Skin Trade isn’t just a regular action movie for you. It’s a project with real social importance. Can you talk about how the film developed?
It started as just another idea for a movie. I put a three-act structure together, and started working on a screenplay with a writing partner. And as I started writing I realized sexual slavery was a real issue in the world that hadn’t really been illuminated. This was about seven or eight years ago. During production I got more involved in research and what’s going on in the world. Playing this character, I had to get into the mindset of “how would I feel if this was done to my daughter?” I have two teenage daughters, so it’s become kind of personal. To tell you the truth the film is important, but the work I do with organizations like CAST LA, hopefully in the future that will be more rewarding to me than just making a film.
Did putting yourself in this character’s mindset affect how violent he gets? The revenge portion of this film gets a bit more extreme than some viewers might be used to.
Yeah, I know. He gets pretty mad. I think if you really played it out in your mind’s eye, what you would do if someone did that to your daughter, it would be kind of brutal. That’s why some of those scenes have a lot of violence and real anger, which people maybe haven’t seen me do much. A lot of the movies I do, like The Expendables, there’s a little bit of that but it’s more of a fantasy.
Right. I see a lot of these films, and I thought this one was special for taking its tone so seriously.
It’s a bit uncomfortable for the audience. On the other hand, the subject matter can’t be dealt with in a light manner if you want to be real. I think it’s better for the audience to experience that and maybe it’ll stick with them longer.
You got an amazing cast for this film. Peter Weller, Michael Jai White, Ron Perlman, Tony Jaa, people that often star in their own films. How did you get such a great cast together?
I think the material attracted people because they felt maybe it was a movie about something real. A lot of times today movies are either fantastic superhero stuff or tongue in cheek.
Lower budget action films seem to have been getting better and better. From your perspective, have they gotten easier to make in the last couple decades or have they gotten harder to put together?
It’s still hard. It’s still difficult to make a good movie, period, about anything. Even if you throw a hundred million at it, people aren’t interested. From my perspective, I’m getting more involved in production, and the writing, and directing. You need to find something you really care about and try to stick to your guns. Do it the way you want to do it. I mean this movie, I wasn’t 100% in control of everything. I didn’t direct it. I didn’t have all the control as producer that I wanted, but it still reflects some of my feelings on what the film should be.
The good thing is if you have a couple million dollars, you can make a pretty good movie. The screen is the same size, whether you have $200 million or $2 million. If you can fill up that screen with something that interests the audience then you can compete with a big movie. That’s what’s cool about filmmaking. It’s David and Goliath. There’s always a couple Davids every year that come out and do well.
Speaking of David and Goliath, can you talk a bit about fighting Tony Jaa. That fight was really well done, and it took advantage of the size and speed difference between you two guys. It looked like an iceberg fighting a tornado. Was that a difficult fight to pull off?
Yeah it was difficult because our styles are different. I’m more into power and using one or two moves. He’s into using a lot of kicks, a lot of moves, a lot of acrobatics. That’s tough to match, especially if you’re trying to make it feel real. If it’s real, and you're a big guy, you're going to try to corner this guy and you know, kill him. Get your hands into it and just finish it up quickly.
It took us a couple weeks to rehearse. We shot for almost a week. I definitely got a lot of bruises.
What kind of things attract you to a film when you’re choosing what you want to do next?
I look at it various ways. I like to try things as an actor that I haven’t done before. I’ve done a few of those films lately. I did one WWII movie where I play a Legionnaire. I did another one where I play a DEA agent who’s a very odd and odd-looking fella. I did something else where I’m in prison playing a guy who’s mentally challenged, but he’s really an FBI agent. So I’m trying to have some fun as an actor.
Then I have another line of work where I develop things or have things that I want to make. First I have this WWI picture. I’m working on a rewrite of the script. I’ve had it for about ten years, but just couldn’t get it financed. I found someone now to finance it. It’s like an action thriller set back in 1917 with a female protagonist. So I’m trying to get that made because I want to do a historical movie, and I really like the script. These are some offbeat things that I’m working on, different from other stuff I’m done.
In the Universal Soldier films, it’s kind of become a thing where when you die in those movies you keep getting these super gory deaths. Is that something that’s a lot of fun for you?
Well, if you’re the bad guy, you want to go out in a blaze of glory. You want a big exit. The worse deeds you commit, the more you have to suffer in the end.