Neal McDonough has the sort of resume that most actors would kill for. Working nonstop since the early 90s, he has had memorable roles in more noteworthy projects than can be easily listed. McDonough has been prominently featured in BAND OF BROTHERS, JUSTIFIED, MINORITY REPORT, RAVENOUS, ARROW, and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER for example. And that impressive list barely scratches the surface of the truly staggering amount of quality work McDonough has turned in for movies, television, and even video games over his 30+ years of acting.
His latest film, BOON, is clearly a special passion project for him though. A standalone sequel to 2021’s RED STONE, BOON stars McDonough as a former mob enforcer, Nick Boon, who is on the run from the law (and his previous employers). Having settled in a remote part of the Pacific Northwest, Boon is looking to live a quiet life and hopefully atone for his past misdeeds. He soon discovers though that his nearby neighbors, a struggling single mother (Christiane Seidel, THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT) and her son, are being terrorized by a local crime kingpin, played by SONS OF ANARCHY’s Tommy Flanagan. Boon quickly learns the only way he can help is by returning to the violent ways he tried to leave in his past.
BOON was produced and co-written by McDonough and when I sat down to talk to him about the film and his career his enthusiasm for the project was infectious. We discussed his influences as an actor, what makes a great cinematic hero, and how this new film got his whole family involved with its production!
*Note: The interview begins with brief spoilers for the film RED STONE.
There was a very short window between the first film to feature this character and BOON. What was the main driving force for returning to this character so soon?
It’s because of the Nick Boon, he’s like the coolest guy. There are so many reasons. When we did RED STONE, I got to infuse myself into the character of Boon. There he was at the lakeside after shooting the bad guy. Instead of taking down the kid, there I am with my rosary beads which… It was my idea that it’s really about a crisis of faith. It’s like, “What am I?” I’ve become this monster of a human being, and I almost killed a 14-year-old boy. Now I took down the crime boss’s henchman to save that young man instead. I know it’s about to get really difficult, but I know deep in my heart, I’m doing the right thing. I have to protect this boy because I see myself in this kid. I have to protect him at all costs.
Those are the themes that I’ve always loved as an audience. I go back to the films like… THE COWBOYS and THE FRENCH CONNECTION, two films that really had an indelible imprint on my brain as a kid. There’s John Wayne having to do a cattle trek across the Rio Grande with all his cows. He doesn’t have anyone to do it, so he hires these young kids. There’s Bruce Dern thinking, “Okay, let’s go kill Mr. Andersen and all these kids, and take the cattle drive and make it our own.” Simple plan. It’s a simple movie. Now he has to stand up for not just his own life, his own livelihood, but to protect these kids, and he’ll do anything it takes to protect them. Those simple themes are the themes that I’ve always loved in film.
When we started RED STONE, I said, “We can build upon this and make part two and three, four, and I think we’ll be able to make a lot of these if we do it right.” My wife, Ruvé, came on board and found the financing. Before you know it, we took a million-dollar film in the first one, and now we’re doing a two million-dollar film with a bigger cast for the new one. Now I have a romance on screen. I have never had a romance on-screen before because I won’t do sex scenes. So, I’ve had to play the villain forever to make a living, and I got really good at it because I had to. Now though, I get to be the hero in a film with depth and flaws.
That’s who I am in real life, always grappling with, “How can I be a better Catholic today? How can I be a better… not just Catholic. How can I be a better child of God? How can I do the right thing, be a better husband, be a better dad, be all those things?” I think we all, as an audience, aspire to do it, but sometimes we just don’t have the bravery to do it. So once in a while, you go to the cinema to find someone who did have the bravery to do it and think, at the end, “Hmm, if Paul Newman could get through it, I can get through it. If John Wayne could get through it, maybe I can get through it.” Those are the thoughts that I had in my head as a kid, and they’re still there. If I can be more like my dad who had the bravery to come over from Ireland and join the Army to fight for what he thought was the right cause, then that’s what I should be doing.
Now I have the opportunity in my life, Matt, to make those films with my wife, with Derek Presley writing and directing with me, and Jason Starne being the line producer, and Cinedigm putting their money behind us. My goodness, this is the time of my life. We put our kids to work on these films, so it’s a real family business now. Our kids are in the stunt department or extras in the film or craft service or whatever. We built this real cool family business in the McDonough house, and I couldn’t be happy or more blessed to be able to sit here and talk about it.
I think the love and care show through in the finished film. You mentioned being excited to play a more nuanced character here in BOON. Which leads me to this question- how do you dive into a character? Tell me about your creative process.
First of all, if I can be part of a great script, that’s really the beginning and then it’s easier to build a character from there. For Nick Boon, the situation was so dramatic that I just had to figure out how to play it internally as much as I possibly could because that’s what the really great heroes did. You could always see Steve McQueen thinking. You could see Eastwood thinking as Dirty Harry or as Josey Wales. You could see Gene Hackman always thinking. All these great actors in life when they’re playing heroes, you can see them stoically thinking, “How the heck am I going to get through this situation alive and protect the thing that I care about? It’s a constant search inside your soul. Whereas with villains, you can just have fun and be goofy. With those, you can’t make a bad choice.
Heroes though, you look at Harrison Ford for example and his simplicity of really listening to what’s going on [in the scene]. I go back to Kevin Costner and THE BODYGUARD, which I still think is Kevin’s best performance, it was the stoicism- really internalizing everything is what made him a great cinematic hero. I really just kept thinking about that.
Those are the things cinematically that I never had really the chance to play so much because I never got to play the hero, not very often. BAND OF BROTHERS, I got to play that hero or TIN MAN, I got to play the hero there. For this one though, I got to have a romantic interest, which I never had before in a situation where I played a hero. I have to stand up for what is right. For me, I never want to go back to doing it any other way because I got to really think more about how fortunate and blessed, I am in my own life and how I will fight for my family and fight for what is right in the eyes of God. Those are the themes in my life, and now I get to show that on screen. It’s awesome.
You’ve mentioned some of the actors you look up to- elaborate on that. What about them and their work inspires you?
The films that really inspired me as a kid… Look, I was one of six kids, but I came along four years later as a mistake. My mom had five kids in just about six or seven years. By the time I came along, I think my brothers and my sister just beat my mom and dad down so much they were like, “Do whatever you want.” So, I was always kind of free to do… I was always playing baseball or hockey outside. I would always be watching Westerns or other movies. I loved to go to the movie theater so much as a kid. To see THE COWBOYS, when I was a kid, I was like, “Man, this John Wayne guy’s awesome. He’s a hero.” I remember the first movie that I wanted to see in the theater was THE STING. I was like, “Oh my gosh, these guys are amazing. Maybe one day, I’ll be like these guys.” Then time progressed, watching Coppola’s films or watching BULLITT was such a mind-blowing experience of like, “This guy doesn’t say anything and he’s the coolest guy I’ve ever seen.” Or Gene Hackman as Popeye Doyle, thematically these kinds of heroes with flaws… The guys that I grew up with in Boston, there were all these tough Irish guys who would smash you in the face if you said anything about their wife and kids or friends. If you said something about them, they’d be like, “Eh, whatever.” They wouldn’t get in a fight. But they’d also be the first guy to give a buck to some guy on the street who needed a little help. So, there were those guys, these quiet, tough-as-nails guys who are teddy bears underneath it all. That resonates with me on a good level because that’s my dad, and my brothers are all the same way. Then to see those same kinds of themes in film growing up, at some point, I was going to do [my version of it] it, but I couldn’t have a chance because I was stuck playing the villain. Now I get to produce movies with my wife in a genre that I always wanted to play in, Westerns and Neo Westerns.
Goodness gracious, I couldn’t be more blessed or happier to be where I am in my career to be able to make the films I want because I’ve got a company like Cinedigm believing in Ruvé and I to say, “Go ahead, make more of these because you’re doing great. Keep it up kid.” “Really? All right, let’s go.” Like I said, I’m like a Labrador, a dog with a bone. I’m just going to keep on pressing these types of films forward because I think this is what the audience wants. The audience wants to see the hero grappling with problems and then take down the dirtbag in the end. It’s as simple as that.
Speaking of villains, you have the great Tommy Flanagan as the main antagonist in BOON. What was it like working with him?
Tommy Flanagan is a beast. It’s as simple as that. We’re two Celtic brothers with the same common goal. We want to make memorable characters in everything that we do. My dad told me, and Tommy’s the exact same way, when I went out to Hollywood, he said, “If someone gives you a dollar for your wage, give him two dollars’ worth of effort.” I prided myself on that, that if you hire me, I’m going to go as far as I can possibly go to make my characters really jump off the screen. Tommy’s that same kind of warrior that if I’m hired to do something, I’m going to give you every ounce of me, and Tommy poured it all out on the screen.
The scenes between the two of us were some of my favorite scenes I’ve ever done in my life, and I’ve done a hundred movies and thousand hours of television. But Tommy Flanagan’s one of those guys who just comes in and goes, “Let’s go kill it. Let’s do it. Let’s nail this thing.” He just gets into it, and it’s infectious. When you see the lead two guys going at it like the old heavy prizefighters, we’re heavyweights, going at it with each other, throwing haymakers to see who’s going to win. If you reverse the roles, it would have been just as entertaining. My next one I’ll bring Tommy in to play a good guy, and show how awesome he is at that.
That’s what we’re doing. Ruvé and I, we keep hiring the same people for our films: actors, crew members, directors, writers, producers. Because if it works, don’t mess with it. Just keep doing it and keep making this big family. We’re making movies. This isn’t brain surgery. Let’s go out and make a really good, entertaining movie for people to watch. Let’s keep making these things and don’t overthink it. That’s kind of what we’re doing right now, and it’s a really good wheelhouse we’re in.
As we wrap up, I wanted to ask you about filming the action scenes in BOON. You get to be pretty physical on-screen here. How was that experience?
I’ve always prided myself… I love… I’m such an athletic guy, playing sports to a pretty high level that I just love playing. Now I’ve coached all my kids for the last 20 years in sports. I’m always playing. I’m always running. I’m in better shape now than I was 20 years ago. A lot of it has to do with because I gave up drinking alcohol six years ago. My body’s so much better. I’m much clearer in mind and faith and in my own personal space. I can write better. I can do things better. I’m better husband, better dad, better everything because I’m clear in mind now.
When it comes to action stuff, I can still fight like crazy because I’m always hitting my bag at home or stretching or running. So, for me to be able to throw punches or get hit in the face or slide through with a gun in my hand and, in this last Western that I did, riding full gallop on a horse, firing a Winchester, are you kidding me? I never had the opportunity to do this because I had to be the villain for the last 20 years to provide for my family. Every once in a while, I play a good guy, but now I’m blowing it out. I get to play the good guy in action sequences doing all the things I always wanted to do. Playing villains all these years, I was always getting in fights but it’s not the same. I always stayed in shape that way. But now I get to do it as the main hero, and I’m having a ball!
BOON is out now in Theaters, On Demand, and Digital.