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January 29, 2018

A 1-on-1 with Jon Voight, star of 'Surviving the Wild'

He plays the deceased old man who speaks to his grandson from the grave and says his role as real-life grandfather made it easy

With his new movie, "Surviving The Wild," Jon Voight has added to his legend with another memorable performance. 

Voight recently sat down with PhillyVoice for an exclusive interview.

PV: Given your very distinguished career, what made you want to do "Surviving The Wild?"

JV: I think it's a story that's very moving and very relevant with kids facing the difficulties of a death in the family, coupled with a divorce. So, I thought it was a good film for families.

PV: It is looked at as a boy and his guardian angel, but what they don't tell you is his guardian angel is his very recently deceased grandfather. So, not only does he have a guardian angel that can't be seen or heard by anyone else, it's family. It obviously delves deeper into family history and Shaun needs somebody to talk to, because his parents are at each others' throats. What about that is appealing to you, especially the relationship between you and Aidan Cullen, who plays your 13-year-old grandson, Shaun, in the film.

JV: Well, I think when people pass, sometimes we feel their presence. It's a very common thing these days – for people to feel the presence of a loved one that's passed on – and I think it's all real.

I think this story allows us to have an insight into that phenomenon. But it comes from deep need. I think the loved ones that pass are still connected to the living. Some are with the ones that still remain here. In this case, I completely believe their story. It gives me some kind of feeling that it can be.

PV: Now, how did you want to play Gus, because, obviously, there are a lot of humorous moments where he's being sarcastic and funny. How did you want to play that without him coming off as goofy?

JV: Well, I think it's true – because I'm a grandfather – and I face lots of things playfully. I had a father who was very much like that, too. That's probably where I get it. I say things in a humorous fashion – and somewhere, these little lessons stick a little better when you say them with humor.

That's what I think it is. He's teaching the boy. There's a teaching function in trying to help the boy, guide the boy, encourage him. He's giving him messages, but he's always giving them in a humorous form – and that's really who Gus is.

PV: Sometimes, with all the big blockbusters out there, or the really huge, Oscar-bait films, it seems like there are not too many films like this out there anymore...these life-affirming films that a lot of people can relate to. Do you agree with that? And would you like to see more films like this or be offered more roles like this?

JV: Yes. I think so. I agree with you. I think there should be more. But I think there are some. Look at the Disney films, they're carrying their load very nicely. One of the best films this past year, maybe even the best film, was "Beauty and the Beast." It was a remake of the cartoon version and both versions are very, very beautiful. They are very moving, with all those wonderful British actors. They gave it the full treatment and respect, you know? So, you had this great, big film and it's carrying this beautiful message. I think it's terrific.

But this film had special qualities and I was very happy to be part of it.