IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Neal McDonough talks 'Captain America: The First Avenger' and More

Tuesday, 25 October 2011 15:16 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Neal McDonough talks 'Captain America: The First Avenger' and More

Actor Neal McDonough is absolutely no stranger to playing a superhero. The actor’s first comic book connection came in the mid-‘90s when he voiced the Marvel villain Firebrand on the Iron Man cartoon. This eventually led to a larger Marvel role as the voice of Dr. Bruce Banner on The Incredible Hulk cartoon series in 1996. McDonough jumped the Marvel ship in 2010 and went over to the other side with his brilliant portrayal of DC Comics’ emerald archer, in the short film DC Showcase: Green Arrow. But the actor has now comeback to the “House of Ideas” for his first ever live-action role as a comic book hero in Captain America: The First Avenger, which is available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning October 25th.

In the film, McDonough plays the beloved Marvel character Dum Dum Dugan who was a valuable member of the Howling Commandoes, an elite group of soldiers who aided Captain America in his fight against Hitler, the Nazis, HDYRA and the Red Skull during World War II. Dugan is a former circus strongman, and best recognized by comic book fans for his trademark bowler hat and handlebar mustache. When Captain America (Chris Evans) must recruit a team of soldier’s to help him defeat the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) he chooses the Howling Commandoes, which consists of Dugan, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), Gabe Jones (Derek Luke), Jim Morita (Kenneth Choi), James “Union Jack” Montgomery (J.J. Feild), and Jacques Dernier (Bruno Ricci). Under Captain America’s leadership they are able to defeat their enemies together and bring an end to WWII.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with actor Neal McDonough about his work on Captain America: The First Avenger, as well as a few of his other projects. In part two of our conversation, McDonough discusses the research he did in order to play Dum Dum Dugan, growing the character’s signature mustache, shooting his favorite sequence in the film, bonding on location with his fellow actors, and returning to the role for Cap 2, Nick Fury, and beyond.

Here is what he had to say:

To begin with, I know that you were probably familiar with the Marvel Universe from your role as Dr. Bruce Banner on The Incredible Hulk cartoon series in the late ‘90s, but what kind of comic book research did you have to do on Dum Dum Dugan and the Howling Commandoes in order to play the character in Captain America: The First Avenger?

Neal McDonough: I didn’t really know much. I knew obviously the Hulk Universe and Iron Man from doing some of the cartoon voices back in the ‘90s for that. To be quite honest I didn't know anything about Dum Dum when I started. I knew a little about Captain America, but it wasn’t a ton either. But boy did I immerse myself. My dear friend Dave Scott, who has pretty much every comic book known to man, came over and lent me all this amazing stuff so I immersed myself as much as humanly possible. I learned quite a bit. The more and more I learned the more and more I realized, okay, this guy's quite a bit like myself. You know, a guy from Boston and of Irish descent. Just big and burly, yet a beer drinking kind of fun loving guy, but very protective of the people that he loves. With Dum Dum he’s very protective of America and his commandoes. Making sure the right thing is done correctly. It was a blast to play him and I still look forward to Cap 2, Nick Fury or any other films in the future

Were Dum Dum’s trademark bowler hat and mustache specifically written in the original script or are those elements of the character that you picked up on from the comics and then added for the film?

McDonough: The bowler hat, that's just Dum Dum's. The mustache, I grew that for six months so that was part of it. I gained a bunch of weight by lifting weights as much as I possibly could and eating. I was stuffing myself with food so I would look like a behemoth on screen, which is because Dum Dum's a big dude. I had a ball living in London for four months. I had Ruve (his wife) and the kids there and it was great.

There’s a great sequence in the movie where Captain America sneaks into the enemy camp, rescues the Howling Commandoes, fights HYDRA and then meets the Red Skull for the first time. Afterwards, there is an amazing shot that really excited fan-boys where Steve Rogers and the rest of the Commandoes are marching back to base-camp after they’ve been presumed dead. Can you talk about shooting those scenes and director Joe Johnston’s vision for that sequence of the film?

McDonough: Do you mean the moment when Cap saved us while we were locked up? Yeah, that scene was pretty amazing. They actually devised this old water station and the boys did an incredible amount of work in this place. We shot it in Wales actually, and turned it into this prison that was really incredible. I mean what they did for that area in Wales was amazing. Then after we were finished with that, of course the pyrotechnics crew blew the snot out of it and crushed that thing. It was awesome! But it was really an amazing thing. I think it's a shot of Captain jumping up on top the cage we were in and we see him for the first time. It was great because hundreds of us were crammed into that small little room and it was Wales in late October or November so it was cold, it was just perfect. It was really great to see all these HYDRA guys dressed up in their garb and they smack my hat off in that scene. “One of these days I'm going to get out of here and I’m going to have a stick of my own,” is what Dum Dum says in retaliation. Those were all favorite moments for me in the film. Then it's Steve Rogers and us walking into camp and that shot by Joe, how he devised that was just awesome. It gave everyone in the theater and me chills when we saw it for the first time. It was one of those moments where it was either going to fail or it was going to win. It won amazingly. It was one of the greatest shots in the movie, I thought. I think that's what really started the second half of the film off in a really great butt kicking way!

Do you feel like you, Chris, and the rest of the actors who played the Howling Commandoes really became a cohesive unit? Did you kind of feel like you became a real group of commandoes yourselves?

McDonough: Oh yeah. We had to work every day so we had to figure out ways not just to stay in shape and work out a lot, but when we ‘d see each other on the set we'd have our little mini boot camps everyday. We'd have pushup competitions, and we'd have belittling competitions. Whatever the case was for the time that we spent with each other we tried to make sure that we were one big cohesive unit. We had a really terrific time together. And I’m looking forward to doing Cap 2 with those guys.

You just mentioned doing Captain America 2, what exactly is the plan with that? In the middle of the first film there is a montage where Captain America and the Howling Commandoes are fighting various enemies in a series of different adventures, is the idea that the sequel would take place within that sequence and essentially tell an unseen story that happened in the context of the first film?

McDonough: Yeah the talk now is that they are going to flashback to WWII and without going to much into, because I’m not supposed to say too much at all, but whatever they do I guarantee you this … it’s going to be an awesome movie. The villain is going to be crazy, and it will be really terrific. The origin of Cap being in WWII is definitely paramount to the guys over at Marvel.

Finally, there have been rumors that your character might be appearing in the proposed Nick Fury film, which would make a lot of sense since Dum Dum is eventually Nick’s right-hand-man at S.H.I.E.L.D in the comics. But since we last saw you in the WWII era of Captain America: The First Avenger, how would your character end up in the present day (assuming that is when the film will take place) fighting along side Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury?

Neal McDonough: In the origin with Dum Dum, he got a small portion of the super serum himself and he was actually the head of S.H.E.I.L.D. until four or five years ago. So he aged really slowly. He aged quicker than Nick and quicker than Steve Rogers did but he aged quite slowly. He was chronologically frozen him self for ten years. So there are all kinds of stuff that I’ve read in the comic books but who knows how they’re going to do it. I know they are going to go back to WWII in Cap 2. You know in flashbacks but past that I’m not sure. Also what would make me happier than a pig in poop would be to be part of and see Sam Jackson as a ‘60s or ‘70s version of Nick Fury. That would just be awesome. Hopefully we’ll get that one done soon. I know Sam is very excited about it.

Just to follow up on that, was there ever any talk about reintroducing your character in The Avengers?

McDonough: No, with The Avengers I think they wanted to go with the core characters first and I have no problem with that. Just to be part of the Marvel Universe at all is such a blessing. It’s been fantastic. If I do ten more of these or one more of these, I’ve already been part of Captain America and that’s like a dream come true.

Captain America: The First Avenger is available now on Blu-ray and DVD!

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