A few months ago, actor and martial artist Scott Adkins popped up on my YouTube recommendations, chatting with publications about GQ, Vanity Fair, and Wired about the intricacies of on-screen martial arts and action. As the star of a some pretty good action flicks, he’s qualified to do it!
Now he’s launched his own Youtube channel, and the “Art of Action” interview series. He’s been chatting with the stars of the action world, and some its unsung heroes. Some of the guests are faces you’ll recognize immediately, like Tony Jaa and Dolph Lundgren. But Adkins is able to get into the weeds with his guests, and talk shop with a level of granularity you don’t see happening in a regular press junket.
Other interviews highlight the mainstays of the action film world who live just outside the limelight. It’s really cool to put a name to a face that usually just shows up to snarl and get punched. The episode featuring Richard Norton, who you might remember as the Big Bad in Mr. Nice Guy, or as the Prime Imperator in Mad Max: Fury Road (a film where he was also the fight coordinator), is one of my favorites. He’s charming and he’s got great anecdotes about working with greats like Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung.
The interviews are full of stories of bumps and bruises and the lengths these professionals will go to put action on the screen. Adkins has the right blend of nerdy enthusiasm and hard-earned expertise to get the best out of his guests. Here’s some fun stuff I learned watching the series.
Tony Jaa has a really good memory
Tony Jaa is best known for Ong Bak, where he mixed hard-hitting Muay Thai battles with supernaturally agile parkour stunts. His interview with Scott is charming and mellow. While Ong Bak hit nearly 20 years ago, Jaa’s got a really good memory for how many takes it took to nail each one of the film’s stunts.
Jaa tells Adkins that he got the bit where he does a gainer and two front flips off a descending scaffolding in just two takes. He got the scene in which he knees a man through a pane of glass and off second-story balcony in one, which was impressive, but also necessary — the shoot was on its last piece of glass.
Cynthia Rothrock’s leg is held together by pure muscle
If you were hanging out online like 15 years ago, your one and only contact with Cynthia Rothrock may be the proto-viral “best fight scene of all time.” In the clip from 1993’s Undefeatable she enters a battle between two alternate-reality Steve Carells, she uses a deadly towel whip technique, and as the villain is hoisted away by a meathook lodged in his ocular cavity, she quips “keep an eye out for ya, Sting Ray.”
It’s grade-A schlock, but if you dig deeper into Rothrock’s filmography, you’ll find some incredibly explosive, deftly executed fights — many of which she filmed without a functioning ACL. The ACL is a ligament that, for most normal humans, keeps your knees from falling apart. Rothrock’s ACL was fully torn while shooting a scene, and she never had it repaired. She shouldn’t have been able to walk around, but she just kept on kicking. She says doctors have told her she’s still standing because her extremely well developed hamstrings just sort of held everything together. She’s strong.
An on-set injury jump started Chad Stahelski’s directing career
Remember that part in The Matrix where Neo’s got Agent Smith on his back and he slams him into the ceiling of the subway tunnel? The guy who took that bump was Chad Stahelski: stunt double for Keanu Reeves and future director of the John Wick series. On the way back down from the ceiling, a wirework malfunction dropped Stahelski 20 feet onto the hard ground, and his knee blew the hell up.
The injury was bad enough that Stahelski couldn’t fly back home, so the Wachowskis invited him to hang out during the editing process. The experience inspired him to learn more, and when he eventually flew back to LA, he spent his Matrix paycheck on a license for Adobe Premiere. Stahelski would keep working behind the scenes, start his own action design company, and eventually make his directing debut with John Wick. Nice.
Mark Dacascos says Keanu Reeves has strong hands
This interview is a treat because Mark is just such an affable guy. If you’re an action fan, you might recognize him from his leading roles in Only The Strong and Brotherhood of the Wolf. Other folks might know him as the face of Iron Chef: America.
In John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum he plays Zero, the leader of a Shinobi assassin outfit, and John Wick’s number one stan. In the interview, Dacascos talks up Keanu Reeve’s Judo bona-fides, and giddily recalls how his forearms were covered with bruises from grappling with Reeves during the shoot.
Michael Jai White was the toxic avenger (sometimes)
Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White starred opposite each other in Undisputed II: Last Man Standing. They share some fun anecdotes about the lengths they went to convince audiences that Adkins was larger than White: a fact that is patently untrue. Michael Jai White is very big.
Since starring in the 1997 experimental art film Spawn, Michael Jai White has had a long career in action, comedy, and drama. Before that, a 19-year-old Michael Jai White showed up in The Toxic Avenger Part II, where he played a nunchaku-wielding heavy. He also doubled for Toxie in some scenes, and since he was the only guy on set who had any experience with martial arts, ended up taking on most of the fight choreography.