Gavin Schmitt Interviews Actor Gary Daniels
Gary Daniels is a British actor and retired kickboxer who scored thirty-four knockout victories during his career, and is a former World Light-heavyweight Kickboxing Champion. His specialty is in the field of Mongolian Kung Fu. Having done dozens of action and martial arts films, he might be best known to today’s audiences as Bryan Fury from “Tekken” or for appearing in “The Expendables” as Lawrence “the Brit” Sparks.
I had the privilege to chat with Daniels about the film “Forced to Fight” (affiliate link) where he takes on several martial artists
GS: “Forced to Fight”… I liked it, I thought it was an entertaining movie.
GD: That’s a good start.
GS: Would you describe this style as typical of your acting career thus far?
GD: Well, yeah, I’ve done other action films. Much of what we were doing in the 90s had bigger budgets, more action-oriented, more martial arts. I differentiate between an action film and a martial arts film. Action films have guns, car chases, that type of stuff. This is more of a pure martial arts film, centered around the world of underground fighting. I’ve done plenty of fight films, but what actually attracted me to this script was three elements: it’s a family drama, which allowed me to get my acting teeth into a meatier role. The second thing was the psychological aspect of a retired fighter coming back into the game, what he had to go through mentally. I like that the script focused on that. And third, it showed the evolution of the fight game over the last fifteen or twenty years. When I was fighting, it was more kickboxing and standup fighting, but nowadays with the MMA it is more well-rounded with grappling and those elements. These are the things that drew me to the project.
GS: With this sort of script, it seems there is a limited number of people who could be cast. How early on were you approached for the lead?
GD: I came on pretty late in the process. The first thing I do when reading a script is ask myself, do I enjoy this script? (laughs) If I don’t, I don’t read it a second time and just turn it down. I wasn’t involved in the script during the writing stages. Jonas Quastel wrote it and also directed it. He did a really good job of mixing the elements of the fighting and the drama. I’ve been offered quite a few of these types of films over the last couple of years. There are a number of underground mixed martial arts scripts floating around, but they have no heart and soul to them and are just about the fights. Those don’t interest me.
GS: So if these other guys approach you, and you say no, who else can they go to?
GD: (laughs) The next cheaper guy. There is a group of us out there with a certain value on the foreign market. A guy has to be able to do the job, but also sell the film. So if I turn it down, there’s another guy waiting. You’d have to ask the producers.
GS: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re 49 years old…
GD: You’re wrong. I’m 49 years YOUNG.
GS: I’ll accept that. Although you are in incredible shape, have you had to utilize stunt men more as your career goes on? I would expect constant beatings to have been wearing on you…
GD: You know what? I’m actually very rarely doubled, and in “Forced to Fight” (affiliate link) I wasn’t doubled once. It’s all me. And actually the reason Stallone had me in “The Expendables” is because he was looking for someone who could act and play a character without doubling in the action scenes. I still train for fights six days a week, play football or soccer on Sundays. I’m in the gym five days a week. Age is a factor, and I get sore and it takes longer to heal when I get injured… but up to now I haven’t been able to do anything I couldn’t do twenty years ago.
GS: That’s excellent.
GD: You just have to eat right, train hard, stay away from the bad things. Your body will hold out as long as you take care of it.
GS: Sounds like you’re doing it right, because you hear about wrestlers and MMA athletes who reach 30 or 35 and their career is over.
GD: Well, even in WWE wrestling, these guys are brutal the way they slam each other around. I worked with a few wrestlers — the Ultimate Warrior, Steve Austin and Big Van Vader in “Fist of the North Star” — these guys all tell me about their wrestling careers and it’s brutal. They work them really hard. Those MMA guys, too, with the grappling and jiujitsu. The kinds of injuries that they get in that sport are really messing up their joints. My son was in MMA for a while. I trained as a kickboxer — I might get a kick to the face, a few cuts and bruises, but I’ll heal in a few days. These guys are messing up their knees, joints, ligaments…
And actually, that’s sort of the character in the film. He’s a retired kickboxer, but to get back in the game he has to learn the new fighting with grappling, and this is why in early training he’s getting his butt kicked. The general audience may not appreciate this subtlety, because to them fighting is fighting. But you can be a world class kickboxer and know nothing about fighting in another style. These MMA guys can do it all now — the kickboxing, the boxing, the wrestling…
GS: “Forced to Fight” was shot in Romania…
GD: Yes, the whole film was shot there. Besides maybe a few pickup shots…
GS: I assume it is cost-related, but why Romania?
GD: There’s actually a film studio there we shot at, Castel Film Studios, and I believe the producers had a deal with those guys. So we had a deal with that studio as part of the production package. It was a good deal to shoot the film there in Romania. With budgets and union fees, a lot of films are being shot in Romania or Southeast Asia. It keeps the budget down. The actors get paid the same, so it’s fine by me.
GS: Wouldn’t the savings be canceled out by increased airfare and hotels?
GD: Those costs go up, but we actually have to fly relatively few people when we cast the bad guys from the local population and use a local crew. Even the guys who came from the UK, like Arkie Reece, that’s a short flight for those guys. I was actually one of the few guys from the States. But budgets are producer’s problem. (laughs) I think it all came down to the studio.
GS: Obviously Bucharest is much different from London or LA… any culture shock?
GD: This is the second film I’ve shot in Romania. I did one years ago with Traci Lords and Jeff Fahey called “Epicenter”. I had more days off on that shoot and I was able to wander around Bucharest, which is a beautiful city. With this new one, I was so busy, because I was choreographing all the fights as well as playing the lead actor. I was basically in the hotel if I wasn’t at the studio, and I spent my days off working out. I really had no time off.
GS: In your opinion, is your character in “Forced to Fight” a hero or not? Because, frankly, he’s kind of an asshole.
GD: Yeah, I agree. I actually said that to the director myself, “This guy is angry all the time.” I had a bit of a problem with that, especially since I was playing the lead and we’re supposed to sympathize with him. He treats his family pretty bad. But that’s how Jonas directed it, and how he wanted it. And as an actor, I have to malleable and accept direction. I accepted his direction and did the best I could. But I agree with you. But it all works out in the end and I think his heart is in the right place. We’ve all done things where our heart is in the right place, but it may come across in a negative way. It reflects real life, I think. I hope the audience accepts it.
GS: You’re evading the question… is he a hero?
GD: (laughs) Let’s say he’s an anti-hero.
GS: There’s a line where his wife says, “I’ll always be here, but your son won’t.” And I’m thinking, why will she always be there? He treats her pretty badly.
GD: What do they say in America… till death do us part? She’s playing the good wife. That’s what builds strong relationships. You don’t just run out on your partner because they do something wrong. I think it makes the wife a really good role — the fact that she has those qualities and shows those qualities. It could be a cultural thing, too — women in different cultures accept different things from their men. I spent a lot of time in India, and there’s definitely a difference between Asian women and Western women.
GS: That may be true. Thanks for speaking with me today.
GD: Thank you. I appreciate it.