Ronnie Gene Blevins and Tye Sheridan in David Gordon Green's "Joe."  Photo Credit: Linda Kallerus.

Ronnie Gene Blevins and Tye Sheridan in David Gordon Green’s “Joe.” Photo Credit: Linda Kallerus.

In his early 20s, Ronnie Gene Blevins was traveling Europe when a random thought popped into his head. Based on nothing, he says, he realized that he wanted to move to Los Angeles and pursue an acting career, despite his acting experience having been zero. The reason he was doing a Eurotrip in the first place was because working at a mutual fund company after college simply wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life.

The Texas native then made his idea a reality. He moved to L.A., studied for many years, and eventually scored numerous guest spots on serial TV shows including ER, NCIS, The Shield and True Blood. Blevins, 36, has also graced the big screen with small roles in Seven Psychopaths and The Dark Knight Rises.

His latest movie role in Joe is his biggest to date. Blevins stars alongside Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan and the late Gary Poulter in the critically acclaimed film, set in the rural American South. The intense drama revolves around Joe Ransom (Cage), an ex-con who runs a tree-poisoning business — and ends up becoming an unlikely role model for a teenager (Sheridan), who’s abusive family life has forced him to make his own way in the harsh world. Based on Larry Brown’s 1991 novel of the same name, the film, which is playing in theaters across the country, is directed by David Gordon Green of George Washington, Your Highness, Pineapple Express and Eastbound & Down fame.

The thought-provoking, heartbreaking, emotionally raw, and sometimes infuriating film is sure to leave an impression on the viewer, as is Blevins’ performance as Willie Russell, a local tough guy who’s a bit unfriendly with Joe, to say the least. The gritty, menacing performance as Willie is a stark contrast to the outgoing, down-to-earth personality Blevins’ possessed when he spoke to GALO via phone from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Read on below to find out what he had to say about the filming experience, why he gravitates toward characters that are rough around the edges, whether this movie really is a comeback for Nicolas Cage, and more.

GALO: Joe is a film that will probably be unlike anything else we’ll see in theaters this year. As an actor, how does it feel to be part of such a powerful film?

Ronnie Gene Blevins: It’s something pretty extraordinary. Long before I ever had an idea that I’d be in this movie, I was a big David Gordon Green fan. I also had the belief that Nicolas Cage was the greatest living actor. So to be able to be in a David Gordon Green film, in which Nicolas was the star of, was amazing. Both David and Nicolas blew my expectations. It ended up being, I think, the coolest thing I’ve ever done.

GALO: The setting in the film seems to take place in the rural South, although it isn’t explicitly stated where. Could you talk to me about where you guys actually filmed?

RGB: We filmed all around Austin, [Texas]. The book is set in Mississippi and originally, I think, they were gonna try to shoot Texas as Mississippi. But then they realized it was better just leaving it in the general South. It could apply to anywhere in the South, you know?

GALO: Being such an intense film, what was the atmosphere and mood like on set?

RGB: You know, it was pretty light — the mood was pretty light. David kind of creates this environment that doesn’t have a lot of structure to it. Any negative connotation you could attach to structure. He never tells us [the actors] no. Anything we want to try, he lets us do. On a David film, you get much more of a sense of “We’re going out there, together, and we’re the filmmakers.” It’s like a collaboration. We’re all just making the film together, bringing up ideas and seeing what works and what doesn’t. By virtue of that, so many people are working for the common purpose. By not having the presence of one heavy-handed director, it promoted a really free environment. We’re having a lot of fun, you know? I think it’s important when we’re shooting a film that has such a dark mood, plot and story, to bring a little lightness to it. For instance, Willie Russell, my character. You know, if I’m gonna go in there and play an evil guy — he’s evil, he’s evil squared — but if I go in there and judge him beforehand, we get like a one-dimensional evil character. It’s more of a matter of what other colors I can throw in there. Can I throw in humor? So, I tried to do that to create a little color to this psychopath.

GALO: Speaking of Willie, we don’t get a backstory for him, but, right off the bat, you can tell he’s a pretty bad guy. He shoots Joe, he threatens Gary. He’s a guy that seems to get off on provoking, threatening and attacking people. What reasons would you say he has to justify his actions?

RGB: That’s funny you say that. David was clear on the fact that he didn’t want to spell out our past. We had opportunities in which we improvised a past for us, but he thought it would be more provocative if we didn’t have the past in there. So I gave myself — which I never shared with anyone else — [a past in which] Nicolas had screwed my mom. Years ago, Joe Ransom had screwed my mom. So that’s what I gave myself.

GALO: It also seems that the feud between Joe and Willie has been going on for a while. If you had to make something up about what caused the rift between them in the first place, what would you say happened?

RGB: Story wise, we were originally gonna make it about a woman. But there was nothing in the script that allotted for that, because David always wanted to keep it provocative. I think me and Nicolas at one time improvised a scene making it about a woman, just in case they wanted to use it, which David clearly didn’t. So, I think, maybe it could’ve been about a woman. Just because David doesn’t like spelling things out, to keep it a little bit more provocative. What do you think happened, what do you think their history is? And some people appreciate that for being provocative.

GALO: Would you say you’re more comfortable playing a tough, evil guy? Or would you rather be portraying a victim?

RGB: Historically, I’ve been hired more as the tough guy. I’ve been at it for so long that I can slip into these guys with confidence. I’m getting more opportunities to play guys a little more closer to the center and guys that have a little more humanity. I would prefer to stay working as a villain, [it’s my] bread and butter. But as my career starts to evolve, I’d love to start playing guys a little more closely to my true nature, which is just to be a good guy.

GALO: There were many scenes in Joe that seemed like they’d be an incredible challenge for an actor, specifically the violent fight scenes. What was the most challenging scene for you to film?

RGB: That bar scene, for sure. Even though it was all staged pretty well, it was pretty intense when Nicolas grabbed my head and pounded it into the bar. Even though it was all staged, it was done with intensity. I had whiplash for a few days.

GALO: You also got to work with the late Gary Poulter who plays Wade, Gary’s abusive and degenerate alcoholic father. Many have associated the film with Poulter, who was actually a homeless alcoholic in real life, and didn’t have any acting experience. Sadly, he passed away before seeing the finished product. What was the experience like filming with him?

RGB: The experience was pretty incredible, because you take what you said, which is true — you did have a man who was homeless, you did have a man who was an alcoholic — but you also had a man within who was sober. He would bring together weeks and months of sobriety and work. And then he’d relapse again. Gary was very much a man who was a victim of alcoholism. When we were working together, we didn’t get anything more than a guy who had a rough life, who was very grateful for a second chance. He was gonna make every effort at it. It was such great experience and when it happened, a couple months after we wrapped, we were all kind of shocked. That’s what you don’t get a lot about in the story — the fact that he put together months of sobriety, he was working hard and he was sober. We all just urged him to hang on. Can you imagine if he would’ve seen the fruits of his labor? He’s getting so many accolades right now, you know? But he clearly relapsed and this relapse was one which he couldn’t come back from.

GALO: Another big notion surrounding the film is that people are calling it a comeback for Nicolas Cage. Some are going so far as to say this is one of the best performances of his career. I’d like to know your thoughts on whether you agree with this or not.

RGB: I think it’s definitely one of his top five roles ever. Maybe even top three. There’s so much subjectivity to it. I think it’s one of his greatest roles. I’m the guy that loves wild Nicolas Cage. I love him in Matchstick Men; I love him in Bad Lieutenant. That’s the kind of Nicolas that I get off on. So, acting in such a contained version of himself was really incredible. It was really something to see. Really what’s at the core of what makes Nicolas Cage tick is the fact that he’s a wonderfully talented actor and an incredibly sweet man. He has probably the biggest heart I’ve ever seen in anybody. That’s one thing I didn’t quite anticipate, which is incredible to see. Even now, I could qualify him as a friend. You don’t always get that experience.

GALO: Just from the way it was filmed, I feel like people can tell everyone was in close quarters, and that all the actors got to know each other a little bit better.

RGB: Absolutely. And, you know, there was this little dynamic between Nicolas and me. We weren’t as chummy on set but when we went to Italy for the world premiere in Venice, we really hit it off and got to know each other.

GALO: You’re currently shooting a lead role in the upcoming horror-thriller film Crawlspace. Could you tell me about the role you play and what the film is about?

RGB: Crawlspace is a story about a family that moves into a suburb in California. Ultimately, weird stuff starts happening in their house. Is it supernatural in nature or not? As things start to happen — I’m the next-door neighbor who befriends the family — you quickly start to wonder if I’m the weirdness behind the weird.

GALO: Your early acting career involved many single or two-episode guest spots on some of my favorite shows — Justified, Sons of Anarchy, True Blood. What was the most memorable guest role you had during those early years as an actor?

RGB: Let’s see, I know there have been some good ones. I really loved True Blood a lot. Just because it was such a hot show and it was a show I would watch every week. When you do a show that you watch all the time, that makes it mean more. True Blood is definitely up there. I’m sure there were others. Different ones mean different things for different reasons.

“Joe” is currently playing in theaters nationwide and is available via VOD and iTunes. The film is set to be released on DVD and Blu-ray on June 17, 2014.

Video Courtesy of RoadsideFlix.