Tom Jolliffe chats with British action star Gary Daniels...
Gary Daniels was a successful kickboxer (a former world champ) who took the decision to leave his homeland in England to pursue a career in acting overseas in the late 80’s. He cut his teeth on celluloid in the Philippines before venturing to America to launch himself.
Since that time he’s filmed all over the world and appeared on film with action legends like Jackie Chan, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Wesley Snipes, Jason Statham and Jet Li. He also carved out a successful career as a leading man in the straight to video market. Gary was kind enough to speak to us...
What are you filming right now?
I came to Thailand to do a couple of films. The first is called A Stranger in Paradise, with Colin Egglesfield and Stuart Townsend. I’ve just wrapped on that. The second is Angels by Wych Kaosayananda. It’s got a great script, great crew, great director and it’s a really good part for me.
The Legend Of Bruce Lee hits UK shores on DVD early next year. Can you tell us a little bit about your role in that?
Actually it’s not that big a role really. I think I’m only in two episodes. The character isn’t a real person from Bruce Lee’s life; he’s been made up for the film. I’ve not seen the finished product, but it’s very much a fantastical version of Bruce Lee’s life, as most Bruce Lee biopics tend to be. Just like Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, they embellish it very much. It’s not something I personally agree with, I’d like to see a true Bruce Lee story. They wrote this character as someone with a different fighting style to Bruce Lee and offered me the role.
Who has taught you the most during your film career?
I couldn’t really tell you any one person, I mean I’ve learned the most just from life itself and that’s what helps you become a better actor. I’ve worked with three different acting coaches, a lot of directors and a lot of actors and you take from everywhere. But really, what I feel has made me a better actor is getting older and having more life experience. One of my acting coaches once told me that actors are professional experiencers.
Which of your films are you most proud of?
Oh, I hate that question! You know what? It’s a good question for me to answer because when I’m asked that, for me, it’s not always about the finished product. There are so many different reasons that I’ve enjoyed the films I’ve made. It could be the location, or the actors I’ve worked with, the director, or the experience I had while making the film. If you’re talking about the finished product, then there’s a few I guess, but one of my favourites was a film called Spoiler. It didn’t have any martial arts action in it, so it was more of a drama. I loved that film. It wasn’t accepted that well by the buyers because it didn’t have any martial arts, or me kicking ass, and I guess at that point in my career, buyers had come to expect a Gary Daniels film to have me kicking ass in it. I also enjoyed making Fist of the North Star. It didn’t exactly turn out the way I expected it, but I’m still proud of it. Recoil was another I enjoyed.
The films you did with PM Entertainment (Recoil, Rage, Riot, Deadly Target) were great. They made a concerted effort to deliver Blockbuster action on a low budget. Do you think we’ll ever see another company like that in the straight to video world?
They really knew what their market was. I know some people put them down for some of their stories, some of the acting, but for people who just want to watch some kick ass action, they knew what they were doing. But you know, times have changed since then, the world’s economy has changed. The amount of money foreign buyers are paying for films, is not what it was back then. They’d shoot for a 3-5 million dollar budget, and make a really good profit back then. Korea would pay 700-800 thousand for those films. They’d have HBO World premieres which you don’t really have any more. Germany would pay a million for those films too. The world’s economy crashed and unfortunately that’s driven down budgets. Now you tend to have bigger movies shooting for 20-30 million, or you’ll get films shooting for under a million dollars. This is why people are shooting in Thailand, or Eastern Europe for example, to keep costs down. But unfortunately when you’re shooting budget is under a million, you won’t get the same kind of action as those PM films, with the car chases and crashes or the helicopters. Unfortunately times have changed.
Is there any other Martial Arts actor you’d like to face off against on screen?
Well not personally really. If I was going to do something like that it would hopefully be something that could promote my career. Who is out there right now in movies who could do that? I don’t know. Jackie (Chan) is moving away from martial arts and working in China mostly. Sadly, when you get teamed up with bigger action stars, you’re not gonna get big roles. There are egos involved in this business, and they don’t always want you to shine in their films. I’d be more interested in the directors. That interests me more, a good director with a bigger budget. Tony Jaa is one of the bigger names out there right now, but his films probably wouldn’t be the standard that could further my career. A lot of the guys they look to hire nowadays are what you might call the tricksters. They’ll do 3-4 flips before throwing a kick. There are some amazing athletes out there amongst the younger martial artists. That’s not really my style. What I’m doing right now is a straight acting role, with a terrific script. That’s really what interests me more.
What’s the most dangerous stunt you’ve ever done?
I think some of the stunt co-ordinators in those PM films actually let me do some pretty crazy stuff. Hanging out of helicopters, or hanging off skyscrapers. I mean, obviously, I was wired in. I’ve worked in Hong Kong which can be pretty hairy. I’ve been on wires in Hong Kong and these are meant for Chinese stunt guys, not someone like myself who weighed 185lbs. I think the scariest thing I’ve ever done was in my first ever movie, which I did in the Philippines. It was an awful film, a kind of Indiana Jones film. I had this heavy back pack on, and in the scene I had to jump into this river and swim across. As soon as I got in, the back pack filled with water and I just sank like a stone! I must have dropped about 15 feet to the bottom, and I had to get the damn thing off before I could swim back up. It took some time to get off too! That was thankfully right at the beginning of my career!
It’s the ultimate Gary Daniels film. You’re the hero, in a 50 million dollar budget movie. Who plays your villain, and who directs?
I think I’d have either Tony or Ridley Scott as director. I love everything those guys have done. But who’d be my ultimate bad guy? Wow! There’s so many great actors out there. I wouldn’t be picking a martial artist I don’t think. I’d pick a really great actor, like Christian Bale I think. Would he do it though? I seriously doubt it! Or if you’re going the Asian route, maybe Simon Yam. I think he’s a terrific actor. He’d make a great bad guy.
Do you have any plans to take up directing?
Definitely! Definitely. I actually co-wrote a film I want to produce and direct, an action film, and shoot in the Philippines. I’ve done a lot of action directing in my films so I’ve worked a little behind camera already. When I’m on set I like to watch the directors and see how they shoot things, and think how I’d shoot them, so it’s definitely something I’m thinking about, and the sooner the better!
Finally, what are you shooting in 2012?
Nothing! (Laughs) Actually, there are a couple of possibilities. I’ve been approached to do a pretty big film, and it’s one of the leads in a film that would shoot here in Thailand. I’m hopefully meeting the director while I’m here, who’s from America, so that’s part of the reason I’m here. He can’t really fly out right now because of the flood situation in Thailand. It’s really hard to plan in this business. When you’re not shooting you’re sat watching TV, but then within a week you could be shooting in some foreign land somewhere.
Thanks very much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
No thank you, thanks for taking the time out, I appreciate it.
Many thanks to Gary Daniels for taking part in this interview.
The Legend of Bruce Lee is released on DVD and Blu-ray on January 9th, 2012.
Five Essential Gary Daniels Films