Vinnie Jones is not one to suffer fools. During our 30-minute interview, intended to discuss the release of his new revenge thriller The Big Ugly, he calls me a “fucker” three times. I decide to take it as a term of endearment, which may or may not have been the intention.
Regardless of his general manner – and controversial views on subjects such as hunting, Brexit and wildlife presenter Chris Packham – Jones has enjoyed a remarkable career. He retired as a professional footballer back in 1999 and, after moving to LA, has racked up more than 100 movie credits (Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Mean Machine), mostly as the hard man enforcer who deals out justice with his fists.
Now, Jones has created his own production company, 4G Vision. With extra creative control, he hopes to bypass the studio system and make different, mould-breaking movies that wouldn’t see the light of day otherwise. We caught up with the man they call ‘The Axe’ and found a nature-loving country boy who thinks Hollywood has taken a wrong turn.
Hi Vinnie, where are you speaking from? I hear you’re a proper Los Angelean these days?
“Well, you’re wrong. I’m in Sussex. Don’t pay to be a clever fucker all the time, does it?”
I guess not. Have you moved back to the UK for good?
“You lot make me laugh. I get a fucking flight back here for a couple of weeks and you think I’ve fucking moved back! I live in Los Angeles. I come over for holidays.”
Some parts of the British press almost consider you a national treasure now – maybe they just want you to themselves?
“What do you mean almost? You cheeky fucker! Almost. I’m the people’s fucking champion mate!”
My mistake! How are you, anyway? What’s lockdown like for Vinnie Jones?
“I’ve been out with the wildlife, really, wearing a mask and that. I did that straight off the bat, when I was in America. If people are coughing and it’s from the mouth and nose, surely they have to make it the law straight away? Why aren’t they doing this? Even when we were playing golf I wore a mask.”
There’s been a lot of talk about the state of Hollywood recently – as someone who’s lived there, how do you think the industry’s changed?
“I’m a joker [on-set]. I’m a prankster – and I have all the laughs and that. Now, you’ve got people going, ‘Ooh, hold on. You can’t do that!’ and you’re going ‘Fuck, oh my god, it’s in there now.’ It’s like with social distancing, people are turning away from you as if you’re the Hunchback of Notre Dame or something. I don’t know – since lockdown it’s gone a bit quieter with the whole Weinstein thing. Since he got done and everything else, I think everybody got what they wanted and he’s been charged, convicted and everything. So, you know, there are massive safety things now. You’ve got your Me Toos and your COVIDs and everything. It’s making, not just work harder, but life harder too.”
Have you ever met Harvey Weinstein?
“No. I was in the same room as him at the BRIT Awards once. But no, I haven’t. There were a couple of movies that came along, but I never ended up working with him.”
You’ve just launched a production company – why is now the time to start making your own movies, such as new revenger thriller The Big Ugly?
“The story behind it is quite simple. I did a movie called The Condemned with Scott Wiper – he wrote and directed it. We became very close and then a year or two later Scott came to me and said, ‘We’re under this rock: you’re getting killed in every movie, people are typecasting you. I’d like to write something for you.’ I said I was in and that was the acorn.”
Do you agree you’ve been typecast?
“Well, you know, of course. They like the debt collector, the enforcer; that’s most of my movies.”
Has that been disappointing for you?
“The biggest upset I’ve had in a movie was X-Men: The Last Stand. I think the fans were disappointed with [my character] the Juggernaut too. When Matthew Vaughn was going to direct it, I had a much bigger role. But when the new director came on board, Brett Ratner, he absolutely ripped the heart out of my character and there was nothing I could do about it. I spent most of that movie, months and months, just sitting in my trailer. It was a fucking shit show. I was gutted – and I’d signed a three picture deal with them.”
You’ve had some other problems in your career too – like that time your Twitter was hacked?
“I had an assistant who caused me all the problems. He came to me to double his wages and I said: ‘You’re fucking joking? What do you mean?’ So he moved on and he obviously had the passwords to [my social media accounts]. He posted [explicit pictures of dead foxes], saying that I’d killed one hundred foxes in a night. Yes, I do go shooting and fishing, but I’m also a massive conservationist. Well, anyone with the slightest amount of intelligence would realise you couldn’t shoot one hundred foxes in one night anyway. That’s like jumping up to the moon on a trampoline.”
Are you a big fan of social media?
“I am, but it’s a fine line. You can do a thousand really good, funny things on there. Then you do one bad thing and you get absolutely fucking poleaxed. People like me, who are in the public eye, should really have a solicitor who looks at every fucking post… There’s no forgiveness. That’s what I hate about social media.”
You once said David Attenborough was the person you admire the most – have you met him?
“A long time ago, yeah. He’s the only person I got stage fright with. I think it was at Prince William’s 21st birthday party in the Natural History Museum.”
Do you want to make nature documentaries like him?
“Yeah, but it’s very hard. I made a trailer [for a series] called Wild Britain. It’s basically me down the riverbanks, showing everybody the British countryside. I’ve given it to everyone: BBC, ITV, Channel 4. I am disgusted with all the channels, because I cannot get them to show it. I think they think I’m just going to run around and fucking machine gun all the animals. It’s Vinnie Jones, showing you the countryside, as it is. Not the fucking Chris Packham [wildlife presenter] way of biased lies and misinformation.”
Why don’t you like Chris Packham?
“He says that shooting deer or anything is wrong. He gives the idea that people go: ‘Ooh let’s get the guns and go and kill some shit, yeah man!’ It’s not that. Gamekeepers and stalkers humanely take out deers in herds and the woodland because they’re getting old, they’re losing their teeth. It’s what you have to do for conservation.”
You used to be on British TV all the time – it’s been 15 years since you threatened Ross Kemp in Extras, for example?
“That was a very funny day. When I was waiting for my cue to come on, I could hear Ricky [Gervais] coming out with stuff like ‘I headbutted a horse once.’ It took three or four goes to get over to Ross because I kept cracking up laughing.”
My favourite thing you’ve done is that advert for the British Heart Foundation where you teach CPR techniques to the tune of ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by The Bee Gees – do you remember that?
“Yeah. I once had to do CPR [in real life] up at the Centurion Golf Club in Hertfordshire, where I’m an ambassador. An old guy, two tables over, was having a Sunday roast and he went over. We kept him alive [until the ambulance arrived]. Then he was OK for a couple of days before he passed away in hospital.”
Is there any footage of that on social media?
“Nah, they don’t like all the good stuff. It was reported on, but only a small bit in The Sun or The Mirror.”
“Right, see you mate. Bye!”
Oh, I actually had one more question…
“No mate, we’re done!”
‘The Big Ugly’ is released digitally today