Tron Talks: Bruce Boxleitner on His Animated “Uprising”
By Luke Y. Thompson on October 26, 2012
Fans of Tron may finally have their own equivalent to the Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series, as Disney XD’s Tron: Uprising explores some of the more action-packed moments between the movies. A new hero named Beck (Elijah Wood) attempts to rise up against Clu’s tyranny, mentored by the exiled and thought-dead Tron, prior to his becoming the Darth Maul-like Rinzler as seen in Tron: Legacy. And this Tron is the real deal: our favorite neon-blue program is once again voiced by Bruce Boxleitner. He’s clearly pleased to be back; in a wide-ranging interview, we discussed the actor’s own personal Tron legacy.
Nerdist: So way back in the ’80s when you took on this role, would you ever have dreamed it would not only have this endless life that it’s having, but also that it would arguably be the thing you would be best known for in your entire career?
Bruce Boxleitner: I know, it’s frightening. (laughs) Well, I hope it’s not, because I think I did other things that were much more in-depth and everything; Babylon 5 and things like that seem to still be much celebrated. But you’re right – Tron seems to be living on, whereas those things fade. It’s to be expected. [Babylon 5] was great ’90s television, but we aren’t there anymore. Tron, for some reason, just kept resonating. There was a long period where it didn’t, though. And obviously it was just a movie I did back then, it was kind of new, we had no idea what was going to happen, and then it came out and it did OK; I mean, just OK. I think there were great expectations for it, and then they kind of saw it was a pretty mild opening. I just went right back to television. It was a great job, and a really unique experience, but in the end I was a young actor and I had to find something because I had newborn children, or one little boy at least, at that time; the son of Tron himself. So I went right back to television. I had no idea ever, a roundabout way of answering your question, no idea ever that this would come back as this part of my life, and that’s partly why I’m so very enthusiastic about it, and I want to do all things Tron.
N: It’s interesting, the sequel got a similar sort of mixed reception as did the first, but that hasn’t affected the love of the property at all. How did you feel about that?
BB: Legacy? To tell you the truth, I was very intrigued, I was very humbled when I got the call from them, Joe Kosinksi and Sean Bailey called to see if I wanted to be in this. I said “Absolutely!” It had been rumored for years, but nothing ever came of it, and it came at a perfect time when nothing much was going on with me at that time, and it was great. And I was very intrigued by how they were going to tell the story, because it wasn’t a remake. A lot of people walk up to me and say “What do you think about the remake?” “It wasn’t a remake,” I said, “it is a sequel to the first movie in real time.” You know, where are these people at that time 28 years later, what’s going on with them. And I think they were trying to deal with… and they won’t have to do again if they do another film, they won’t have to try to reintroduce an old franchise, an old property that so much of the audience today wasn’t even alive for at the time, but they’ve seen it since. You know, the home video market, that’s when they first saw it, and continue to – believe me, I just spent two weekends with fans telling me how much Tron affected their lives, and they weren’t even around when it was made. That’s a beautiful thing, it really is. So I think, to tell you the truth, I’m absolutely just so pleased with it. And I think Legacy – I know there was mixed things about it. I don’t know; once again there were such high expectations by such intense fans, that I don’t know what we could have done that would have made them totally happy.
N: I agree with you.
BB: Everybody seems to have their own Tron scenario. I mean, I did, the video game had another scenario, so on and so forth. You see what I mean, right?
N: Yeah. Is the idea with the animated series that we’re ultimately going to build up to the fall of Tron into Rinzler the villain?
BB: I think we’re going to explain that, it’s a question that’s been asked, and asked, and asked, and I think they have a very clever way of doing it. But that’s as committed as I can say! (laughs) I don’t want to put any spoilers out!
N: I don’t want to spoil any surprises about that, but generally speaking, as an actor preparing for being in Legacy, did you come up with a back story yourself as to why it happened, or did they tell you anything, without getting into specifics?
BB: They explained to me more or less what happened. It was somewhat explanatory in the movie itself when you saw the back story. But that was it; it was a general picture of it. I didn’t question it, to tell you the truth. I was involved with the screen testing for all of the roles, Sam Flynn and Quorra, so I was working long before we ever rolled film on Tron. You know, I was just happy to be there. I didn’t get into too many of the questions. I had just seen what an interesting angle that it was for the plot, because I think this is more or less a middle picture, you know what I’m saying?
BB: I think it’s an intended trilogy. And therefore, you’ve got to leave yourself some place to go. Everybody wants all the facts, right away, and it’s just not going to be that way. You’re going to have to think. The movie, real Tron fans, I think ultimately did like it a lot. I always get, of course, “I wanted to see more Tron!” But we’ve got more story to go!
BB: Hopefully! Anything can happen. But we’ve got more story to go. You guys don’t want to have a plot that’s only a two-hour movie plot. You’ve got a long story that’s intended here. I think we have wonderful writers, and they are in development, and I can say that safely. It’s in development; the boys are working very hard on their series Once Upon a Time, Ed Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, and I find them – two, such a very prolific writing team they are! They’re doing a television series. But there’s a lot of scenarios for Tron: Uprising, which, by the way, that’s the one that I’m the most excited about now. Whether there’s another movie, that’s way out of my control or hands, you know. That’s for people in a much higher pay grade than me! What I love is this animated series. This has become a total surprise to me. I love the look of it, the style, the tone. I think we have a great voice cast. So this I think is as important as anything to the movies. Frankly, I think it’s as important, probably in some ways better than the movies; either of them. I know, and I can quote this, I don’t think I’ll be in trouble, but when Steven Lisberger walked out, when he first saw “Beck’s Beginning”, the first thing of Tron: Uprising, he walked out and I was standing there; we had a big opening party for the animated series at Disney, and he walked out and said “My God! That’s what I intended all along! That’s truer to what my original vision was than either of the movies.” So I think it’s great. What property is more suited to animation than Tron, right?
N: Right, especially computer animation.
BB: Yes, it was at the birth of it. There is no other video game movie; Tron is THE video game story, as far as I’m concerned. Prince of Persia, and all these other things, they’re all pretenders. (laughs) There, I’ll say something outrageous: Pretenders! Lara Croft, and all that stuff. We were the original. Anyway, going way back to your original question, like I said, I think expectations were way too high, we had to somehow re-launch this as a franchise, to an audience that may have never even heard of Tron before. So I think they were probably 85, 90% successful there with trying to carry on the story, but take you back some and give you the back story. Not an easy thing to do, by the way. But they won’t have to do that, if they do another movie, I don’t believe they’d have to do that anymore. We’re there, we’re up and running.
BB: Sam Flynn says to Alan Bradley “I’m taking the company back; we’re taking the company back.” And I say, “What about the board?” I think that’s kind of like the opening for the next movie.
N: We’re certainly hoping there’s a next movie.
BB: Yeah, I think so. I mean, I don’t know, that’s up to the business of it. And I think any of the criticisms have long gone by, I think people have pretty much said they liked it. They wanted something more, well, maybe, but they got a good Tron movie, Jeff was fantastic, and I think our two young heroes – that’s what’s important about it, in my mind’s eye, is that what’s important is this passing the torch. I think that’s significant, because it has, it’s moved on. Jeff and I are in our 60s, for God’s sakes – we can’t be running around doing all that stuff anymore! (laughs) I guess you can; I had a whole new body in Legacy. But I could never have done that stuff, so we did the motion captures, facial expressions and stuff like that. So I’m enthusiastic about it! Uprising is perfect for now; it’s keeping the real die-hards, the hard-core fans I think happy somewhat, it’s kinda trying to fit in right there in between Tron and Tron: Legacy, and I think what’s coming up in this two-part – I’m most excited about this two-parter coming up; I was away when it came back on, I was “Down Under” there, but it was last Friday, wasn’t it, that it came on? The two-parter I think is going to answer a lot of questions for those fans that sit and dig every little thing apart. Sit back and enjoy the light cycle ride!
N: Given the way that programs age or don’t age, is there any point where you have to alternate between your current voice and maybe try to do your younger voice? I know William Shatner, for one, on the Star Trek audio books does a very different voice when he’s doing Kirk in the classic era and Kirk in the movie era. Is that something that’s come up for you?
BB: Yeah, I would have to do that. But you know, they also have ways of doing that now, technically. They can make some of these hip-hop singers who really couldn’t hold a note in an actual concert become actual recording stars; so yeah, I can do it a little bit. I put on a much deeper thing anyway as the older Tron. Charlie Bean keeps driving me to make him gruffer, gruffer, and to try to really get down in my lower register, which I can do. And he’s pushing that, relentlessly; he wants Tron to be a much more grizzled character inside, sort of scarred up. So, anyway, it isn’t too hard. I’ve been doing it for a lot of years. I mean, there’s no real preparation, other than what the script reading – you come in on the animated series, and you do it all separately, anyway. I think Elijah [Wood] and I worked together once, and that was basically to show the chemistry, if there was any chemistry; it turned out to be pretty good.
N: I have a Clu action figure that yells at me in Jeff Bridges’ voice periodically. I’m a little disappointed that the Rinzler one doesn’t say “I fight for the users.” Was there ever any talk of that?
BB: Yeah, what’s up with that? I don’t know either. I’m disappointed that I don’t have one, either. That’ll have to be in the next movie, I guess.
N: Are they doing any based on the show that you know of?
BB: Not that I know of, no. The actors are the last people – I never even knew that there was half the merchandising for any of the Trons until I walked in the store and saw it. I hope there will be more. But yeah, I have that same action figure! It’s pretty big, isn’t it?
N: Yeah, and it’s very dramatic yelling from him!
BB: I know, I know! (laughs)
N: The lines they picked were the most over-the-top deliveries they could get, I think.
N: It blows people’s minds that it has a projection of his face with the lips that move.
BB: Yeah. Oh my God, it’s incredible! But you know, that’s ol’ Jeff! – he hasn’t changed a bit. It was great seeing Jeff again. We didn’t get to really work with each other, but we hung out a little bit in rehearsals and stuff like that. But like I said, the really important part about all of this – and I’m gonna say Elijah Wood too – is we’re creating these new characters to keep this Tron franchise going. And I think it will; I’m very optimistic about it. The enthusiasm from all of them has been great: Garrett [Hedlund] was just terrific, and Olivia [Wilde], all so enthusiastic about this thing. It was quite amazing. Makes you feel good, you know? So, uh…Tron rules, man! Tron just keeps going. And it’s a big surprise to all of us who were in it originally.
N: We were talking earlier about Babylon 5 as if it were a project completely in the past, but there’s gotta be some talk about keeping that brand alive. Have you heard anything to that effect?
BB: No. I wish there was. I don’t know. I think Joe [J. Michael Straczynski]’s probably the best writer I ever worked for. I know people are asking if there’s gonna be a Blu-ray release, and I think there’s some trouble there with some of the effects scenes – you guys would know better than I – they were shot with two different types of technology. I’m not sure. You never know the full story, but there were rumors also – I mean, I won’t say no to you. But I don’t know. I said no to “Why would they make another Tron again?” so I’m made to eat those words. It’s extremely popular; it’s probably just about even in enthusiasm with fans I meet. I’m going up to Canada in a week and then to Boston and then I’m done with these conventions for a while and I still get the same responses from people. It’s quite amazing. I get these people saying that “we watch the DVDs once a year,” they go through the whole thing in like a long week or two weekends or something. And you kinda go, really? There are people that can tell me what happened in every episode, and I can’t remember the episode, so…It’s been a long, long time ago.
BB: Yeah, but look at all the series we do have now. We have HBO doing all these incredible things, but you have Battlestar Galactica – which I think had a lot of similarities to Babylon 5, at least look-wise and tone-wise. I think that died there, because I’m seeing Star Trek and it’s all GREAT! and OPTIMISTIC! just in the filmmaking style; it’s very bright. I loved the reboot, the new movie – I think that’s the direction they need to go with it. I dunno. never say never, I guess. But I haven’t heard anything recent because Joe has just taken off – he’s writing all kinds of features and I think he has a new TV series coming on. He’s one of the most prolific writers I’ve ever met. It was the finest material as an actor I ever got to do.
N: I loved that one where you were being interrogated the whole episode by Raye Birk.
BB: Yes, wasn’t he marvelous?
N: I took an acting class from him in college, and he was great.
BB: Oh my god! He’s an amazing actor. We did have some incredible guest stars, and guest regulars. Wayne Alexander, Robin Sachs, just incredible. But we also had tragedy. We’ve lost six of our cast members, and a couple more that had prominent roles in various episodes. We lost Michael O’Hare three weeks ago, the guy I replaced on the show. he was absolutely amazing. So maybe the rest of us are wondering what’s going on. I’ve never heard of a television cast having this happen; it hasn’t been that many years. I can understand maybe like the classic Star Trek, the very first cast: they’re elderly people. But we’ve had nothing but young ones dying. Fairly young. Michael was 60 – I’m two years older than that, so it gives me pause to think. But anyway, I don’t wanna get into that. It was a brilliant show and it was a wonderful time for the right kind of television. Science fiction on TV is a very different thing now. It’s mostly fantasy, it’s mostly supernatural and it is the show Supernatural. But we’re not in outer space any more; there’s not that feeling of being out on a frontier. I kinda liked that; I miss that. Other worlds, things like that. But everything’s cyclical. It’ll come back again.
N: We gotta ask as far as cyclical things: Scarecrow and Mrs. King is one of the few properties from the ’80s we haven’t seen anyone try to touch yet.
BB: I know.
N: Is that something anybody’s talked about, and would you want to participate in any kind of revival?
BB: Well, Kate [Jackson] and I have talked about it. I don’t know that I want to relive my entire career! She and I have talked about some very funny “what if” scenarios, but I don’t know if they’re anything realistically. I mean, it’s very much of the time too. There were a lot of shows like that: Hart to Hart, Remington Steele, Scarecrow and Mrs. King and ultimately Moonlighting, and the only thing I can think of that is kind of the equivalent today is Castle. And Bones. They have that kind of play between the guy and the gal. As I’ve said to others, it’s the personalities at the time, it’s the time and the place. Babylon 5, too, was part of its era, it was not really network, it had a nice feeling of being outside the network, we were sort of a cult favorite and we like it.
N: So let’s talk about the opposite of revisiting. Did the Tron sequel open more doors for you as an actor, and what can we expect to see from you in the future?
BB: Well, unfortunately no, not really.
N: That’s an injustice.
BB: It is an injustice, believe me. If you saw my bank account… No, not a lot, unfortunately, I mean, I’m not gonna try to sugarcoat it. It really didn’t do anything for me, in fact. Other than I hope I remain in good stead with Disney and continue on with this. They’d definitely wanted me in Uprising, and I said absolutely, yes. I mean, I’ve been doing a lot of voice-over work. If I’ve been doing anything I’ve been doing that. But I do have a project that I’m trying to launch, and you may want to go to the site if you’d like to investigate more. I’ve got a young production team and I’m trying more for right now to get behind the camera and develop a project called Lantern City – my ultimate goal is to bring the genre of steampunk to mainstream television. I think I’ve got the greatest script in the world; in fact, I’ve had John Rhys-Davies looking at it and he thought it was the best script he’s seen in twenty years in sci-fi or genre. You can go online to lanterncitytv.com and see I’ve got a great young production team and we’re putting together a package right now – a pitch-package, that’s what you need to do in Hollywood – and we’ve already filmed footage, that’s what I’m working on now. Maybe this time of my life it’s also about helping somebody else up, a young team of very very talented people, and somebody who needs a leg up in something, so I attach my name to it, and I’m working hard on it with them; we’ve gotten I don’t know how many hits and stuff in the new media. 32,000 on Facebook and 180,000 some on Twitter, and these are the things new Hollywood is looking at. It’s a very different world than I remember, but I’m Tron – I’d better get with it, right?
BB: So if we get all our ducks in a row, we’re going to pitch this to producers very soon. I would love to go to something like one of the cables. Game of Thrones… I would say it’s Boardwalk Empire in a steampunk world. If you can imagine that.
N: That sounds like something we’d definitely cover.
BB: Is that something you would watch?
BB: We as an audience have been taken just about everywhere. Like I said, we were in outer space for most of the ’90s with the Star Trek shows and Babylon 5 and so on, and we’ve got a real opportunity here to take things some place they haven’t been. I think if you talk to the average person, “What is steampunk?”, the guy in the street’s not even gonna know what that is. That’s what I want. I wanna take them someplace they’ve never been, and I think we have a very exciting venue to do that with engrossing characters. It’s not about just to do steampunk; it’s… we wanna do it right. We’ve embraced the steampunk community, which is huge, asking for their ideas, their designs and things like that, and we’ve got some of the best already on it, artists and craftsmen, so on and so forth, and we’re ginning up a lot of interest that’ll be very important to go into an executive’s office with. So anyway, that’s what I’m on. An executive producer role is the most creative place to be; the actor has the least amount of creativity on a show or a movie. I learned a lot on Babylon 5, so to create a saga like this, I think I’ve got the credibility. And that’s what’s inspired me: we could have a Babylon 5-like thing. I mean, Joe could have created a planet, a city; he chose to do his location for his story for his characters on this space station, and it became a character itself, did it not?
N: Oh yeah.
BB: It became very much a character. And so with Lantern City.
N: You talked about doing lots of voice-over. Tron would seem to be a no-brainer for a Disneyland ride – have there been talks of doing anything like that?
BB: Not to me, no. They did elecTRONica, or something – I don’t know if that’s still there, I think it’s gone. Nothing like that – the animated series is where we’re at, and it’s a good place. Hopefully we’ll get to do a little more.
Tron: Uprising’s newest episode,”Scars Part 1,” airs tonight on Disney XD. Check your local listings for showtimes.