Chael Sonnen is a force to be reckoned with. He’s one of those rare individuals that can’t be put into a box and continues to push his creative limits. Legendary UFC fighter, commentator, accomplished author, and undisputed champ on social media — He has continued to blaze his own unique trail fearlessly. In 2023, he’s taken on one of his biggest challenges as he makes the film to the silver screen in director Asif Akbar’s ‘Mojave Diamonds.’ This intense action-thriller teams Sonnen with UFC superstars Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and the always intriguing Weston Cage Coppola. Most importantly, this project kicks open the door to a world of new possibilities as Chael pens the next exciting chapter in The Book of Sonnen!
‘Mojave Diamonds’ is a uniquely engaging film centered around three brothers who have been at odds for years despite their deep family ties. Roy (Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone), a down-on-his-luck fighter, soon runs afoul of the Vegas mob and must run a $50 million shipment of diamonds to Mexico. To ensure the cargo’s safety, Roy brings along his G.l. brother Danny (Chris Maher), but the shipment is stolen by a rival gang. The stakes reach an all-time high when the oldest brother (Chael Sonnen) finds his family has been abducted as punishment. Together, the three siblings must join forces to penetrate the mob compound and rescue their loved ones — no matter how many lives it costs.
Icon Vs. Icon’s Jason Price recently went a few rounds with Chael Sonnen to get an inside look at his hard-hitting film debut in ‘Mojave Diamonds.’ Get the scoop on making the film straight from “The Bad Guy” himself, and check out the film on Digital, On Demand, and DVD on May 30, 2023.
Thanks for taking time out to talk with us today, Chael. We’re excited about your latest project. You’ve put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get to this point. How did that work ethic and creative drive end up in your DNA?
It comes from my Dad. He was in construction and worked hard every day. He was a licensed plumber, but then he got into building and development. He got up when it was dark and went to bed when it was dark. Honestly, that was all I knew! A man gets up, and he goes to work each day!
You have been in the fight game for ages and are no stranger to being in front of the camera in different capacities. You never disappoint! How have your past experiences prepared you for this new chapter of your career?
Thank you for saying that! I’ve always enjoyed the performance side, even within my sport. The punches and kicks were very important, but they were just important so I could evoke an emotion from the crowd and sell more tickets. I think I was the only one who ever embraced that side or even recognized it was a side of our sport. That is not true now, but I feel I left a very good blueprint. Some guys have come along and followed it nicely. I like that part of it! I like to play a character, evoke an emotion, and get a response!
How did ‘Mojave Diamonds’ end up on your radar, and what spoke to you about the role?
This was awesome! Asif Akbar, a very well-known, busy, and sought-after director, put Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in charge of how he was going to bring in to play certain characters. Cowboy called me to play his oldest brother. This is a story, from my standpoint, of three brothers. The youngest brother, played by Cowboy, gets us into a bit of a jam, and the older brother has to step in and see if he can smooth things out. I just thought that was relatable. I come from a pretty large family, and I have cousins, which are four boys. I know my oldest cousin well, and if one of his brothers has a problem, he now has a problem. That’s just how that’s viewed. So, to answer your question, Cowboy gave me a call one day and said, “There is an opportunity to do this. Do you want to come out to Vegas? Here are the dates.” I said, I absolutely want to do that.” The next thing I knew, I was on a plane, and we were out there filming!
Tell us a little bit about preparing for the film. Obviously, you have experience in front of the camera. What goes into getting into the right mindset to tackle this new endeavor?
So, I needed help with that. Reading a script for me is difficult. If I can go back to what I told you I knew before, which was construction through my father. I would pull up to a job site where you had nothing but dirt. In my father’s mind, he knew just how we were going to cut that dirt. He knew where the front door would be, where the pool would be, where they would put the fences, and where the horses would be just by looking at dirt! I didn’t understand it! My mind did not work that way. The reason I say that is because I needed help with the script. As much as I could read it and was good at memorizing words and cues, I didn’t know tone or effect. I just didn’t have that skill. I needed Asif to come in and do a scene with me to tell me about the intensity in the eyes, by example, and the intensity in the tone. Or, maybe it’s the opposite; maybe there is a caring and loving tone. I need someone to help me with that stuff.
What do you feel you brought to the character that wasn’t on the original written page?
I think that there was more of a concern and compassion for my brothers. This was a massive bonding experience. If the three of us just would have been in the movie, it would have been very different than us being in the movie playing brothers. In terms of the characters, this is not my problem. My life is going well, but if he has a problem, I now have a problem, and I’ve got to go and deal with it. If I was to give myself some credit, I thought I did a good job of playing the role of a concerned, agitated, yet protective older brother.
You certainly did. I think that gets highlighted with a very cool scene where your character gets a Charles Bronson-type moment when he ventures into his bunker to gear up for the third act. It was very cool to see you get that moment. You get to do it all in this film, from driving to hand-to-hand combat to firearms. What was it like working with the stunt team?
The stunt coordinators they brought in for this project were incredible. I mean, this was top-shelf stuff! They did stuff that you wouldn’t even think of. They’d see you at the lunch hall and could tell something was on your mind, so they’d come over and smooth it out. They were like big brothers in a huge capacity. I learned so much and got better at doing it just because they took the time and were so good. I really do have to give them a massive thank you for that. It’s fascinating. I’d never been on something like this before, so I have the little kid in me that is all of a sudden riding horses, riding around in a jacked-up Jeep, and playing with guns. I didn’t quite know how movies were done. Keep in mind this was on the backside of ‘Rust,’ by the way. This was shot maybe three weeks after the shooting with Alec Baldwin on the set of ‘Rust’ happened. So, now we’re dealing with the armory scene you mentioned and guns in every scene. The checks and balances that this stunt team put together were quite remarkable. I will tell you this; we felt very safe!
As you’ve said, ‘Mojave Diamonds’ was a great learning experience for you. What were the biggest highlights from your time on set?
As far as a true thespian goes, we got to spend a lot of time with Weston Cage Coppola. When scenes were done, he would break it down. He would break down what he was doing or why he did it. He would talk about his interpretation of his character. I throw out some buzzwords like that because my mind didn’t work like that. I wasn’t thinking about interpretation; I was thinking of tone. I wasn’t thinking of method acting. I was thinking of reading the script in front of me and making sure I give a cue to the next guy when I’m done talking so he knows it’s his turn. It was a very different perspective. Once I engaged in a few of those conversations with Weston, it changed the way that I looked at it. It changed the way that I viewed the scripts and approached future scenes. I’m not saying I’m great by any means, but I got better. I got better, and it had a lot to do with spending time with Weston.
I imagine this film will open quite a few doors for you. Do you see yourself taking on more film projects in the future?
I would do something like that if we got the right crew together. I’m not looking to pursue the movie business, no. However, as far as being part of that, let’s say a sequel by example, that would be really great! I am going to read the reviews, though. I will read the critiques that people give me. I value that stuff. I used to be a movie critic myself. In fact, I still fancy myself a movie critic and will do the ol’ ‘Siskel and Ebert’ thumbs up or thumbs down here and there. I will listen to others and see what we take from it. If it provides an opportunity somewhere down the road, I would, of course, listen.
You mentioned that Cowboy reached out to you about this project initially. Of course, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is in the film as well. You all come from a very competitive world. Does that sense of competition carry over to the set?
Yes, to a degree. Yes. Yes is the answer. I will admit for you that you are hoping that the best version of themselves comes out and elevates the material. If I had a way to put them over, as we call it in the business, I would do it. I couldn’t say that if we were fighting in mixed martial arts. I would want them to show up sick, tired, and hurt. I wouldn’t be cheering for them in the least. It’s different in this world. This is a project, and you’re all doing it together, so high tide raises all ships!
You came of age during the golden age of action cinema. Do you find yourself influenced by another of those iconic performers?
I like some of Stallone and Schwarzenegger’s works and not just thinking of the Rambo’s, Rocky’s, and Commando’s of the world. I bring Stallone and Schwarzenegger in because I don’t know how good those guys were. As far as being actors or thespians, I just don’t know how good those guys were. The other side of it is that they had an intensity and enjoyed what they did. They took on roles that they personally thought were fun, and the audience responded to that. The little kid in Stallone is coming out when he’s playing Rocky, and I’m sure at some point in Sylvester’s life, he really wanted to be a boxer. The same thing goes with Schwarzenegger. I think he viewed himself as a badass. At some point in his life, he thought, “If I get big biceps, I’ll actually be a tough guy.” So, now he gets to go play a tough guy. I’ve got some of that in my too! I guess those are the guys I look to. I wouldn’t look to the greats like Edward Norton or Daniel Day-Lewis. I wouldn’t look to some of the great actors. Instead, I look to the great performers.
One of the things I’ve always loved about you is that you always have a few irons in the fire. What do you look for in the projects you take on at this point in your career?
It all comes down to who I’m working with. That is very important. Secondly, I look for the messaging. There are certain scenes that I wouldn’t do. I wouldn’t do a love scene, just by example. I’m married, and I wouldn’t do it. People say, “It’s separate. It’s a performance.” Maybe it is, but I’m not kissing another woman. So, there are things like that. I wouldn’t get too deep into it in the messaging because it really is a performance. I would get a little bit into the political side of it but, there are certain things that I just don’t want to be attached to. Moreover, at least for this project, this was a very simple yes. As soon as Cowboy called, I said, “Are you doing this? Are you calling me to do this, or will you do this too?” He said, “I’m doing it too.” That’s when I said, “I’m in!”
What do you consider the biggest misconception about yourself, and what is the best lesson we can take from your journey?
Misconception? Wow. I think I might need more time. That’s a beautiful question but a bit of a deep question. As far as my journey goes, I am always willing to learn. For anyone listening to this or who likes to go to social media — Never be afraid to argue with me! You’ll never hurt my feelings; I don’t want to hurt yours. I’m always willing to change my mind if you confront me with evidence that I haven’t previously considered!
Awesome! I will surely hit you with that deeper question on social media, and we can hash it out there!
You’re awesome! Thank you, pal!
Chael, it’s been a pleasure. You gave a great performance in the film, and I hope this is the start of something big!
Thanks, Jason! Talk to you soon.
‘Mojave Diamonds’ will be available on Digital, On Demand, and DVD on May 30, 2023, via Lionsgate.
Follow the continuing adventures of Chael Sonnen on social media via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Visit his official website at www.chaelsonnen.com.
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.