In 2009, when we first heard about a provocative new HBO show about a cash-strapped teacher (played by Thomas Jane) who decides to capitalize on his biggest asset by moonlighting as a prostitute, we knew we had to tune in to check out the Deuce Bigalow-style antics.
To our surprise, however, Hung turned out to be way less formulaic than that and far more thoughtful. While countless shows have played on our flailing economy, causing normal people to make huge life changes or embark on ridiculous new ventures out of desperation, only a handful have been able to demonstrate true staying power.
Two years and two Golden Globe nods later, HBO's show about the little giant schlong that could has more than proved its ability to, em, last. With the third season kicking off this Sunday night at 10 p.m. EST, we chatted with Hung's star, Thomas Jane, about what it's like to fill Ray Drecker's briefs, what's up next for him this year, and what you can learn from his sexploits.
Interview by Lauren Otis (@LaurNado)
Complex: For starters, how does it feel to be at the center of a show that revolves around your member and its impact on people’s lives?
Thomas Jane: It’s crazy. My cock is more famous than I am!
What was your initial reaction when the project was pitched to you? We’d love to know how that conversation went down.
Well, the writers actually had me in mind when they wrote the show. Alexander Payne signed on to do the pilot and he asked them who they had in mind. They said, “Well, we kind of wrote this for Thomas Jane, so we’re looking for that kind of type—a Thomas Jane type of guy." Alexander said, “I know Thomas. How about we just start with the real thing?”
He gave me a call and I actually still have the message on my answering machine. I saved it. It was a real interesting call, saying, “Hi, Thomas. This is Alexander Payne. We’re doing this show for HBO and it’s about a man with a large penis. Your name came up. Why don’t you give me a call?”
Ray Drecker isn’t the first character of yours who gets paid to take it off for the ladies. You also played Todd Parker, a Hardy Boys stripper, in Boogie Nights. Quite a couple of unconventional ladykillers you have there on your resume. Are there any real-life pros that your inspiration stems from?
I loved Boogie Nights. That was a great movie and I had a lot of fun doing that. I play different characters that sort of wield different kinds of “bats.” Mickey Mantle swung a big...bat. Frank Castle, the Punisher, he had a very large…gun.
How does one go about “studying up” for a role like this? Are there any surprising ways you get into character?
A lot of push-ups. I asked the crew for a fluffer, but they haven’t made that happen yet.
No matter how big your c*ck is, there’s somebody out there whose d*ck is smaller than yours, who’s doing more with it. In other words, somebody’s f*cking better than you, doing more with less. So learn how to use what you got!
There tends to be a presumption that someone who enters into this line of work has to have something off about them. Ray and Tanya (Jane Adams), however, despite certain lapses of judgment, seem to have pretty decent heads on their shoulders and bring a surprising sensibility to their escort work that almost makes it feel…practical. Can you speak a bit about that?
Ray and Tanya are a very unlikely pair of heroes. They’re the last people you’d think would be in the pimp-ho business, you know, a poetry teacher and a former professional baseball player-turned-history teacher.
The whole show kind of revolves around the idea that these people are normal, but honestly, I think it’s really about the politics of the male-female relationship. Ray’s relationships with different women in his life become the focus of the show, whereas Season One plays a lot on the fact that the American economy has gone into the shitter. By Season Three, the economy’s still in the shitter, so I think people just want to have some fun!
So what can you tell us about the new season?
This year, we decided to present a funnier, faster, sexier show and have some fun with the characters. They’re really well written, very well designed characters and we wanted to take the audience for a ride where we can kind of forget about our troubles for a minute. “By Season Three, I don’t wanna hear anything about the fucking economy anymore!” We’ve got Ray, who's quit his teaching job and hoing full time; he’s got some money coming in. Ray and Tanya’s business has been booming.
I spend more time naked in front of a hundred people than I do by myself at home!
I’ve got a nice, fancy sports car and we’re working at a little store front where Tanya’s teaching a sex class above a muffin shop, and life is good. Ray’s done a lot more living. When Lenore moves in on his territory with a gigolo she’s trained, this waiter, it really throws a wrench into his plans. She’s always there to fuck shit up! The fact that she’s threatening him with this new young kid is pretty genius. I go through all kinds of crazy shit this season. It’s been really fun, really sexy, and a great year. My favorite season by far.
What do you think it is about the show that’s resonated so much with audiences?
It’s human. People love the show because it deals with human beings in a real way. We play on the hopes and fears of men and women, attacking serious questions about the male-female relationship, and we do it in a way that’s funny, yet provocative. The title and the fact that the guy’s got a big dick are the Trojan horse that gets us into your living room. People like escapism, and we also want to watch entertainment where we can see people in situations we wonder how we’d deal with.
Do you think the show’s given you any new insight when it comes to women?
Women are just as mysterious to me as ever, but I do think the show is kind of a journey through the female psyche. The show has a lot of female fans because it really is a male point of view through the mind of a female. It’s like taking a tour of a woman’s mind and that’s what I find fascinating about it.
We can't help but assume your response from lady fans must have been pretty strong. Have you ever had any particularly crazy encounters?
People ask if they can hire me all the time. The most frequent question isn’t “How big?”; it’s “Hey, baby, how much?”
How did your family first respond to the show?
My mother asked me for Ray’s phone number. Only kidding!
A lot of guys out there are consumed with penis size. Do you think an individual’s outlook on life truly is different from others when they’re fortunate enough to be blessed downstairs?
I think most people get over comparing penis sizes in high school, but there are people who continue to do that in the real world. America is immature as a nation and part of the reason why Hung is a hit show is because it deals with that immature side of the male brain where we are kind of comparing ourselves to the rest of the world.
But there’s a lot more to life than how big your dick is! Let me tell you something I’ve learned: No matter how big your cock is, there’s somebody out there whose dick is smaller than yours, who’s doing more with it. In other words, somebody’s fucking better than you, doing more with less. So learn how to use what you got!
Blowjob scenes are always tough to shoot. I have to instruct the actress on how far to bob her head up and down. Just like real life, most girls need a little coaching.
We think it’s safe to say you have more sex scenes than the average leading man. Are about half of your sets closed sets?
I spend more time naked in front of a hundred people than I do by myself at home! I get used to it. One of the things the show’s given me personally is it’s taught me how to be comfortable with my own body, and that’s a gift. The less time I spend worrying about myself, the more time I can spend making the girl I’m with feel good.
We imagine you've got to be pretty desensitized to sex scenes, with it being such a large part of your character's everyday life. Have there ever been any that were challenging to shoot?
Blowjob scenes are always tough to shoot. I have to instruct the actress on how far to bob her head up and down. Too much and it looks too silly…too little and it looks, er, little. Just like real life, most girls need a little coaching to hit that sweet spot that’s just right.
When we're introduced to Ray back in Season One, he's a school teacher who begins moonlighting as a male escort. Have you ever had any surprising day jobs or side hustles before you began acting full-time?
I was a hustler on Santa Monica Blvd as a young man. I gave away balloons for an Italian Restaurant and became known as "the Balloon Boy." Insert obvious entendre here.
Lastly, does that Black Keys theme song have a way of magically turning on every time you try to go out anywhere?
Uh-huh. Just like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.
Interview by Lauren Otis (@LaurNado)