We interview Vince Vaughn & Don Johnson for Brawl in Cell Block 99

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

At TIFF, one of the movies I was most keen to see was BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 (review HERE), for many reasons, one of which was that I loved director S. Craig Zahler’s last film, BONE TOMAHAWK, but also because one of my childhood heroes, Don Johnson, has a starring role. You can read my review here, but suffice to say I loved it, and when I was offered the opportunity to sit down with Johnson, as well as star Vince Vaughn, I just couldn’t say no. They were extremely generous with their time. Here’s our interview: 

CB I really loved the movie, I saw it last night at Midnight Madness. And I wanted to know, did you guys actually watch the movie with the audience and what your reaction was?

Don Johnson: Yeah, I wasn’t going to. I was gonna sit there and wait until after Vince beats up the car. Happen to love that whole section in there, and then I was going to leave. And I got captivated by Vince’s performance 

CB: Oh he’s great. But so are you though

DJ: Oh thank you

Vince Vaughn: He’s awesome. I love, just saying what I think my favourite line is- he’s got so many but my favourite- line he says is when he talks contents of this room (the glass covered cell Vaughn winds up imprisoned in) because It’s such a crazy point of view, just so dismissive of those guys , but he really’s got it dialed in. And then like you see the reveal like the room has some seriously crazy dark suggestive stuff. Like what is he into?

CB: He’s a sadist!

VV: But he’s so comfortable with his point of view. He calls people’s names so casually, he tells people how to handle his business. He does things direct. And he kinda does have it figured out. He’s a very formidable guy. But I love his, I love the combination of confidence and charisma with just a crazy perspective that’s so kind of unbending

CB: Did you find your character a sadist? Like would you call him a sadist?

DJ: No no, he’s an efficient executioner of his duties.

CB: Yes

DJ: And, arguably with the toughest people on the planet…he’s learned how to adapt to, okay this button gets pushed, I push this button. This happens, I do this.

VV: That’s what makes it uncomfortable. That’s what makes him uncomfortable. Because he’s kind of easy, like he’s very scientific about it

CB: That’s what makes it scarier

VV: It’s so crazy, oh beware of the broken glass.

DJ: *laughs*

VV: It’s like a polite suggestion.

DJ: Be mindful

VV: yeah be mindful of consciousness

CB: Minimum freedom

VV: Transmeditation

DJ: Be mindful of your meditation of the broken glass

CB: I like that line too, “minimum freedom”

DJ: Minimum freedom

CB: One of the things I really liked about the movie is that you both had this real kind of physical signature about yourselves. Vince you had that crazy cross. I’m a bald guy too, I was thinking maybe I should get something like that. Not by choice though. But then you had the crazy mustache and the leather gloves. The driving gloves and like the cigarillo. I like that, so what kind of went into that? Was it all in the script or was that something you guys had a piece of?

DJ: I think a lot of that was Zahler

CB: He’s a great writer

DJ: I think that when I started putting things together, when I got the idea of what Zahler had in mind then I started to accessorize and sort of personalize it. I always, from the moment I read the script I always saw that mustache.

CB: Yeah. And it was cool, it was so neat and well groomed

DJ: It’s a corrections officer’s

VV: My cross was in the script. For me it was more I knew I had to physically really be prepared to play that character. So really had to get in to the right kind of shape

CB: Not Hollywood shape, real shape. That’s what I liked about it.

VV: Yeah. He’s strong and I got strong, but I’m also a truck driver, right? So I had to kind of not be so big

CB: So that you could move in a small place

VV: And I had to box a lot so that I could be fluid. So I had to really physically be ready. Because we had 25 days

CB: That was it?

VV: So we had really long fight scenes, so it’s like a choreographed thing. And we did them for real so they were kind of dangerous in some ways because you had to make it look real so you had to commit to it. So I just had to really be fluid and able and comfortable with that. Because there was a lot of movements within the course of it

CB: Did you have it painted on every day?

VV: Yeah, every day

CB: Oh man

DJ: Oh, he’s still got it under there

CB: Nice. Oh wow

VV: I thought Carpenter was tremendous, Jennifer

DJ: She is great

VV: She seems really demanding with her whole extreme, and she’s so believable and emotionally truthful in those scenes which is really tremendous

CB: I like all of the cast. I mean, I thought you guys were all great. Mustafa Shakir too I thought was great. I saw him on The Deuce, and he was really cool in that fight scene that you have with him. That was pretty crazy.

DJ: Who’s that?

VV: He’s the guard that wants to put me in the boxing program

CB: Yeah he’s a nice guy

VV: All of this is very interesting. Normally one would make the character do something too far so that when you broke the studio note, right? He would go too far so that when you broke his arm he deserves it. Zahler has him pushing me, but at the moment where I have no choice but to make a decision. He actually shows a human, kind side.

CB: Yeah he’s not so bad

VV: He says I’m sorry you having a terrible time, I’m only pushing you for the boxing program because I think it’ll be good for you. And it’s at that moment when he actually shows some humanity we fight.

DJ: Yeah

VV: I think it illustrates that he’s doing it because he has no choice but to try to get to that prison. But it is an odd thing. The other thing he does, to me it’s a morality tale once the die is cast.

CB: It is

VV: But I make the decision to sell, I’m living a better life with my family and what does Zahler do? He has me notice someone who is suffering from the effects of what I’m selling. I’m stuck at a red light and there’s this guy who’s really strung out and suffering. So it’s a second beat of me going, this is what I’m doing. This is what I’m causing. And yet I keep going. So normally you would say let’s hide it. The protagonist made his decision let’s root for him. But he makes you accountable as a character and as an audience. Which I find to be non-traditional

CB: I think that makes it honest

DJ: Well that’s the other thing that makes the movie. When you talk about supporting the characters with just layers and layers of foundation of why they do certain things and what makes them behave. There are choices that Bradley makes in the picture that you sit there for a moment and go, why is he doing that? He could maybe cut a deal with this guy or something like that. And then you realize that he is on an inexorable stream. And it’s fueled by principle and his own sense of morality. His own sense of duty. And he’s on a stream into the future.

CB: And it can’t stop. t would be much easier on you if you were not as-

DJ: And it can’t stop because of his principles, his morality, his belief system, his journey. The die is cast for Bradley Thomas. And you’re watching this string being pulled into the future. It’s fantastic

CB: Don, I didn’t see you as a bad guy for some reason. I kind of want to see a follow up. You know I thought when I was watching you in the movie, Mr. Johnson, I thought you were like Lee Marvin a little bit.

DJ: *laughs* that’s a great comparison

CB: Especially the part when, the best part for me for your character is when he’s fighting and suddenly you see the gun behind his head and it’s just you very calmly standing there like you’re going to blow his brains out if he doesn’t calm down. I though that that’s like a Lee Marvin moment, you know?

DJ: That is *laughs* I’d never thought of that! But I’ll take the compliment, I liked Lee

CB: I’ve got to say I’m a huge fan of yours and I really like the way you’ve kind of turned in to this amazing character actor as things go on. You have a knack for creating iconic characters. I love Cold in July. I really loved a movie you did called Alex of Venice

DJ: Oh thank you

CB: Which I thought was fantastic. Have you seen that one? He’s great

VV: I haven’t seen that one, no

CB: Oh he’s got dimension, you’re fantastic in the film

DJ: Yeah, about the early-onset Alzheimer’s. That was a very difficult part to prepare for. But thank you very much.

CB: Anyway, you guys are great together, but I have to say I found it kind of new facets for both of you in this movie. You guys are totally versatile but I guess you get cast in a certain mold at certain points.

DJ: That’s what I love about what’s happening with Vince. You know it’s hard in our world to change the way, because people you know, they market movies. And their inability to let their imaginations go- well why not Vince Vaughn in a very serious kick-ass movie

CB: And he’s great

DJ: There’s not a studio in Los Angeles that would have made this movie and thought of Vince Vaughn for that part. After you see Vince in the part you go, I can’t think of anyone else to play that part

CB: Well that makes it impactful, I think. I was reading something-

DJ: That’s a great performance, when you can’t think of anyone else

VV: Well I appreciate that. And I think you’re right, we kind of get rewarded for something going well and then it’s a transition to try to find your way out of that. And you’re grateful for those opportunities and for Zahler- what I love most about Craig is-

CB: He’s amazing by the way. Bone Tomahawk was a great movie too

VV: Loved it. I’ve said this a few times but I think people really work from a place of fear. What’s going to sell. What the marketing first. What’s this first. And there’s all these false givens that they think they know. You look at these IPs, everything’s an IP. But there’s been some big name IPs that haven’t necessarily worked. It’s not a proven science. But I like that about Zahler; he writes what he wants to write and tells what story he wants to tell. It’s a combination of things that most folks wouldn’t put together. And yet it’s kind of beautiful and spectacular because it’s hitting me in ways I’m not used to. They rhythms are different, the extremes are different, the choices are different. And so I think it’s so fun to be a part of this guy’s storytelling.

CB: Well watching you in a role like that I think is really exciting because it’s one of those things, like I was reading about the original Death Wish and they wanted Jack Lemmon. Like how would that have been, you know? It would have been insane. And I think that’s what was great, is that it’s much cooler to see you in this part than Vin Diesel. Because I don’t expect, you know, you to be playing this part. And suddenly you’re seeing a guy really stretching himself and pushing himself. And the same thing for you. It’s just because I see you as this heroic kind of character, right? Like I think that I still think of the parts that I grew up watching you in, you know? I think that makes is more exciting though. Because I don’t know where you guys are going to go next with the part. It’s really unpredictable. Do you find though, the whole point of movies being made like this, you were saying that everything is based on finance. Do you find that a kind of depressing turn of the business? I mean I love this movie, and I would love if it went 3,000 screens because I think that’s how it should be seen, in a theatre.

VV: I agree. And I think audiences would go

CB: Well JoBlo, the site I work for, I guarantee you everybody on the site is going to be seeing this movie and talking about this movie. We have our own awards ceremony and it’s going to win all of them

VV: And it’s a fun audience, like this is meant to be seen in a crowd. I think that people are underestimated. If you see what’s going on with some television people are binge watching so they’re intrigued, they’re watching 8 hours. They’re living with characters, they’re enjoying it. And this movie makes you earn it in a great way. Spending time with these people you’re learning them through their behaviour and not just the dialogue and the pacing. And I think that fans are supportive of it. So here’s what I say: the pendulum always swings too far in one direction. This movie is a good sign of something that’s not in beat with what’s being told you have to be. It’s its own animal and I think people are saying ‘nutrition is good, we like this and we’re enjoying it’. For me starting off with Swingers we made, you know we were passionate about that movie and we made that in 21 days. I feel like this is Craig’s moment of doing those things so I’m excited in a way to be going through that experience with him. Because he’s kind of saying ‘no’. I remember we did like, ‘no it’s going to be swing music’. Like all the stuff that they said there’s no way that’s going to sell. We’re not trying to sell, I’m just trying to tell an authentic story. And I think it’s Craig’s moment of doing these types of things and it’s exciting for me to be a part of it. He’s signing his painting and he’s doing stuff that he believes in.

CB: Well it’s exciting for us to watch it too I think.

DJ: Back to the point you were making before is that what’s coming out of the studios, and what’s coming out of the people that control the 3,000 screens are derivatives.

CB: Oh I agree 100%

DJ: And you can see it in the total box office, the percentage of the drop-off

CB: Every year

DJ: Every year, and it’s because the people that are not Craig Zahler and who are not creative artists are in charge of the business. What they do is, and you here it on every notes call you ever get on, every note is a derivative of something they’ve already seen.

CB: I hate to think though, of somebody like him getting notes from a studio though. Like what do they know? I fell like he’s-

DJ: Let me assuage you on this: he will not take notes

CB: Good, because I would hate like someone to think ‘do it this way’. No I want to see the way he’s going to do it himself though.

DJ: Exactly

CB: I thought it was short when I was watching it though. I didn’t realize it was over 2 hours, I walked out and thought that wasn’t very long

VV: You know that he wrote all of the songs that you heard

CB: I know and what the OJays and stuff did, that was crazy.

DJ: Isn’t that amazing?

CB: Yeah and they sounded great too

DJ: I’ll tell you what, there’s a music cue about 2/3rds of the way in that’s like that weird organ music

CB: Yeah when you show up at the prison and it’s your introduction; it’s great

DJ: Yeah and it’s like weird sort of organ music and when I heard that I said, that’s Zahler. Nobody else could write that. You know he plays drums?

CB: He’s a talented guy

DJ: He was in a band

VV: He’s in a Death Metal band that does pretty well. He’s an author, cinematographer

CB: Can I ask you guys, are you both involved in his next movie? Because I’ve seen things, yeah you are right? I’ve seen a list on IMDB that yes you were in it and other places no. So you guys are both doing Dragged Across Concrete

VV: And so is Jen Carpenter

CB: I mean I cannot wait to see that

DJ: We’re kind of Zahler’s company players

CB: I hope so, you guys are amazing. You know I want to see a spin off of your character

DJ: You know the funny thing is, is that every time I finish working with him, I just went up and did one scene with Mel and Vince in drag-

CB: In drag?!

DJ: In Dragged Across Concrete

CB: Oh I thought you said ‘in drag’ *laughs*

DJ: *laughs* well it could happen, but-

CB: Stretching things a little too far?

DJ: But anyway, then as I finish he hands me a book and he says ‘Here, can you do an Irish accent?’ He says ‘here read this, we’re going to make this’

CB: Wow, oh my god. So can I ask you guys something? The audience at JoBlo would be really interested to hear this: what kind of stuff do you guys like, what kind of stuff do you guys watch? Do you watch movies? Like do you like movies generally or do you watch shows? Is there anything you guys keep current with?

VV: What’s interesting for me is that my favourite thing that’s come out has been Bone Tomahawk. So it’s amazing when this all kinda came together because I remember seeing that and you know I got the script for this. And my agents were like ‘I don’t know, this is kind of a violent movie. I don’t know if it’s something we’ll end up doing’. And I was like, this thing’s cool. And Bone Tomahawk to me was just like, again very different.

CB: How about you?

DJ: Honestly? And maybe this is just a sign of being around for the decades that I’ve been around, but when I see something usual- and I don’t go to see movies that are marketed to me

CB: Yeah, of course. And I get that

DJ: Because I already know what that movie’s about. And so it’s a commitment to go to a theater

CB: Especially when you have a family and stuff

DJ: Yeah, and I love the experience of being in the theater and sharing the experience with others. If I know what the movie is going to be before I go there it takes some of the joy out of it for me. So a lot of times what I’ll do is I’ll pick a movie that I know nothing about and I’ll go and see the movie. I won’t read the board out front or anything because for me seeing it fresh and just seeing it raw without any marketing, without any publicity is far more enjoyable than being told what I’m supposed to feel and expect.

CB: I agree with you

VV: That’s what’s fun about the teaser for this

DJ: Yeah

CB: Great teaser

VV: Great, because you don’t really know too much plot

CB: That’s how it should be. Well hey, thanks a lot guys

BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99 hits theaters on September 23rd

Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.