By Ashleigh VanHouten
photography by Jason O’Dell
Ultimate bad guy actor.
You’ve probably heard most of these descriptors for British actor Vinnie Jones, but that last one came as a surprise to me—along with many other things I learned about the 49-year-old with the swarthy mug that’s ubiquitous in nearly every tough guy movie made in the last 15 years or so. This cliché has never been more appropriate: there’s more than meets the eye, with Jones.
Pretty much everyone knows he started out as a talented and dynamic footballer (that’s soccer for you Yanks), playing as a midfielder for Wimbledon, Leeds United and Chelsea in the 80’s and 90’s. Now, “dynamic” is a bit of a euphemism: he was a tough guy even back then, with an aggressive style and showmanship that made him memorable. Memorable enough for a relatively unknown Guy Ritchie to approach him, asking him if he’d like a part in his upcoming movie Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. That was 1998, and Jones hasn’t stopped since, amassing well over 40 movies to his credit: some blockbusters, some not; some funny, some gruesome; even a couple roles that utilize his footballer past (Mean Machine, 2001); but all with that signature Jones demeanour. The actor seems to take his unbelievable career trajectory in stride, remaining grounded and ambitious, not letting his success soften him—especially for a guy who never really considered acting growing up: “I thought I’d be a football coach or something,” he says in his charmingly accented growl, a voice that perfectly suits both his face and his movie roles.
Perhaps it was his down-to-earth (with an edge) personality that made him such an attractive movie star in the first place. “We did Lock, Stock and we were riding on that wave and the great fun it was, and then one night I got a call to my house and it was Jerry Bruckheimer, and he wanted me to be in Gone in 60 Seconds. I wasn’t about to say no to that opportunity, and I couldn’t just nip off and do that project, so [leaving football] was a big decision. But I thought if it doesn’t work out, I can always come back and be a coach.”
It worked out.
Surprisingly enough, he doesn’t mind being typecast at all. “There’s so many types of bad guys: cynical, scary, and very funny,” he says. He cites DeNiro as an actor whose career trajectory he’d
like to mirror, a man whose own tough-guy image provided an almost unmatched longevity and popularity in Hollywood. Although he does enjoy some variation now and then, allowing him to do funny, tongue-in-cheek roles as well as more strictly mean parts. “I did a movie recently that’s on Netflix [Ambushed],” he says. “I played a detective and a dad, and it was nice for once not to get killed off!”
Things are decidedly lighter, at least right now; he’s in the UK filming a new show for ABC best described as a “musical comedy fairytale,” called Galavant. A program utterly unique to today’s television lineup, it’s a medieval-era show featuring a King who’s a bit of a wimp, with a disdainful wife; Jones, predictably, plays the King’s muscle. As his henchman, he helps him “man up” through, among other things, song. “We do one or two songs, but it’s fun, it’s not like Glee or anything,” he assures me. “My main reason for doing this show is the comedy. I can take a shot at myself and have a laugh at my own expense. Galavant is brilliant because the crew is busting at the seams and laughing all day.”
Fun, laughter, and a bit of self-deprecation seems to be important to Jones—probably because most people wouldn’t dare “having a laugh” at Jones to his face. The actor tells a great story about working on the set of Snatch, which was darkly comedic for viewers and downright gut-busting for the actors. “There’s a scene, the one where the dog is biting one of the lads, and I’m laughing so I’ve got to turn away. It’s easy to miss, but it’s in there.”
Jones has a handful of movies currently in post-production, and I inquire as to how he stays so busy in such a fickle business—how does he choose his roles? Counter to his intense stare and aggressive voice, he’s relatively laissez-faire about the whole thing. “I’ve done 60, 70-million-dollar movies that have all the hype, and they’ve turned out crap. Then you get a 1-million-dollar movie like Lock, Stock that goes through the roof. You never know. The evidence is on the page when you read the script, but then it’s down to the casting and the editing. Editors play God in the movies sometimes.”
One of the most interesting things about Jones’ life is the extent to which his blockbuster movie career is not the center of it. A devoted family man and avid sportsman still (I get the feeling he’s still pretty competitive, too) he founded the Hollywood All-Stars football team, comprised mostly of musicians and actors, soon after he moved to LA. “We started meeting on Sundays at three o’clock just for a kick around,” he says. “Lots of English lads come around and play—we train, we keep it very professional.” The team is also deeply involved in charity work, a side passion that you can tell is genuine simply because Jones doesn’t feel the need to promote himself through it.
A few other things you might not know (or ever guess) about Jones: He’s a musician too, having released a soul-and-blues album called Respect in 2002. He’s an introspective writer, penning his biography It’s Been Emotional in 2013. He loves to hunt and fish, and travels far and wide for just that reason. Oh, and he’s absolutely bonkers over golf. “I’m a member of at least nine golf clubs in LA,” he says, where he lives. He enjoys the unique challenge of the sport, saying, “You can have one good game of golf, think you’ve got it mastered, and then you’re back to square one.”
Despite his already long and varied performing career, there’s more than enough proof that he doesn’t subscribe to the movie star lifestyle. He’s happy to live near near Universal Studios because he’s close to work and surrounded by golf courses, but, “I’m not really one for the movie premieres and all that; I really have to be forced to go to one. I’d rather just sit home and think about my golf.”
Bad boy, indeed.