Bruce Boxleitner on Tron: Legacy, Age-Reversing, and the Future of the Franchise

bruce_boxleitner300.jpgMuch of the early buzz around Tron: Legacy (out today on Blu-ray from Walt Disney Home Entertainment) centered around Clu, a motion-captured character featuring the face of a much-younger Jeff Bridges. But Bridges' co-star from the original Tron (also making its DVD debut today as part of the multi-disc Legacy set), Bruce Boxleitner, also had himself younged up so that his titular character of Tron could reappear in the sequel as well. And while Tron: Legacy may not have raked in the megabucks Disney had hoped, it's a smart and exciting sequel/reboot that's far more entertaining than you'd expect a sequel/reboot to be.

Boxleitner is known mainly as a TV icon -- he got his SAG card doing an episode of the legendary The Mary Tyler Moore Show before going on to star in the hit shows Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Babylon 5. Tron: Legacy gave him the opportunity to return not only to the role of cyber-warrior Tron but also as Alan Bradley, best friend of Bridges' Kevin Flynn and now an executive at Flynn's company Encon. The new film has Flynn disappearing sometime in the late '80s, leaving Alan to run the business and to try to raise Flynn's son Sam (played by Garret Hedlund as an adult).

Boxleitner's involvement with Tron: Legacy goes above and beyond an actor's usual gig -- after shooting, he made several public appearances in character as Alan Bradley as part of the elaborate viral marketing that Disney cooked up over the last several years. It wasn't until after the film finally opened that he finally started giving interviews as himself again.

So you were involved with the massive viral marketing of the film, down to making several public appearances in characters as Encom executive Alan Bradley.

It's like the movie cameras stopped but I kept going! (laughs) After Sam and Quorra left the arcade, I kept filming the movie and going with another plot. Yeah, it's brilliant stuff; I think since doing the first Tron, I've always gotten excited about doing something new, and this viral marketing was quite exciting. I gotta say that the one we did in San Francisco, the live event, was hair-raising because it all went wrong.

Right, the weather messed with the parachute jump from the helicopter.

It was like walking the edge of a cliff -- no rehearsal whatsoever, I hadn't been on the stage [before], the rain was coming down, it was windy, the helicopter didn't arrive in time and then it suddenly showed up. I was vamping away, and Cindy [Morgan, co-star of the original Tron] came out and we were trying to get through it, and no one was saying, "Cut! Stop! That's it!" so I just kept going. I was answering questions from the audience, I was Alan Bradley. But it was such out-of-the-box thinking, I was so amazed by it.

For you as an actor, that had to be one of those Sasha Baron Cohen situations where you have to improv with the world.

Yeah! (laughs) At which I'm still so inept, the computer world. I mean, I have an iPhone, that's what I live on. But I'm willing to do that. We were up in this hotel room [in San Francisco], overlooking the Esplanade, and there was Sean Bailey, our executive producer and now head of production [at Disney], and [director] Joe Kosinski, and [writers] Ed Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, and Cindy Morgan, and we're all sort of there looking at this loose script of ours and say, "OK, let's hope the timing works." And when you read it, it's oh yeah, the helicopter shows up, Sam jumps out, and they'd already filmed his bit in Oakland. But it all cut together beautifully, and it worked out. I'm hoping it's on the Blu-ray.

It is.

Great -- that's why I kept shooting the movie after everyone else went home. (laughs) I said, "I didn't do enough for this, I'm gonna continue." No, it was just part of this campaign that was so new to me, but I went right along with it. It only ended a few months ago.

It's a never-ending story.

And that's the Tron story for me, too. It's been following me for 28 years.

Well yeah, I was gonna ask -- you saw the original Tron in 1982 go from much-anticipated to disappointment to pop-culture punchline, but now it's sort of come back into its own. What's that ride been like for you?

Well, I walked away from it a bit disappointed that it didn't get the reception that I thought it deserved, and I thought it was maybe so ahead of it's time... I didn't know what to think. I went right back to television and immediately immersed myself into my first solo TV series [Bring 'Em Back Alive] which lasted for a season, and then went on to Scarecrow and Mrs. King for four or five years.

I didn't look back -- I felt we had made a fun film, we created a world there that no one had seen before, imagining yourself thrust down inside an arcade game. And I think kids who were pumping quarters into those games in 1982, they got that movie. It's just the Hollywood establishment and the critics and stuff, I don't know what they were expecting, but they just couldn't identify with it; they're not in there playing Battle Tank and all the games that were popular then. And we had all those games on the set of Tron: Legacy, if you notice. We scoured the country for those things.

All those sound effects that come up, when Sam turns on the power at Flynn's Arcade...

Wasn't that great! It took me back immediately to Flynn's Arcade over in Culver City, that building that we used. We built that entire building for Legacy, up in Vancouver, and then we had the interior on a huge soundstage. And it's uncanny. I don't know if it's nostalgia, or what you'd call it, but I walked right back into that place and it hadn't changed. Even his little bungalow up on top, all dressed up. Amazing.

We do briefly get to see Tron's face in the new film, not as much as we see Jeff Bridges as Clu, but I guess you had to do all the same facial animation stuff as he did.

I did, I did. Not as much as Jeff had to do, his was much more involved, but I got to see in stages, the rendering of me. But I had the dots on my face, I did the motion capture with [visual effects supervisor] Eric Barba and his Academy Award-winning crew, and I wouldn't mind doing more, to tell you the truth. It's fascinating -- I can only imagine what Jeff thought. I'm sure he was thrilled. It's gotta be weird. It was weird watching me, too.

I was going to ask, was it eerie to see yourself backward-aged like that?

A bit. It is. You know, it doesn't quite sink in until you walk out and say, "Whoa -- I have changed a bit, haven't I?" (laughs) But I think it's exciting. I think seeing the two of them together on Blu-ray is going to be even better. Now you'll see how good those animators were, when you see our young selves, oh my god! I think it's groundbreaking, and it's going to go even further. We're going to make it better and better and better.

And you've got a lot of Tron on your plate now. There's the possible sequel on the horizon as well as the upcoming Tron: Uprising TV cartoon.

Just finished the second episode of that today. I got a television job up in Vancouver, and I had to put it off, so they gave it to me all at once, two episodes in a row. And that looks great -- that takes place somewhere in between the two movies. Tron's much more an old hardened veteran, scarred up, but it's still the world we see in Tron: Legacy, how it's become a darker and more dangerous place than it was back in the day.

It reflects video games today -- the world of the original Tron looked like the video games we were playing back then. And now, there's a certain sort of dark reality to many of these games; I have all sons, and I see all the video games, and there's some of them that I'm in. Except for Kingdom Hearts, that's more lighthearted, for younger audiences. But you know, some of these darker ones...I'm doing one, Special Ops, I've been working on it for a year. S5, it's called. It's the world of the not too distant future, and it's a bit violent, a bit dark. And I think Legacy reflected how far we've come in the video game world.

Definitely. The movies certainly reflect the technological advances of games, no question, but also the change in tone.< /b>

I can't tell you, the reaction has been terrific. I do a lot of conventions -- I had a long-running series, Babylon 5, in the '90s, so I've got my sci-fi cred. And now with Tron: Legacy coming out, it's just renewed me. I mean, talk about rebooting. (laughs) I'm up there appearing with Shatner now, for god's sakes. And he's the man.

It seems like there's no popular TV show that won't eventually get turned into a movie franchise. Which do you see hitting the screen first -- Scarecrow and Mrs. King or Babylon 5?

Uh, I would hope Babylon 5. I think it lends itself cinematically. That was done on a weekly basis, animation for that was basically on a laptop, you know what I mean? But we sold it. It was great for its time -- it came up with the rise of the home computer, chat rooms, all those things. It was one of the most talked-about shows on the web at the time. So for being such a non-technological person, I've been in these things that were at the forefront of pushing technology, you know?

You are the zeitgeist.

I am the zeitgeist! (laughs) I love that. But you know, I'd be very happy with another Tron movie. It's a great storyline, and it can keep going.

Things seem to be pointing in that direction. Has there been a commitment yet?

I think there's things being written. I don't hear anything definitive, because they're very secretive. But that's OK -- I want it to be. It's very hard to keep a secret now. Because of the very technology we helped create. (laughs) There's spoilers and leaks out there all the time. I think if you look at the way it ended, it leaves things open. Our beautiful young heroes certainly have more to do. There's a new set of villains, like Cillian Murphy...

Yeah, casting him for two minutes in Tron: Legacy definitely seems like they're setting him up for bigger and better things.

You bet. I'm hoping that's the case. I don't have a definite answer, but I hope. And not another 28 years from now -- I don't know that I'll be making that one! (laughs) But you know what, they can just use my young image.