''The Punisher'''s Thomas Jane toughens up. EW.com learns how the golden boy transformed himself into Marvel's deadliest antihero

By Brian Hiatt
Updated April 17, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT
Thomas Jane: Steve Granitz/WireImage.com

Thomas Jane doesn’t want to break the law. ”Are we allowed to smoke in here?” he asks, striding into a midtown Manhattan hotel room. Told that it’s kosher, the actor, who stars as a gun-happy vigilante in ”The Punisher” (opens April 16), drafts a trashcan into ashtray service and lights up. ”I’m a big smoker,” confesses Jane, shrugging broad shoulders. ”I tried to cut back for the movie — it didn’t work out. The crew has images of me running on the treadmill with a cigarette in my mouth. They got a kick out of it.”

Jane, 35, has always wanted to play gritty antiheroes, but he’s spent much of his career doing anything but — that was him wooing Cameron Diaz in ”The Sweetest Thing” (2002), and playing Mickey Mantle in HBO’s much-lauded ”61*” (2001). So what took him so long? ”It’s not me — it’s the industry,” he says, making intense eye contact with the coffee table at his feet. ”It’s getting the opportunity. It’s finding the f—ing part where you’re gonna be able to do something like that. Most of it’s s—, and the good stuff goes to people who are very well-established.” But Marvel execs, who had pursued Jane for other superhero parts that he turned down (he won’t say which), handpicked him for the $33 million-budgeted ”Punisher,” sticking bigger names in supporting roles (John Travolta as the villain, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos as Jane’s would-be love interest).