Jungle

Tony Gonzalez Talks Film, Football, and 'xXx: Return of Xander Cage'

Tony Gonzalez Talks Film, Football, and 'xXx: Return of Xander Cage'

Tony Gonzalez is no stranger to the limelight. He's a 17-year football veteran and soon to be Hall of Famer who now works as an analyst on CBS's NFL Today. And now he can add action star to his resume with this week's blockbuster release of xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Gonzalez stars as Paul Donovan, a straight-cut Army soldier working for the CIA who's assigned to support Xander Cage's team but ends up butting heads with him over his outrageous style of handling the mission. We sat down with Gonzalez to talk about his feature film debut and how he approaches acting in the same way he approached football.

 

Shakefire (SF): How did you first become involved with the film?

Tony Gonzalez (TG): I got the email last year from my agency saying, “Hey, they want you to come audition for this movie.” I told them, “No, I’m fine. I’m okay.” And I had done acting. I’ve been doing it for a while now. But then I got a call the next day from my manager, her name is Constance Schwartz and she’s from New York, and she was like, “Are you out of your f-ing mind!?” She didn’t even say hello to me. She said, “Get your but down there and go audition for this movie. What have you got to lose? They asked for you!” So I go down there and there’s like 10 people auditioning coming in and out; UFC fighters, veteran actors. I recognized one guy. I’m like, “Oh, they’re not going to give it to me.” But I went in there, got it, and obviously went and did it and had a blast being on set with Vin Diesel and Donnie Yen. I got to meet Samuel L. Jackson when he was on set one of the days; Toni Collette, who's an Oscar nominated actress. She’s phenomenal. It was just a really cool atmosphere to be around such great actors. The experience was great. It was nerve-racking. I was nervous as hell. It reminded me of my rookie year in football. It was a great experience and the movie turned out awesome. It’s a rollercoaster ride if you like action. I know my mom is going to love this movie because she loves these types of movie. She loves Vin Diesel. She’ll probably be cheering for him when he’s beating me up. But yeah, it was just a fun thing all around.

 

SF: How did acting in this role relate at all to you playing football?
TG: In the sense you get your plays, you get your sides, your lines. You work them all week in football and practice them. You work your lines and scenes and then you show up and you actually shoot it on set or you show up and you play the game. And then things can change during the game, like these are good actors. They’ll say stuff back to you and you don’t know they were going to say that, but you have to go with it and stay in the moment. That’s another thing, you have to stay in the moment, which in football is essential. You have to get out of your head and take it one play at a time, which is extremely hard to do. That’s why players take a while. It has nothing to do with talent or how fast and strong you are. It’s about staying in the moment. It’s the same thing with acting where if you start thinking about what you’re going to say and you stop listening, you stop reacting, it’s not going to come off as natural. It’s not going to come off as good. That’s what I’ve been really vibing on and liking about this whole process. It actually carries over to my broadcasting where it forces you to listen to everybody when they’re talking instead of worrying about what you’re going to do. And then the nervousness too. I hadn’t had that feeling in a while since I retired from football; that anxiety that’s there, but it’s a great experience.

 

 

SF: You had some rough scenes. Did they use a double at all or was that all you?
TG: No, I did all my own stuff. Are you kidding me? Come on now! I’m a football player! No, I did it all. And you get paid extra for doing your own stunts. I didn’t know that. I was like, “That’s all you had to say. Okay, I’m in.” But you’re hanging from wires and they’re yanking you out of the back of the plane. You’re in zero gravity. You got to be in shape to do that, though. You got to have good core strength. Thank God I kept working out, you know, because you’re suspended up there for a while, but they took great care of me. It was a lot of fun.

 

SF: How is it to play a bad guy?
TG: You know what’s funny is I showed up on set and I meet Vin. It’s the first time I’ve met him, and I’m talking to him and I leave and walk away. I come back over to say hello and him and the director were talking, D. J. Caruso, and they were discussing whether or not I could do this. This was before we shot any scenes. Vin was saying like, “He’s too nice of a guy. I can’t see him doing that.” And so he was warning me before. He was all, “Hey, like you’re going out for football pretend you’re being on that football field and I just knocked the shit out of your or whatever.” Because you have to get into that mindset, and I’m like, “Trust me. I have played football. I am a nice guy, but I know how to take it there. If we got to take it there I’m going to take it there.” I know how to switch it on to get to that mode of aggressive and ferocity. Especially during the fight scene. That was the easiest part because that’s what I’m used to. You just gotta let yourself go and I can do that easily because I’m trained for that. It was more the dialogue part of it where you got to get into that natural mode. I looked at it and I’m happy with how the performance went but I was like, “I could do a little better now with it.” If I get another shot I’ll do a little better.

 

SF: What was your initial reaction to seeing yourself on screen in the final product for the first time? Like you said you’re filming with all these wires and stuff.
TG: You have no idea. I went to Paramount Studios to get a private screening of it just so I could see it, and I brought my wife with me. We’re watching it and I know when my first scene is going to come up, when I meet Vin, which is when I have my most dialogue, too. I grabbed her hand and started squeezing it, and I started sweating. Literally, I felt sick almost. I hadn’t felt like that in years just watching yourself up on the screen because you don’t want to look stupid. You don’t want to look bad. It’s nerve-racking. And of course I’m hard on myself and I’m like, “I could have did that so much better.” And she’s like, “Don’t even worry about it. It was good. It was good.” That was the initial first time I saw it. But that’s how it goes. Same thing with football. You show up there the first time and it’s nerve-racking. It should be. That’s part of life though. When you go through those situations they’re good learning situations. I think it’s going to help me going forward.

 

SF: Are there going to be more films down the line for you?
TG: I hope. I’m going to work at it. I’m not one of those guys that says, “Oh, I want to be an actor just cause I want to be up on the big screen” and stuff. I really, really enjoyed it. I enjoyed it way more than I thought I was going to. That’s the reason I didn’t want to do it in the beginning because I had never done it before and the acting I had done before, it was fun but it wasn’t like it was being on set and seeing it come together. It was a neat experience to be a part of something like that. I had taken acting classes before but I’ve been hitting the classes again. I’m at a different point in my live where the older you get the more you stop feeling as embarrassed as you used to. You stop worrying about what other people think, which I think helps. That’s kinda been my thing lately. I’m in the class grinding it out, trying to be the best actor I can be, just trying to keep improving. I’m taking the same approach I did in football. It takes a couple of years to get really comfortable at it. I’m in my rookie year of acting and we’ll see how it goes. We’ll see if it works.

 

xXx: Return of Xander Cage opens in theaters this Friday, January 20, 2017.

Matt Rodriguez
Interview by Matt Rodriguez
Follow him @ Twitter
Friend him @ Facebook