If there's been one constant in the Tron series, it's, well... Tron. And through pretty much every iteration of the titular character, one actor has portrayed him: Bruce Boxleitner. In advance of the release of Disney's highly anticipated Tron: Uprising, we chatted with the renegade program himself about auditioning for the role he originated, whether there will be a Tron 3, and challenging Lance Henriksen to a Lightcycle race:
MTV Geek: Simple one to start off with that you’re probably getting from everyone, but what’s it like to keep returning to the part of Tron?
Bruce Boxleitner: [Laughs] Well it’s not a bad thing! It justifies everything... When the original Tron came out, it wasn’t a Star Wars, it wasn’t these other things... But it’s certainly as influential in film-making, and animation. To be a part of something that is remembered this long - it kind of took a hiatus for a while there - it’s very gratifying, it’s something people remember. I can’t tell you the amount of times people walk up to me - I do a lot of the SciFi conventions - and 85% of what I sign and talk about is Tron. And I’ve done other things, other science fiction series as well.
It must have resonated with people! And I do believe Tron, in it’s own sort of sweet, naive way predicted a future that we’re living; not a lot of science fiction does that. We’re living in the age of information, the age of the computer. Certainly it reflects how far video games have come. I think between Tron and Tron: Legacy we’ve come a long ways since you name whatever arcade game you want to think of, to games like Assassin’s Creed, or even Grand Theft Auto. It’s become much more cinematic.
The movies reflect that, and Tron the character - even though he’s a classic hero - is a hero for this age as well. A video game warrior, my god how many characters do we have like that? [Laughs]
For me, as an actor, I have to tell you, you only get one or two roles as an actor in your life that you’re remembered for. Tron never really went away for me, he just took a slight hiatus for a while. Here we are again in this new series, it’s very exciting, very logical, and it fits right in, in the whole Tron canon.
Geek: Has anything changed in your portrayal of Tron over the years? Obviously things have changed from a technical perspective, and live action to animation - but how about how you approach the part as an actor?
BB: It is voice acting, so trying to find Tron’s voice... It’s not as simple. The writing is pretty terrific, but Charlie Bean, our relentless Director, who much of the credit should go to, really pushed me to try and find this much more battle hardened, beat up, wounded, damaged and yet, a teacher as well. Tough love that it is, but a teacher. I needed to create a voice for the character, because that’s all the animators have to go on. That’s the challenge, and I was very happy with what I saw.
When you do this, you come into a booth, I was reading with another actor - I was not reading with Elijah Wood, I only did that once. Otherwise, we do this separately. Finding this character... It was just as challenging doing the voice stuff as it was originally in the film.
Geek: All of your scenes are with Elijah Wood, so what was that one meeting like for you guys?
BB: It was actually our audition, to see how we would sound together. Was there anybody else? It was the same thing for me as in Tron: Legacy... I was originally hired to screen-test, with all of the young, prospective hopefuls. I did about five girls, five guys, and over a series of a few days, but I felt that I was very much under scrutiny as well, because they hadn’t seen me since 1982, so they wanted to see what I would bring to it - even though I had already gotten the role.
Same thing with the animated series. We only met in the beginning, and all the powers that be were in that room, in the booth, and we did a number of scenes together. We sat and waited for them. Then Elijah went away to New Zealand to do The Hobbit - that was quite along time, and over the past year, we’ve done this series, I did a brief series and a lot of other things. In trying to get all of these people, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reubens, Mandy Moore - it’s not possible to get all these people in the same room at the same time.
Everybody had to come in when they can. It’s magic! [Laughs] It all goes together, somehow.
Geek: Getting into the plot a little, what’s the relationship between Tron and Beck over the course of the series?
BB: It gets tougher and rougher. Tron becomes even more of a harsh taskmaster. In fighting this rebellion, Beck shows a lot of rebellion towards his master, his teacher... But it’s all good. And then he gets tested some more. There’s a constant testing, without giving away any plot points. It teeters on the edge of collapse. It’s done, and defeat happens. We have this rebellion against this oppressive regime of Clu and General Tesler, and it’s like cracks in the alliance start happening. Beck is young, very physical, very smart and inventive - but he lacks the confidence, and it’s constantly nagging at him.
Tron is there to be a good teacher, even though he’s also a harsh taskmaster. He has to bring this confidence out of this young man. That’s kind of the way of age and youth, to help him discover this inner strength of his, to help him carry on the mission.
Geek: This is probably getting even more specifically into spoilers, so if you can’t answer this, let me know - but Tron is clearly in one place in the first movie, and then he’s been corrupted into the form of Rinzler in the second. Are we going to see any of that journey here?
BB: I can’t answer that. [Laughs] You don’t understand, Disney places a chip at the base of your neck, and when you go into spoiler territory, you get these little vibrations. And when you’ve gone too far, you just black right out.
Geek: Mickey is the guy with his finger on the button.
BB: Yes! Mickey is behind the controls somewhere, in a bunker, and Walt’s sitting right next to him! [Laughs]
Geek: Okay, let’s just jump right into this one: what Grid game do you think you’d be best at, and who else from the cast would be toughest to go against?
BB: Considering we’re probably closer in age, I’d say Lance Henriksen. [Laughs] I’m celebrating my sixty-second birthday today, so I’d say of any of the Grid games, maybe the Lightcycles would be pretty good. I’m not so sure about tossing around the disk at each other anymore. I think, being the senior members of the cast, we’ll stick to riding on the bikes - at least we don’t have to run. The knees are gone, okay? [Laughs]
Geek: Another one you’re probably getting from everyone, but heck, let’s just end on this: a few months ago, you made a statement that Disney was working on a third Tron movie... Can you confirm or deny that?
BB: It was probably pretty unwise of me to have said that, but there have been - it’s been in the trade papers - script conferences going on, and that’s the only thing I do know. Certainly there’s always a lot of variables concerned. I do know that Joe Kosinski is directing another movie right now. I have nothing concrete to tell anybody, it’s above my pay grade - believe me.
All I’m asked about is, is there a future to this, is there another movie? I think the intent has always been there, but whether it actually happens, who knows? I can’t say no, I can’t say yes.
I think this animated series is really good... This is not a kiddie cartoon show. First of all it comes on at nine o’clock, that’s a good hour. And I think it’s for all the family, but you’re going to find adult themes in it as well - or about becoming an adult. It’s very much part of the Tron canon... It’s a perfect fit. If this is the future of Tron, it’s a pretty damn good one.
We spoke with Boxleitner at Emerald City Comic Con 2011 about his TRON: Uprising role.
“TRON: Uprising, Beck's Beginning," a 30-minute prelude to Tron: Uprising, premieres FRIDAY, MAY 18 (9:30– 10:00 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney Channel with an encore on MONDAY, MAY 21(7:00 p.m. ET/PT) on Disney XD.