Today I got the rare honor to have a discussion with Scott Adkins, star of some of DTV action’s best titles. The interview was to promote Hard Target 2, but we just ended up gushing over Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. That happens when I talk to most people, not just Scott Adkins.
I think a lot of people were surprised to hear there was going to be a sequel to Hard Target. How did you get involved with the project?
Only twenty years late, isn’t it? Something like that? Listen, I was surprised as well. I’m a huge fan of the original. Jean-Claude is my favorite actor. John Woo was my favorite director at the time. So when Hard Target came out, I was all over it. I actually entered a competition hoping to see it early because I wanted to see it so bad, and I won the competition and got to see it before a load of other people.
Little did I know back then, that I would be starring in Hard Target 2. I have to say I got to meet John Woo when I was like 16. He came over before he did any American movies to screen a double bill of Bullet in the Head and The Killer. The Killer is still one of my favorite movies along with Hard Boiled.
When this opportunity came up, I was worried about doing it because I didn’t want it to seem like I was riding on the coattails of Van Damme’s success, which haters or nasty-minded people might like to think. But it’s purely coincidental. I could have turned it down, but when I read the script, I just felt it was almost tailored to me. And when you’re such a fan of the original, you know, why not give it a go?
Well, it’s really different from the original.
Right, very. Made for somebody else, that’s all I have to say.
The Thailand locations look beautiful. What was that experience like?
The whole film was a lot of fun because every day was something different, whether it was me in a speed boat, falling through the river, fighting on the bridge, going through the jungle, helicopter stuff. It was hard work, but you weren’t repeating yourself on any day. It was a new adventure.
You make so many movies. Is that the sort of thing that makes a project appeal to you?
Yeah. The locations were different every day, and it’s fun to work in Thailand. It’s a beautiful place, and the crew is very hard working. They work their socks off. We all did. The director, Roel [Reiné] is his own DP and his own camera operator. Nobody’s working harder than him, well except maybe me because he’s not doing all the fights. [Yes, I laughed.] Everyone really attacked their jobs. I think it was a twenty-day shoot, something crazy like that.
Yeah, you look at what Roel has achieved in that timeframe, it’s incredible really. He’s really proficient as a director and a camera man. He’s great to work with.
One of the signature things you’re known for, especially after your run of films with Isaac Florentine, is highly athletic fight choreography in long, unbroken shots. If you look at your schedule and today’s like just a shootout day, is that a big relief to you?
Oh yeah, the physical combat’s the hardest to do for sure. It’s completely draining. And when you’re doing it on a twenty-day shoot, inevitably that day of fighting is going to be mixed in with straight drama, and sometimes you’re so shattered from the physical stuff that it affects your performance as an actor because you’ve only got so much energy.
But I really push myself physically in these movies because I want to try and give the audience what they want, and I want to stand out with these films. I love doing what I do, and I want to keep doing it, so I always try my best. But the schedules are shrinking as well because people don’t want to pay for films anymore. It’s an insane situation in a way, being expected to raise the bar and outdo myself with less time and money. But, you know, we soldier on and do our best.
How involved are you with the fight choreography in these films?
I’m completely involved. I’m not the best choreographer. I prefer to have other people choreograph, and I like to work with people that I’ve worked with before. To be honest, on this film I didn’t think I could do it because I’d already been cast in Doctor Strange, and it was going to clash. But I taked to Marvel and they let me go and do it. But I didn’t get to bring my fight choreographer mates that I wanted. I was working with the Thai crew, and they’re great, they’re fantastic. They let you kick them for real an all the rest of it. But normally I would like to work with a fight choreographer of my choosing.
But I’m very involved in where the camera is placed, and I do as much as I can. It’s difficult when you’re in front of the camera. I have to trust the people that are there. But under the circumstances, I think we did an admirable job.
How long were you on the Doctor Strange set?
About six months.
You’ve been in these big movies, and you’ve been in lower budget action films. Is there any benefit to doing things with less money?
Well, just doing Doctor Strange, come the fifth day on the same scene on the same set, I was starting to get pretty bored, let me put it that way. But the end result, you can fine tune it much more. If it’s an action sequence, you have more time to get it right. I would prefer that.
But there is some merit to having to shoot something quick and flying by the seat of your pants. Just doing it and living with the consequences and not being able to stew over it for so long because you’ve got no choice. It is difficult making these independent action movies in today’s climate. In a way I wish I was doing this in the ‘80s or early ‘90s.
But some of them are so much better now. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, for instance, couldn’t have been made back then nearly as well.
I love that movie as well. The problem with that film is the people it was aimed at really didn’t understand it. They just wanted something they could just switch their brain off for. [Imitates viewer; not you, some other viewer] “Well, I don’t understand the story, man. This is bullshit.” Maybe you shouldn’t be smoking as many spliffs while you’re watching it.
I’m very proud of the story. I think it delivers on both levels. That’s down to John Hyams, not me. But people need to respect that film much more.
I have to admit, my first watch I didn’t get it. I had to watch it twice, but I was totally converted.
What other film do you know where you’re following the protagonist for the whole thing thinking he’s the hero, and then at the end of the movie you realize he’s the villain. How cool is that?
Another series everybody loves is Undisputed, and you have another of those coming out soon. Is there anything you can tell us about that?
I’m proud of it. I’m really happy with it. The fights and the story are on par with Undisputed 3. I don’t say Undisputed 2 because I think the fights in 3 are much better. But I think we succeeded in that, creating a worthy successor to a franchise that people really love that kind of came from nowhere. You know, I played Boyka in a sequel to a Wesley Snipes film with Michael Jai White playing the Wesley Snipes character. We tried our best, but we didn’t expect it to become what it’s become. People love that character. I love playing him. He’s actually quite a complex character. There’s so much going on with the guy, and even more so in this movie, with the challenge he’s being presented with.
Of course, we’ve really gone for it with the action as well. I can’t wait for people to see it. I believe it’s going to be the first quarter of next year when it’s released.
I saw you at a Fantastic Fest Q&A years ago, and someone asked which action star you’d most like to go up against in a film. Your answer was Donnie Yen. Is that dream any closer to coming true?
I don’t normally like to temp fate, but screw it, right? We’re talking about it at the moment. So why don’t we just put it out there on the internet? Get some fans behind it, and maybe it will happen. There’s definitely an opportunity around the corner.
That would be incredible.
I’d love to do it. I would love to work with Donnie Yen. I would absolutely love to do it.
Do you know what? I don’t feel like I’ve been able to be in a Hong Kong movie and have that big one-on-one climactic fight with a Hong Kong movie star. We almost got there with Wu Jing in Wolf Warrior, but we just ran out of time. But I would love to go and have that experience. It’s very difficult out there. They ask a lot of you. But I’m up for the challenge, and I’m ready to do it with the amazing Donnie Yen. So come one, Donnie. Do the right thing. Let’s make it happen.
Hard Target 2 will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD on September 6.