When it comes to high octane action cinema, Scott Adkins is the most dynamic and exciting performer working in industry today. His latest film is another example of how this dynamic performer can light up the screen. In ‘Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear,’ Adkins reprises his role as Casey Bowman, a martial artist whose life of domestic bliss has been shattered by a savage act of violence and must fight to avenge as well as survive. His target: a sinister drug lord flooding the streets with deadly meth cooked at his remote jungle factory. Kane Kosugi (Fight the Fight, Ninja Masters), Vithaya Pansringarm (Only God Forgives, The Burma Conspiracy), Mika Hijii (Ninja, Alien vs. Ninja, I’m Coming to Get You) and Tim Man (Bangkok Adrenaline, Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li) also star. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Scott Adkins to discuss his longevity in the industry, the challenges of bringing an action film to the screen, what the future may hold for him on-screen and much more!
Last time we spoke, you were doing press for ‘Universal Soldier 4’ at which point you had sustained some injuries which kept you out of the action game for a bit. What can you tell us about the physical challenges injuries you took and the road back?
Six weeks before ‘Universal Soldier,’ I tore the ACL in my left knee. It is a terrible injury to have, especially if you are a footballer or martial artist. All through ‘Universal Soldier,’ ‘El Gringo’ and ‘Expendables 2’ I was injured. I also picked up another injury in my back. It was a slipped disk that was pushing on the nerve which led to my losing feeling in my left arm. Basically, when I had the operation on my knee, I was able to rehab my neck as well but I couldn’t do any action films for a good six months. I gave myself eight months because I knew how important it was if I was going to come back the same guy I was before the ACL injury. I needed to rehab it properly and have the best surgeon.
It is good to have you back in action. How are you feeling now?
It is feeling really good now! You pick up some sort of injury on most of the films I do. That is just the way it is because we are trying to give people what they want in terms of action!
Your latest film is ‘Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear’. What expectations or goals did you have when taking on this project and returning to the character?
We just wanted to make the lead character, Casey, more interesting for the audience. I think with the first film, he was a little bit bland and not very proactive. The character in the script was a kid out of his depth just trying to survive. We were a little disappointed with how the character was perceived in the first film, so we wanted to shake things up at the very beginning. A typical staple of the ninja movie is revenge, so we figured right from the get-go; we would have something happen to Casey’s wife. She turns up dead and for the rest of the movie Casey is on a revenge mission, hell bent on making the people who killed his wife pay. That was enough to drive the character forward and make him more interesting.
This film is another example of what a great team director Isaac Florentine and yourself make. Having worked with him extensively, what do you feel he brings to the table as a director and how do you feel he has evolved along the way?
Isaac is fantastic with the way he moves the camera. He is a very glossy filmmaker given the budgets you have to work with; which aren’t very big. We don’t have a huge shooting schedule either. With him and Ross Clarkson, who is the director of photography who we always work with, he can make a film look glossy and impressive. Isaac is a dear friend of mine. He is pretty much the guy who discovered me back in the day when I did ‘Special Forces’ in 2003. I am an actor who does a lot of martial arts films, so if I am going to do a martial arts film, I want to do it with Isaac Florentine. He is the best in the business. There is nobody better in the western world at making a martial arts film. We are the perfect team really! We have worked together so many times now we have a short-hand together. We know each other’s strengths and there is no bullshit. We can just say what we think and get on with it! We are both there to make the best film we can.
As you mentioned, Isaac Florentine was the man who discovered you. What are your recollections of meeting him for the first time?
It was a phone call, the first meeting we had. He rang me up and told me he had seen the show reel I had sent to him. He said he was very impressed and he wanted to find something to work with me on. The first time I met him is when I did ‘Special Forces’ and we filmed it in Lithuania. We became very close friends after that and whenever we go overseas to Hollywood often times I would stay at his house. He helped me find my feet in Hollywood. He is like my Hollywood uncle!
I wanted to talk a little about one of your costars in the film Kane Kosugi. What was it like working with him on this project?
Working with Kane was absolutely fantastic! You couldn’t ask for a more humble guy, which is even more impressive when you see how good looking he is! He is in fantastic shape. He is one of the best martial artists I have worked with in my life and I have worked with a lot. He is a very good actor who has everything going for him and he is still so humble. He is a real gentlemen and a joy to work with. It is amazing to me that he is not a bigger star. I honestly don’t understand it. I think he is phenomenal and would really love to work with him again.
I think many times when people see you films; they might not give a lot of thought of what goes on behind the scenes in terms of preparation. What can you tell us about the process of preparing yourself both physically and mentally for a film?
Physically, you need to stay in shape all year round. You can’t just think “I have a martial arts film coming up, I better start going to the gym.” I am always in the gym. I am always trying to improve myself physically and I step up the training a bit when I know there is a film just around the corner so my body gets used to the abuse I am going to put it through. Mentally, you have to accept it will be a really tough shoot. We do things we shouldn’t be able to do in the time frame we have to do it. All the action that is packed into their movies, we only have six weeks to shot them. We are certainly competing with action films that have three months to do what they do. It is very arduous, so you just have to get into that mental space where you are ready to go through some pain and accept the fact you will be very tired.
The fight sequences on this film are very impressive. What can you tell us about the fight choreography and the guys you are working with to bring the action to life?
Tim Man, who is the fight choreographer for his film, is an exceptional martial artist. He is really flexible and a great kicker. He is also an experienced stuntman who has worked with Tony Jaa and people like that. He had a very small team that consisted of Brahim Achabbakhe, who was second in command, and two other Thai guys, who did a fantastic job considering it was a smaller film. They choreographed all the fights before I arrived in Thailand. They would send over videos of them in the gym where they had already been blocking out the moves and everything. They were truly fantastic and went above and beyond the call of duty. They were very prepared and that is main reason why the fights are so good in ‘Ninja 2.’
What do you consider some of the biggest challenges you faced on this film?
I can’t pin it down to one scene. Everything was difficult because of the huge workload. I think I performed thirteen fights in the whole movie, which was at least two fights a week. The fight scenes were done over two days, generally. There was one week where I had three fight scenes. For an action scene, you are filming it for the whole day and because you have so little time, you are pushing and pushing and trying to do as much as we can. It really is very difficult, so making this entire film was very challenging. When it comes to doing the drama, you are so tired from the physical stuff that it affects you as a dramatic actor in some stages. I don’t think people who do action movies get enough credit.
As someone who pours their blood, sweat and tears into action film such as this, do you find it frustrating these films don’t get bigger releases?
It is, yeah. I suppose martial arts films have always been a niche market and sometimes they are in vogue and sometimes they are not. Because of the CGI, the Superhero stuff and all of that, you can pretty make an action movie with anyone now, where in the 1980s you needed the real deal. It is a frustrating time, especially where films would normally make a good amount of money with the home video market, of course that is very problematic now with the piracy that goes on. Hopefully, the next time martial arts comes into vogue, maybe I will be lucky enough to jump aboard the bandwagon!
As one on of the biggest names in the genre, who are some of the other guys in the industry you look to for inspiration?
I love the guys like Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa. Michael Jai White is a guy who I have worked with a few times. It is people like that who I look up too. You know, there aren’t many people coming through right now because it is hard to produce these films and make your money back is they are going straight to DVD, so I think some people look elsewhere. It is also very difficult to do an action film on a low budget because you need that time to get the shots and flesh out all the action.
You are not a one-dimensional performer. Even though you are great with action, you also have dramatic chops. With your recent and upcoming projects, you seem to be spreading your wings a bit and delving further into the dramatic side of film. What can you tell us about that?
‘The Legend of Hercules’ is coming out January 10th and for me that is quite a different role. I play a character who is older than myself, he is a king. There is some action for me movie but mostly it is a dramatic role. That is me trying to stretch myself as an actor, take on better roles and get into more mainstream movies. Hopefully, it continues because I love acting as much as I love martial arts. I generally love film, so for me to do as much as I can inside that arena is all good by me.
Is there a particular role or genre you are eager to tackle in the future?
I love sci-fi and I have always wanted to do a western but I don’t see myself moving away from action films because that is what I am good at and it is what people expect from me. I understand that. However, when I get older and I can’t do all this stuff anymore, I will have to be a dramatic actor, won’t I?
Hopefully that is a long way off but you seem to be well suited for that as well! Looking back on your career so far, how do you feel you have evolved as an actor and martial artist?
I improve every movie because there is no substitute for experience. I think it is evident if you look at my back catalog. As a martial artist, you improve as a screen fighter when you work on the movies but you don’t necessarily improve as a martial artist. I do train a lot and I feel I am getting better as a real martial artist. When I was younger, I put more emphasis on flashy kicks than I did on real, applicable techniques and, certainly, I am more into that now.
There are so many different elements that go into what you do. To what do you attribute your longevity in the industry?
This is the only thing I ever wanted to do in my life, so I didn’t give myself any other option. There have been times when the offers weren’t coming as often as I wanted them to but this is genuinely my passion and what I love to do, so I have always stuck at it. It all comes down to hard work and dedication.
I can’t speak with you and not mentioned the terrific work you have done with the “Undisputed” films. When you first got involved with those films, did you have an idea your role would have the impact it has on audiences?
I had no idea Yuro Boyka would be such a great character that everyone seems to love. You couldn’t see that coming. He is the villain of ‘Undisputed 2.’ We tried to make him honorable, unlike your stereotypical villain, which certainly helped people warm to him. For the villain of the movie to be so well received was really unexpected. Obviously, that gave us the opportunity to do ‘Undisputed 3,’ where the villain turned into the hero and people seemed to like him even more. I didn’t expect it, no. However, I think I understand why Boyka is so successful. He is one of these guys who don’t take any shit and everybody wishes they could be that guy for one day. I think that is the appeal to him, along with him being a tough guy with a lot of honor. He is not a pretty boy, he is just a rough and ready dude that people can respect and get behind. I think he represents the blue collar, everyday guy who is put upon and gets through it with his toughness. I think people really respect that about him.
Any there any plans to explore the character in another film at the moment?
We are trying to get ‘Undisputed 4’ off the ground. We are going through some drafts of the script now and everything is falling into place. I really want to get on with it but I am not the only one making the movie, so we are trying to let everything fall into place. Hopefully, it will happen this year.
As you mentioned, this is a slow time for action cinema. As a guy who is at the forefront of the genre, what are your thoughts on the state of action cinema and where do you hope to see it progress in the future?
For my point of view, I love to see stuff that is done for real. CGI and all of that stuff is great. It looks fantastic and brilliant. You can create worlds in a way you haven’t been able to before and make films that were never thought possible. Ultimately, in the back of my mind, I always know it is not real. When I see something done for real with stunts, martial arts technique or some gravity defying leap, it resonates more with me. I hope we can get more films like ‘The Raid’ that are using people who can do it for real, that is what I like to see and grew up loving. That is what I try to represent as well. I do believe there is a place for both but it does seem very CGI, comic book heavy, at the moment. I like all of that stuff but I miss the real deal as well. Let’s hope it comes back!
Absolutely! A lot of people can look to you as an inspiration. What is the best advice you can pass along to those looking to pursue a career path similar to yours in the current climate?
In the current climate, don’t expect it to be easy. At the end of the day, you have to put your acting first. If you can do martial arts and are a physical guy that is great but acting is what is most important. Don’t expect it to come easy. No one is going to make it in this business without hard work and dedication. Sometimes, if you get a lucky break, you probably aren’t ready for it anyway. It is good to have to climb up the ladder, to be turned down, punched in the face a few times and told you are rubbish and not going to make it because it builds character. Just be ready to be go through all of that because it is a tough business.
Thank you again for your time today, Scott. It has been a pleasure! Best of luck to you with all of your projects in 2014!
Thank you, Jason.