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Jon Voight: "I have to say my piece"

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Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz sits down with Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight, to talk about his celebrated performances in such films as "Midnight Cowboy," "Deliverance" and "Coming Home"; about the controversy that his conservative political views currently attracts; and whether he'd like to be directed by his daughter, actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie.

Video Transcript

- Jon Voight is a long time Hollywood leading man who hails from a family of no small distinction. Ben Mankiewicz with our Sunday profile.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: On a sunny afternoon this month in Los Angeles Jon Voight was feeling groovy--

[MUSIC - THE TROGGS, "WILD THING"]

JON VOIGHT: - You make my heart sing, you make everything groovy--

BEN MANKIEWICZ: True story-- Voight's brother, Chip Taylor, wrote the hit "Wild Thing" and, like the song's title, this Academy Award-winner is a bit of a loose cannon, especially in this town.

JON VOIGHT: I'm an interesting person to myself. I'm interesting, very interesting guy.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: I definitely think you're interesting.

JON VOIGHT: I know where I stand, and I have to say my piece if I'm going to say it.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: And there's plenty Voight wants to say but first, let's get to his career. Over seven decades, Voight has been memorable and mesmerizing

JON VOIGHT: I apologize--

BEN MANKIEWICZ: He's played cowboys, convicts, champs, and chumps, and, at 82--

JON VOIGHT: You hear about this new law?

BEN MANKIEWICZ: --he's set to return as Liev Schreiber's conniving gangster father in Showtime's "Ray Donovan"

JON VOIGHT: If you can't laugh, what are you going to do, cry all the time?

BEN MANKIEWICZ: No matter the character, the motivation is the same.

JON VOIGHT: Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger.

You're trying to get to the truth of it, you know, that essence that illuminates this moment, or the story. It's a wonderful thing, it's a spiritual thing.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: A devout Catholic, Voight was born in 1938, 20 miles outside Manhattan and a million miles from Hollywood.

JON VOIGHT: I'm from Yonkers, New York and I liked it.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Yeah

JON VOIGHT: And you can't have airs if you were from Yonkers, you know.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Sid Caesar didn't have airs--

SID CAESAR: That the way I like to feel a good handshake--

BEN MANKIEWICZ: He was from Yonkers too. And every Saturday night in the early 50s, as the Voight family watched "Your Show of Shows," young John found inspiration.

JON VOIGHT: I give him credit for my career as an actor. I used to imitate Sid Caesar doing the German, his German professor, you know.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Can we get a little of that? Do you still it?

JON VOIGHT: Well, you know, if we're sitting here and we are with the great and the great and I'm talking about the great Ben Mankiewicz, you see--

BEN MANKIEWICZ: After college Voight found work on and off Broadway. With Robert Duvall in "A View from the Bridge" and as Rolf in "The Sound of Music." In 1969, the break of a lifetime--

JON VOIGHT in "MIDNIGHT COWBOY": I'd be happy to oblige--

BEN MANKIEWICZ: --with the support of his friend Dustin Hoffman--

JON VOIGHT in "MIDNIGHT COWBOY": I really would--

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Voight landed the part of the naive gigolo, Joe Buck in "Midnight Cowboy."

[MUSIC - HARRY NILSSON, "EVERYBODY'S TALKIN'"] (SINGING) Everybody's talking at me--

Voight says much of the dialogue was unscripted. JON VOIGHT: We used to improvise all the time. Dusty and I, we were walking across the street and he hits the cab and says, you know, hey, I'm walking here--

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Hey, I'm walking here, I'm walking here

JON VOIGHT: Aah, up yours, you--

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Up yours, you son of a bitch, you don't talk to me that way, get out of here.

JON VOIGHT: Then he turns around to me, and I'm thinking, this is great, just stay in character, you know--

DUSTIN HOFFMAN: Don't worry about that, actually, that ain't a bad way to pick up insurance, you know.

JON VOIGHT: That's all I was thinking, stay in character, don't cut-- and, we got it, so--

BEN MANKIEWICZ: It's perfect. To this day, "Midnight Cowboy" is the only x-rated film to win Best Picture. Perfection quickly became opportunity, though not necessarily the right one.

JON VOIGHT: I turned down "Love Story" because I was smart enough to see that I'd mess it up.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Why would you mess it up?

JON VOIGHT: Because I'd make it too complicated.

[GUITAR MUSIC]

BEN MANKIEWICZ: If he was looking for complicated, Voight found founded in "Deliverance." The 1972 classic is a brutal survival film.

- We're going to make it. Keep it straight--

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Deliverance earned a Best Picture nomination and further cemented Voight as a heavyweight actor.

JON VOIGHT IN "COMING HOME": Aah, they treat us is like nobody--

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Six years later, Voight delivered another searing performance opposite Jane Fonda in "Coming Home," this time as a Vietnam War veteran who's lost the use of his legs. Voight prepared by spending nine weeks in an LA hospital with wounded vets and learning to live as a paraplegic.

JON VOIGHT: These guys embraced me, these guys embraced me.

- Jon Voight in "Coming Home!"

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Voight won the Best Actor Oscar for coming home yet, to this day, what he remembers most about that night isn't winning, but a brief moment backstage with Fred Astaire.

JON VOIGHT: I'm crazy about Fred Astaire, he's a magical talent. He said, let me step aside, I said, no, no, Mr Astaire. I don't know why it touches me so much but I think it's, you know, it's just because of the value of our work and appreciation for the greatness of this artist's work, and all of the artists that preceded me.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: He doesn't dance like a Astaire, but Voight glides from genre to genre-- thrillers--

JON VOIGHT IN "THE RAINMAKER": May it please the court--

BEN MANKIEWICZ: --courtroom dramas--

- Hey, Jon Voight!

BEN MANKIEWICZ: --even comedies. Lately though it's not merely his acting that gets attention, it's his politics. Voight is more than a staunch conservative, he's a vocal Trump loyalist in largely liberal Hollywood.

JON VOIGHT IN "ROE V. WADE": Roe v. Wade, in the grand scheme of things, is not that important.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Critics of his latest film, "Roe v. Wade," call it propaganda-- the movie examines the circumstances that led to the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. Voight plays Chief Justice Warren Burger.

JON VOIGHT IN "ROE V. WADE": All those in favor of re-arguing--

JON VOIGHT: I'm a conservative, as you know, therefore I'm--

BEN MANKIEWICZ: You're a conservative?

JON VOIGHT: Yeah.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Is that right?

JON VOIGHT: And I'm not so happy with government involvement in anything. I'm very concerned about our country, I'm very concerned about this attack on free speech. I don't like it that we can't sit down and talk about everything. We're all unique-- there's no one that's different or better or whatever it is-- we all are unique.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Next, another potentially sensitive subject, his daughter actress and director Angelina Jolie, they've had a turbulent relationship for years. Voight has only good things to say about her.

You have to be proud that your daughter followed in your footsteps and is so good at this-- not just as an actor--

JON VOIGHT: Yeah, she's really remarkable, she's got her own thing, and she's got her own way of dealing with things, you know. She's very clear.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: And as a director too, right?

JON VOIGHT: Yeah, and as a director.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: As you're an actor, would you-- do you think you could handle being directed by your daughter?

JON VOIGHT: She would be tough--

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Yeah.

[LAUGHTER]

JON VOIGHT: But yes, of course, I would love to work with her.

[MUSIC - THE TROGGS, "WILD THING"]

BEN MANKIEWICZ: Look, Jon Voight is complicated-- he's a Hollywood outsider, who's also an insider. After you talk to him, you don't leave thinking about his politics or his famous daughter, you end up thinking about a man who truly loves the craft of acting and his fellow actors.

JON VOIGHT: I do know that I care about this industry, and I do know that I still feel the same way when I get a part-- that I don't know what I'm going to do with it, but I'm excited to go on this journey and try to figure it out and all of that, you know.

BEN MANKIEWICZ: You don't seem like a guy who's thinking about retiring.

JON VOIGHT: No I won't retire. You can shoot me as a dying person in bed, you know, we can always do something.

[LAUGHTER]

If I can move one eye, I can wink.

[MUSIC - THE TROGGS, "WILD THING"] (SINGING) --wild thing. Shake it, shake it, wild thing--