Voight embraces physical challenge of ‘Secrets’

After more than four prolific decades in the film industry and starring turns in franchise-spawning blockbusters such as “Mission: Impossible” and “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” Jon Voight must be familiar with every challenge facing a veteran actor, right?

Not exactly.

“I’d never done a sequel before, and I didn’t think ‘National Treasure’ would inspire one,” he admits. “But my reaction to the idea was pure delight, to be honest. It seemed proper. I loved working with the director Jon Turteltaub and Nic Cage, and the idea of mining all these unusual areas of American history and building puzzles around them sounded intriguing and fun. And it turned out to be so.”

At 68, the “National Treasure: Book of Secrets” star — a four-time Oscar nominee who won Best Actor for his portrayal of a paraplegic war veteran in 1978’s “Coming Home” — is hardly ready to slow down, much less question the judgment of producer and longtime friend Jerry Bruckheimer.

Bruckheimer, of course, is the Midas-like architect of the “CSI” television empire and at least one franchise — Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” — that has earned more than $1 billion in U.S. theaters alone. Could “National Treasure,” which follows the ongoing adventures of Benjamin Franklin Gates, a fearless artifact hunter, and Patrick, his excitable father, be next?

“I hope so,” Voight says. “If there is an audience for it, Jerry will find it. I’m ready for a third film if and when I get the call, because there is so much more history that we could explore.”

Voight, who worked with Bruckheimer on “Enemy of the State” and “Pearl Harbor,” describes him as both down-to-earth and brilliant. He says, “The thing about him is that he comes up with these great ideas, and once he’s inspired, he maintains a hands-on role every step of the way, without being controlling. … It’s a great mix.”

While Voight is more than willing to take the call whenever Bruckheimer comes up with his next idea, he’s delighted with his expanded role in “Book of Secrets,” which follows the Gates family’s obsessive search for the missing pages of John Wilkes Booth’s diary.

Voight calls it one of his most physically demanding roles in years, a challenge he eagerly embraced, particularly because his costar is Helen Mirren.

“I told her to get ready for some fun,” he says. “We’re not usually asked to do action pieces, but making ‘Book of Secrets’ was like being kids again, and I don’t think anyone appreciated that more than Helen. She likes to get down and dirty — she’s not a prima donna in any sense — and when she’s playing Queen Elizabeth she wears all these stuffy, uncomfortable costumes. This was a welcome change of pace, I think.”

Whether or not “Book of Secrets” inspires a second sequel, Voight remains grateful that he continues to be given the chance to act — as his overflowing résumé suggests. It is a lifelong passion that drives him without consuming him.

“I love the work,” he says. “I love solving characters and taking them on their journey. If that ever changes, I’ll take a break — but certainly not now.”

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