The Big Ugly is the first movie actor Vinnie Jones produced. He personally raised the film's $6 million budget from investors.

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"This movie is a Cinderella story," Jones told UPI in a recent phone interview. "It's what makes our industry so fantastic that these little acorns can become an oak tree."

In The Big Ugly, Jones plays Neelyn, an enforcer for British mobster Harris (Malcolm McDowell). He joins Harris in West Virginia to make a deal with oilman Preston (Ron Perlman).

Harris plans to launder his money through Preston's oil company. Things go south when Preston's son, Junior (Brandon Sklenar), kills Neelyn's girlfriend, Fiona (Lenora Crichlow). Neelyn wants revenge on Junior, but that would sabotage Harris's deal with Preston.

The former English Football League player became an actor when Guy Ritchie cast him in his debut film, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Jones now has 100 acting credits, but wanted to take control of his work.

"You go and do some movies and you get let down by either the producers or the script or the director or the writer," Jones said. "In this case, I was in control of it all."

A big studio movie like X-Men: The Last Stand is an example of Jones' disappointments. He signed on to play comic book character Juggernaut when his Lock, Stock and Snatch producer Matthew Vaughn was going to direct.

Vaughn dropped out and Brett Ratner replaced him. Ratner added so many other comic book characters, it effectively reduced Juggernaut to a bit part.

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"The fans, rightly so, were disappointed," Jones said. "It wasn't my fault. I was upset for the fans, as well."

Jones' behind-the-scenes passion for The Big Ugly attracted cast members like McDowell.

McDowell, often typecast himself as a villain since he starred in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, and admired Jones for taking control of his career.

"It starts and ends with Vinnie," McDowell told UPI by phone. "I was really happy that he would get a chance to show a little of what he really can do."

McDowell said he took a producer credit on the film in return for reducing his usual acting fee. However, McDowell said he is a producer in name only. Jones' producing skills impressed him.

"Vinnie's no slouch," McDowell said. "It's not just in name like it is with me. Vinnie actually produced the movie."

Jones said he saw layers in writer-director Scott Wiper's script that allowed him more range than many of his previous roles. While seeking justice for Fiona, Neelyn comes to know locals Kara (Leven Rambin) and Will (Nicholas Braun). Neelyn hopes he can help Kara and Will escape the web of Preston, Junior and Harris.

"When he just about found love with Fiona, he let her down," Jones said. "She ended up dead. That's why he wanted to sacrifice himself for the two young lovers."

Kara is a local bartender who meets the men engaged in the oil industry when they come in for a drink. Will is an oil worker bullied by Junior. Kara wasn't planning to leave her life in West Virginia, but when Will stands up to Junior, she has to choose between running with Will or staying behind.

"This love has to be the one, has to be so real and so deep that she's willing to give up [her life]," Rambin told UPI by phone. "This love has to be really, really deep and meaningful in order for her to sacrifice what she's built for herself."

Rambin also said Jones would call her "Blondie" on the set. Jones confirmed it was a term of endearment, but also a bit of a test for his co-star.

"I think some actors and actresses, you have to bring down a peg or two before Day 1," Jones said. "Otherwise, they can become higher maintenance than the others."

Rambin said she admired Jones' bravado, and caught him letting his guard down briefly.

"I know he would take a bullet for me," Rambin said. "I think he literally told me that under his breath and I was like wait, what was that? He's like, 'Nothing, Blondie. Get back to work.'"

Where Neelyn sees a future for the next generation, Harris sees Neelyn as a child who needs to be brought back into line. McDowell said Harris sees Neelyn as a son, and he's only annoyed his pseudo-son could ruin his business deal.

"Of course, he gets pissed with him because he is like a son," McDowell said. "Fathers and sons often fight, then they get back together. Of course, he's very critical of Neelyn."

It also was important to Jones that he be able to show as much emotion in moments of silence as he did through dialogue. Scenes between Neelyn and Harris, between Neelyn and Junior, and between other characters incorporated dramatic pauses and quiet contemplation.

"The great actors -- Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood, De Niro -- they take their time," Jones said. "They're not blurting out lines for the sake of it. They're thinking the scene through."

After bringing The Big Ugly to the screen, Jones is producing two more movies and developing a TV series. Jones and Wiper started the company 4G vision, with $100 million in capital from Greg Williams and Michael Angelo.

"This hasn't just sprung like a leak," Jones said. "This has been planned. I love getting everything together."

Among the projects Jones is developing are an adaptation of the Jack Noble comic books, and an action film. The action movie would have a $25 million budget. That's quite a step up from the $6 million of The Big Ugly but still modest by Hollywood studio standards.

"I don't have to make movies for $50 million and $60 million just to get the [expletive] stamp of approval from Hollywood," Jones said. "We want to walk before we can run. We're not in a hurry to spend all this money."

The Big Ugly premieres on video on demand Friday.