Scott Adkins Talks ‘Expendables 2,’ The New ‘Universal Soldier,’ and Getting Punched in 3D By UFC Champs
Today, The Expendables 2 comes crashing into movie theaters across the country like a tank. With its Herculean roster of action legends, one name you might not yet recognize on the poster is that of Scott Adkins. We must stress, the “yet.” Adkins is currently fighting his way, literally, up the action cinema food chain. He appeared in such films as Ninja and The Bourne Ultimatum. He wowed many of us with his turn as vicious prisoner brawler Yuri Boyka in the Undisputed franchise. In Undisputed III: Redemption, he held his own with Mirageman himself, Marko Zaror.
In addition to The Expendables 2, Adkins will again star alongside Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren in Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, the “fourth” film in the franchise that was just announced as part of the second wave of this year’s Fantastic Fest. Not one to slow down, Adkins also stars in the action movie El Gringo, which is currently available on VOD services such as Amazon Instant Video.
We kick around all these subjects with Mr. Adkins and he reveals, among other things, the status of Undisputed 4.
Tell me a little bit about how you came aboard El Gringo.
I just did the new Universal Soldier; Moshe Diamant was producing that. He came across this great script by Jonathan Stokes called El Gringo and wanted me to star. So I read it and thought it was great. Sort of in the vein of Desperado; kind of like No Country for Old Men meets Desperado. With my abilities, I’m a bit of an action guy, I figured I could do a lot with that. And it seemed like the perfect next step after Universal Solider.
It was much bigger than it ended up being action-wise. There was a hell of a lot of action in the script and we had to bring that down a little bit because it just would have been too big of a budget.
You served as a producer on El Gringo as well.
I got very involved with some of the action sequences and bringing on some crew members. So I ended up with an executive producer credit just for that though I didn’t really produce it.
There’s quite a bit of gunplay in El Gringo, just like there is in Expendables 2. As a martial artist and an actor, would you always prefer to be strictly hand-to-hand or do enjoy brandishing the occasional firearm?
I think every red-blooded male enjoys brandishing a firearm. Honestly, I’ve put my stamp all over the gunfights in El Gringo. They are almost like gunplay Kung fu; everything is up-close. It’s almost like a fight sequence, that’s the way I like to do things. I’m not just shooting people. I’m up-close busting them, putting them in an arm lock, swinging them to the floor into some sort of jujitsu move with the gun against their head and then blowing their head away.
That was something that I was interested in trying, because for me it’s just more interesting. In a lot of films, you get gunfights where you see the guy shoot the gun and then it goes to the next shot of the guy getting hit with the bullet. I try and tie the two things together so you see it all in one shot. Although the director Eduardo Rodriguez, who did great job, his style of editing is different from the way I would have envisioned it. It’s quick cuts. I would have preferred some of it to play out a bit longer to be honest. But it still definitely works.
You mentioned the new Universal Soldier film you’ll be appearing in with Jean-Claude Van Damme. I actually got to see a short clip from the film at ActionFest wherein you were unfortunately getting your head bashed in with a crowbar.
How brutal was that?
It was intense for sure.
How did the audience react?
There was a lot of empathetic groaning. It looks like you and Van Damme will be adversaries in this one, what was that experience like given that he’s such an idol of yours?
My bedroom was plastered with pictures of Van Damme. My mother was worried about me. Most teenage boys have half-naked women on their walls, and I had Jean-Claude. For me, there was Bruce Lee and there was Van Damme. He had the physique of the western action guys like Arnold and Stallone, yet he had the moves like Bruce Lee. He came about when something like that was sorely needed. He hit the mark at the right time and blew up; very charismatic action guy to watch on screen.
I can pretty much say that because of Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme, that’s why I do what I do today. So there was certainly a sense of coming full circle when it came time to work with him. Expendables 2 will be the fourth film I’ve done with him. He’s a great guy, and it’s always a pleasure to work with him. An icon.
The new Universal Soldier will be your first film in 3D, right?
3D, yeah, it was actually quite difficult. The cameras tended to break down a lot, especially when they got too hot. We were working in tight sets in Louisiana in the summer so it tended to get very hot. But John [Hyams] is a great director. He’s very well prepared and knew exactly what he needed to do every day. So when those cameras did fail, and it took thirty minutes to get them back up again, he was prepared so that we didn’t lose too many shots. But there’s no gimmick with the 3D in this film, it’s just gonna help pull you into the movie. The clip you saw at ActionFest wasn’t in 3D, was it?
Nope, 2D. Though I am curious if you think there is anything inherently beneficial in using 3D for a martial arts movie.
Yeah, we’re not seeing martial arts films in 3D yet. The argument is that it’s another perspective and it draws you into the film more. Certainly with Avatar, which was the last film I saw in 3D, you can say that definitely happened. In terms of doing the fight sequences here, I don’t even know if this is true, but they said that because you have more of a perception of depth we have to get even closer with our kicks and our punches. So now I’ve got couple of fight scenes with Andrei Arlovski, the former UFC heavyweight champ, where his fists are pretty much touching my face. So that was a bit of an experience in 3D.
Little harrowing, was it?
Well it was certainly 3D for me.
But the other thing was, we couldn’t watch the playback for some reason. So I didn’t get to see any of the film. It’s very frustrating when you’re doing the fight sequences, because you want to run back out and see if it’s working and make adjustments. So I really had to rely John and Larnell [Stovall] the fight coordinator.
That’s interesting, I never thought about 3D being such a complication in this genre.
But you know John’s done a smart thing with this film, with Jean-Claude being the villain. I love the way he opens up the movie, and I love the way it’s brutal, it’s hardcore, and very violent. It’s quite sinister. It’s going to be different from what people will expect, and I can only applaud that. It’s good to change things up a bit, especially when you’re talking the fourth film in the franchise. I was a big fan of Regeneration, and I’ve seen enough of this film to know that it’s really good. People are going to be blown away.
Looking forward to it. Can you tell us a little bit about your character in The Expendables 2?
I play Hector, he’s the right hand man of Jean-Claude’s character Jean Vilain. I don’t want to give away any story points, but at some point in the movie the expendables come up against our gang and stuff goes down. So for the rest of the movie, they’re out to get us; gonna hunt us down and try to kill us. The rest involves whether or not I’m in Expendables 3.
I know you had to be geeking out to be surrounded by all these action icons on one set.
Completely. I filmed this scene with me and Van Damme, and Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Chuck Norris are all firing guns at us; big gun fight. Just to watch that in the cinema is going to be a geeking out moment, but to actually be there on the set amongst it all, and talking and hanging around with people you grew up watching is crazy.
Now you’re also going to be in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty about the Navy SEALs who took down bin Laden. What’s that shoot been like?
It’s fantastic working with Kathryn; obviously she’s a very good director. I’m not really supposed to talk about, but it was a great opportunity. I’m not doing martial arts or anything, so it’s just me as an actor. It’s the kind of thing that you don’t say no to.
It’s gotta feel pretty good that an Oscar-winning director is interested in your talents as an actor and not just your martial arts.
Definitely. I get better every film. I’m always trying to improve my skills as an actor. I think it shows in El Gringo, it shows in the new Universal Soldier. You can’t rest on your laurels; you’ve got to keep improving. I grew up watching martial arts guys who were coming onto the scene because they were martial artists. Their acting wasn’t that great, but they got away with it because they were kicking the shit out of people. But these days you’ve got actors, Keanu Reeves or Matt Damon, performing their own fight sequences convincingly. So you’ve got to step up your game. You’ve got to be an actor first, everything else is secondary.
You actually fought Matt Damon in The Bourne Ultimatum. How was it to work with someone like him who was an actor first and then transitioned to doing his own stunts?
Out of all the actors I’ve worked with, he’s by far one of the nicest that I’ve come across. But you know, what he does is different from what I do. They get away with a lot of things in those movies. For one thing they’ve got days and days to shoot. And also, if it’s ever not working, just shake the camera a bit harder. We won’t see shit, but we’ll get the impression of the fight scene and everyone’s happy. Well, I don’t think so. I’m not a big fan of the way they film action in the Bourne films, or The Dark Knight for that matter.
I think they could be doing a much better job. But you know, I come from growing up watching Jackie Chan films. Films where all you need to do is pull the camera back and let the performers do their thing. But it’s taste as well. Some people like that. I don’t know why, but some people do.
I agree with you in a lot of ways. There’s so much machine-like editing in action films right now, every shot is half a second long and it’s all pieced together. You can’t tell who’s hitting whom or who’s even fighting sometimes.
Yeah, I know what you’re saying. It baffles me, honestly. But opposite that you have films like The Raid, and you remember how great The Matrix was? Don’t mess with that. But it’s easier to just shake the camera around.
One person who certainly doesn’t have it easy is Yuri Boyka. Will we see the return of Boyka anytime soon?
I want it to happen for sure. I really enjoy playing that character, and I get a Facebook message every minute asking “when’s Undisputed 4?” So I want to do it for sure, and I know that the fans want it. I urge people to go out and support my movies. Undisputed III didn’t make any money, it was downloaded, and when you’re talking to studios about doing Undisputed 4 they want to know how much the third made. If it didn’t make a lot of money, it doesn’t make sense for them to bankroll it. But there’s definitely talk, I’m working on it, and I think it will happen.
Have you talked to Isaac Florentine? Is he on board?
Oh yeah, he’s on board. I wouldn’t do it without him. We’re definitely talking about it. There is a script and we’re talking with Nu Image. But I’ve had a few injuries and a surgery so I’m waiting for that to be fully fixed. I took a bit of time out from martial arts because I hurt my knee, but after the next film I’ll be ready to get back.
Did you hurt yourself on a film set?
It was actually in training, but you put so much stress on your body making these movies. I’ve got an injury from every action film I’ve done; something to remember each of them. It’s much harder to than it looks to be honest.
Who in the world thinks it looks easy?
I was training in martial arts every day, watching movies thinking, “yeah, I can do that.” And you can do that…if you warm up for twenty minutes and you’re at a gym with a sprung floor. Then you can pull off double back flips. But try doing it in a stupid costume at six in the morning with the sun coming up. Everyone’s shouting, “Why are we not shooting? The sun’s coming up!” Doing it day in, day out is tough, but I love it.
Check out Adkins in The Expendables 2 starting today and catch him in El Gringo on Amazon Instant Video.