Interview: Scott Adkins on CLOSE RANGE, UNDISPUTED IV, Gareth Evans and Jean-Claude Van Damme
For my money, Scott Adkins is the greatest Western martial arts actor of modern times. He has an exhilarating acrobatic style, with an emphasis on kicks that seem to defy the laws of gravity.
The pairing of Adkins with filmmaker Isaac Florentine has made for some hugely beloved B-action, most notably the Undisputed and Ninja franchises. Their most recent collaboration is Close Range, which was released on VOD in the US last week before opening in select cinemas this week on December 11.
The film follows Colton MacReady, a rogue solder-turned-outlaw, who is thrust into a relentless fight with a corrupt sheriff, his obedient deputies, and a dangerous drug cartel in order to protect his sister and her young daughter.
Meanwhile, Adkins has recently finished work on Hard Target 2 and will soon be joining the production on Marvel's Doctor Strange. The long-awaited fourth Undisputed film is also in post-production, the finishing touches being applied before it thrills fight film fans early next year. It seemed like a good time for a chat with the man.
ScreenAnarchy: Close Range has quite a small scope. It's one man versus a bunch of bad guys, in pretty much one secluded place - a simple, old-school action throwback. Did that simplicity appeal to you?
Scott Adkins: Yeah definitely. We really stripped down the script, knowing we didn't have a lot of time to shoot the movie and deciding to just ramp up the action. We just wanted to make a good action flick, y'know. We wanted a simple set up, then to let go and let the story unfold through the action sequences. We wanted to make a cool action movie where you can sit back, turn your brain off and enjoy watching me deal with some bad guys. I think we succeeded in that.
Colton MacReady is a new character you've created with Isaac Florentine. How is he different to Yuri Boyka and Casey Bowman?
Well he's a bit closer to Yuri Boyka in that he's a tough guy who doesn't take any shit. He's the silent type that would hit you in the face sooner than ask you any questions. He's one of those badass characters - a bit Charles Bronson, a bit Clint Eastwood; that type of guy.
I was intrigued by the script and the prospect of playing a character that was actually an outlaw, a bad guy on the wrong side of the law. On any other day he'd be the villain, but on this particular day, because of the circumstances with his family and what's going on, he's the good guy.
You use firearms a lot more in this film than in many of your previous roles - you must have shot thousands of bullets in it. Did you have a favourite weapon?
Over all the films I've done, nothing feels better than an AK-47. It's such a powerful machine. It's so loud, and very reliable as well. The mechanics of it means you very rarely get a jam. So of all the weapons I normally use, the AK is something I can always rely on and it feels good to shoot it.
I have done quite a bit of gun work in previous movies. In Re-Kill I shot loads and loads of ammunition off. But in this film we tried and do things a bit more up close and personal, with the title being Close Range as well. We decided to go with close-quarter combat with the fight sequences but also with the weapons as well, so you get those sequences where we're fighting to get hold of the weapon or using the weapon at a very close range. That was fun.
You do some stunt work with vehicles in Close Range that looks pretty dangerous. Do you still get scared doing that stuff, or have you just done too much stunt work at this point to feel fear?
Part of the fun of it is feeling a bit of fear and trepidation, when they're counting down with the cameras rolling and you hear "3, 2, 1, action!" When you hear "3", you might feel some nerves but you know you're committed to do this thing and you're almost expressing your faith, no matter what your faith might be. But I don't do any really dangerous stunts - not because I wouldn't like to, but the producers would have to be out of their minds to put me in a position of being able to get hurt.
That's what makes it just so incredible and amazing to see what Tom Cruise does. That guy is often literally risking his life. I have full respect for what he does, he's an amazing actor, but he's probably the greatest stuntman working today as well. It's insane what he does. He's his own producer as well, so I guess that's how they gets around that little stumbling block.
What action sequence were you most happy with when you watched Close Range?
The opening sequence is something that I'm proud of, it's always nice when you do something in one take as a single shot. It's very gratifying when you eventually land on the take where everything works. I think we did 8 takes and it was 6 or 7 that we were happiest with. Working closely with the stunt performers, there was quite a bit of camaraderie on set and it feels good when you nail a sequence like that.
Isaac Florentine and yourself have done some really cool one-take action, like the sequence you just described and the dojo fight in Ninja 2. On a low-budget film with a short production period, is it especially difficult to work that sort of tricky shot in?
It's not as hard when you're dealing with someone like me that can actually do it. A lot of the time when we're doing these sorts of films we tend to do longer takes anyway because we don't have the luxury of time. Each time you set the camera up for a different angle, that takes time, and you have to reset the lights and so on. That means we tend to do more longer takes than what you see in most films.
It's really very difficult trying to do a single take shot with guns, squibs, pyrotechnics and combat, as I've done in previous movies - specifically, Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. When it's just a fight scene it's you, the camera operator and the other fight performers. When you're using guns and squibs, you've also got all the special effects guys to take into account. It's a high-pressure situation for everyone; nobody wants to be the guy who makes a mistake so you have to cut, reset and go again. It's stressful, but it's great when it works.
That sequence in Day of Reckoning is amazing. I have the 3D Blu-ray and it's one of those scenes I watch over and over, it's just fantastic. So thank you for doing it.
Yeah John Hyams is a really great director. There's one sequence in that that we cut out. Actually there were two bits - one we dropped because we didn't have time, and one we filmed which we cut out. It's not a true one-take, there are cuts in there. It's not that you're not supposed to know they exist, that's just the style that we were going for. But thank you very much, we worked very hard on that.
You've just finished work on Hard Target 2. In the past, you've been compared to Jean-Claude Van Damme and have cited him as an influence. Now you've starred in a number of films with him and you're the lead in Hard Target 2, do you feel like you're picking up the torch from him?
That's a difficult thing for me to say. I can't really sit here and say I'm continuing on where Jean-Claude Van Damme left off - he hasn't left off yet, he's still working. So it's not for me to say and I'm not trying to do that, either. It's very coincidental that I end up either being in a film with him or starring in a film that's a sequel to one of his previous ones.
I think it's just because people often see similarities between me and him. Part of that is no doubt because I was so influenced by him as a kid. But I think also, part of that is just because I'm a white guy, I've got a good physique and I'm good at martial arts. So a lot of the time when producers are looking for somebody to fill a role, a lot of the time for these Van Damme sequels I'm asked to do it. I've turned some down in the past, but with Hard Target 2, I wanted to do it. I liked the script, I felt I was very well suited to play the part. But it's not something I'm trying to consciously do, it just seems to happen that way.
As a fellow Van Damme fan - do you prefer the Chong Li fight or the Tong Po fight?
Amazing question! I actually prefer Kickboxer as a film, but I prefer the Chong Li fight. It's better choreographed, I'd say. And we all love that bit where Van Damme gets blinded - that scream that he unleashes, that's pure charisma right there. He was firing on all cylinders when he chose to do that, it's great stuff. Bolo [Yeung, the actor who portrayed Chong Li] plays a better villain as well, you gotta love Bolo.
I think Isaac Florentine is one of the absolute best in the business for action filmmaking, alongside Gareth Evans. What do you think these two have in common, that other filmmakers don't?
Gareth works with real martial arts performers, that's a huge part of why his films are so good. He's working with Iko Uwais and other very talented guys from Indonesia. They choreograph great fights and he really understands how to shoot them. It's the same with Isaac. He wants to work with people like myself who can actually bring the goods as a martial artists. He can put the camera wherever he wants, run the take for as long as he chooses, he understands how to make the punches and kicks work for the camera. I think it's as simple as that, really.
What I really like about what Gareth does is he tends not to rely on slow motion too much, he puts the camera right into the fight and he's very kinetic with his camerawork. He's a little bit rough and a little bit shaky, but not so much that you don't see what's going on. I think he's really mastered how to use kinetic camerawork but also show the choreography in full. I think it's just that, they understand that you need performers who can actually do the business. I look forward to seeing Gareth in the future working with actors that aren't as well trained in martial arts, seeing if he can still pull it off. I'm sure he'll find a way to do it as he's a very, very talented director.
Any chance we'll see you in an Evans film soon?
Well I know Gareth and we do chat. I'd certainly love to [work with him] and I know he'd like to use me as well. If everything works out at some point, hopefully we can do that, yeah.
What's your favourite movie fight of yours so far?
I guess I have to go with the end fight scene of Undisputed 3 with Marko Zazor. We really battled hard to make that long fight sequence. I was disappointed with the end fight scene in Undisputed 2, I felt it was a bit anticlimactic and I really wanted to have a strong end fight in Undisputed 3. Marko is such an amazing performer, Larnell [Stovall] did such a great job with the choreography. We're going to have some fights like that in Undisputed 4 as well. I'm yet to see the finished product, but that is a tough fight to beat, it was a really good one. I also really like the end fight in Ninja 2 with Kane Kosugi, that's a really good one as well.
Larnell Stovall did indeed do an amazing job choreographing the fights on Undisputed 3, how do you think Tim Man's work in Undisputed IV: Boyka compares?
Tim is a kung fu stylist, a taekwondo stylist; he needed to adapt his style slightly to fit Boyka. Larnell's style fits Boyka really well because it is very brutal yet with flashy techniques. He really knows how to choreograph very powerful punches that really suit me as a performer. Tim is great with very complex kicks and in the new Undisputed film I perform some kicks that I've never performed before. There's probably ten different moves I've never performed before and it takes someone like Tim to really push me to do new things like that. They're both brilliant choreographers and I'm spoilt for choice with those two, I'm very comfortable working with either of them. Jeremy Marinas, who choreographed Close Range, he's really talented as well. He's also an amazing kicker himself.
There's a new breed of stunt performers and fight choreographers. But I think these days it's so easy to get hold of a camera and editing software, you need to really understand the work behind the camera too - it's not just about the choreography, it's about how you shoot it. These kids coming up today, they really do get that, so it's getting even better.
You've been a pretty vocal opponent of movie piracy - which of your films has been hurt the most by piracy?
I don't know which was hurt the most, they've all been hurt by it. But I can talk about the Undisputed franchise. Everybody really responded to Undisputed 2 so we made a sequel, then Undisputed 3 really struck a chord with fans of these types of films. For 6 years after it came out, every day on Facebook somebody has asked me when we're going to get another Undisputed movie. The reason it's taken so long is Undisputed 3 didn't make any money. The producers were scared because they want to get a return on their investment. They're not stupid, they're businessmen that are in it to make money.
If you're a fan of the films I make, you have to support them with money. I want to keep doing what I do, I feel very privileged to be able do what I do and I don't want to let the fans down. So please go out and support Undisputed 4 when it comes out. If you want to get an Undisputed 5, without waiting another 6 or 8 years, you need to support it with your cash. It's as simple as that, and it doesn't cost a lot of money to rent a film. It really doesn't, so just do that. Films aren't meant to be free.
There's a lot of bullshit excuses for stealing films and hurting great franchises like Undisputed. But some people may argue because of regional restrictions, illegal downloads are the only way they can see your films. What would you say to them?
I know that in some territories they have to wait months or even years for a film to come out. So when the only way you can watch it is to download it from a torrent site, I can understand why people would do that. If it's a choice between waiting a year to pay for a movie or watching it now for free, people will do that. But even if you do do that, please, if it's the sort of film you enjoy and especially if it's a genre that is dying out, when it does reach your shores, pay it some money. Rent it even if you've seen it, or buy a copy, just make sure you support these films because they really are dying out. We have to make them in shorter and shorter lengths of time, because of this problem. I just ask people to try and support these films if they like them, and we know there's a lot of people out there that do like them.
You've done work on a Bourne film, an Expendables film, a Hercules film and you're about to do a Marvel film - but in between, you keep doing these the lower-budget, violent action movies that you know action fans love. If you blow up big time, you might not be able to keep doing them. How happy are you with your career as it is, do you want to blow up bigger?
I do want to blow up, of course I do. What I would want to do is take my style and put that into the bigger budget films. Obviously with a comic book movie you'd need to adapt and make it PG-13, but I would certainly try my best to do what Stallone does, what Statham does, but obviously with my more acrobatic martial arts style. I wouldn't dilute myself.