Exclusive Interview with Scott Adkins from ‘The Expendables 2’

I discovered the work of Scott Adkins when the critic Vern (www.outlawvern.com) recommended The Tournament, Undisputed III and Ninja. I was captivated by Adkins’ new take on acrobatic martial arts, so you can imagine how excited I was to hear he was cast in The Expendables 2 and met him in person at the film’s press junket. Adkins plays the villain’s (Jean-Claude Van Damme) henchman, which Adkins

has said originally was two characters he combined into one. And, he gets to fight Jason Statham in the finale. Adkins also re-teams with Van Damme again in the upcoming Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.

Should we assume when you have a goatee, you’re the bad guy?

“Exactly. That’s the way I go. I think it makes me look tougher.”

What were the two characters in the original script that you combined into this one?

“There were just two characters that were the guys underneath Jean-Claude’s character. I can’t remember their names now, but they both fought Statham at the end. It was him fighting these two guys. That’s why I said we should just combine these two characters because I think people will be more interested to see, I hope that they’d be interested to see, me versus Jason.”

Did they have two distinct personalities that were then combined into one character?

“No, it wasn’t that distinct, to be honest. They had two different names and they were generic heavies.”

Jason Statham is good and we’ve seen all the Transporter movies, but he’s movie-trained. How did his and your real training meld together in the fight scene?

“Well, you know, the thing is real fighting is different to screen fighting. It’s about selling movement. It’s about rhythm and timing and distance and things like that. You actually find that some dancers are actually very good at fight sequences because there’s more in common with doing a fight on a film with dancing than there is with real fighting. So it’s just about being a performer and selling something and expressing yourself physically on screen. Jason’s obviously very good at that – and myself also.”

Even with Bourne Ultimatum and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, was Expendables 2 the biggest set you’ve ever been on?

“Those films were equally as big but in terms of the actors that were around, it was phenomenal, mind-blowing. For me it’s the biggest part I’ve had in the biggest movie yet, so for me it was a great step forward.”

As far as your involvement in the big scenes, how did it compare to your roles in Bourne and Wolverine?

“Well, I had one scene with Matt Damon, which is over within the blink of an eye when you see the film, but we worked on it for about three weeks. It was great to work with Paul Greengrass, obviously. For Wolverine I was actually there for a long time in Sydney preparing the end fight sequence, which Ryan Reynolds was not around for. So I pretty much picked up the whole thing and did the whole end sequence. Then of course they got some shots of Ryan for that, but it was a great experience. Actually, Hugh Jackman and Matt Damon are the nicest, most hard-working actors I’ve worked with. Great guys.”

What is the specific martial art you practice?

“I’ve done various ones but the main two would be Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing.”

Where do the flips and body rolls fit in with that?

“Always wanted to get into the movies and realized that being able to do gymnastics looks cool on screen. So from the age of 18 I started gymnastics and trained on the floor. I didn’t do the apparatus but just the floor work.”

How much prep time do you need for a fight day?

“The more you can get, the better. If you haven’t got a lot of time to shoot the fight, like the end fight in Undisputed III, we didn’t have a lot of time to shoot it. Maybe three days and the whole fight is about seven minutes long. That takes a long time to do. Me and Marko made sure that we knew every movement exactly and we could pretty much do the whole fight scene in one go, and that allowed us to shoot wide angles and long takes of different segments because it’s when you move the camera and set up the different angles with the lights, that’s when you lose a lot of time. So we were able to shoot big segments in one go.”

We actually prefer to see as much in one take as we can.

“Yeah, I’m always going to go for that as well. Whenever you’re shaking the camera and doing things like that, you’re disguising the performer’s ability to make it look like the punches are hitting and blah blah blah, or that it’s faster than it is. Certainly with me you can afford to pull back and show the whole thing, document what’s going on, but it’s important to film the fight scenes from the right angle as well and fill the frame with movement, rather than just have two shapes in the middle. You see people getting stacked a lot in fight sequences and all this space to the side because it’s easier to sell a punch like that than it is to sell a punch like this [in profile,] but that’s the art of a fight scene really. I was lucky to start in Hong Kong and got taught by Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and those guys.”

Did you or Jason accidentally land anything in your fight?

“No, no, it was okay but I was carrying a bad injury. I tore my ACL in March 2011, so I did three films without an ACL. By the time we got to The Expendables, my meniscus was completely messed up and hanging out in different places. It kept catching and with cold weather, I was afraid to tell the producers how much pain I was really in. When they said action, you kind of forget but every one of those kicks was pretty difficult to do.”

How big is your role in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty?

“Well, I’m not allowed to talk about it to be honest, but it’s significant. It’s significant. There’s a lot of roles in the movie. There’s a lot of actors in there, but it’s an important story to tell and I was very excited to have Kathryn Bigelow ask me to play this part for her. It was a great experience, but I’m not really meant to talk about it.”

Do you take the lead in Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning?

“I do, yes. I’m the protagonist and it’s really my character’s story as he finds himself in the world that we know of with the Universal Soldier films. John Hyams is a fantastic director. He wrote the script. It’s a really hard R, pulls no punches, very bloody action film that mixes genres with sci-fi and horror. It’s a very interesting script and I’m very proud of the film.”

We saw the first 10 minutes of it at Actionfest and I couldn’t believe what they revealed.

“See, yeah, that gives a big thing away but how great is it that it’s all that first person perspective. It’s kind of freaky and you can see how violent it is just from that.”

Is that prologue essentially how you become a Universal Soldier?

“Basically, my character has one memory in his head and that’s what you saw in the first 10 minutes. That sequence is the only memory he has and the rest of the film is him trying to retrace his steps and find out not only who he is, but who that guy [the murderer] is.”

Do you get to fight Van Damme again?

“All of them.”

Dolph too?

“All of them. Andrei Arlovski. There’s lots of hand-to-hand combat in the movie. Fans of action films, they’re really going to dig it. They’re going to love it but it pulls no punches. Some people will be quite shocked.”

Is Tomb of the Dragon a film you did?

“Yeah, I just finished that with Dolph. We shot it in China. It’s a different type of film. It’s a family adventure. It’s a straight acting role for me. Just trying to stretch myself and do different things, and also let the knee get better.”

So it’s less of a fight movie?

“There’s no fights in the movie. It’s an adventure movie but it was a joint Chinese and British production. It was a lot of fun to be over there working with those guys in massive Beijing film studios which are absolutely incredible.”

When you did the Hong Kong movies, having a Tae Kwon Do background which is Korean, was it an adjustment with their Kung Fu and Wushu guys?

“No, because by the time I started making films I’d already done Wushu, I’d already studied various different arts. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you do a Karate kick, Tae Kwon Do kick or a Kung Fu kick. At the end of the day it’s movie fighting. As long as you understand what needs to be done to make a fight scene work on film then you’re going to be okay and you make adjustments. Sometimes what feels right to you as a martial artist doesn’t look right on screen and you’ve got to be able to adjust for the camera. The guys that can do that are the guys that are good at that.”

We always see the Western actors pop up in the Hong Kong movies, looking a little out of place. How does that happen from the inside?

“Right, yeah, it’s a bit stereotypical, isn’t it? Normally they don’t have much dialogue and they just go, ‘ARRRRRRHHH,’ but that’s because I’ve been directed by some of those guys and they want you to scream and do the look like that. I don’t know why they do that. Certainly if I went back out there again I would try and bring more dimensions to the character and not just be the stereotypical white guy screaming throwing punches.”

How gratifying has it been to have your own leading vehicles like Undisputed III and Ninja?

“I’m very proud of Undisputed because people really seem to have enjoyed Boyka as a character. I know how many fans Boyka’s got out there and I’d like to do another Undisputed film.”

So Undisputed IV?

“Yeah.”