Bruce Boxleitner: The title star of ‘Tron’ films on his digital past and future

April 06, 2011 | 6:01 p.m.
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'Tron: Legacy' DVD cover (Disney)

On Tuesday, the original 1982 “Tron” movie and its 2010 sequel “Tron: Legacy” made their Blu-ray debuts. Jay West, a true scholar and world-class collectorwhen it comes to the “Tron” universe has been doing some guest pieces for Hero Complex over the past year and the latest is this interview with actor Bruce Boxleitner, who plays the title role in both “Tron” films as well as Alan Bradley.

JW: Your character of Tron, a.k.a. Alan Bradley, is perhaps one of the most iconic and well-known characters in sci-fi movie history. What are some of the reactions and feedback that you get from fans when they talk to you at sci-fi conventions?

BB: I’m glad you brought that up because I do a lot of conventions. I was just recently up in Seattle at the Emerald City Comic-Con, with William Shatner and Jonathan Frakes and the “Star Trek” guys — and I tell you what — I brought a lot of pictures with me from the original “Tron” movie (to sign for fans) because I didn’t really have anything new from “Tron: Legacy.” There were many fans that came up with “Tron: Legacy” pictures, too — and all of the “Tron” pictures sold really well. Even though I did Babylon 5 — and I have many fans who talk to me about that, and I’ve done other science fiction things also — “Tron” has seemed to resonate more strongly only because I think very few science fiction movies predict a world that we’re actually seeing or living in an age of information. I think that’s what was wonderful about “Tron: Legacy” — that it kind of picked that up again and showed it.

JW: I recently attended a sold-out screening of the original “Tron” movie at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica — they showed it in 70 millimeter — and it looked and sounded great. Steven Lisberger was there, along with his visual effects team, and they chatted about the making of the film afterward. It was interesting to see that over half of the audience hadn’t seen the movie when asked by a raising of hands at one point — and all reacted very enthusiastically with hoops, hollers, and applause when watching it. There’ll be many who will now be watching “Tron” & “Tron: Legacy” for the very first time with these new Blu-Ray and DVD releases — what do you hope that these people discover or take away with them when watching these films?

BB: Well, I think very simply — the wonderful magic of movie making. I’m still a fan, and always will be a fan of it. Doing “Tron: Legacy” was so different… my little bit of it was so different than what I’d done in the original movie. We have leapt forward in technology and motion capture — and I know that’s very controversial with some actors. They come out against it saying it’s not really acting. I just look at it as sort of a new kind of makeup — it’s kind of another trick in our acting bag. I think what people will walk away with when they see these two movies is how far we have come [in technology]. The first one is a very simple story set in a very elaborate new world — I don’t think anybody has really come near it since “Tron: Legacy.” The kids that were putting quarters into the arcade machines back in the ’80s “got” the original “Tron” movie — I just don’t think that the Hollywood establishment got it. Those kids have now “made” “Tron: Legacy” — I don’t know how many movies get a sequel 28 years later…

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"Tron: The Original Classic - Special Edition" (Disney)

JW: Right — “Legacy” set a precedent in the time between a sequel and its original film.

BB: It is one. I think “Wall Street” may have been close — it was ’80 something, wasn’t it?

JW: Yes, “Wall Street” was in ’87 — and its sequel was last year — so a bit of a shorter time span between those films.

BB: Yeah — I don’t recall one otherwise, other than there being many remakes of films of the ’80s. The original “Tron” had incredible visuals by Syd Mead, Moebius, and other artists. They were very different. I don’t think anything in science fiction looks like it — and then when you come to “Tron: Legacy,” you see some of those same iconic images — the recognizers, the I/O Tower, Tron City — but now it’s very much sort of a ruthless, amped-up, but dark place — and it kind of reflects our world today. I think it’s a darker place than it was back then — that’s just the passage of time. There’s a certain innocence in the original “Tron” movie too that I enjoy. Kind of timeless…

JW: In terms of acting, how did you first approach your character of Tron in the original film?

BB: I had no idea at first. Back then, I was doing westerns on TV and about to start “Scarecrow and Mrs. King” about a year and a half later. I remember some reviewer said I played it like Buster Crabbe in “Flash Gordon.” Well, that’s not so off (laughs). “Flash Gordon” was a cool character.

JW: Absolutely — another iconic sci-fi character and hero.

BB: I didn’t know how to relate to Tron at first, and I played a very sort of innocent type of (program) guy. Flynn was this human, “The User” — and there was this scene where they were on the solar sailor and he’s sort of looking at Yori and she’s looking at him and I kind of stepped in between them like we were out in a school yard — like: “Don’t, don’t look at my girlfriend like that.”

JW: I know the scene you’re talking about very well (laughs).


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Tron in "Tron" and "Tron: Legacy." (Disney)

BB: I was playing kind of a very innocent character compared to this worldly user who’s been out there. We were just having a ball — wearing our spandex tights and our hockey helmets and our rubber gauntlets and knee-high boots and dance belts… that’s what Jeff [Bridges] and I used to kid each other about, our dance belts! We’re the first guys on film I think to wear a male thong (laughs) — nobody saw it though!

JW: Another precedent, right? Another landmark right there.

BB: (laughs) A landmark right there.

JW: Regarding the promotion of “Tron: Legacy” — it’s fascinating how nuanced and layered the entire “Flynn Lives” ARG has been — and you’ve been very involved in it playing your character of Alan Bradley. Now in the bonus feature: “The Next Day: Flynn Lives Revealed” on the “Tron: Legacy” Blu-Ray — you appear again as Alan Bradley in a 10-minute, epilogue type of film to “Tron: Legacy” — which many fans on the web consider in essence to be an extended teaser trailer for a “Tron 3” movie. In this film, you’re reunited with actor Dan Shor, who’d been known as the “popcorn guy” in the original “Tron” movie’s real-world portion — but definitely known more so by many fans of the movie as RAM — his digital program counterpart. What was it like working with Dan again, and when was that sequence shot?

BB: You know your “Tron”…

JW: Yes I do! [laughs].

BB: Well, I hadn’t seen Dan since we both attended the Aero Theatre’s screening of “Tron” in 2007. Dan had come out from New York for it, that’s where he lives — and before then, I hadn’t seen him since we worked together on “Tron,” so it was a thrill for that. I just love this out of-the-box thinking that they’ve been doing — the people associated with all this (“Flynn Lives” promotion).

JW: Yes, it’s very creative.

BB: Yes it is. I did an interview as Alan Bradley. I wish I’d had a little more lead time because I had to do a lot of cards beside the camera since I had a lot of technical stuff to talk about — it was for a gamers network which I’d never heard of — and I asked my sons about it and they knew all about it. After we finished filming “Tron: Legacy” — I came back months later and I’m still shooting the movie! It was like a part of a plot that was dropped — you know what I’m saying? The plot — the “Flynn Lives” events. We did this big thing that was very exciting — an online, live event at Wonder Con in San Francisco.

JW: That was great — I was there on the front row for it.

BB: I want to tell you something, Jay — it all went wrong!

JW: There were some issues that came up with the timing of the helicopter right?

BB: Yes — but you know what, that’s what kind of made it exciting. I’m up there on stage with the presidential teleprompters — and I remember the wind is blowing, with some rain coming down — and I never had one rehearsal, not one — with everything that was supposed to work, and especially let alone a helicopter with a guy skydiving out of it. Just minutes before it all started we were up in the hotel room, all of us crammed in this one room: Eddy Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (“Tron: Legacy” writers), Joe Kosinski and Sean Bailey (“Tron: Legacy” producer & Disney’s president of production) — and it was kind of this ‘OK, we’re gonna wing it, we’re going out there, let’s see what happens…’ — and it was very thrilling. It was as live of an event as I’ve ever done — and of course, when it got to the point in the speech when I was talking to the audience — the teleprompter then displayed “Alan hears a helicopter.” Well, I didn’t hear a helicopter.

JW: (laughs) And I remember you saying: “… and I knew this was going to happen” at that point.

BB: (laughs) I know. I thought it had all fallen apart but it, we just sort of kept going with it, then the helicopter does show up. They’d been grounded temporarily over in Oakland across the Bay, and then they took off. They’d finally got the clearance after waiting for the winds to subside, but then the winds picked back up, and then the sky diver (portraying Garrett Hedlund‘s character of Sam Flynn) wasn’t supposed to jump, and he jumps anyway — and takes out two police barriers when he hit the ground! But it all worked out because they’d already filmed Garrett’s side. This was supposed to be one of Sam Flynn’s “annual pranks” on Encom (the fictional computer software company in the “Tron” movies).

JW: Right.


both ages of alan bradley character in tron movies Bruce Boxleitner: The title star of Tron films on his digital past and future

Bruce Boxleitner as Alan Bradley in 'Tron" and "Tron: Legacy." (Disney)

BB: And I’m introducing the “Space Paranoids” game, and it was just exciting, Jay — because nothing went right, yet it all worked out. My wife was watching it happen — when it went viral (on the Web) right away. The viewership was going up, up, up — what an ingenious way to do promotion, you know.

JW: Absolutely.

BB: Using the very technology that the original “Tron” film helped promote and predicted, it’s amazing — and the fans have been great. Like I said, I do a lot of conventions, for 20-some years now — from the mid-’90s. I was promoting “Babylon 5” a lot at that time because that’s when I was doing the series — but I signed more “Tron” things then: VHS boxes, music covers, cards, posters, original posters — and I still do. It’s the majority of the things that I sign or that people come up and want to talk about. They love it. There’s a hard-core bunch of fans and I hope they stay with us.

JW: I think so. I think the stamina level’s pretty high!

BB: Yeah — I know… we weren’t “Harry Potter,” but my God — we were “Tron” — that’s all there is to it. And I thought my buddy Jeff was just brilliant. I also had the personal pleasure of being hired to screen test all the young actors and actresses months before we started shooting “Tron: Legacy”, which I thought was probably my screen test too, by the way. I was very happy to say that I thought Garrett and Olivia (Hedlund and Wilde – who play Sam Flynn and Quorra in “Tron: Legacy”) were the best of all of them — and we met with a lot of kids — a lot of name people too. I thought they were just wonderful.

JW: Well, that’s great. Bruce, I appreciate your time today — I’ve seen the Blu-Rays and they look fantastic — and “Tron” looks like it was shot yesterday. It looks great.

BB: Isn’t that amazing? That’s absolutely amazing. Wow. It’s almost 30 years ago in my life.

— Jay West


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3 Responses to Bruce Boxleitner: The title star of ‘Tron’ films on his digital past and future

  1. James says:

    Awesome interview! I had heard that there was an issue with the helicopter at that Flynn Lives event, but I had no idea that Bruce did it without the benefit of rehearsing, or that he ended up having to improvise. I've got to go back and look at that video again.

  2. Relznir201 says:

    Flynn/TRON lives!!!! Down with Dillinger!!! Please bring on TRON 3, BTW—Which series of Legacy DVDs has the "Quorra interview"????
    MACOnx01(youtube handle)

  3. christine says:

    Very exciting, can't wait to see more!!

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