don’t know what his process is like. All that I know is that when he shows up…The first time we actually just ran through a scene and rehearsed, I had one of those moments where I was looking across from him, talking and reading lines, and saying to myself, ‘That’s Nic Cage. I grew up watching him. I grew up loving him.’ And he didn’t let me down in terms of just his humanity. He couldn’t be a sweeter more respectful guy, and couldn’t be more into the…We started riffing on stuff, and I said, ‘Is that cool that we’re just riffing?’ And he’s like, “Yeah man, it’s like jazz. It’s best when it’s like jazz!’ And I’m like, ‘All right. I’m gonna quote you on that. That’s good.'(Laughs.) Yeah. From what I know of him so far, I love that guy.