We had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Tron himself, Bruce Boxleitner, about his role in TRON: Legacy, the new Disney Tron cartoon, and why he feels that Tron is a story that feels more relatable to our modern age than Avatar was.
We met with Boxleitner for a one-on-one interview after he and Michael Sheen (who plays Castor in the film) had done joint round tables with the press.
Bruce Boxleitner: Now that we don’t have Michael (Sheen) we can talk. Michael is a lot of work. He’s got a lot of energy. He’s also terrific, and by the way. I would never tell him, but I am in total awe of him.
Screen Rant: Well, now it’s on the record (laughing).
BB: Ah well, I am in total awe of him. I think he’s one of the finest young actors we’ve got. He’s gonna do Hamlet, I think that’s going to be a heck of a thing.
SR: Well how about you? What are you working on now?
BB: I won’t be doing Hamlet (laughing). I’ve been doing a lot of television again. Nothing right now, delightfully – I’ve had a really busy year. I’ve got two TV movies coming out, one I don’t know where it is, one is going to be on the Hallmark Chanel. So, I just do whatever comes along.
SR: Haven’t you also done some work on the Tron cartoon that’s going to be on Disney XD?
BB: Yes, I’ll be doing Tron again on that, with Elijah Wood and a whole bunch of other people, I think even Pee Wee Herman is going to be in it. Yeah, we did that, we did a pilot for it. We’ve only done the pilot so far, we won’t start again until January.
SR: What is the cartoon like in comparison to the film?
BB: The animation is terrific for it, very much akin to the look of this film, but it has its own kind of statement.
SR: Does it exist fully in the world of the grid, or does it go back and forth between the grid and our world?
BB: It’s more of the grid world, or at least the pilot was.
SR: So we’ll see Tron but not Alan?
BB: You are going to see Tron but not Alan, correct. I don’t know that we won’t see Alan – who knows.? Ed and Adam [Ed Kitsis and Adam Horowitz – the writer's of TRON: Legacy] are writing that as well. They’re all over this thing, the two writers on this picture. You’d think Lost was enough.
(Ed Kitsis and Adam Horowitz were both writer’s on the television series Lost as well.)
SR: So does the cartoon take place within the same time frame as TRON: Legacy?
BB: I heard that it stands alone in that same world. You know, other than what we did, I don’t know how related it is to the plot line of this film with Clu and everything. I don’t know about that. It’s called Tron: Uprising; and it is sort of a rebellion led by a young program that I train (the older Tron) to sort of take over. It’s like The Mask Of Zorro, the older Zorro, Anthony Hopkins, trains him to take over his persona.
SR: And who are you all rebelling against?
BB: I think it’s probably Clu. I am not quite certain, because they were only little half hour stories.
SR: What about Tron 3?
(When we spoke to Steven Lisberger during the Tron Night event, he told us that Tron 3 was in development; however by the time the press junket for TRON: Legacy rolled around, producer Sean Bailey and the rest of the Tron creative team would only say that they were hopeful, and would love to do a third Tron, but were waiting to see what the audience response to TRON: Legacy is. As Bailey said “late at night over pizza and beers, things come up” but nothing definitive has been decided.
BB: God, I don’t know. Let’s hope this one does well enough. I think they’d like to do another one.
SR: Well it looks like there is a possibility for a return of the character of Tron, yes?
BB: Sure, and also in the game world, you can just be rebooted, and come back. I mean certainly Clu does not represent the Clu of the first movie. He was originally this kind of goofy aberration of Jeff’s character. He was lighthearted, and this is a much different one. He got rebooted into a different type of character.
SR: Speaking of being rebooted, what was it like to see that much younger version of yourself? To essentially go back in time?
BB: I thought he had a nice haircut. Nice kind of hair…You know, it’s sort of a strange thing. If you asked yourself the same question – I mean, I don’t really know what to say about it, other than, well, they got my nose right. I know it was not easy to do for them. They had a lot of photos, they certainly the original Tron. I asked, I said ‘If you have any left I’d like some for my own collection’; so they gave me doubles of the photos they were using. I also did motion capture – now this was really bizarre – there is a sphere of lights that you sit inside, and you have these things on you, and you just make all kinds of facial expressions – scream, laugh, move your mouth, and there are all these cameras recording all of the movement. It was the same outfit that did Benjamin Button, which I thought was very successful.
(You can see how some of the motion capture sequences were created in our behind the scenes footage.)
SR: What do you think the response will be?
BB: What did you think the response was last night? (at the press screening) I thought it was very good, and especially considering that it was all press, and you know, you guys do this all the time. We all have, in Hollywood, a certain cynicism to things, because we do it all the time. I wonder in a public forum, I wonder how the public will react.
SR: I heard you say that Tron is going to kick Avatars butt.
BB: I am throwing that out there – yes. As sort of a challenge (laughing).
SR: Throwing down the gauntlet to Avatar.
BB: Throwing down the gauntlet, yes. Tron challenges the Avatar. C’mon, get a couple of mitts and we’ll go out back and settle it. I liked Avatar a great deal, I think that all of them are pushing the envelope, and our storytelling abilities; because I think that with the technology we have now, we can create worlds that we have never seen. Worlds of the imagination. I think it’s fantastic – it’s all positive – and yet, the last scene, last night (at the screening) was the most positive of all. Two beautiful young people, and the look on Olivia’s face – I was almost sobbing; because to me that is what it is about, youth; young people going on into the future, whatever that may bring, and there is new life happening.
SR: The use of similar technology begs a comparison between TRON: Legacy and Avatar, but what do you think distinguishes the two films?
BB: Well, when it comes to having an avatar, I think we are sort of dealing with the same subject matter there. It’s the doppelganger, which has been in literature way back with Dostoevsky and people like that. We are talking about creating our own double, and Tron also has that similar theme; but we do it in a world that I think is much more relatable than a planet like Pandora. Ours is something you are doing every day when you get on your computer, in terms of making a program. Whatever you are doing with your computer, you are putting more of yourself, of your personality in there when you’re typing – its a little bit of you in there.
SR: Well, what do you think that this idea of the doppelganger represents? Also, you’ve talked about this film as a cautionary tale in a way, as representing the dark side of technology. Can you talk about that a bit.
BB: Well I think it is. I am not a big technical person. There is something they used to say about the fear of technology; you know in the old days you would say ‘a gun is just a gun, it depends on what it’s used for, it can be used for good or evil’; that’s what they would say in the old west. ‘It can be used to protect, or it can be used to abuse’, but it’s a tool. Computers are also tools, and like we are seeing now, these predatory people — the dark side of the human personality — cyber bullying… Also, our whole lives are wrapped up in the grid now, my God, if it all came crashing down, what would we do? My fear, is that we are becoming so dependent on technology that if it was all taken away for some reason, some big incident, that we are losing our ability to function without it. I think our country, our world right now, we are all this big huge grid, and if it got shut down in some ways, you would destroy everything. We would go back to what we were millions of years ago. Anyway, I don’t want a kindle — I still want to hold a book. I think on the larger scale — there is always been a fear of technology — look at the atom bomb. We used it to stop WWII, but look at the consequence…
SR: I always think it’s so fascinating that these films that are so advanced, in terms of the technology they’re using, are also in a way, cautioning against the use of technology. They are pushing the edges of technology only to criticize it, which is so interesting.
BB: It is interesting, but don’t you think there was a really good human story, with all the special effects and the chase scenes and the music, it’s a terrific action-adventure story. But I think that there is a real human story of a boy and his father who is lost; and everyone handled that really, really well. These things work only if you have the human element.
SR: Do you think the time has come for this to resonate with us, versus the first Tron?
BB: I think so, the first film was what we would consider very quaint, naive, simple story. But what that movie did do, was it predicted the future. Very few science fiction movies do that. We are living in the world it predicted, it’s incredible to be a part of that.
SR: We have a big Babylon 5 fan on our staff, and they were wondering if there might ever be a Babylon 5 movie.
BB: Well tell them I can’t say yes or no; because if someone had asked me four years ago if there would be another Tron movie, I would have said ‘absolutely not, no, why?, The first one, well, it was what it was, why would we do another one?’ Boy was I surprised.
As I was leaving Mr. Boxleitner asked what I thought of the younger generations way of communicating, in relationship to what we were talking about in terms of technology and its uses. I said that I related to the idea of the doppelganger, because, often our language is the language of a represented version of ourselves, like on Facebook and Twitter. There are people that we only communicate with via these tools, and therefore via the represented version of ourselves. His response was “Wow…well all of that is sort of in [the film], in an entertainment form.”
TRON: Legacy opens in theaters on December 17th.