Vinnie Jones On The Big Ugly, Superheroes, And Being A Tough Guy - Exclusive Interview

The Big Ugly, from writer/director Scott Wiper, is about a money laundering deal in West Virginia gone bad. The movie stars Ron Perlman, Malcolm McDowell, and Vinnie Jones — the latter of whom plays Neelyn, a mob enforcer gone rogue after his girlfriend disappears. Jones' involvement in the movie goes far beyond his name on the marquee: He raised the money, kept the younger actors in line, and is the movie's biggest cheerleader. He did all this while his wife Tanya was dying of cancer, and he wants you to see all the care he put into it. Looper spoke with Jones about his part in the movie, his early career with Guy Ritchie, and working superhero properties.

This interview also broke ground for several parties — it was the first Zoom interview conducted by Looper. It was also Jones' first ever Zoom, and he warned us "don't f*** it up." The Q&A is lightly edited, partly because of profanity and partly because Vinnie Jones is exactly like his characters. He encouraged our interviewer to not look at his notes and signed off with "good luck when you get your haircut."

Production of The Big Ugly

So, this movie was written with you in mind, if I'm correct about this.

Yeah. I worked with Scott Wiper on The Condemned and then after that he said, "Listen, you've got much more to offer. I'm going to write a script. We're going to do a movie together." So that's when he came up with this concept.

The Condemned, that was that the WWE movie?

Yeah. Scott wanted to get out from under that rock of WWE. And I wanted to get out of the rock of being killed in every movie.

Scott Wiper's director statement says that this was made during a very rough time for you. I think you said your wife was very ill at this time. And at the same time, you're playing a character whose girlfriend died. Did one inform the other?

Of course, it comes into it, yeah. My wife was in a lot of pain at the time, with the cancer before she died. She died just after the movie was done, but she had a big influence on the movie. When Scott brought the script up, we were talking about it. She came out, we were having a cigar out on the patio at my house in the Hollywood Hills and she said, "You two can do this. Get out there, go to West Virginia." And then while we were out there, near the end of the movie, she called and Scott and I were having a meeting in my room and she said, "I found the music for the end, where the lovers get away, the two youngsters. Exile, 'I Want to Kiss You All Over.'" And it stayed in there. And thankfully, she actually got to see the movie before she left us.

Oh, that's good. Because I remember Scott Wiper said that she got approval on the final cut.

She definitely did. And she actually loved looking at all the auditions. She was very ill at the time and couldn't get around too much, but she loved it when we were getting sent all the auditions. And she would say, "Oh, I like this girl." She was doing all the girls. She was casting the ladies for us, what she liked and everything. So yeah.

And also what Scott doesn't tell you is, leading up to this, Scott lost his mom and dad as well. So it's been a very emotional ride for both of us and luckily we had each other. And what we found was, when one was low, if he was low, I'd pick him up, I put him on my shoulder and we'd walk through the trenches together. And when I was shattered and I was out emotionally, he would do the same. And that's what turns friendship into brotherhood, I think.

Perlman, Jones, McDowell

Malcolm McDowell says you helped to raise money for the movie. Is that true?

I raised it all. Raised all the money. Yeah. We took the script around Hollywood for a little while and there wasn't too much interest, there was a little bit. A then friend of mine said, "I've got two friends out in Detroit that might be interested." So what we'd done, we made a sizzle reel, took it out to them, they loved it. And I said, "The only guarantee I've got is my word. I give you my word that we're going to work very hard on this." And it's a passion of love. This is a Cinderella story. This whole movie is a Cinderella story. And I'd say to people, "If Taylor Sheridan would have wrote or directed this, this would be the biggest movie in America right now. Everyone would be shouting about it."

If it was Hell or High Water or Wind River or something like that, everyone would be going nuts. So anybody with one little grain of what they know what they're talking about with movies, they should see the layers in this movie. The characters are fantastic. The acting is awesome, there's not a blemish on any of them. They are all awesome. I think we cast it fantastically, one way or another. Mainly through my mobile phone. I called a couple of them up, "Malcolm," I said, "read this script. You're doing it, read it and let me know on Monday morning, I'll have the money in your bank account." And of course, when you do a little movie, I had the money... I phoned Matthew Vaughn and told him I had the six million in the bank account. And he said, "It's incredible." Matthew Vaughn couldn't believe it.

I interviewed Malcolm McDowell and Ron Perlman. And I'm going to read to you what they said. Ron said that all of you together on set were just ranking each other all the time, trying to tease each other. And Malcolm McDowell said, "I've always been a great fan of Vinnie Jones. Not that I'd ever tell him that."

No, we were breaking each other's balls like you can't imagine. Malcolm would constantly tell me that he saved the movie and we're very lucky we had him. Ron was constantly telling us that he was the best actor on the whole set and we should all watch him and learn. And we had a funny moment actually, we heard there was a few whispers about who's number two and who's number three — obviously my character was number one on the call sheet. And we heard there was a couple of whispers this, that and the other. And anyway, what we'd done was, the first day of filming, we put Ron at number one because he signed on first. We put Malcolm as number two. So they were all like, "What's this call sheet? Where's Vinnie? Ron's number one." And all that.

I said, "Look at number 100." You know, where to stunt men normally go at the bottom. I put myself at 100 on the list, just to show them that this was a team effort and being number one, two, three, four, five on a list didn't matter. What mattered was the end product. And it really worked. And they were like, "Wow." No one's ever done that before. I went from number one to 100. I said, "The only problem is, you two have got nowhere to go. I've got 99 places to go up, me. I can always go up, now. You two have got nowhere to go." So it was constantly ball-breaking, it was funny as f***.

Guy Ritchie is cool, but don't call it "soccer"

So that makes me wonder, is that in America, we call it soccer, but I believe the correct term for you is footballer. Would your background in sports, do you think that plays —

You're lucky this is on Zoom, I'd give you a slap for that comment if I was there. You'd get one around your ears. But when I'm in America, I do say soccer because Americans don't understand it. If you say soccer over in England, you get smacked around the head for it. They wouldn't know what you was talking about. So I have to be careful when I come back to England that I say football and not soccer.

(Laughs nervously) Okay. Did your background in sports, to put it a little more broadly, do you think that played into your call sheet decision? How you act? Any of this?

I'm very much a team player and I think that's why I'll make a good producer. I got all the cast together. Not Malcolm or Ron, but the younger lot and I said, "Look, if you think you've come here to West Virginia to f****ing waste my time, there's too much blood and sweat gone into this, you are very much mistaken." So I think that worked, I think that did the trick.

Speaking a little more broadly, what made you jump from the world of sports to the world of acting?

I didn't jump, really. I slid into it because I did Lock, Stock when I was still playing. And then when the awards were coming out, I won Best British Newcomer. And then Jerry Bruckheimer saw it and Jerry Bruckheimer gave me a call. So, I sort of was lured into it more than anything. I always thought that I was going to be a football/soccer coach, that's where my destiny was. And you never know what's around the corner.

What's it like working with Guy Ritchie?

Oh, it was awesome. I love working with Guy. Haven't worked with him in quite a while actually, but hopefully there's something in the pipeline. I worked with Matthew recently on the X-Men, but the scene didn't get in the movie. But they're great guys, they're family. Guy and Matthew are family to me. Jason Statham, family. So we're always looking out for each other. I love working with Guy — you know what he wants, I grew up with him.

X-Men and Arrow

You've played a few superheroes at this point. Is there anything that attracts you to superheroes? Are you planning on doing more with that?

Well I've done an interview earlier on actually and they said, "What are your biggest disappointments?" And I said, "One of the movies I've done." And I've always thought I got let down on X-Men. Because when I signed on, it was Matthew Vaughn who was going to be the director. And when Brett Ratner came on, my character got dissolved.

I felt like the fans were let down, but not because of me. Brett brought a lot of characters onto X-Men 3: The Last Stand and yeah, I was very upset. I was upset because I thought I'd let... I hadn't let the cinema people down, but I thought I'd got let down. People pay good money to go to the movies. They were really excited about seeing the Juggernaut, so was I, and it wasn't the same script as I read when I signed on. So disappointed about that, would love to have another go at it.

I love superheroes. Arrow was fantastic. I loved Arrow, I wanted to be a regular on Arrow. I was always hinting when I was on set, "Oh, I could do this." I love Canada, I love Vancouver and I loved the show. That would have done me. I could have spent my acting years out on Arrow, I think.

So is there any difference between working for a Marvel production and working for a DC production?

Well, one was a movie and one was TV. So TV is much quicker. You've got to go on, you've got to know your dialogue straight off, hit your lines, hit your dialogue, boom. Bang, we're on to the next scene. X-Men was about eight or nine months, we filmed that for and you just feel like an extra, really. I was watching football/soccer in my trailer with the rest of the other English crew. They was all in my trailer and was watching a lot of football.

The internet never forgets

One of your legacies on the internet is the phrase "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch." Do you find that phrase haunting you now? Or do you appreciate being part of that or do you not think about it at all?

No, I love it. The youngsters always loved that, but that was Brett's line. Brett found that on the internet and wanted to do that. If the character had been more loved by the fans, if I was allowed to have been the character that I read for in the first place, then I would have embraced it. I've personally taken a bit of stick from X-Men fans for that, it honestly wasn't my fault. It wasn't. So do I embrace that? Not totally, because I didn't feel that I'd done the character justice, because I wasn't allowed to. I embraced more, "It's been emotional." From Lock, Stock, that line. So yeah, I just feel that if it would have been a brilliant role, in that franchise at that time, yes, I would have embraced it. Hopefully I'll get another chance, but I doubt it.

I actually had a big meeting with Brett Ratner, because I was concerned about it and he assured me that they were writing new stuff. "Oh yeah, yeah. We're writing new stuff and it's all going to be great. And your character is going to be bigger and everything." And it never happened. So I did feel kind of let down.

And the other thing people have asked me to ask you about is the Vinnie Jones workout plan ["Vinnie Jones Attack Cardio" on Funny or Die]. People still —

What people have asked you?

People I write with, people who I am friends with, people who are apparently part of the workout plan. I feel like I'm part of the workout plan right now.

Are these the same people that have written your notes with you?

They very well might've been.

The fitness cardio was absolutely Funny or Die. It was absolutely fantastic. I love comedy, mate. I love it. And although I play a lot of tough guy roles, and gangsters and enforcers, I do love my comedy. I would choose comedy over a gangster role, I think.

What audiences should take away from The Big Ugly


What do you want people to take away from The Big Ugly?

I say this to people: If Taylor Sheridan would have written or directed this, people will be singing from the tree tops about this movie. It's got lots of great layers. It's not a gangster movie. We refer to Harris and Neelyn as gangsters, but you never see no gangster stuff in London. They go there with gangster money to clean up their money. Ron Perlman's character is not a gangster, he's a big oilman who needs the loan. And then Neelyn realizes that he's done all this stuff for Harris. He's numbed it with the booze. He's finally fell in love with this girl, Fiona. She then goes missing because of his f***-up and now he wants to put it right and that's why sacrifices himself for the two young lovers to get away. He says, "I have to do this. I'm staying here with her."