Neal McDonough Talks Boon, Faith, and Morality


You’ve seen Neal McDonough, even if you didn’t realize it. Maybe you’re one of the millions of people who love neo-Westerns like Yellowstone or Justified, or you’re a comic book fan who adored DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash, or Arrow. Perhaps it’s primetime crime like Boomtown or Mob City, or sci-fi like Minority Report or The 100. There hasn’t been a year in practically two decades when McDonough wasn’t in a hit series, from Band of Brothers to Desperate Housewives. The man’s ubiquitous in front of the camera, but now, with Boon, he’s spending some time behind it.


McDonough starred as Boon in a great little Western thriller called Red Stone, written and directed by Derek Presley, which was one of the coolest movies about hitmen in recent years. McDonough liked his character and the project so much that he decided to revisit it. In fact, Boon was set to die at the end of Red Stone, but McDonough liked the character so much that he told Presley, “You know, we got a really cool character here. Maybe we should do more of it. We thought about it, and then it was really in the last scene where I go to the grave site, and I’m dying at the end of Red Stone. I said, wait a second. This guy is so tough, maybe he doesn’t die.”

Boon is Back

McDonough sat down with Presley and wrote a script for the eponymous sequel about his character, and he and his wife, Ruvé Robertson, co-produced the film. Boon follows the mysterious former assassin, torn between violence and faith, as he gets involved in protecting a woman and her son from a criminal gang (including a great turn from Tommy Flanagan). Oscillating between damnation and salvation, the wounded (in more ways than one) Boon navigates some murky morality in his process of redemption.

Boon in his hat and sweater, covered in blood, looks at the camera

Boon is a tense and taut action thriller, and with it, McDonough has become part of the new lineage of action stars who are aged and more grizzled Liam Neeson, Bob Odenkirk, and Keanu Reeves (who are all actually older than McDonough) have shown that audiences and critics both almost prefer older gentlemen butt-kickers to the buff musculature of twenty-something action stars. Boon, the character and the movie which surrounds him, have something a bit different from those other men with “a very particular set of skills,” to quote Taken. Boon has faith.

Related: Red Stone Sequel Boon Brings Back Neal McDonough in Action-Packed Trailer

“I think that people are really going to love Boon,” McDonough says, “because it’s about a guy grappling with his faith as we all do, me being a devout Catholic and always grappling with faith. ‘Am I doing the right thing, did I work hard enough, oops, I made a mistake, we’re all sinners’ — all these things that run through your brain, or at least run through my brain, every day.” The film opens with Boon leaving a church, carrying his Bible, and the woman he encounters (and who literally ‘saves’ him) is a pastor. The crucifix is a prominent motif throughout this film with religious themes, indicating as it does both immense suffering and the yearning for redemption, the idea that tomorrow doesn’t have to be like today, and that resurrection (or transformation into a ‘better’ person) is possible.

Neal McDonough, Faith, and Family

“I like to talk about God in everything that I do, because God’s given me so much, so why wouldn’t I talk about it? And if I get to infuse that in my films, all the better,” McDonough says. Faith and family are extremely important to the actor, and both are prominent aspects of Boon, on-screen and off-screen alike; McDonough would say that both these things got his picture made. “My wife, Ruve, jumped on board as a producer with us, and she found the financing. She’s really great at that, and that helped pull in talent, and no one really says no to Ruvé. She’s a very persuasive person […] Ruvé and my kids worked on the film […] and I couldn’t be more proud of a film than I am with Boon, because we got to really make a family picture, our family.”

Boon stands in front of the preacher woman and her child in the snow

McDonough is audibly glowing at the privilege and opportunity he had to make a picture almost as personal as family. Part of the joy in co-writing and co-producing Boon was allowing him to insert more of himself, his family, and his faith into a project than he’s usually able to. Granted, the actor has famously “never had a romantic relationship on screen” because of his faith. “You know, it’s never happened, because I won’t do sex scenes,” McDonough says, so it’s clear that from the start his faith has always influenced his career. However, his identity has never shined through as much as it has in the Boon films, especially now that he’s writing with Presley and producing alongside his wife.

I get to tell stories that I’ve always wanted to tell. Here I am, in my 50s, as this neo-Western tough guy with his heart on his sleeve, fighting the good fight for not just himself or this woman, but also for God. And, you know, it’s kind of how I am in my real life. So I get to play me on screen and that’s just kind of awesome […] I got to spill me into it. I couldn’t be happier or more blessed.

McDonough on Movies and Morality

McDonough has always liked Westerns (and starred in the most popular one of recent years, Yellowstone), and the sense of morality in many of the best Western movies of all time resonates with him. There is often some ethical ambiguity, of course, but Westerns traditionally feature a protagonist and an antagonist, and even if the hero has baggage or does some unsavory things, there is a sense that justice and goodness prevails. However, as antiheroes continue to redefine the TV protagonist (and movie star), things have gotten quite dark.

Boon and Flanagan lock eyes while the latter drinks whiskey

Look at the films that are being made now. I’m guilty of it as anybody, playing all the villains, because I had to, but everything is so dark too, even though the heroes are so dark. [In] the black to gray to white scale, the heroes now are gray towards black, and deep towards the black, and the villains are uber-black. In the old days, it was more black and white. And I like my characters, my heroes, to be in the gray area, and at times they go towards the black, but by the end they go back towards the white, and sometimes the villains grapple with the same thing. Those are the films that resonate with me and I think they resonate with everyone.

What McDonough is trying to do differently is adding a bit of a spiritual context to here, which casts light upon the ‘gray scale’ and provides a little sanctification to the often relentless darkness of modern antiheroes. “I’m taking that same kind of genre and putting faith on his backpack,” McDonough says. Boon and its titular hero gets a little help from God in the morality department, something obviously important to McDonough. “There’s this faith that I can do better, I can be better today than I was yesterday, in these characters that I’m playing in these Western or neo-Western characters.

Related: Exclusive: Kelsey Asbille Discusses Yellowstone Season 4

While he may not “do better,” considering Boon and Red Stone are excellent and efficient thrillers, McDonough is certainly going to try (which, in a sense, is the integral aspect of faith). “We’re gonna start working on part three very soon, and then part four,” McDonough says excitedly. “The next one is going to take place in Chinatown, going back to my original Sensei, and all hell breaks loose. So it’s just going to keep getting bigger.” The actor has had a ton of success and pivotal roles throughout three decades in the business, but he almost seems to be in a career renaissance, speaking about his recent work with the ebullient joy of a man in the midst of something marvelous.

Oh, my goodness, I couldn’t be happier. Like I said earlier, if I don’t make another film or TV series again for the rest of my life, I’m fine, as long as I get to keep just doing the films with this team and keep building upon it. It’s really a wonderful time in the McDonough household. I couldn’t be prouder or more blessed.

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