Robert Knepper has menaced cinema and television’s biggest badasses as a villain in shows like Prison Break, Heroes,and Arrow and movies like Transporter 3, Hitman, and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay. He’s at it again in Hard Target 2, the sequel to John Woo’s first American movie, loosely based on The Most Dangerous Game.
This time, Aldrich (Knepper) runs a hunt with human prey in the jungles of Thailand. He recruits a disgraced MMA fighter (Scott Adkins) who proves to be a harder target than he expected. Fresh off work on the Twin Peaks and Prison Break reboots and on his way to shoot Homeland season 6, we spoke with Knepper about his latest roles and real life heroics. From prolific director Roel Reine (Death Race 2 and 3, Man with the Iron Fists 2, Admiral), Hard Target 2 is on VOD, Blu-ray and DVD September 6.
Den of Geek: Did filming a movie in the Thai jungle feel like really being on a hunt?
Robert Knepper: Let me tell you, first of all I love Roel. Roel is a fucking amazing director. I get down there, I’ve never shot in Thailand before. My wife, Nadine, and I go down. The whole experience of being in Thailand was unbelievable. I get in the costume shop and he’s showing me pictures of the look. It’s this black vest and definitely high style. Taking the first movie, paying homage to the director but then also going off in our own direction a little bit. I thought, “This is the coolest costume I’m going to wear.” Yes, he’s a bad guy but again, like a bad guy, he totally believes that what he’s doing is the right thing. If you don’t want to do it, it’s totally fine but you’re going to make a lot of money and I can resurrect your career as a boxer.
So I try on this stuff and then I went into the jungle, and I realized why am I wearing all this synthetic faux leather kind of stuff. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much. The saving grace for me was in Thailand it is a sin to complain. There’s Scott doing his pyrotechnics, fighting and everything. He’s wearing an open shirt. He’s wearing regular pants. I’m wearing a vest. I might as well have been wearing a Canadian jacket for Nordic temperatures. It was crazy the heat I was in.
Yeah, I actually felt like I was the one being hunted because it was so damn hot down there. But at night when you’re done, you go home and the whole crew, everyone puts their hands together in front of their chest and they bow down to you every time they say hello. It’s a silent thing and it really, literally is frowned upon down there to complain about anything, so I just took it and had some amazing Thai food every night and got to see some amazing places that as a kid growing up in Ohio, I would never have gotten to see if I wasn’t an actor. Thanks to things like Prison Break, Heroes and other things that put me on the map, I’m on the list for Roel to call and say, “Hey, will you play this guy for me?” and I’m like, “Sh*t yeah, I’ll do it.”
Did you learn to cut sushi?
[Laughs] Yes, I did learn how to cut sushi. I took that big old fish, they had a guy bring it from the truck and that was real, man. That was me cutting that and me eating that fish right then and there.
Can you keep that skill in real life?
The only other time this happened to me was once I was out on a fishing boat with a buddy, I don’t know, 20 years ago, and we caught some tuna just off the coast here. We get back to the dock, get out the knife, it was the best sushi I ever had. There’s nothing like fresh fish when you cut it right then and there. A little wasabi and soy sauce and you’re done. Yeah, I wouldn’t mind doing that again although I don’t know if I’d do that off the L.A. waters. Someplace tropical, sure.
You have experience staring down some really tough guys. What is it like getting in Scott Adkins’ face for a real stare down?
He’s a very focused guy. He’s very humble. I would even go so far as to say he’s shy at times. This is a guy who doesn’t care how hot it is in Thailand. That leg kick is going to do some serious damage if you happen to be in front of it. We have this big climactic scene and I’m looking at him going, “There’s no f***ing way I can match him physically, martial arts-wise.” I can match him word-wise, so my weapon was my words. His weapon was his words and his kicks. I haven’t seen the film yet. I only did ADR for it and I had to do quite a few things on that huge climactic scene. That’s a sweet little scene. That’s fun how that all came together.
Did you take that kick from Scott on the dock?
I don’t remember. I don’t think I did. The double probably took the kick. I remember taking some kind of kick in the chest. Scott is so proficient. He’s such a professional. You never have to worry like some doofus saying, “Well, they’re just another actor. I’ll just go ahead and hurt them.” He’s very, very careful about that. If you’re a stunt guy, forget it. He’s going to slam you, but an actor, there was a lot of mutual respect going on.
The tone is set of course by Roel so it was an amazing time with him. He shoots fast. He knew every crew member’s name. He’s worked there at least once or twice before and he used the same crew. He’s fast. He shot that thing in a record amount of time. It is what it is. It’s pure entertainment. It was a lot of fun. I got to shoot in Thailand. I hope to shoot in Thailand again very soon. I made lots of friends down there, lots of memories. Next time I want to be able to stay a little bit longer with Nadine and hit the beaches on the southwest part of Thailand. We didn’t get to go to Chiang Mai which would’ve been great. I was doing what I love to do. I love acting. I got to dress up in very hot clothes for a couple weeks and shot the sh*t out of it. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. It was truly really a lot of fun.
What was it like joining the world of Twin Peaks 25 years later, when you’d never been on the original series?
Oh my God. It was one of the most amazing shooting experiences I will ever have. David Lynch is, I was going to say he’s a kindred spirit. I hope he thinks of me as a kindred spirit. I was in awe of him at first and I’m still in awe of him but I had to get over that to work with him because otherwise my tongue was hanging out the whole time. I’m kind of speechless in regards to that piece. Also I can’t talk about it but I also did a recording of the book that Mark Frost put together. I’ve never had an experience like that either. I can’t wait to see how that’s all put together. I wish I could tell you what I did for the book but I can’t. Unlike Prison Break where everybody blabs about the plot of this new nine parter, that’s the thing with David. You’re sworn to secrecy on that and you can’t talk about it. All I can talk about is the experience of working with him was like working with two different people at the same time. From the get go, from the second I met him to the last day, it was like working with a child, a gleeful child. Then it was also like working with a master. The child in the master or the master in the child, I don’t know who came first but they were always at work with each other and they’d play off each other very well. It was amazing.
Imagine the people who work with him on a movie, and you did 10 or 12 or however many episodes that ends up being.
Yeah, but you know we shot it like a movie. My understanding is it’s up to him to decide how he wants to break it up. There was an incredible continuity to it.
Was playing T-Bag again like you’d never left him?
Yes and no. One of the first things I said to Paul Scheuring was, “Please, there’s this reboot craze right now with all these shows. Networks want to give the audience what they know. Some of them don’t do so well. I hope, please, when you bring this back, don’t give them exactly what they’re expecting. These characters have changed. They’ve evolved just like the actors and actresses have changed. I hope there’s some kind of reflection of that.” He said, “Oh yeah, don’t worry about it. Absolutely.” That is exactly what he gave me and gave the character and gave the audience. You’ll know the old T-Bag is there but there’s a real struggle to have gone through some kind of change, some catharsis.
Working with the actors even was a different kind of experience. We’ve done it. We have nothing to prove. There was an ease about it this time. Every time I work, every year I work, no matter what character it is, and I’m going off to do Homeland, even that I’m thinking, “What less can I do? How much less can I do each time I shoot?” As opposed to how much more can I do, what can I add, I’m always like, “What can I take away?” I’m really looking forward to Homeland because of that. I did the same thing, I just worked with Tom Cruise during the time of Twin Peaks on Jack Reacher: Never Go Back. Same kind of thing. How little can I do? So I’m looking forward to seeing that as well.
Will you be on the entire season of Homeland?
Like Twin Peaks, I can’t talk about it. They’ll kill me. I think the press release has come out that I’m recurring on it so that’s about as much as I can say.
American Horror Story is also a big secret. What have the Homeland and Horror Story crews been like?
Homeland I haven’t started. I’m assuming that they’re going to be great. I’ve been very, very lucky. I’ve never worked on a production where I went, “This crew sucks.” There’s really no room anymore for anybody that sucks. There’s no room for people that don’t care. There’s no room for anybody that doesn’t put 125% into something. You won’t keep your job for very long. There’s too many people wanting to work. I’ve been really lucky to always work with people that really care about what they do. I always say, “I never go to work. I always go to play every day.” I’ve heard other sayings like, “I went to work with a smile and I came home with a laugh.” There’s all kinds of stupid little sayings to help you get through, but when you’re working on your 14th or 16th hour during a week, you’re tired. What keeps you buoyant are your crew members and your fellow actors. Hopefully your director as well. I’ve been really blessed to work with great people that I have no qualms at all about singing their praises. They’ve all been pretty amazing.
I remember working on E/R years ago. When you walk in that stage door, that Emmy was right there in a case. The tone is set right away by number one on the call sheet and the director. If you don’t have that kind of experience going on, it could be a nightmare to work on. I’ve been really blessed to work with these people that really care. It is a true ensemble of everyone coming together, actors and crew. I’ll let you know someday if that’s not the case and I need you to write their names down and call these people out, get rid of them. So far so good.
Do you get involved in any of the action or stunts in Jack Reacher?
Again, Prison Break is the only one everybody blabs about the plot. I can’t talk about it but you’ll see. You’ll see soon enough. Fred, do me a favor. Google me and you’ll see one of the most beautiful things that just happened to me was up in Canada helping to save a Canada goose with my wife. You can talk all you want about good guys or bad guys, but in my real life I was a good guy in helping save this Canada goose. Just Google it. You’ll see what I mean.
Was this with an organization or randomly?
Totally random. It was on the side of the street in a McDonald’s flower bed. Nadine and I were on our way home from dinner. I was shooting iZombie up there. We just happened to see it. It tried to fly, got hit by a car, it fell 10 feet. Took it to the emergency. You’ll see, it’s all there. I tweeted about it that night. I Instagrammed it because it was about a group of people coming together and helping each other out, a very communal kind of thing, like filming is like only this was real life.
Right now in these times of real meanness and negativity and fear and anger going on in the world, it was really great to be a part of something so positive and helpful to some person or thing other than yourself. You’ll see. Check out the first thing I wrote. Then the press all jumped on it. We took it that night to an emergency room and when I was back up there shooting iZombie, we were part of releasing it into nature again. It was pretty spectacular. It was probably the best script I’ve ever been a part of that just happened naturally. Check it out. It’ll put a smile on your face. Now when I go especially in Vancouver, people come up to me and say, “Hey man, I love your work and thanks for saving a Canada goose.” It’s really great to have it in the same sentence.