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Johnathon Schaech has been preparing to take on the role of Jonah Hex on Legends of Tomorrow for almost his entire life.
“I remember that first take when he just came alive, and I became a little seven-year-old boy again,” Schaech tells The Hollywood Reporter. “That’s when I read my first Jonah Hex comic books. That was the most exciting thing. Here I am, I’ve been an actor for 25 years, and now I get to play something that I grew up on.”
While there have been many different incarnations of DC Comics’ infamous Western antihero, Schaech was at first only familiar with earlier versions.
“Here’s the truth: I knew the old Jonah Hex,” Schaech says. “He’s had many lives afterwards, I’ve learned. I started reading all of them again and it’s crazy that this character can stay true in so many different areas. He’s a time traveler, he’s a bounty hunter, he’s a bounty hunter while he time-travels, he interacts with some of the greatest DC characters we know. He’s come across Superman, Batman. The comic books I read were when he was just in the Western world. There were no other outside elements. He was an antihero and if you looked at it a certain way he always seemed like the bad guy, but he was actually the good guy.”
But when it came to bringing Jonah Hex to life on The CW’s time-traveling superhero series, it was one thing to act as Jonah and another to look like him, massive facial scar and all.
“It was a long journey discovering what our Jonah Hex was going to look like,” Schaech says. “It ended up so beautifully done. And then every day, I had to sit through two hours of prosthetic makeup before anyone else got to set. I can’t wait to see how it all turned out and how it comes across. We took our time every day to make sure we got it right.”
Schaech spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about what this version of Jonah Hex is going to look like, if he’ll be a hero or villain on the show and more.
Before shooting began, what kind of conversations did you have with the producers to discuss how you were going to play Jonah Hex?
I work best with a collaborative process, and that goes all the way back to my first experiences acting back in my Tom Hanks days, creating Jimmy Mattingly of the Wonders [in That Thing You Do!]. Always asking questions, working with everyone around you. I knew the Jonah Hex of old, so are we going to add in a Confederate hat or is that too scary nowadays? But we stayed true to the comic, and he has a great wit and humor and sass that I read throughout the comics. He is just sassy, which is the word that [showrunner] Marc [Guggenheim] used. He just has this presence and he lets these guys get to the point of getting their hand caught in a mouse trap and then he pulls them out just in time. He’s kind of like my father. (Laughs.)
In the comics, Jonah Hex is famous for being an antihero. Most of the time he lives by his own moral code, but in two famous comic books, he actually killed both Superman and Batman. So will your version veer more towards being a hero or a villain?
You know, when he killed Batman and Superman, he thought he was doing the right thing. Most villains think they’re doing the right thing, and so it’s easy to be called a villain. And when you are so in love with characters like Superman or Batman, you always thing that anyone going against them is a bad guy. It’s not necessarily true. Both Superman and Batman have gone to the dark side. But he is the only one to have ever killed both of them!
That does make him the most formidable character in the DC Comics world.
I know! Make sure everyone knows that. (Laughs.) I don’t want to say that because I feel like I’m not humble. But come on, he killed Superman and Batman! That’s a big deal. He figured out how to put [Kryptonite] inside bullets. He’s very smart, Jonah Hex. He’s clever, like a MacGyver. But he always does the right thing, whether you agree with him or not.
In the comics, Jonah is shaped by his past abuse at the hands of his father. Are we going to see any flashbacks to his dark past on Legends, or will he have a different origin story?
You know what? Right now we don’t go into his origin. But for me, when I played him, I had all that wisdom and all that pain inside of him. I didn’t get to play him as a boy, but I did play him as a grizzled older man, and that’s where he came from. He has this brutal past, but he rose above all of it. He’s died many times and risen back up. He’s almost immortal.
Jonah doesn’t have any supernatural abilities in the comics, but the live-action movie starring Josh Brolin gave Jonah the ability to raise the dead. Will you have any special powers or abilities on Legends, or will Jonah just be a talented gunslinger?
I can’t speak for what they’re going to do. I can only say what they did for this episode. He doesn’t have any special powers. But being raised by Apaches, he definitely has the connection to the spirit. He has a greater understanding of the universe and how it all plays out. It’s not like he sits there and meditates but he understands that life is meant to be lived and you go through the things you go through for a purpose.
As of now, you’re only scheduled for this one episode, but are you interested in returning next season? If so, would you be interested in joining the team as a series regular?
That is something I would absolutely adore. I would love to keep exploring Jonah Hex with the other characters. The way they presented him in this episode, he has a relationship with each one of them. It was fantastic. He had a deal with every one of them in one way or another. And he’s just so unique and clearly identifiable as Jonah Hex, not just in his look but also in his attitude.
Legends of Tomorrow airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.
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