Gavin Schmitt Interviews Brahim Achabbakhe
While the name Brahim Achabbakhe may not easily roll off the tongue, he is a talent well worth keeping your eye on. Having been involved in stunt work for the last ten years, including on such big films as “The Hangover II”, Brahim is gradually moving more and more into acting. If you are interested in martial arts or action films, there is a good chance you have seen his work or will see it soon.
In August 2017, Brahim was kind enough to allow me to throw ten questions at him. Get to know this skilled athlete, because this is a man who is going places.
GS: When you were younger, you were inspired by Jackie Chan. Once you better understood martial arts, did your respect grow stronger?
BA: Definitely. It took me about ten good years of practice to realize all the hard work behind martial art movie making. I remember thinking all it took was a few kicks and punches but actually to be a martial art actor or stuntman you really need to think outside the box and be open minded to learn different martial arts. I think the more you learn, the better you will get to understand martial art on screen. Every martial art or technique can be filmed in various ways and Jackie Chan in the 80’s and 90’s really was the king of this. I started to really respect Bruce Lee’s work later on in my career and what attracted me more to him was his philosophy of martial art and his charisma.
GS: Hong Kong is known for its martial arts movies, but the genre is becoming more universal. Do you notice a difference in styles depending on what country you’re making a film in?
BA: Yes, every country I worked in has a different style and the stunt performers are moving a certain way. For example, in China they are really into that Wushu background and they use a lot of wires for even very easy actions. In Thailand they really love to make contact and use as little wire as possible. I think this is why after “Ong Bak” (2003) everyone started to look at Thailand as the new country for action movies. So, yes, the best approach is to be open minded when you work in a new country, try to follow the way they shoot, the way they create action and you will grow yourself by adding those techniques you learnt to yours. It’s all about sharing in the end.
GS: I believe you’re based out of Thailand; what does the fighting scene look like there?
BA: Back when I first came in Thailand in 2007, the fighting scene here was amazing. There were some great talents and the stuntmen from Thailand were really motivated to push the bar higher. The reason for this great level of martial art in the Thai action films was because of Master Panna Rittikrai who was a great martial art choreographer and also a very good human being. After his death in 2014, the local action movie industry kind of stopped producing quality Thai action movies and many of the younger generation who wanted to climb to be an actor ended up becoming stuntmen or even changed jobs after his passing. Many now work on foreign action films shooting in Thailand as stuntmen or went on to work on very low quality Thai TV series where the action looks nothing like what Master Panna used to deliver. I think Indonesia is the new place to look at for quality martial art action films nowadays.
GS: Does being a martial artist allow you to watch martial arts movies differently from the rest of us? In other words, do you analyze the fight scenes or laugh at actors faking it?
BA: Just being a martial artist will not allow you to analyze a fight scene. This is because you are just a martial artist and most of the time practicing only one style. Now being the filmmaker that I am with this huge background in martial art, yes, I analyze fight scenes and always know how they shot any action or what they used to enhance this action. If there is wire use I can spot it directly. It takes away a lot of the fun because when I was young I had no idea how they would shoot an action sequence but nowadays I kind of know every single detail so I always try to stop thinking about it when I watch a film or I will not enjoy it.
GS: Being a stunt man opens you up to burns and broken bones… what’s the worst thing that has happened to you during a stunt?
BA: I think the worst thing that ever happened to me was back in 2013. I was working on a French movie as a stunt double and I almost drowned because of another stunt performer losing control of a boat she was driving making it sink in the biggest river in Thailand. I was handcuffed to a police door so you can imagine the stress it was to remove the handcuff from my hand as the boat was sinking… I remember thinking that exact moment this is where it ends. I was the passenger and I remember wearing those heavy timberland boots which made it so hard to swim. The whole planning of that scene was wrong by putting a non-experienced boat driver to drive it and also by not having any safety boat catching up to us in time. Those few seconds trying to remove the handcuff from my hand were the longest of my life and I remember the prop department telling me the door will float if the boat sinks. Well, it did not happen as the boat went down, the door went as well…I also had a few injuries like a dislocated shoulder once doing a scissor on another stuntman, I sprained my back very badly once in Mumbai and also my ankles a couple of times. Tore my ACL of my left knee. I mean if you get in this business, expect the worst to happen. Stunt work is not an easy road.
GS: You’ve lived in Miami and Atlanta; were you studying with anyone we might know?
BA: I actually was just visiting a couple of friends of mine when I was there. I lived six months in total in America and it was just to train tricking with my friends. I did not study in any martial art classes while I was there.
GS: I believe you’ve been Kevin Bacon’s stunt double. What was too dangerous for him to do?
I doubled Kevin Bacon back in 2011 on the movie “Elephant White” directed by “Ong Bak” director Prachya Pinkaew. There was a chase scene a la “Ong Bak” in the film where Djimon Hounssou chases Kevin Bacon through Bangkok’s streets. Bacon’s character had to do all this free running like jumping from a driving car to a Tuk Tuk so I did all that stuff for him.
GS: You grew up with Anis Cheurfa, another successful stuntman. Do the two of you have a friendly rivalry?
BA: Anis was one of my best friends and we started practicing tricking together back in 2001. We were kind of like the pioneers of the sport in France and we did a lot of tournaments around Europe together. Anis is an amazing trickster and acrobat probably one of the best I ever saw. He jumps so high it’s even more amazing to see it in reality. We were like brothers when we were younger but since he moved to America where he is pursuing a very successful stuntman career, I have not heard from him really. But I do wish him all the best, he deserves it. He is working with 87eleven so he is set to work on very big budget films. I am very proud of him.
GS: Playing Igor in “Boyka: Undisputed” may be your biggest role yet. Would you like to be more of an on-screen actor, or is your passion still stunt coordinating and fight choreography?
BA: I definitely want to be a full time on-screen actor because this is really what I always aimed for. But as you know, we all got bills to pay, so being a coordinator and fight choreographer made me good money. Now I really want to use this character Igor I played in “Boyka: Undisputed” to get more roles in the future. I love to play bad guys and I think there is room for one more regular martial art actor in the action movie world. You will definitely see me on screen more in the future without a doubt.
GS: What can you tell us about “The Foreigner”, which is expected to be released in the United States this October?
BA: It will be the best Jackie Chan movie in the last ten years and action fans are up for a treat.