Interview with Vincent D’Onofrio: From Law & Order to TV's New Kingpin

Credit: Magnificent Seven

Being asked to resurrect a role last embodied by Steve McQueen is no small task. Which is why when Vincent D’Onofrio was approached about joining the remake of hit 1960s Western The Magnificent Seven from director Antoine Fuqua, and playing the respective Vin Tanner, the actor knew he wanted to start from scratch. His character was even given a new name, Jack Horne, and completely different mountain man background.

“It was daunting at first, but then I took it as a chance to bring a lot of ideas to the table,” says D’Onofrio. One of these ideas was a raspy and flighty voice so unexpected that it almost made Fuqua fall out of his chair. And far from the slim figure and clean-shaven face of McQueen, D'Onorfio's is an imposing physique that can only be built on a massive 6-foot-4 frame. Based on a larger gentleman that D’Onofrio met during research for another role years ago, he put on weight by simply indulging in his favorite foods without concern, paired with blistering high-impact workouts. The result is so effective onscreen you have no problem believing when Horne rips a man off his horse or crushes bone with a single blow.

During a recent Cinema Society screening of the film in New York, D’Onofrio was nearly unrecognizable from that character though, dressed sharply in a custom-made Michael Andrews Bespoke suit. It is clear why he has become highly regarded for his willingness to change form, memorably gaining 70 pounds to play Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket, or more recently playing Wilson Fisk in Daredevil. D’Onofrio discussed with us what it took to bulk up and how a new training regime has him arguably in the best shape of his life.

What elements of Jack Horne were on the page, and what was created after you joined up?

There were elements that we had in there that were taken out before we started shooting. So I was coming up with ideas that Antoine and the writers would support. His whole religious perspective was an element that we came up with later on in the process. I had support from everyone. It all built out very naturally.

How does collaboration like that usually work on set?

I’ve known [director] Antoine [Fuqua] for some time now, and what I like is that if he doesn’t like something, he is going to be very straight with you. He’ll say it to your face, but then he’ll offer something else. But when he does like it, he just shakes his head in disbelief that it was any other way before. That’s an incredible environment to work in.

The gunplay is incredibly impressive in the movie, how did you guys learn how to handle firearms like that?

We had the luxury of getting down to Baton Rouge a few weeks early to start the training. There were some pretty incredible guys on set with us, like stunt coordinator Jeff Dashnaw, and we were taught to use the guns by Thell Reed. He’s actually the same guy who worked with Steve McQueen. There’s a pretty incredible video of him out there on the Internet from when he was on The Ed Sullivan Show.

There is an incredible camaraderie apparent between you guys in the movie. Did that come naturally?

To be perfectly honest it took about six hours for us all to fall in love with each other. We were waiting in a room for Antoine to show up, and that’s all it took. Chris Pratt is a good friend of mine, and Ethan Hawke is like a brother to me. Our families know each other. I knew some of those guys going in. It was about meeting these new guys. Everybody just hit it off immediately.

That was a pretty amazing beard you have in the film. How long did that take?

The beard took me through two other movies while growing it. I had to have a beard during the filming of In Dubious Battle and Rings so that I could have a good enough beard for this.

How did you train for the physicality of Jack Horne?

I got hooked on Crossfit while we were in Baton Rouge filming. I had this great trainer named Amber, who I had a great time with, and then I even turned Chris Pratt onto it. Every day that we had off we would drive to a parking lot in that 110-degree Southern sun and flip tractor trailer tires or carry sandbags. I’ve kept up with it ever since, and now I go to Brick in New York. In my opinion, the nastier the workout, the better. There are these killer jumping routines we do, with extended jumping jacks and extended squats. It’s all about leaving the ground as much as possible. I’ve taken five inches off of my waist so far.

And is that all you do?

Have you heard of SoulCycle? My wife and I are huge into it. I do about two classes every single day during the week. Once you’ve done it enough, that first class starts to feel like a warm-up, and the second one is where you really get to have fun.

I would imagine that your nutrition is on your mind as well with that kind of regime.

Everyone in my house is a vegetarian but my daughter and I. Every once in awhile I’ll sneak out with my buddies and get a steak. But because of my environment at home, I’m usually eating a lot of plants and really healthy.

You’re about to start another remake, Death Wish with Bruce Willis, are you excited?

Definitely. Before you were born probably, Bruce and I worked at a bar together in New York called Kamikazi. He was a bartender and I was one of the bouncers. I still remember when he got that first movie, and then he became the Bruce Willis we all know.

You have to tell me a story from back in the day.

Sorry. That is one thing that I can’t do. Can’t break the Golden Rule!