With his imposing figure and unmistakable accent, Vinnie Jones is the go-to choice for filmmakers looking for a “scary British guy.” Though he’s best known for playing rough-and-ready tough guys and his earlier years of playing his own aggressively controversial brand of soccer, true fans know he has a charisma and inner warmth that frequently shines through in his performances. This passion shines through in his passion project, The Big Ugly.
Jones produced The Big Ugly himself, rounding up enough funds for writer/director Scott Wiper to assemble an all-star cast that includes Malcolm McDowell, Ron Perlman, and Bruce McGill, among others. Jones stars as a British gangster whose personal vendetta against the psychotic son of a West Virginia oil man threatens his boss’s attempt to break into the oil business. It’s a story about various sets of honor and loyalty colliding in an inevitable, but easily avoidable, catastrophe. As Jones himself puts it, “If Taylor Sheridan would have wrote this, the fu***** whole of America would be jumping up and down. This is right up there with Hell or High Water.” The Big Ugly is dedicated to the memory of Jones’ late wife, Tanya, whose input greatly influenced the film’s, particularly the ending.
While promoting the release of The Big Ugly, Jones spoke to Screen Rant about the deeply personal process of making the movie, as well as the responsibility of being a producer who has to call the shots and make sure everything is coming in on time and on budget. He looks back at his time on Arrow and laments not having more appearances as Daniel Brickwell. Finally, he throws some serious shade on X-Men: The Last Stand, in which he played the infamous Juggernaut. As he explains, the version of the film he signed on to make with original director Matthew Vaughn had little in common with the version of the film that was ultimately made by replacement director Brett Ratner.
The Big Ugly is out now in select theaters and drive-ins, and in virtual cinema and on VOD/Digital July 31.
What are we going to rant about, son? What are we going to rant about, let’s go!
There’s so much I can rant about, but we’ll stick to the movies for today.
Are you an honest guy? Or are you full of sh**?
Oh, I’m an honest guy. I don’t have enough money yet, so all I’ve really got is my word.
So what did you think of the movie?
I thought it was awesome! And I’ve been living and breathing this movie for the last few days. I’ve already talked to Malcolm and Ron, and you’re my last interview for the picture.
Hold on a minute. Why did you get them two old fu***** before me?
Scheduling I guess! But I asked them how they got this movie, if the script kinda lands on their desk or what, and they both said, “One man. Vinnie Jones.”
Yeah, I didn’t ask them. I told them: they’re doing it. I said, I’m gonna save both of your careers, and you’re gonna do my movie! (Laughs) And then, for the whole movie, Ron and Malcolm always reminded me that they were there to save my career.
Ron said you played golf together.
Yeah, we do the charity circuit in L.A. quite a lot. We’ve seen each other a lot. I went for the first-ever audition for Sons of Anarchy before Ron came on the show. Then, a few years later, I told Ron, and he said, “Oh, I’m gonna go the producers, you’ve got to get on the show!” But it never happened, mate. It didn’t happen. There you go. Life moves on.
This is your first time on-screen with Ron, right?
Tell me about Scott. I assume you met him doing The Condemned, right?
We met at a cafe in Santa Monica. He was looking for the bad guy in The Condemned, against Cold Stone Steve Austin, or Stone Cold. And we had a coffee in Santa Monica and became good pals. Then progressed onto being brothers, you know? We’ve been through a lot together, mate. And when you’re producing, acting, writing, and directing, and there’s only two of you, when one is down, the other has to pick him up and put him on his shoulder and carry him through the trenches. Then when he gets tired, the other one has to do the same. Fortunately, me and Scott have that brotherhood.
And that works with the themes of this movie. It’s about these old-timey tough guys who kind of can’t get past the fact that all that testosterone in one place isn’t necessarily the best way to get things done, right?
I don’t think Ron’s character is a gangster tough guy. He’s an oil man, you know? He respects the land and he respects the people, the hill people, the Deliverance people. He respects them. He’s not the gangster. Harris (McDowell) is the real gangster. And we come over to clean the money up. The women, for me, are a massive part of this movie. Most of the on-screen stuff, the big speeches and stuff are the guys, but the layers… Neelyn’s layers come from Fiona. He’s an enforcer, he’s a drinker, because that numbs it all and takes him all the way, but then he finally learns that he’s let this girl down, who he does love, and he seeks retribution. He wants to make it right. And he sacrifices himself for the two young lovers. It’s got layers. Neelyn’s character has layers. And people who can’t see that shouldn’t be writing about fu***** movies. It’s got layers, and it’s a love story. It’s not a gangster movie by any means. It’s a noir movie, you know?
If Taylor Sheridan would have wrote this, Zak, the fu***** whole of America would be jumping up and down. This is right up there with Hell or High Water, I think.
I’m already telling all my friends they’ve got to see this movie, because you’re a guy who is in so many other people’s movies. And it’s so awesome and refreshing that this is your movie. And you put in the back-breaking work of raising all the money to make it, right?
After The Condemned, Scott said, “I’m gonna write a movie for me and you.” He said, “I’ve just worked with you, you’re a better actor than anybody knows. And I want to get out from under this ‘WWE Director’ crap, so I’m gonna write a movie for us.” So he wrote the movie, and we discussed it, went over it. And my wife, who passed away last year, she saw the movie. Thank God she saw the movie. But she came out while Scott and I were having a cigar in my garden in Hollywood Hills, and she said, “What are you two thinking about? Go out to Appalachia, go have a look, and do this movie. Get out there and do it.” And we both looked at each other and said, “There it is. Let’s go.” So we did it. And we put the script out to Hollywood, and it never really happened. A friend of mine in Detroit said he had a couple of friends who might be interested, so I did a screener reel with Scott, we showed it, and they put the money up. I said, “All I’ve got at the moment for collateral is trust. You can trust me 100%. It’s all I’ve got.” And they did, they gave us a shot, and that’s where we got to. This is the Cinderella story, mate. This is the Cinderella story of movie-making. It was a big chance.
I’m relieved to learn that Tanya saw the movie before she passed. I lost my father earlier this month, he was in the hospital for a long time before that, so when I was reading the press notes about you and Tanya and this movie, it definitely got to me.
You have a connection.
Definitely. And it sucks especially, because this is totally his kind of movie. I know for a fact he would have loved it, gotten a real kick out of it.
You know what? I was in the hotel, me and Scott after work, we were discussing some work for the next day, and Tanya called me from L.A. We were filming in Kentucky. She said, “Vin, I found the song, I found the last song!” And Tanya gave that song, and Scott loved it, so my wife chose the last song in the movie, Exile’s Kiss You All Over. She chose that song, mate. So it’s very emotional for me. And then the guys got together and they said that Tanya had such an input on this movie, spiritually as well, so the guys put that lovely “In Memory Of…” at the end of the movie. So it’s very emotional for me.
Shifting gears… Your character drinks milk and bourbon in a pint glass.
Scott came up with that. I don’t know! I’ve had many many hangovers, Zak, and I’ve never tried it. But there you go. If the movie gets big, then I suppose milk and bourbon is gonna become quite big. But they tell me it’s very good for hangovers. I wish I would have known that eight years ago, and I could have spent 20 years on milk and bourbon instead of In-N-Out Burger.
I’ve got milk here, but I’m staying at my mom’s house while we’re taking care of all the stuff regarding my dad, but she doesn’t have any bourbon. She only has rum and tequila because that particular Latina stereotype definitely applies to her.
I gave up the booze eight years ago to look after Tanya. Yeah, I could have done with milk and bourbon a few years ago when I was still drinking, I can tell you. We tried the In-N-Out Burger on Sunday mornings to try to get us over the hangover, but I wish I had known about milk and bourbon.
You’ve definitely been around. I just saw you in Jason Mewes’ movie, and I thought you were hilarious like that. People who don’t understand your range… It’s not because they haven’t seen you, but you haven’t gotten the shot. As much as I love you in Arrow as Brick, it’s definitely something that’s within your expected wheelhouse.
I felt I could have had a really good character in Arrow, like a regular. I love Canada, I love Vancouver, and I loved going up there as a guest star, but I really would have… I really enjoyed Arrow. And I think Brick could have been a great character. You don’t see it very much, I guess you see it when she says, “What do you call that?” and I say, “Milk and Bourbon in a pint glass,” but we had to refrain from a lot of funnies in The Big Ugly, but I do like the comedy, Zak, and we could have done a lot of that in Arrow, I felt. But it wasn’t to be.
Kentucky stands in for West Virginia in The Big Ugly. You’ve been all over the world by now, but Ron and Malcolm had never really been to the rural boondocks before. Were you outside your element there?
No. I was in my element. Where I am, in West Sussex, which is south of London, about an hour-and-a-half, and I’m just surrounded by trees, woodland wildlife, cows, horses… I’m right in my element, mate. There’s deer in the garden. Kentucky was perfect for me. Absolutely perfect.
So you’re definitely a country guy, not a big city guy. You can deal with the city, but you’re definitely more at home with nature?
Yeah, that’s me, mate. I lived on the outskirts of London. I don’t like going into the city much. I don’t recognize it that much, now. I know my way around the country, a lot more than the streets in London.
You’ve been acting for more than 20 years now. Is there something, a movie or a show, something that you’re particularly proud of that you want to shout-out for the Screen Rant reader?
My real fu***** “Rant” really, is X-Men. You know, when I went onboard with Matthew Vaughn… I’ve unjustly gotten some s*** about X-Men. When I first went on… I’ve still got a script at my house with all the dialogue for the Juggernaut. I could have been a good Juggernaut. But Brett Ratner… I mean, he’s a good friend, he does his thing, he’s a different kind of director. He brought on all these other people, and all these other characters, and the Juggernaut got melded. At the beginning, you see, as Juggernaut, I don’t have my helmet on in the beginning. They were all screaming at me, “Put on your helmet!” “Yeah, okay.” But as soon as I heard “Roll sound, Action!” I took it off on purpose. I was pissed off! I’m not gonna fu***** walk around now! He’s taken all my dialogue, he’s crushed all of my character that Matthew Vaughn had for me, and f*** it! I’m not gonna have the helmet on. You might as well get anybody to do it. So that’s why you see me, at the beginning of it, taking the helmet off, and that’s why I did that. But that’s my Rant, mate. Whoever’s idea it was to take all those character onto X-Men and dilute Juggernaut. I had a three-picture deal, and I thought it was fantastic. I felt like I got completely s*** on by a very large bird.
Did you try to get the part in Deadpool 2, or had that ship already sailed?
That ship had already sailed, yeah. It’s never even been mentioned. I’ve taken a bit of stick for it, but it was totally not my fu***** fault. It was absolutely out of my hands. I was gutted. Absolutely gutted. There you are. I don’t know whose fault it was, if it was the producers or if it was out of Brett’s hands, but I know Brett was bringing in all these characters, and I was like, “Wow, where’s all my dialogue?” And I actually went to him twice. I had two big meetings with him, and I had a proper fu***** rant with him, I can tell you. And it was all, “Don’t worry, it’s coming, we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that…” It was all bullsh*t.
Man, that sucks. With that in mind, does it feel a whole lot better to be the producer, to be the one calling those shots? To go, “Hey, nobody’s taking my lines.”
The way some actors conduct themselves, they should all be a producer. And they’ll see how hard producers work, and filmmakers, and crew. And some of these actors wouldn’t fu***** get away with what they do. These prima donnas. Some of the sh** they cause on film sets. Getting on late and not knowing their lines… If they were all producers for one week, I think they’d all be better actors.
Over the Christmas break, I saw, for the first time, the very first time, I saw Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels in the movie theater with my brother.
Wait, have you been in a coma for 20 years, Zak? C’mon, son!
I had a huge Guy Ritchie blind spot! But that movie, it was your break, right? Into the movie business?
Yeah. It was only a small part.
When you were transitioning from sports to film, did you think you were gonna be in Hollywood, you were gonna be a movie star for the next 20 years?
No sir! I thought I’d be a soccer coach.
Have you ever gone to do that?
I had a team in Santa Monica, called Hollywood All-Stars. We had seven years of it, semi-professional, and then I got into golf, so I’m a member at Lakeside Golf Club in Hollywood. No more football for me, Zak. And no more questions for you, son.
Fair enough! Thanks so much, it’s been such a treat and an honor to get to talk to you today.
I know, I know it has. See you, mate!