Charles Bronson, the master of movie violence, stars in tonight's debut of an HBO film, "Act of Vengeance," but in his role as Jock Yablonski, a coal miner's union labor official, he commits no acts of violence.
"In most everything I've done before, there's been some violence performed by my character. I don't perform any violence in this picture, and that's quite unusual," said Bronson, who once worked in the coal mines of Pennsylvania.
The violence in this movie (airing on Home Box Office tonight at 8, Thursday at 11 p.m., April 29, May 3, 7 and 12.) is triggered by corrupt union chief Tony Boyle, portrayed by nice-guy Wilford Brimley ("The Natural" and "Cocoon").
It's a flip-flop for both actors. But it seems to add to, rather than detract from, the powerful story of two men -- Yablonski, whom thousands of miners wanted to lead them, and Boyle, the United Mine Workers Union boss who wanted him dead. It traces the chilling events that led to the 1969 Christmastime murders of Yablonski and his family.
"Sure it's a departure for me. It's a complete departure. I'm not wearing a mustache and I'm not wearing a gun," said Bronson.
His rare clean-shaven look fits in nicely with co- star Ellen Burstyn, who plays his supportive wife. She's won an Oscar for "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" and a Tony for "Same Time Next Year."
Director John Mackenzie ("The Long Good Friday") said Bronson "has what you call presence, to say the very least. He fills out any role he accepts with a somewhat larger-than-life quality." He also noted that because Bronson carries no gun and does no shooting, it actually makes the film more interesting. "It allows the audience to relax and concentrate on his acting. He can be an awfully good actor." The Audience will also see him do something he rarely does on film -- smile.
In real life, Bronson worked in a mine for five years, starting at 16. The 11th of 15 children born to a Russian immigrant miner in Ehrenfeld, Pa., young Charles Buchinsky (now Bronson) experienced the dangers of mining firsthand. He was standing nearby during one explosion, not unlike the one at the start of this film.
After a hitch in the service during World War II, he tried a number of other jobs before turning to acting, but Charles Buchinsky has never forgotten his roots. He recalls the days when "an honest day's work brought less than an honest day's pay. People are aware of how hard coal mining is," he said. "But they don't know the manipulation that goes on behind closed doors. The ways in which the health, safety and welfare of the miner and his family are affected."