THE RAID 2 Invades New York: Interviews With Iko Uwais And Julie Estelle

Featured Contributor; New York City, New York (@TheDivaReview)
THE RAID 2 Invades New York: Interviews With Iko Uwais And Julie Estelle

Shortly before the New York City red carpet premiere of The Raid 2 {orig. title:The Raid 2: Berandal}, I caught up with Iko Uwais, reprising his role as everybody's favourite Indonesian undercover cop, and Julie Estelle, who told me all the secrets of the bone-smashing, spine-ripping Hammer Girl.  Be warned: Spoilers abound!

Iko Uwais

The Lady Miz Diva:  This is your third film with director Gareth Evans.  Do you guys have a shorthand now as to communicating what he wants you to do?

Iko Uwais:  Yes!

LMD:  How has that made the process of filming easier?

IU:  Knowing Gareth for quite a while and knowing our personalities and how we work together, both of us have developed an easy connection in terms of work, in terms of choreography, in terms of what he wants and what I can give and what he knows that I can provide him with - different types of choreography - and that's what makes the process easier.

LMD:  Every sequel is meant to be bigger, better and somewhat different to the film before it.  What were the challenges in making this film?

IU:  It was more challenging because it was more emotional.  And the emotions in the choreography were more complex.  And the choreography had to be more aggressive and more violent. 

LMD:  I'm not a martial artist, but between this film and the first RAID film, it looked like the fighting was a bit different, incorporating a broader style.  Did I see that correctly?

  Yes.  What you have seen is correct, because in Indonesia, the pencak silat itself could be used as part of the art, not just the martial art, but part of the art. Traditionally, when they would show off part of the art from this pencak silat, it would come with some kind of traditional music like the drum and the tambourine and all the traditional music that connects to the pencak silat itself.  So the movement that you are seeing would be more artful movement.  So that's the art part.

From that basic form that looks sort of like a dancing form of art; it's a slow movement, but it's to show the elasticity of the body that moves from the soft to the full force in the pencak silat.  That's how we combine the martial and the art.

LMD:  You mentioned the added emotional content in this film.  Was it a challenge for you to stretch dramatic muscles in this way?

Exactly, yes.  There were a lot of challenges; not only the fighting, there were other challenges, as well.  In order to follow the drama scenes and the fighting scenes, I had to connect to the previous story.  The drama scenes would have emotions from top to down - high, medium and lower - I had to know how much emotion to show. But at the same time, that emotion would also be used during the fighting, because there might be a time where I have to fight full force with anger, and I have to show that connection with the emotions and the fight.

It shows in the last scene in the last fight, where I had to kill my friend and that was full of very high, intense emotions, and at the same time it was very tiring because of the fight, so that's the whole thing that I had to show in the last scene. 

In reality, during the time when I was fighting, my stamina was down; I had blood and cuts all over my body due to continuous fighting and also because of the emotions I had to show during that scene.

LMD:  I'm curious how you read Rama as a character? In the first film, he's the only one who asks questions and is suspicious of the plan.  In this film, he still can't trust anyone and knows he's heading into trouble.  Why do you think Rama didn't just grab his wife and son and move to Brooklyn?

  So, there's a connection from the first story where I had a brother who wanted to stay {with the crime mob} and did not want to move with me as a family, but he loved his job and wanted to do whatever he wanted to do at the time.  He was interested only in that.  In this film, the brother is killed and as a human being and as part of the police force, Rama wants to take revenge.  It's difficult because Rama wants to find out who killed his brother and have payback against the people who did that.

LMD:  As the fight choreographer {along with Yayan Ruhian}, which is your favourite of the fights here and why?

  The kitchen fight is my favourite.  I really trust Cecep Arif Rahman, who plays The Assassin.  He is one of the masters from West Java in pencak silat.  Panglipur is the name of his school.  I already knew him a long time ago before we joined to do this project and before Merantau, also.  There was no schedule or plan to work with Cecep because he is a teacher, so there was no plan to involve him and get together for him to do that, so this was the first time.  But since I have travelled with Cecep for exhibitions and to show pencak silat around the world, I developed the trust and a good relationship with Cecep, so from then on, we were talking about some possibilities.  We already had good chemistry.

LMD:  At the screening I attended, there were critics who left the room during some of the more intense or bloody scenes.  Have people ever told you these films are too violent?


LMD:  What is your response?

  Just don't try it at home {Laughs}

Too much blood.  Too much cuts.... For the sake of choreography, when we plan, we have a final goal of eliminations.  If we don't kill the people that we have planned, it will be worse in terms of the story.  The story will be without an end.  So the choreography and the story has to be together.

Fight choreography, if it has no rhythm, if it's just one beat, one beat, one beat - it's boring.  I really love when one punch is like three beats, like a drum - pum-pum-pum - like music.  We have to follow the story, and also we want to make it a little bit unusual, so it's rhythmic, but it's not a boring rhythm. There is some kind of intensity when you have one punch and then you have three or four blows behind it.  So in the choreography, when a person has to die, it has to be a different rhythm for the different scenes of death.

LMD:  In THE RAID 2, cast members like Julie Estelle and Arifin Putra had no prior martial arts experience.  What was it like to work with people who are not martial artists?

It's difficult in the character and the style.  It is not easy to work with someone without the knowledge of basic martial arts and how to fight.  It's difficult, but Arifin's motivation was always high, so that makes it easier to work with him.  He's not whining, he's not complaining.  He had the motivation to finish the project and to finish the film.

LMD:  The first RAID film had so much global acclaim, what was the reception like in Indonesia and how have things changed there since?

  Actually, the acceptance of the movie in the US and countries outside of Indonesia has helped the reception from the audience back home.  They are very excited because they know the movie is accepted in the US and when we come back - the actors and the crew - they get more excited because of that.  So it was very well received.

I understand there's a third film already in the works?  How far can you see Rama's story going?

  I may be involved in the third project, but Gareth is the one who has the story and who writes the story, so there could be something.

Julie Estelle

The Lady Miz Diva:  This is not your first film, but it's your first martial arts movie.  Would you tell us how you came to play Hammer Girl?

Julie Estelle: 
Actually, first I met Gareth at a festival in Pusan back in 2008.  He had his movie, Merantau, and I had my movie, Macabre.  And I guess after seeing my performance in that movie, he was interested in me to play the role of Hammer Girl.  So then we talked about it; we did a few days of casting, which was like 3 days of training, and at the end he would shoot the choreography and see how I'd do.  Because since I have no background, he needed to know how fast I could learn the choreography and see my improvement.  

So we did that, but then the film got postponed because he was supposed to make this movie before The Raid 1.  So I got proposed for this movie before and then he was like, "I'm sorry, for now we can't do this movie because of budget, but we'll contact you again if The Raid 1 works well, we'll make the other one."  So, two years later he contacted me again and asked if I was still interested in the part.  So we did another casting; that was five days - I did four days of training with Iko and Yayan, and then on the fifth day, he took the video.  Two or three months later, he called me and told me I got the part.  I was super happy! {Laughs}
LMD:  We must talk about the training to make yourself fit enough for those strenuous fight scenes.  I also understand Gareth is a director who does many takes.  What was your regime like?

Basically, they have a team of trainers.  There's Iko and Yayan, but there's this one trainer that actually plays Baseball Bat Man, Very Tri Yulisman; he was always with me.  He was focusing on my training.  The first month, I did training for my stamina; so it was more like push-ups, sit-ups, and we had four-storey buildings and we had to run down, do thirty push-ups, run back up, thirty sit-ups, and we had to do that four or five times, and that was only the beginning.  And after that, we'd get into the kicks and how you fall, because you have to fall safely.  We got into choreography after two months.

For the subway train, I had seven fighters that I had to work with.  In action, it's really important for us to trust each other between fighters.  Sometimes you make mistakes and you get hit, so you really have to trust in order for you {to complete the scene}.  My character is so cold-blooded and I'm an assassin and I shouldn't care about the people I kill and it has to show; but if I'm not used to training with these people, I will be concerned and that would show, right?  So we have to trust each other and that's why we do so much training and we do it over and over.  For the subway choreography, to get that scene perfectly done, it took six months.  That was the total of all my training and knowing the choreography and getting it perfect.

LMD:  I wanted to know so much more about Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man.  Was there more to them that we didn't see?

  There is actually a backstory.  Gareth and I talked about it and I always wanted to know why did Hammer Girl become so cold-blooded and what's her background story?  So we made one for her.  Basically, she's one part of a brother and sister team with Baseball Bat Man.  So the story is, when we were children, she was probably nine, he was eleven, and every night our father would spin a coin - did you see those scenes where I spin the coin?  He spins the coin and if it was tails, he would hit me, and if it was heads, he would hit my brother with a baseball bat.  
So we got abused by our dad since we were really young and one night the coin turned to my turn to get hit and he wanted to help me out, and it became chaotic and we snapped and killed our own father.  But before the cops came, Bejo's people found us, took us in and trained us to become assassins.  That's why we're always together and there's that connection between Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl, and there's that kind of youthfulness where he always asks for the ball.  It's like playing for them, cos they never got a chance to grow up.  They only knew killing and becoming assassins, that's why there's also that scene where they tell us to go kill and I forget my hammers and I run back and get my hammers.  All those small details.

LMD:  She's such a stunning character.  Has there been any discussion of her appearing in the next film despite the unlikely circumstance?

In The Raid 3?  You know what, I have been talking about that to Gareth, but the answer was no. {Laughs} Actually, I am working on another movie with him, I can't tell you exactly what it is.  We are doing another movie called The Night Comes For Us with Timo Tjahjanto, but there is this other movie where it's going to be a bigger part for my character.  It's going to be based on silat, as well.  So that's where I think he really wants to explore my character and not just make me another character in The Raid 3.

LMD:  Why is there such excitement when there is a female character being violent and athletic and assertive?  People respond very strongly to people like Sigourney Weaver and the ladies from KILL BILL.

  I would think it's because being a woman, you put so much more effort into doing the scene.  I don't know.  Maybe not for those who have backgrounds in martial arts, but for me, personally, I feel like maybe guys like seeing girls in martial arts; they think it's sexy.  I guess it is.  It's pretty sexy to see a girl that can fight and can do it right and make it look rough and believable.

LMD:  Hammer Girl is so unforgettable.  Were you worried that people might typecast you?

Typecast, no, I'm not afraid of that.  I'm gonna do another movie with Gareth, but it's going to be completely different.  The Night Comes For Us is not based on silat, so it's going to be another action movie, but it's going to be different.  In Indonesia, this is my first action movie, so people haven't seen it yet, but they are so anxious to see it because I'm known for being this drama actress, this nicey-nicey girl.  All of sudden they're seeing all these trailers with me holding hammers and everything and they're like, 'Oh, what is she becoming?'

LMD:  While I was watching the film with other critics, some of them left or turned away during the more graphic scenes.  Since you have that "nicey-nicey" reputation, were you worried the violence might be too over the top?  What would you say to people who might be offended or upset by how violent the film is?

  For me, a film is just a film, you know?  It's a movie; it's supposed to entertain you.  Some people will like it, some people don't like it.  If you like it, go see it.  If you can't handle blood, then just don't go see it.  But I know this movie is very entertaining for people that like martial arts and blood, so I don't see any problem in that, actually.  I love this character and I am not afraid of having criticism about that because, I mean, this character is just lovable.  It's that twisted - she's like very rough, harsh and cold-blooded, but in a way, I just love the character cos I think it's so cool, because where do you find an assassin that just kills with hammers and looks so cool killing with hammers?  It's an honour for me to be a part of this project and I'm so happy that I got this character.

LMD:  When I was watching her fight, it occurred to me that if the OLDBOY remake had any imagination, this is what their hammer scene would have looked like.

Actually, Gareth has been asked if Oldboy was his inspiration and he said, "Not at all."  Actually, the reason I use hammers as my weapon is because the silat that I was doing is based on Silat Harimau, which is "tiger."  It uses the claw and the ball of the fist.  They go up with the fist and then they go down with the claw.  That's why he used the hammers; because it was the closest to that, so that's why the hammers were an extension of my hands doing all the fights.  So that had nothing to do with the other movie.

LMD:  Now having been trained so extensively for the film, you have this whole new language as an actor, doing action films.  Tell us what doing THE RAID 2 brought to you as an actor?

It brought me a lot.  Well, obviously from training, physically, I got much more fit - I had to.  I have to be starting all my training again in April for The Night Comes For Us.  It's nonstop training.  But I learned that these people are just amazing.  I mean Gareth is an amazing person to work with.  He is such a perfectionist.  I totally respect his work cos he just does everything by himself; he writes the script, he directs it, he edits it, and so everything is just him.  I feel so lucky to get to know all these people and all the choreographers, the chance to get to work with them in the environment of this set.  They were very supportive and I guess that's what gave me all the energy to do all these stunts, because I had no stuntman, I did all my stunts myself.  So, yeah it brought a lot to me.

LMD:  How do you hope that the audience will respond to THE RAID 2?

  It's very simple, I hope they like it.  It's different than the first one; you have much more drama in the second one.  There are so much more characters to it; there is Baseball Bat Man, there's Hammer Girl, there's The Assassin - different characters.  And I really hope they can enjoy it and just have fun with it and don't take it too seriously.  It's a movie; it's supposed to be entertaining.  You're supposed to have fun.

This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review.  Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos from the New York City red carpet premiere there.
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