To celebrate the release of the acclaimed, violent and action-packed thriller Avengement, we caught up with leading man Scott Adkins and writer Stu Small at the UK Premiere to discuss the film.
In Avengement, while granted leave from prison, Cain Burgess (Adkins) evades his guards and returns to old haunts to take revenge on the people that made him a cold hearted killer. It’s an epic, bloody battle to search for the soul he lost years ago on the streets of an unforgiving city. Avengement is an impressive, fight-filled dramatic story with an all-time best performance from Adkins…
You’ve worked together before on films like Accident Man and The Debt Collector, so how was this particular idea conceived?
Stu Small: It was director Jesse V. Johnson’s original concept for a film, the nuts and bolts story of a battered and bruised guy with the weight of the world on his shoulders who walks into a bar. He holds the inhabitants of the bar hostage and, throughout his time there, we unravel the story of how he came to be where he is. It was Jesse’s idea to begin with, then it went to Scott, then me, and so the three of us worked on it and brought the story and character to life.
It was a great experience. The three of us have worked together on a handful of films so we’ve got a good relationship at this point. I think we all enjoyed the story being set in England and exploring the many different quirky characters you could find in this pub. Scott also worked very hard to develop his character, which is what really drives the film from the opening scenes to the brutal climax.
Scott Adkins: We couldn’t get away from making it a dark, gritty story because it’s ultimately a revenge tale. We wanted to get behind the character and understand why he became a monster. To get the audience on his side, at least as an anti-hero, we had to show his harrowing story. It had to be serious and heavy and times, but we sprinkled in little bits of humour, and some of the humour is very dark!
SEE ALSO: Read our ★★★★ review of Avengement here
Scott, you’ve been heavily praised for your excellent performance. In such a performance-driven film, did you ever feel a sense of pressure or were you always confident going into this?
SA: I feel like I know what I’m capable of now. I don’t get a chance to show it a lot of the time because you can only do what you’re presented with, or what you’re offered. There are a lot of great scripts out in the world that I don’t get to see, and a lot of what I’m given isn’t as good as it should be. Working with Stu and Jesse collaboratively, and me being a producer, I’m able to help shape the project and make it something we can all be proud of. We make sure the story is good and the characters are all strong.
When we did Accident Man with Jesse, he commented to me, “there’s a lot of dialogue here”. I think even he didn’t know if I could do it at the time! I proved I could do it, then we did The Debt Collector and Avengement, so I think there’s no question now. In the pub scenes in Avengement, it’s like a piece of theatre where we have six or seven actors in a scene doing five or six pages of dialogue in one take, I loved the experience of that.
SS: Scott was the driving force behind this character and showing the contrast both before and after he goes to prison. He didn’t hide away, and everyone should understand he totally embraced it!
As you guys are also close friends, do you develop dialogue together or does it start with Stu as the writer?
SS: I think I do a lot of the heavy lifting but I also write dialogue that I can hear Scott saying. Then again, Scott will go through the entire script and adapt his lines a little into his own phrasing.
SA: Me and Stu grew up together and we’ve taken the piss out of each other for years. I know his dialogue, and I know where he’s coming from when he writes certain words. Sometimes I have to make his dialogue a bit less Brummie [Laughs]. When we were younger, we made our own short films, just messing around, and we were practicing long takes of dialogue back then, so it doesn’t feel worlds away from that now.
You have a great cast and solid performances all round. Can you talk more about the team?
SA: Craig Fairbrass has a very key role as Lincoln, Cain’s brother, and I really wanted Craig to do it. I knew how I was wanting to play Cain a certain way and how, when he enters the pub as a monster with his scars and silver teeth, I wanted his brother to immediately have a commanding presence when he walks in.
Nick Moran is always great, he brings a lot to the table and he’s a massive collaborator. He’s very funny and a great actor. We also had Thomas Turgoose, Leo Gregory, Kierston Wareing, Louis Mandylor and a great cast all around, so we were very lucky.
The action is also super impressive, with great choreography but it’s also violent and shocking. How was this approach for you?
SA: Our fight coordinator Dan Styles did a great job and Luke Lafontaine helped a great deal too. It was important that the fights looked real, and we didn’t want kung fu fights. Thinking back to Green Street 3, that was when I first started making inroads into this type of character, with the football hooligan influence [Laughs]. I think everyone can relate to that type of person.
SS: “Primal” is the best word I can think of describing the action. Every single fight is a primal battle to get from A to B or get away from C. Again, it’s motivated by story.
There are many memorable lines. Do each of you have a favourite?
SA: My favourite is when I say, “piss in one of them bottles, and you can shit your pants” which always makes me laugh [Laughs].
SS: I love the character of Tune, played by Thomas Turgoose, so I love many of his lines. When I wrote him I was definitely thinking, “I’ll be that guy”.
The film has done very well critically. What do you think film critics and mainstream audiences have found appealing?
SA: I think it’s a very engaging story and it keeps the audience entertained. We’re not quite sure who this character is or what’s happened, so it keeps you guessing. He’s also quite a charismatic guy so audiences are drawn to that.
SS: It comes down to the character of Cain, the awful journey he’s been on and what he’s endured. It’s a harrowing story at its heart and you can’t help but root for this guy. I think that’s separated it from other films in the genre.
What’s next for you as a team?
SA: For me, Stu and Jesse, the more we do, the more we understand how we work together. Whatever it is, our collaborations together seem to be working so we’re excited to roll it forward. I like telling character-driven action stories and films like Avengement are more realistic, and I like that. I enjoy finding a scenario where I can give my core audience what they want, a lot of action, but there’s also a strong character and story arc in there.
SS: Some audiences have a stigma about action films all being the same but, to us, they’re not the same at all. We’ve tried to do something different every time. All the films we’ve worked on together are very character driven pieces. In Avengement, Cain is a pretty insecure young man trying to get ahead and ultimately turns into a beast. It all started with us asking “who is this character, why are they here, why would they do that?” If it ends in a brawl, it ends in a brawl, but crucially it’s about the journey getting there.
Photo Credit: Nikolay Petrov (courtesy of The Warrior Agency)
Avengement is out now on Digital Download and on Blu-ray & DVD 1st July 2019
Many thanks to Scott Adkins and Stu Small for taking the time for this interview.