VINNIE JONES IS A PSYCHO. It’s the nickname he earned himself as a pro soccer player, and if you had to pick just one word to describe the roles he’s pursued in his second career as a Hollywood bad-ass, “psycho” would fit the bill quite snugly.
The 43-year-old British expat first came to notoriety in the ’80s. Though his skill and heart on the soccer field were undeniable, it was his brutality that made him stand out. Headbutts and career-ending tackles aside, it was one very legendary act of viciousness that catapulted his name to the top of the sports page. During one match, Jones “distracted” an opposing player by grabbing the poor guy’s balls. A now-famous photo of the incident turned Jones into a soccer legend.
Years later, with his reputation as the quintessential soccer nutjob cast in stone, Jones was a logical choice to play a gangland brute in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. With a gift for timing that transforms innocuous dialogue into classic, quotable lines, Jones parlayed the bit part into a role in Ritchie’s follow-up, Snatch, and then into a full-fledged Hollywood career.
As Jones puts it, “There are thousands of pieces in the great big jigsaw puzzle to get where I am now.” That sentiment is directly reflected in his choice of tattoos. On one leg, an ink rendering of the Football Association Cup trophy celebrates Wimbledon’s 1988 win. When he took Leeds to the division championship in ’90, Jones had the team’s crest needled onto his other leg. The famous Wales dragon on his chest celebrates his run as that team’s captain. But, as in his life, the marks of soccer achievement are joined by those from acting. A famous quote from Lock, Stock has been etched across his back, while his trusty Desert Eagle .50 from Snatch has been replicated on the top of his left foot. “I think my last one is going to be the Capricorn sign on my right foot,” Jones says. “Well, everyone says ‘last one.’ It’ll probably just be my ‘next’ one.”
INKED: What was th first ink job you ever committed to skin?
JONES: When I was 15, I got a little swallow on my forearm because that’s what all the lads were having at the time. But as I got older, it was too small and looked a bit silly. So, I had the English rose put around it to make it look a bit bigger. But you know what? It still looked a little small. So, I had stars and sunrays and clouds put all around it. Now it’s my whole forearm. You’ve had several since then—got a favorite? When I did Lock, Stock, obviously everyone loves at the end of the movie when I say, “There’s one more thing. It’s been emotional.” So, I’ve had that written across the bottom of my back and everyone always wants to see that one. But my favorite at the moment is my angel.
What’s her significance?
I’d done this Tarantino movie Hellraiser where I wore a pair of Mark Nason boots. He always puts a little something on the bottom of his boots, and this pair had a picture of a cowgirl on them—but she was like an angel cowgirl. She’s got the halo above her head, but she’s got cowboy boots and a holster with a gun in it. I had it done by Mark Mahoney at the Shamrock Social Club on the Sunset Strip.
You mentioned Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which most people think was your first movie. But your debut was actually in the ’92 football documentary Soccer’s Hard Men, right?
I had a little piece in that. There was about 20 of us in the movie and, unfortunately, I told the truth and was the one that got in trouble.
A 20,000-pound fine from the English Football Association is quite a bit of trouble.
Yeah, and that was a long time ago—that’s like 200,000 pounds now. But, it was all innocent. They asked me about the dirty tricks that go on [on the field] when the cameras aren’t looking. Being a young lad and very gullible, I spilled the beans. The FA went crazy at me, but that’s now one of the best-selling documentaries of all-time in Britain. The bastards sold it on the back of me getting in trouble. A dirty trick.
Speaking of dirty tricks, there’s a famous tale about you grabbing another man’s testicles on the field. Is that the one that cemented your reputation as a tough guy?
Well, I was a bit reckless in them days, I must admit. But, I never came up from the ranks properly. I held jobs working on building sites. I was also a gardener and a window cleaner. Then I came into the spotlight and was a bit crazy, without a doubt. I’d get into fi ghts and I’d go into some full-on challenges. And, you know, the press at the time in England, the papers loved writing about that kind of stuff and that’s where we got the name Crazy Gang. [Fans] used to always yell from the terraces “Psycho” and then the lads used to call me The Butcher and things like that, but it was all a long time ago.
How did the soccer spotlight turn into the film spotlight?
After grabbing Gazza [footballer Paul Gasciogne] in the balls, I kept getting invited onto chat shows, like the equivalent of your David Letterman or Jay Leno. At the same time, Guy Ritchie had written Lock, Stock. He and the producer saw me on TV and thought it would be a good idea to give me a small part. I only had three scenes I was supposed to do, but when Guy saw what I did he loved it. So, he basically wrote more as we went along.
And the rest is cinematic history?
The British public just absolutely loved it. The timing was superb for that sort of a movie to come out. I won Best British Newcomer and I was still a full-time professional soccer player. But now you’re a full-time movie star. The move from England to Hollywood must have been a shock to the system. I think it’s all fucking overrated. If you want to be like Paris Hilton or someone like that, it must be exhausting to have to go out every night. I’d rather sit at home in a T-shirt and shorts, have a beer, and watch the soccer on TV, or spend time with the family. I can’t think of anything worse than going out and fl aunting yourself at all of these clubs and red carpets. You know? I’m here to go to the meetings. There’s nothing glamorous about driving from one side of town to the other, going to meetings and being treated like a nobody sometimes. Vinnie Jones gets treated like a nobody? You go in for a meeting and these girls at reception haven’t a clue who you are. My favorite when I go in is:
“No, Vinnie, love. Vinnie Jones.”
“OK, Billy, take a seat.”
It keeps your feet firmly on the ground. You go into these casting meetings with producers and they’re like, “Oh, I love your work, man. I’m a big fan.” Then you never hear from the fuckers again. That’s the reality of Hollywood—it’s a big facade. To me, it’s a factory. I’m there because I’m going to work.
Which has the bigger bastards: Hollywood or English football?
I think they’re very similar, to be honest. The guys you’re working with—the actors or teammates—they’re great. Sure, you get a few wankers, but you do in everything. Then there are the people who run it and sit in their high chairs looking after their money. They’re the same whether it’s soccer, Hollywood, or a big company. The people I made all of that money for in soccer, I never get them phoning me saying, “Hey, how you doing, Vin? Let me take you to dinner.” And it’s the same thing in Hollywood. You do movies for people and you earn them a hell of a lot of money and then they move on. They don’t give a shit about you. While you’re earning money for them, you’re family. But as soon as the gig is over and they’ve got their money in the bank, it’s basically like, “Who are you?”
Your new flick, Clive Barker’s Midnight Meat Train, is a bit of a departure. How did that role come about?
Well, I chose this over the numbertwo role in Rambo. I just thought that Rambo would be all about Sylvester, which it was. Even if I did a great job, it would all be about Stallone, you know? One of the producers called me recently and was like, “Oh you’re fucking crazy. You should have done Rambo. Look at the money it’s earning.” And I said, “Yeah but it wouldn’t have helped my career.” Midnight Meat Train is more for my career than my bank balance. It’s different.
How did you like playing a serial killer?
I got right into it. What the director has done with this movie is unbelievable. I think it takes horror to a new level. Some of the stuff is unbelievable. When I saw it, I was like “Oh … my God.” I’ve got this big steel-spike hammer in the movie, which is like my killing machine. In one part you actually see the hammer hit the back of someone’s head, then you see it go through the skull and everything comes out—eyes, teeth, and everything. It’s mental.
Are you a fan of horror movies?
I’m a fan of the old-fashioned horror movies. I feel that the new ones are just trying to come up with the most vulgar and unbelievable stuff just to shock you until you drop. That’s fi ne, but there’s got to be a little bit of a story there. I think horror movies were losing that a little bit, I really do. Or maybe it’s that some of them were so shocking that you forgot there was a plot … I don’t know. But this is all in the story. We’re not cutting fingers off with pliers just to make you turn away.
Do you think you’ll ever return to football?
Just this season, I’ve started my own soccer team in Hollywood. I was playing for another team with Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols and guys like that, but they’re getting a bit old. They’ve put on a few pounds in their old age. We were getting our asses kicked the last couple of years so I formed a new team called Hollywood All-Stars FC. We play every Sunday down at Santa Monica airfi eld. We’re a friendly bunch and after the games we all go to the King’s Head for a few beers in true English style. If any of your readers are interested in playing soccer and they’re any good, they can contact us through the Web site, hasfc.com.
What about a return to the English Football Association?
I’m living overn here now and I’m not getting any younger, you know? There were some rumors that people wanted me to go back and coach, but I’ve left lock, stock, and fucking barrel.
Nice. Thanks for your time, Vinnie. It’s been emotional.
It’s been emotional, bro.