To celebrate the release of THE LEGEND OF BRUCE LEE on DVD this week, I had the chance to speak with one of its guest stars – Gary Daniels. Being a massive Gary Daniels fan and liking pretty much every film he’s ever been in, I jumped at the chance to interview one of my film heroes. We spoke for a good 45 minutes and it felt less like a formal interview and more an informal chat – he was clearly very dedicated to and enthusiastic about his craft, and it’s only made me like him more. Read all about it below…
Unfortunately, due to the bad telephone line (England to Thailand!) the recording was a dreadful mess of crackles and white-noise, so as a result, I regrettably won’t be able to give you an exact transcript of the whole interview.
The interview didn’t get off to a good start – I called the number, waited for the rings, and prepared myself for the interview;
“Hi, is that Gary Daniels?”
“Yes, hi, I’m Gary from Kungfucinema.”
“Yes, I’ve called for the interview.”
“You need a car to the airport?”
“Sorry, no, I’m here to speak to Gary Daniels for the interview – we scheduled it for this morning.”
“We can get Mr Daniels from the airport? Or do you need to go to the airport?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t need to go to the airport. Is Mr Daniels at the airport?”
“We can take you to the airport.”
“Are you Mr Daniel’s assistant?”
“Do you need a taxi or not?”
“No I don’t, I want to speak to Gary Daniels.”
“I don’t understand, you can call us back and leave a message with what you want, bye.”
(It dawns on me)
WELL THAT WAS CLEARLY A THAI TAXI COMPANY AND NOTHING TO DO WITH GARY DANIELS. BRILLIANT.
So we scheduled it for another date. The other date went much better…
“I’m in Bangkok, I’ve just wrapped on a film called A STRANGER IN PARADISE – it’s an action thriller with a really great script”. It seems he’s got a fair few films on at the moment, what with the imdb listing no less than seven films coming up in 2012. But seeing as THE LEGEND OF BRUCE LEE is being released this week, I felt I’d find out a bit more about that one.
The film is actually an edited-down version of the 2008 Chinese 50-part television series, here chopped and cut-up to form a 3-hour epic that follows numerous events in Bruce Lee’s life. Although as Gary Daniels goes on to mention regarding his role – it’s not entirely based on fact;
“It’s a small part, and also not a real-life person” he recalls, he plays a rival Western fighter with a different fighting style to Bruce Lee – he sums it up with a laugh, “Basically, I get to beat up Bruce Lee!”
The film (and television series) also plays host to a number of other famous martial arts actors, including Michael Jai White, Mark Dacascos, Ray Park and Kwok-Kwan Chan (the Lee-alike goalie in SHAOLIN SOCCER) as Bruce himself. I asked Gary what it was like working with so many other great martial artists;
“I didn’t actually meet them while filming” he goes on to say, pointing out that he was only on set for his scenes, although he did mention that he had been great friends with Mark Dacascos for years. It’s great to imagine two of your film heroes hanging out together isn’t it?
Aside from this film, Gary Daniels has worked with an impressively vast amount of martial arts stars throughout his career – I asked him who had made the biggest impact and who he enjoyed working with the most. His answer was perhaps a given; “Jackie Chan was fantastic.” Daniels and Jackie appeared together in a goofy fight scene from 1993’s CITY HUNTER – with Daniels playing an unofficial version of Ken from the STREETFIGHTER video games. It’s an under cranked (and quite silly) fantasy bout, but it gained Daniels a widespread recognition.
I was also pleased to hear Daniels single out Isaac Florentine as a director he enjoyed working with – on the film COLD HARVEST, a movie which contains in my opinion, some of Daniels’ best fight sequences. I enjoyed hearing this praise as it’s always refreshing to discover that some of the under-appreciated bastions of your favourite genres respect each other. On the mainstream end of the appreciation spectrum, talk (inevitably) soon turned to Sylvester Stallone and Daniel’s role in THE EXPENDABLES – surely a career highlight for the British bruiser?
“It was only meant to be a small part – they wanted someone to play a bad guy without the need for stunt doubles,” but it soon progressed into a larger part, “I met with Stallone and he gave me more scenes.” It seems the Daniels charisma made its mark and thus, ‘The Brit’ was born, and his many fans rejoiced.
However, it was a minor part, and not one which was particularly nuanced or complex – something which Gary recognises. He is wary of typecasting, and talks of an experience where he was cast in a non-martial arts role, but when he turned up to film, things changed; “They said ‘Gary Daniels is here and he’s not fighting?’ So they added rushed fight scenes for the sake of it.”
It was interesting to find that he chooses films more for their scripts, and isn’t necessarily a fan of fighting for no reason, something that was proved when he revealed his personal favourite film of his – “It’s a film called SPOILER – it was a great script and there’s not much action…I’m very proud of it.” I haven’t yet seen it but the way Daniels talks about it, it’s moved onto my must-see list (shame it’s not available on region 2 DVD).
Then came the big bombshell. I asked Gary who his favourite up-and-coming martial artists were (I mentioned Scott Adkins as an example);
“You’re probably not going to believe this, but I don’t really like watching martial arts films!…I haven’t seen any of his [Adkins] films – I’ve spoken to him, I gave him advice when he sent me his showreel, but I’m not so much a fan of modern martial arts films.” He spoke of how he’d rather watch a Tom Cruise film – or a film with an emphasis on script and character, rather than one about people getting punched in the head. This is where we differ, clearly.
He also talked of today’s move away from classic (and real) martial arts to the current trend of flashy flips and kicks, “A lot of these modern guys are just ‘tricking’, I understand the skill involved and appreciate what they do, but it’s not for me.”
Another thing not for him is the shaky-cam, over-zealous editing style that is absolutely everywhere at the moment. I AGREE GARY. I also agreed with his thoughts on his 2010 flick with Wesley Snipes – GAME OF DEATH – “I was disappointed in that film – the fight scenes didn’t look like I wanted them to.”
I can see why he felt that way, for the fight sequences, choreographed by Simon Rhee (BEST OF THE BEST, SHOWDOWN IN LITTLE TOKYO) were ruined by needless cuts and epileptic flashing lights. This seemed to be a problem that Daniels had encountered before; his anecdotes regarding his own choreography being ruined just emphasised his stance on this infuriating trend.
Finally, Daniels hinted at a possible big project on the horizon, but unfortunately wouldn’t give away too many details. NOT FAIR. Regardless of that tease, it was an absolute pleasure to speak to Gary Daniels, who is genuinely one of my favourite actors – I’ll give anything he’s in a go (and I’ll usually like it). Just need to get SPOILER watched now.
I’d like to personally thank Gary Daniels for taking time out of his schedule to talk to me – it was great fun.
THE LEGEND OF BRUCE LEE is out now on Region 2 DVD from Revolver Entertainment.
Gary Daniels • Mark Dacascos • Michael Jai White • Revolver Entertainment • Scott Adkins • Sylvester Stallone • The Expendables (2010)