Neal McDonough on Boon, Neo-Westerns, and Clint Eastwood
After 30 years as an actor, Neal McDonough is finally playing by his rules. McDonough typically portrays villains because he refuses to take part in sex scenes due to his Christian beliefs and love for his wife, Ruve. In his latest film, Boon, McDonough not only plays the lead, but serves as a co-writer and producer.
Directed by Derek Presley (Red Stone), McDonough stars as Nick Boon, a mercenary trying to escape his past life as a cold-blooded hitman. While Boon hides from an FBI agent in the Pacific Northwest, he comes across the widowed Catherine, played by Christiane Seidel (Godless), and her teenage son. When Catherine runs into trouble with the local criminal organization led by Mr. Fitzgerald, played by Tommy Flanagan, Boon grapples with the choice between remaining quiet or stepping in and blowing his cover.
With the film arriving on April 1, McDonough sat down with Digital Trends to discuss Boon, his collaboration with Presley, and the advice he received from Clint Eastwood.
Digital Trends: This is now your second appearance as Nick Boon following Red Stone. What stood out to you about this character that made you want to expand upon his story?
Neal McDonough: In the first movie, it’s getting to know Nick Boon. The first time you see him, you think he’s kind of this terminator out to just kill people. He’s obviously a bad guy, but you quickly realize that’s not the case. He’s just the hitman because of things that he did in the past. This is the only job he thinks he can really do. He soon has that call to faith. What do I do with this 15-year-old kid? Do I kill him or do I do the right thing? And of course, he finds his heart and starts doing the right thing and has to take out all the bad guys.
The first was more of a thriller type of film. The second is more of a pure-action, Neo-Western film. For the third film, we want to set [it] in the city so there will be a whole different feel to the character. But with Boon, I loved jumping into this one because I got to produce it with my wife, Ruve, but also we had to tell a story of myself having a romance in a film, which I generally don’t do because I don’t do sex scenes. So now that I’m producing and writing and creating these things with Derek Presley and my wife, I kind of get to do it my way. I get to finally be the hero. These guys are grappling with their faith as we all do. Everyone knows I’m a devout Catholic, but we all grapple with our faith. We all make mistakes. We’re all sinners. I think when we go to the cinema, I like to watch a guy who has to grapple with those things and in the end, dusts himself off and gets the job done. And in this case, it’s taking down bad guys.
I love the genre. It’s what I grew up with. I loved watching John Wayne, especially in his later films like The Cowboys or The Shootist. These types of films where he has to grapple with what’s the right thing to do here. When you have characters like that opposite guys like Tommy Flanagan, who knows how to act in front of a camera as well as anyone I’ve ever acted with. He’s so talented and so driven to be the best he can on every take. He finds these beautiful moments as the villain that really resonate with not just my character, but with the audience, because [they] really get to say, “Gosh, I hope this guy has the bravery to stand up to this guy who’s absolutely heinous and take him down.”
That’s the great thing about these Westerns and Neo-Westerns. It’s simple messages. These simple, faith-friendly backdrops of almost biblical proportions at times, and I think that’s what people really gravitate towards. I’m blessed that Cinedigm [Boon‘s studio] has taken a chance on us to make these films and make more of these films in the future. And I get to do it with my wife, Ruve, so I couldn’t be happier.
In Boon, not only are you the star, but you’re also a co-writer and producer, so you now have a more hands-on approach in these projects. How has your creative process changed?
It’s vastly different. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring where you’re always like, “OK, what’s my next job? What’s my next thing as an actor?” Years ago, when I did Flags of Our Fathers, Clint Eastwood took me aside and said, “Look, you’re fantastic at what you do and you understand how to conduct yourself on set. You understand the filmmaking process. You have to stop being a gun for hire and start creating your own content.” I said [to myself], “Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s great.” But, I kind of took it to heart when we did Greater years ago. That was the first one I jumped on as a producer and had a creative say in the process. I said, “Hmm, this is pretty good because I kind of know what works and what doesn’t work.”
Then, we did The Warrant with INSP, and that was such a success for them. Then came Red Stone, and I really got to delve into the character. But Boon is where we kind of busted it open, where I got to call in all my friends, from Tommy Flanagan to Jimmy Madio to JPG [John Patrick Jordan] to Christiane Seidel, who’s fantastic, Christina Ochoa. You know, all these actors that I think are so fantastic and we go, “Hey, let’s go play. Let’s have some fun.” Demetrius Grosse just came in and destroyed it … Pat Monahan, the lead singer for Train, opens the film. You know, we’ve talked about being in movies together for years.
So now Ruve and I get to raise the financing. Do it our way. Make a great film at a good cost and now put it out to the market and see how it does. I’m really excited that, you know, I’m not just the actor. I get to have the creative say with my wife and how to do these things, along with my other producing partner Jason Starne and Derek Presley, who wrote and directed these with me. It’s a great time for me. I love doing my own stuff like this. And you know, I keep saying if I never do a film for anybody else the rest of my life, I’m fine. If I can just do them with the team that we’ve created now and with Cinedigm backing us, I’m blessed beyond belief.
In your collaboration with Derek, how did you write the film together? Do you bounce ideas off of each other and say, “I’ll take this scene and you take that scene?” Take us into the writing process of Boon.
I drive Ruve crazy. I’ll wake up in the middle [of the night] and say, “Honey! I got this great idea for a film.” I don’t really have the talent or the time to sit down on a computer and just bang out pages because we got five kids and I’m always acting in something or I’m coaching something. Derek is like this wunderkind. With the script that we’re writing right now, I came up with this idea about a Cain and Abel in the West type of story, and really, it’s brutal, you know, fantastic stuff. It’s been in my head for years, and I pitched it to Derek and said, “OK, let’s start working on it.” And then, we have these sessions for hours and we’ll just talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, and all of a sudden, the next morning, I’ll have 15 pages sent to me. What do you think? Great. Let’s keep going. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Another 15 pages.
This one, we wrote Boon so fast. We’re writing this one [Cain and Abel story] called Faith. We started writing it really about five days ago. We’re already just past page 50. So we’ll have the first draft ready, probably by Friday afternoon, to send over to Cinedigm to look at it. We work really fast and we know that we got something really good going. He’s my director and co-writer. I’m his star, and Ruve is the one who goes and finds the financing and makes sure that the cast is as great as it can possibly be. Jason Starne does all the magic behind the curtain. He’s the Wizard of Oz for us. It’s a great combination. Then, we have Cinedigm backing us.
I want to keep making films like this for years and years to come, and put our kids in it or more friends in it and kind of make them Mercury players like Orson Welles did all those years ago. In this last film that I did, The Warrant, which we just wrapped Saturday, there are certain people from that crew that I want to pluck. Now, we’re building a team.
I remember in Flags of Our Fathers, I was talking to one of the guys there and he goes, “Yeah, I’m one of the new guys on Clint’s team.” I’m like, “Oh, really? Is this the first one?” He goes, “I’ve been with Clint for 13 years, but Jim’s been with him for 27 years, and Paulette’s been with him 28 years.” That’s the way he built his company with Malpaso, and the McDonough Company is trying to do the exact same thing, building with players that we love working with and making great stories that the audience wants to see.
Do want to revisit this character for the third time?
Oh yeah, Nick’s awesome. He’s the onion with a gun. You know, you just keep on peeling off these awesome layers like, “Oh, didn’t know that about him. Oh gosh, he’s tough. Oh, he’s a sweetheart of a guy. Boy, he can fight.” So it’s all these things. [For the next movie], we’re going to set it in Chinatown and he goes back to his sensei, and all hell breaks loose after that. Then, we have another one where he finally gets away from it all, goes out to Martha’s Vineyard for the fourth film.
We’re always thinking about what’s a new area we can put Nick Boon in where he’s a fish out of water, but still running away from the past. But the past, of course, catches him every time. We’ve toyed with him as a TV series, perhaps, or just as a wheel where we just keep making these movies. Either way, I’m having a ball playing Nick Boon because there’s a lot of me in Nick Boon and [in] the guys that I grew up with, especially back in Boston and Cape Cod. They are like this guy. He’s always trying to do the right thing and sometimes, doing the right thing is not easy. Nick’s one of those guys who’s willing to do it, and I love that about him.
Boon will release in theaters and on-demand and digital on April 1, 2022.