Gary Daniels is an English born ex-kickboxing champion and star of more than 20 films. In his 22 years in the business he has shared the screen with action icons Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes and Dolph Lundgren. Mr Daniels can be seen in the upcoming films ‘The Expendables‘ and ‘Tekken’. He recently took a few moments to speak with MovieMavericks.
Jason: Can you tell us about your background in the Martial Arts?
Gary Daniels: I started martial arts when I was 8 in a local kung fu school where they were teaching a system called ‘Mongolian Kung fu’ which was a hybrid system that dealt mostly with practical fighting techniques, for me it seemed like a systematized form of street-fighting. At around 12 years of age I moved onto ITF Tae Kwon Do where I received my black belt after 3 years and was teaching in 3 schools throughout the London area. I started kickboxing and fighting for the P.K.A at around 16/17 years of age under the tutelage of Mickey Byrne, an ex P.T.I (physical training instructor) and boxing champ from the British Army. After moving to the states I studied Muay Thai at Benny Urquidez Jet Center and with Yuki Horiuchi at his Piston Kickboxing Gym in O.C. It was around that same time I met sifu Winston Omega and trained in his art of Sillum Wong Ka Kune which I studied for the next 18 years, The past 5 years I have been going to Thailand and training Muay Thai at several camps there.
J: How did you break into the film Industry?
GD: Well I studied acting in Florida where I got a few small gigs but I went to the Philippines back in 86/87 and signed a 2 year deal with a local film company named ‘Solar Films’. Which lead to me starring in a couple of films there. I then came back to the states; moved to L.A and that when things took off. (read our American Streetfighter review)
J: You have one of the best physiques in the movies. Can you tell us about your training(daily?) regimen?
GD: My training regimen is nothing out of the ordinary but I am and always have been very consistent. For the past 30 years I have trained 5-6 days a week. Which includes running 3-4 times a week, jumping rope,stationary bike, weight training, martial arts training and of coarse dieting which is so important for the lean look. Its important to eat right and stay clear of cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. All of which can destroy your body.
J: You’ve worked with many famous co-stars, Jackie Chan, Stallone, Sugar Ray Leonard, Wesley Snipes, Seagal. Can you tell us about your working experience with these men?
GD: Its always a different experience working with these actors, they all have unique personalities and each have their own approach to film making. I personally try to adapt to all the different personalities and learn from each and everyone of them. Of coarse some people are easier to get along with than others but I try to respect everyone.
J: You have two big budget films coming out this summer ‘Tekken’, and ‘The Expendables’. What can you let our readers know about these films and the role you play in them?
GD: In ‘Tekken’ I play Bryan Fury , a fighter that is enhanced by cybergenics. He is a little crazy! It was a fun character to play. Its always difficult to recreate a character from a video game or an animated film because we humans have obvious limitations that game/anime characters don’t have. I try and bring to life the spirit of the character but it will always be hard to please fans of the originals. I have not yet seen ‘Tekken’, however I enjoyed the experience of working with such a talented bunch of martial artists and actors as well as an accomplished director as Dwight Little.
In ‘Expendables’ I play another bad guy. He’s a mercenary henchman to Eric Roberts’s character alongside Steve Austin. At the end of the film I fight against Jet Li and Jason Statham, 2 against 1. For me it was an invaluable experience working alongside such great people including Chad Stahelski , the stunt coordinator / fight director and the always inspirational Sylvester Stallone whose energy and directing style motivated the whole cast and crew. I haven’t seen the finished product yet but I am confident it will live up to expectations.
J: I’m a big fan of films like ‘Hawks Vengeance’, ‘Bloodmoon’ and ‘WhiteTiger’. Although each has a different feel in the action choreography department. Do you choreograph these sequences? Any action sequences your most proud of?
GD: I have choreographed many of the fight scenes in films that I play the lead , but I also like to work with other accomplished fight directors. I used to bring in my sifu on some projects and would also use the guys from Alpha stunt team when I had the opportunity. I think its important to be adaptable to other choreographers so your fights don’t get stale and start looking the same film after film. Recently I worked with Steve Austin again in ‘Hunt to Kill’. I was asked to choreograph our fight scene which was the 1st time I had to choreograph a fight that I don’t win !! I have to say that unfortunately a lot of the fights I have choreographed have not turned out how I envisioned them. Due to the fact I had no say in how they were shot and edited, which is such a vital part of the process.
J: Recently Van Damme has announced he will fight in a K-1 competition. Do you ever get the itch to get back into combat sports?
GD: I fought in Thailand 2 years ago and lost a 5 round fight on points. I still love the fight game and was happy with my technique and fitness. But during that fight I learned that I had lost a lot of my hunger which is what can give you the edge. Its time to leave it to the younger lads.
J: You’ve worked with some of the top notch directors in the Straight to DVD world. Any experience that stand out to you, good or bad?
GD: Again yes; I have worked with many directors all with their own styles and I have learned a lot from them, who is better or worse? Well the finished product is the true way to determine the answer to that question. There are a lot of talented directors out there that will never get a decent budget to work with where they can really get to express their ambitions. I worked on a short film a couple of years ago with a very talented Thai writer / director named Chaya Supannarat. She is struggling to get financing for her first full length feature which is sad because she has so much talent but her situation is indicative of how hard it is for some truly talented people to break into the industry.
J: Have you ever walked on-set and thought “What have I gotten myself into?”
GD: Actually yes that has happened on a couple of occasions, but once you have agreed to do the project you have to be professional and do the best job you can regardless of the situation and try to rise above the level of film you are working on. Then Pray, LOL.
J: The level of acting quality has dramatically risen from your first films to your recent output. Is this from 22years of on camera experience or do you work with a coach?
GD: Thank you for that kind observation. Actually I have worked with several acting coaches, but I believe they can only prepare you so much. It is the experience of working on different sets with different actors and directors that really helps you to evolve as an actor. One acting coach told me once that actors are ‘professional experience-rs’, so as you go through life and experience more things you definitely become a better, more seasoned performer.
J: In some of your earliest films you sported a ponytail, then in the mid-90’s it was gone…Why the haircut?
GD: Actually I had short hair when I started. My manager at the time was Roy Horan. This was in Hong Kong back in the late 80’s, he told me I had too much of a ‘baby face’ so he recommended I grow my hair. And it worked, I started getting more roles but mainly as a bad guy. When I started to get offered leads it was appropriate to return to a more conservative look. This might sound a little shallow but it worked at the time.
J: Which films of yours are you most proud of? Least?
GD: When I look at my career as a whole I know I have made some bad decisions, some that have hurt my progress but at the time I made those decisions for a reason. Am i really proud of any of my films? , well all I can say is I gave 100 % to every film I worked on, some turned out better than others and some …….. . I like ‘Spoiler’, ‘Recoil’, ‘White Tiger’, ‘Bloodmoon’ for different reasons. Its not always about the final product, some films stand out more because of the experiences you had while shooting them, the locations, the people you met e.t.c. I hope that the best is yet to come.
J: Are you a fan of the action genre or Martial Arts films sub genre? Any influences in terms of acting?
GD: To be honest with you I grew up a fan of action films. It was seeing Bruce Lee that inspired me to start training and to want to get in the film business in the 1st place. I was a fan of the films coming out of Hong Kong in the 80’s and early 90’s, films starring Jackie Chan, Hung Kam Bo, Yeun Biao, Whang Jang Lee, Tam Tao Liang and Chow Yun Fat. The choreography and execution in these films were flawless. I loved the action films of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold, Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson. I wanted the moves of the Hong Kong Actors, the physiques of Arnold and Sly and the all round acting abilities of Bruce and Mel as they could jump from action to comedy to drama effortlessly. So these were my influences coming up the ranks. I have to admit that I am not so into the stuff coming out of HK now or the American B action films anymore, I would not be so inclined to watch the kind of movies that I make and have made anymore. It seems to me that the same old stories are being rehashed over and over again and with the advent of wire work and green screen all the action actors have become super heroes which has taken away the human-ness and stripped vulnerability away from the characters. Nowadays the fights seemed to be more about gymnastic content than martial arts choreography and its not my cup of tea. I guess I am considered ‘old school’.
J: What can we look forward to next from Gary Daniels?
GD: I just finished working on a film called ‘The Exodus of Charlie Wright’ with Aidan Quinn, Andy Garcia, Melvin Van Peebles, Luke Gross and Gina Gershon. It was a great script (that’s how it attracts good actors), I want to work with Good actors , writers and directors even if it means taking a lesser role. Its funny, the grass is always greener on the other side, when you take a smaller role in a bigger film, I kinda miss being a lead ( as the lead you have more say in the whole film making process) , but when you do a lead in a small film I kinda wanna be in something that is actually gonna be seen. Who knows what the future will bring, the whole process of film making and the way they are being viewed is changing, I just hope I can continue to stay healthy and keep moving up the ladder of the film making world.