"Neals a tough son of a gun," says stunt coordinator Jeff Habberstad. "We dropped him, we slammed him and he just took it and asked for more!" McDonough's fighting partner, The Rock, concurs, "Neal is an exceptional athlete, and his athleticism shows in our fight scenes. I was really surprised, because a great athlete does not always make a great fighter. Theres an X factor, a switch you turn on. Neal is one of those guys who has that switch."
INTERVIEW WITH NEAL McDONOUGH:
So whats it like being the bad guy and fighting The Rock?
It was fun. No, thank God it was a movie because in real life, it would be a whole different story. It was a terrific time for myself. Rock is so good at the physical but hes equally as gifted at the acting. Thats what made Walking Tall a really great, wonderful film, I think. Hes such a wonderful guy that it was infectious on the set. Everybody worked really hard making sure it was a really good film.
I read in the production notes that you do have an athlete side, though we dont usually see it in your choice of roles.
Oh yeah, I played football and sports and baseball through college. I still play sports pretty much every day. That definitely helps when it came to this character. Im not kidding you, I had probably the best time in my life doing this movie. It was really wonderful.
Even though it was a pretty serious drama, it was a fun time on the set?
It was a great time on the set. Rocks funny and really personable. Im kind of a quiet guy, I dont really say too much, and we had a really wonderful time.
Does the theme of one man against the society play as well now as it did back when the original Walking Tall was released?
I think more so now. I think when you look at all the small towns in America, all the drugs that are happening, all the corruption that is going on, we need guys like Buford Pusser - or like Chris Vaughn in this instance to stand up to the guys who are getting away with stuff. Im very proud of this film, very proud of the message that this film has.
In the final fight scene with The Rock, how much of that is you and how much is a stuntman?
100% of it is me. That was me falling down the shaft. That was fun. It hurt a little bit but it worked.
Any accidents on the set?
No, we got through it unscathed. It was pretty amazing.
What do you think fans of the original will think of this version?
I think fans are going to love it. It holds pretty true to the original. There are a few other elements, Ashley [Scott] and The Rock have a great romance, Johnny Knoxville is really funny, but it holds really true to the original. I think theyre going to be very excited by it. I think the whole Pusser family is going to be very excited about it.
The original spawned a couple of sequels. Will this one?
Boy I hope so. It would be a lot of fun. Ill come out of prison and hunt The Rock down one more time.
So no one has signed on yet for a sequel?
No, not yet. Well see how this one does.