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Mark Boone Junior on Sons Of Anarchy, Christopher Nolan, and playing a dirty cop

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Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.

The actor: As Sons Of Anarchy’s Bobby Munson, Mark Boone Junior has ridden his motorcycle into the homes of viewers for the past five years. He’s been around Hollywood for a lot longer than that, though, playing dirty cops, hairy science teachers, and homeless prophets. Though his big-haired look might pigeonhole him a little these days, he’s been playing semi-scummy creatures since 1983, when he got his start in the business by playing a porn shop customer in a movie called Variety that also starred Luis Guzmán. He’s also appeared in several projects co-starring or directed by his good friend Steve Buscemi, who he’s been writing and performing with since they met in New York in the ’70s.


Sons Of Anarchy (2008-present)—“Bobby Munson”
The A.V. Club: This past season was a pretty big year for Bobby Munson.

Mark Boone Junior: Was it really?

AVC: I think so.

MBJ: [Casting director] Wendy O’Brien brought my picture in to play Bobby Munson when they were auditioning casting directors, and that’s how she got hired.


AVC: Her pick was so good that it got her hired.

MBJ: That particular one got her hired, yes. That’s the way it was told to me by Wendy and [executive producer] John Linson. I’ve never discussed that with Kurt [Sutter, creator/executive producer].

AVC: Had you ever ridden a motorcycle before you did the show?

MBJ: I did. I bought a motorcycle when I was 11 years old for $50. I started sneaking it out and riding it around. My grandparents bought land in northern Wisconsin almost 90 years ago now, and so all through my childhood I rode. I started riding up there a lot, on the back roads that were all dirt then. Then when I got my license, I didn’t do “off-roading,” but I rode my bike off-road. I stopped when I was about 18, because my brother-in-law got in a really bad accident, and my mother begged me to stop riding motorcycles.


AVC: Like all moms do.

MBJ: Yeah, like all moms. It’s true. I find that sometimes women are very aggressive toward me when I am on a motorcycle. I find there is this passive-aggressive thing that goes on in their minds. It’s really weird, but I notice that riding a motorcycle around.


I shouldn’t have been on a motorcycle for many years because I was an idiot. Then when the pilot [for Sons Of Anarchy] was picked up, the motorcycle I ride everyday, I bought that within a couple of days.

AVC: Are you pleased with the direction of the show? In some ways, it seems like your character is being taken more and more seriously. When the show started, you were “Bobby Elvis,” and now that whole aspect of your character has fallen by the wayside.


MBJ: Truly, I don’t feel that my position or character or contribution or anything is any different from my point of view. It’s just that the character showed up a little more on the show itself this year, but my contribution to the show has been exactly the same since the beginning. I’ve worked more days than anybody else on this show other than Charlie.

I know what my contribution to this show is and has been since the very beginning, what goes on behind the scenes and how this show has formed itself. I know that that doesn't translate to anybody else but to me, from my point of view, nothing has changed. If I was more involved in the show this year from the outside because I made the cut or whatever, I can’t really interpret it differently.


AVC: You have several film projects coming out in the next year, but this is your first series. How are you finding the difference between being on a regular series and your other projects?

MBJ: Truthfully, I’ve found working on a series challenging. I started in the business writing and producing and directing and acting in stuff that I had a lot of control over. Then you do movies, and you choose what you’re going to do. You know what the part in the movie is going to be, and you go and you do it. For years, I said I don’t want to do television and I refused to be involved with any kind of television series, other than a few guest-stars that I did. Very few! Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm and Carnivale. I used to say regularly, “Look, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life walking into every coffee shop, and everyone walking up to me and going, ‘Do the Bobby thing! C’mon, would you do it? Do Bobby!’” You know? I always said that. And, lo and behold… [Laughs.]


AVC: Does that happen? Do people freak out when they see you on a motorcycle?

MBJ: I can’t go anywhere, are you kidding me? That’s the way it is for all of us now. The cat is out of the bag.


AVC: You also have a pretty distinctive look. People are going to recognize you.

MBJ: Well, if Bobby is to continue looking like Bobby, I can’t really change what I’m doing physically. I can’t cut my hair, or it won’t grow back, and my beard takes as long as if I were to cut it right now. So I have kind of sacrificed my career for the last couple of years for this because there is not that many things I can play during this period.


2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)—“Detective Whitworth”
Batman Begins (2005)—“Detective Flass”
AVC: You’ve also played a corrupt cop at least twice. Why do you think people look at you and see a bad cop?

MBJ: Those are big movies, and basically all big movies are cops and robbers, really fantastic dramas, and what people call “comedies.” That’s pretty much it, you know? So there’s a lot of cops or robbers. You can play a bad cop or a good cop, or you can play a bad robber or a good robber. [Laughs.] Those are the options in a lot of movies.


I got cast by Christopher Nolan [whom] I worked with in Memento, where I wasn’t a cop. That’s how I got the next role [in Batman Begins] with him; he just called me up and asked if I wanted to do that. You wouldn’t even know Flass is a cop really from anything he says or does in that movie.

AVC: In Gotham City, nothing is black and white.

MBJ: Exactly. I improvised in that movie, which is unusual. I worked with John Singleton before also. Before I did 2 Fast 2 Furious, I was in Rosewood, where I was a very, very bad man but I wasn’t a cop. But that's how I got that role [2 Fast 2 Furious]. He just called me up and asked me if I wanted to do that. But again, that’s the big movie syndrome as far as I’m concerned. Bad cop, good cop.

Law & Order (1990)—“Garage Manager”
AVC: You work a lot, but sometimes your character doesn’t even have a name. On Seinfeld you were “OTB patron,” and on Armageddon you played “New York guy.” You were in the first season of Law & Order.


MBJ: I was in the pilot of Law & Order. That was Mr. Big’s [Chris Noth] first television role, and what a jerk he was. [Laughs]. I’m serious.

AVC: Every New York actor was on that show. It was on forever.

MBJ: How many different spinoffs were there? Like 10, five, whatever. I don’t know when we did that, but it was very early on.


AVC: It was 1990.

MBJ: The thing is, we shot that [episode, which was intended to be the pilot] years before it even made it to the air. And I don’t know, [NBC] had the whole permanent cast on hold for like three years or something. Why that happened, I don’t know.


All those roles, characters are not even named. When you’re young, that’s the kind of roles everybody gets. That’s just the way that happens. I was very picky about stuff for the longest time, so every once in a while, you just take something to make a little money.

I’ve done probably 40 movies with first-time directors just because they need help. And those are the roles where you actually get to act. Nobody sees those movies, a lot of them. Again, I’m picky with those roles, too.


Trees Lounge (1996)—“Mike”
MBJ: I was partners with Steve Buscemi for eight years in New York where we did theater and wrote together. Then I left town because I just had to get out of New York. I was traveling around the country with my girlfriend at the time, and she got a job [in California] and I never left.

Steve [Buscemi] wrote [Trees Lounge] I think in 1989, the last year that I lived in New York; it’s based on his and my life and the theater we did. It’s a very particular kind of writing, no jokes but funny. Then it took five years to get made. Nobody wanted to make it; it was a very dark movie in some ways. So I went back to New York to make that.


I remember the producer said, [nasal voice] “Boone directed that movie just as much as Steve Buscemi,” which is baloney, but I had a lot to do with it. I was watching Steve’s back a lot in that movie, because he was in every frame of it.

The Adventures Of Pete & Pete (1996)—“Mr. Prochman”
AVC: This is a good time to ask you about your brief role on The Adventures of Pete & Pete, because Buscemi was also on that show. You played a teacher, correct?


MBJ: I was a very hairy teacher. They just stuffed massive amounts of hair down my basically transparent white shirt. I haven’t seen that thing in a long, long time, and I think it was just one scene or something. I knew Katherine Dieckmann [Pete & Pete director/writer] somehow… I can’t remember how, but that’s how I got in that show.

AVC: She was around the New York scene and so were you.

MBJ: Well, you know, it was a very small town back then. The community was small; nobody wanted to live in New York because it was a violent hellhole, particularly downtown. Syd [Straw] and I met before that on a movie. Steve was in it and Richard Edson. I knew Katherine Dieckmann from just being around town. I guess that’s how I got called on that thing. I don’t even remember, truthfully.


The Thin Red Line (1998)—“Pvt. Peale”
AVC: How did you get cast in The Thin Red Line?

MBJ: Dianne Crittenden, the casting director, [is] a fantastic woman. I’d been in many meetings with Dianne before that. I don’t remember if she had cast me in anything, but we had tried to work together many times. She called me in on that, and I [tested] for the role that John C. Reilly ended up playing, the cook [Sgt. Storm]. I don’t know if he actually has a name other than “the cook,” even though that was like, the fourth biggest role in the script. And he’s barely in the movie. I don’t know if you know the story of all that.


AVC: Terrence Malick has a reputation for just cutting people out of movies.

MBJ: That script was 240 pages long. I’ve read a lot of scripts in my 35 years doing this, and that was absolutely one of the best scripts I’ve ever read, even at 240 pages. I think he shot all 240 pages, but the actual movie has about 10 percent of it, if I recall. There’s the famous story of… what's his name, the guy who went and won an Oscar later, huge nose?


AVC: Adrien Brody?

MBJ: Adrien Brody! He was the lead in the movie, they shot all his stuff, and he literally has two lines in the whole movie. Terry [Malick] would just take you out into the jungle and go like, [high pitched drawl] “Okay, um, just walk and think about home.” And we would shoot for two hours, doing that.


Anyway, over the course of five months, I went in and improvised for long periods of time with Dianne. It was literally five months. I never met Terry, because he was probably already in Australia. They were supposed to start shooting, and it was literally like three or four days before the movie was supposed to start. I had already turned down three movies for this thing, because it was for the fourth biggest role in the movie. It came down to this final weekend, and Dianne called me and said, “It looks pretty good, looks good.” Monday, 10 a.m., she calls and says, “Nope, you didn’t get it.”

So John C. Reilly got it and had to spend six months in Australia. Then he had, like, two lines in that movie, too, if I remember correctly. I had a six-month-old baby at the time, which I wasn’t really happy about the prospect of leaving for six months. Then they called me five months later and said, “Boone, do you want to go to Australia?” I’m like, “What do you mean, what for?” “Well, for this guy Peale.” I looked at my script that I dug out from somewhere, and it was a really good little bit, and I said sure.


I went over there for three weeks and shot, like, seven scenes, and that really good scene that I thought I was going over there to do never made it into the movie. The little pieces of me here and there from seven improvised scenes [did].

Rise Of The Lonestar Ranger (2014)—“Gus Andrews”
AVC: What’s Rise Of The Lonestar Ranger? IMDB says it’s a Western starring Rose McGowan and Danny Trejo, and it has a 2014 release date.


MBJ: They have shot, like, two scenes from that movie.

AVC: They haven’t shot the whole thing? There are posters and everything.

MBJ: I don’t know when that movie is supposed to be made exactly. They shot a 10-minute trailer; I guess there is a flashback when I come in, and I’m one of the characters that gets carried into the rest of the movie. I don’t know when the rest of that movie is going to be made.


AVC: You’ll probably be the hold up now, with Sons Of Anarchy filming.

MBJ: I have no idea. I’m not a major [character]. I only have a few scenes. Do you know the source material?


AVC: It’s a Zane Grey Western, right?

MBJ: Right. It’s about a father who was a big gunslinger, and he gets killed. Then his son becomes a gunslinger, too. We’ve shot the flashback where the father gets killed, and I’m the uncle.


Curb Your Enthusiasm (2001)—“Homeless Person”
AVC: We have time for one more role. We can either talk about Curb Your Enthusiasm or the Naomi and Wynonna Judd movie from 1995 [Naomi & Wynonna: Love Can Build A Bridge].

MBJ: Oh, I don’t even remember that movie.

AVC: You played “Redneck.”

MBJ: Yeah, I don't remember. But Curb Your Enthusiasm, that was fun.

I met Larry [David], and those were crazy people, man. I did [Seinfeld] in the third season, and in that episode, Kramer, Michael Richards, ripped my own personal shirt off me in the scene that we did, for no particular reason. I don’t really know why.


Anyway, that’s when I met all of them. I probably auditioned a couple times for Seinfeld before I got that one. But then the last season, which was supposedly at the time the biggest deal in television ever, they had me come in for nine episodes with one or two other people, and I didn’t get any of those. [Laughs.]

AVC: And you don’t get paid to come in, right?

MBJ: Hell, no! It was crazy. Larry did a couple movies, and he always had me come in and do something.


Curb Your Enthusiasm is sort of improvised on the spot. It’s fun. [Larry David’s] a nut. What you see is what you get. Do you know the episode I did? I’m a homeless guy and Larry’s wife has given me his jacket, and she left tickets that they need—like an airline ticket or something—in the jacket. And they are trying to find me. The whole time, it’s like, [mimics director] “No, no, don’t do that. Don’t do that.” I’m improvising everything I do, and it’s like, “No, no, no, don’t, no!” This is a bizarre little world, making movies and TV.