What’s up, Contenders? Terry Malloy here reporting live from the Waterfront.
I recently got a chance to have a long chat with action star Scott Adkins.
[AICN's Ed Travis (l) with Scott Adkins (r)]
I’m a huge fan of the guy and think he represents the kind of physical energy and martial arts talent that could really usher in a new era of action cinema. Scott is confident in his abilities, and also very frank about what he has done right in his films, and what he wishes he had done better thus far in his career.
We focused mostly on his recent action/comedy/western mash up EL GRINGO from After Dark Action since the good folks at After Dark were the ones who gave me the chance to chat with Scott. But I also got to get a few scoops on some of his upcoming projects, which you’ll have to read on to see! Here goes:
ET: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me tonight. I hope you are feeling better from your illness.
SA: Yeah, well, I’ve actually come down sick a second time, but I really didn’t want to have to reschedule with you again! I wanted to do this!
ET: Oh no, were you sick through your whole vacation, or were you ok in the middle part there?
SA: Yeah, well, I wasn’t working. But it is never really a vacation when you’ve got a 20 month old daughter, is it?
ET: Oh, I didn’t know you were a Dad now.
SA: Yeah I am! It is a lot of work with my little girl.
ET: Congratulations on that.
SA: Thank, man.
ET: Well, I wanted to dive right in to questions about EL GRINGO because I know the folks at After Dark Action were awesome to set this interview up regarding their film, and if you’ve got time I’d love to talk some about your career and what you’ve got coming up as well.
SA: Yeah, sure! I appreciate the coverage by you guys!
ET: Thanks, I’m actually one of the newer guys at AICN, and I’m trying to cover a good amount of the action beat because that is the stuff I really love. I actually just met you briefly at Fantastic Fest a couple weeks back for UNIVERSAL SOLDIER: DAY OF RECKONING. But anyway, let me dig in to a question for you. How did you get involved with the folks at After Dark Action for EL GRINGO?
SA: Well, we actually filmed it after UNIVERSAL SOLDIER. Yeah, I worked with the same producer. UNIVERSAL SOLDIER was mid-2011 and EL GRINGO was September 2011. I had worked with him before on THE SHEPHERD.
ET: I also saw that you are credited on EL GRINGO as an Executive Producer, along with Isaac Florentine. How did you work that out and was that the first time you’ve done that kind of thing?
SA: Yeah, I can’t say I “produced” all that much, but I ended up with that credit because I did a few things behind the scenes. So I can’t exactly call myself a “real” producer, but I had some input behind the scenes.
ET: Where did that input come into play? What were some of the elements you had a say in on this project?
SA: The main area was bringing in a second unit to work on the action. I wanted to make sure that the action was good because, you know, every film I do I want to make sure that you can say the action was good! If my name is above the title, I want people to know that you are going to get good action. So I just made sure we had that covered. So that was basically my producing input. And I made sure Isaac was around to also ensure the same goal.
ET: I think you did a pretty good job with that! I was just poking around online to get ready for the interview and found a video that someone did logging every kill in EL GRINGO, and you killed 66 people, apparently.
SA: Wow, that is pretty good going. That has got to be getting up there with the TERMINATORS!
ET: [both laugh] Yeah, it is pretty high. And speaking of, there is a lot more gunplay in EL GRINGO as opposed to lots of your other films which have a more martial arts focus. I really liked the shootout in the center of the film, the one working through various alleyways and back streets. You scored a pretty high body count in that scene! Can you talk a little bit about that sequence and how you approached it?
SA: Well, we didn’t have a lot of time and that is always the case with these types of movies. I actually would have loved to have that sequence at the end of the film because it is such a highlight that I feel the rest of the movie can’t live up to it. But that was always the way it was written in the script.
The original script actually had much more action. It felt a lot to me like DESPERADO. You had the Gringo jumping over cars and sliding around and getting shot in both arms. It wasn’t realistic in any sense. But there were two main reasons for doing so much gunplay. The first being that it was all right there in the script. It was always going to be that kind of film. But also, I had a really bad knee injury at the time. I had torn my ACL. So I was trying not to do much martial arts at that time. So I wanted to make the gun fights a little more like fight scenes.
What I mean by that is, I don’t want to call it “gun kung fu”, but it is all really up close and personal. You’ll see the flash on the gun and the guy with the squib hit in the same shot. Kind of like what John Woo used to do, you know? So you mix a little jiu-jitsu and martial arts into the gunplay. The guys in the alleyway scene are always right in front of you.
ET: Yeah, I noticed there is also a lot of that close quarter gunplay in the new UNIVERSAL SOLDIER movie, but I don’t want to get too far into that just yet.
SA: Yeah, well that stuff is how it looks best as far as I’m concerned. When you can tie all the elements together, see both guys in the shot, the gun goes off, the squib goes off, and you get their reactions. That is much more cinematic and ties it all together.
ET: Right, and that makes it feel more physical as well. Well, on top of having a lot more gunplay, EL GRINGO brings in a lot more comedy elements than most of your films have. There were some really funny moments with you and the dog, and with the sheriff who is always shooting at the dogs. How did it feel for you, bringing a more lighthearted or comedic film to the screen?
SA: Well, it has definitely been something I’ve been wanting to try because I’ve always been playing characters like Boyka or the UNIVERSAL SOLDIER film where there aren’t really other ways to play that character.
So this time I wanted to lighten myself up a little bit and try to be a bit more charming. And I believe EL GRINGO is actually my best performance to date because I was able to bring more charm into it. That was an element in my game that I hadn’t quite touched upon before. So I hope I succeeded.
ET: Yeah, well, you got me to laugh out loud with a couple of the bits with the dog, so that stuff worked for me.
SA: There was more with the dog in the original script. Well, you know they say never work with dogs or kids. Well, we worked with a dog, and we did it in Bulgaria. And the dog was supposed to be trained, but it basically did everything… except what we wanted it to do. [both laugh] So we didn’t use a lot of the stuff with the dog.
ET: So you said the production felt a little rushed, how long did you ultimately shoot the film?
SA: It was about three weeks or so. Maybe three and a half weeks. It was quick, really quick. And I think what a lot of people don’t realize is that when producers work with someone like me, I put in the long hours. I do all the fights myself. And you have to do that with lower budget films. You have to be there, you have to work the long hours and not complain about it because you are never going to get the footage that you need otherwise.
ET: EL GRINGO shot in Bulgaria and Louisiana. Why those locations and how long were you in each?
SA: Not very long in Louisiana. We did three days. But we shot the rest in Bulgaria. We shut down for a week or two and then shot the rest in Bulgaria.
ET: Well, I’d love to switch gears a little bit and ask you some about your past and your earlier career. I know you have been studying martial arts for a long time. How did you get into that in the first place?
SA: My brother and my father were going to a Judo club. I was 10 years old and felt left out so I went along. And I was actually very good at martial arts. So I continued. When you are good at something you tend to like it more, so since I was very good at martial arts, I stuck with it.
When I was in Judo, I was a huge fan of Bruce Lee. And when BLOODSPORT came out, that was also a huge inspiration. And of course I’m a huge Jackie Chan fan, and then you’ve got Stallone and Arnold. All these guys made me want to get into the movies. And I knew martial arts was a way in for me, so I stuck with it from a very early age.
ET: Cool, and I understand you went over to Hong Kong and did some work over there pretty early on. How did that come about and what did you end up doing over there?
SA: It was strange because I never imagined I would go to Hong Kong. At the time you had a lot of white guys going over and trying to get roles in Hong Kong. But it always seemed so far away to me. But an English guy named Bey Logan, who was an editor for Impact Magazine and Combat Magazine; he went over to Hong Kong and became an expert in Hong Kong cinema and even wrote the book about it. Do you know the guy, Bey Logan?
ET: Yeah, I have heard some of the commentaries that he has done on some various action films.
SA: Yeah, he does great commentaries. He is brilliant to listen to. The guy is like a walking encyclopedia of martial arts films. Well I sent him my show reel in Hong Kong. He sent me feedback, said I was doing really well and to keep it up. And eventually he put my name forward for a show called EXTREME CHALLENGE where they needed some Western martial arts guys, so I did that film. Then I did another film and all of the sudden I was the new white guy in Hong Kong films. So I got to work with all the guys. I got to work with Jackie Chan, Yuen Wo Ping, Corey Yun, Tsui Hark, all of them really.
ET: Cool, do you think it was those connections that got you into leading man status, or how do you feel like that transition happened for you?
SA: I’d say Bey Logan discovered me. But Isaac Florentine was the one who first saw me as a leading man. I would send my videos to everyone, as you can imagine. And his partner had my show reel sitting on his desk. So he was trying to show Isaac the show reel of this 23 year old British kid. And one day he did sit down and watch it and that night Isaac gave me a phone call. He told me he was impressed.
At that time I had just finished doing THE MEDALLION. Isaac was doing a film with Van Damme called THE TOWER, which ultimately didn’t happen. But he was talking to me about a role in that. But then he had his producers write in a role specifically for me in a film called SPECIAL FORCES. But UNDISPUTED 2 was really where things started to take off for me and people started to notice what I could do. But the funny thing about UNDISPUTED 2 was that we shot it, but it didn’t come out for maybe two years. And I knew I had this really great film in which I had a great performance, but it wasn’t coming out! That was really frustrating.
ET: Yeah, that film was great. I didn’t see it until there was already an UNDISPUTED 3. So I got to watch them back to back and that was when I jumped on the Scott Adkins train.
SA: I’m glad you jumped on the train!
ET: [both laugh] Yeah, well, you know… so hey, this show reel, is that online? Is that something people can see?
SA: Yeah, I think it is online. I think it is on YouTube. But, you know, everything is on there. There’s even a clip on YouTube of a film I made with my friends when I was a teenager called GANGSTERS. I probably shouldn’t publicize that but there you go.
[I’m not sure if this is THE show reel Scott was referring to, but here is A show reel of Scott showing off his martial arts abilities. - TM]
ET: Well, the internet is enormous these days, so never know what you are going to find there. So last year I got a chance to interview JJ Perry, the fight choreographer for UNDISPUTED 2, and talked to him about this topic a little bit then. But I wanted to ask you: Do you have a perspective on why action cinema sort of dwindled a little bit after the height of the 1980s and what do you think it will take to get action cinema back into the forefront as far as genre’s go?
SA: Well, you can’t say that action film has gone away. Back in the ‘80s you had guys who weren’t always great actors, but you got the sense that they could legitimately kick people’s ass.
But somewhere after THE MATRIX and BOURNE IDENTITY, Hollywood figured out that you can convincingly train actors to do these fights. Or convincingly enough for most of the general audience. And those kinds of things were never possible before when you had a movie star starring in an action film. So that is why it has changed, and then you’ve got comic books and CGI. So yeah, action films have definitely changed.
But then you’ve got stuff like the UNIVERSAL SOLDIER sequels and THE RAID. But for now Hollywood would rather train their stars to do Kung Fu. And as to whether it’ll come back to the forefront, I really don’t know. Martial Arts movies have always been quite a niche market. Sometimes films like MORTAL KOMBAT pop up, but that was based on a video game.
What I do know for sure is that action cinema is never going to go away. There are too many people out there that love it for it to go away. But if it’ll ever be like it was in the ‘80s, I just don’t know.
ET: Well, it is interesting because even those guys like Stallone and Arnold had huge physiques, but they weren’t necessarily trained fighters or martial artists. But there are a new crop of action stars, yourself included, that can do it all up on the screen. And there is a passionate following for that kind of thing that, you are right, will never go away.
SO, I have heard all sorts of rumors of upcoming projects you have coming up. I’ve heard talk about UNDISPUTED 4, I’ve head that NINJA 2 is actually green lit too. Can you talk a little about what you’ve got coming up?
SA: Yeah, I’m going to do a British film in a couple of weeks called SUBMISSION, which is a football houligan film. I’m quite excited about it, actually. I’ve never done a British film before. It is directed by James Nunn who was at Fantastic Fest 2012 with TOWER BLOCK. So he is a great up and coming director and this is an interesting script. So that is what I’m going to do before Christmas. And then NINJA 2. That’ll be shooting in Thailand. I don’t know how much I can say but it looks like we’ll have Kane Kosugi, Sho Kosugi’s son. So he’ll be playing a part in the film that I’m really excited about because he is a fantastic screen fighter.
ET: That is awesome! Huge news. And that’ll be shooting after Christmas?
SA: Yeah, it’ll be shooting mid-January in Thailand, which is good, because those stunt guys over there will let you kick them in the head. Which is always a blast.
Plus, Isaac is just the best when it comes to shooting martial arts. There is nobody better. And I was actually disappointed with the first NINJA. I didn’t think we did as good a job as we could have. So I think we have a good direction to take this one and I’m really excited to go and do a better job. But of course, the action is always going to be top notch.
ET: I’m really excited about that. I re-watched the first NINJA in preparation for our talk, and I really enjoy it!
SA: Well, you know. It’s cheesy. Ninja films are always going to be cheesy. If you want to do a ninja film properly you’ve got to do it back in feudal Japan. So modern day ninja films will always be a bit cheesy, but people enjoy this stuff! As far as UNDISPUTED 4 goes, every day, someone asks me, when is there going to be another UNDISPUTED? So just from that, I can tell you there is definitely going to be one. I haven’t got an official word, but we do have a script. So it is on the top of my radar, but because of my knee injury, I needed to give myself time to heal so I can do some of the more spectacular moves.
ET: Aren’t I correct that Boyka himself had a big knee injury that he bounced back from?
SA: There you go! Art imitating life. Or vice versa. But the problem is it is on the opposite knee.
ET: Well hey, thanks so much for your time. I’m really excited about what you have coming up and I’m excited to share this with Ain’t It Cool readers! I really appreciate it.
SA: Hey, thank you.
ET: Oh, shoot, before we close out, I wanted to ask you about your role in ZERO DARK THIRTY.
SA: Yeah, I do have a role but I’m not allowed to say much about it. Other than yes, I do have a role. Look, there are a lot of speaking parts in that film and I’m in no way the lead. But I worked on it for a week and it was a fantastic experience.
ET: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to that one. Well, again, thanks so much. I hope you get to feeling better and best wishes with your new little daughter.
SA: Thanks, mate.
And I’m Out.
Terry Malloy AKA Ed Travis