Gary Daniels is a name that should be well known to anyone with an interest in action movies of all kinds. Having lent his talents to projects as varied as American Streetfighter to The Expendables, Gary was kind enough to take the time out of his schedule to talk to Rock! Shock! Pop's Ian Jane about his life, his training, his career and his latest movie, Forced To Fight, in which he co-stars with the great Peter Weller. So without further ado...
R!S!P! - Your recent film Forced To Fight has just been released on DVD and Blu-ray where you star alongside Peter Weller. What drew you to this project?
GD - I have been offered several projects over the past few years that deal with underground MMA style fighting but most of them are all about the fights and not about the characters, unfortunately. There were three elements that drew me to Forced To Fight though. One, that it was really a family drama set against the backdrop of the underground fighting, how the lead characters return to fighting affected the whole family unit. Two, it dealt with the psychological factors that the lead character had to deal with being a retired fighter/family man having to return to the world of fighting and three, it dealt with how the competitive fight circuit has changed over the past fifteen to twenty years.
R!S!P! – It definitely has more going on in terms of story and character development than a lot of modern action movies being made these days. What was Peter Weller like to work with?
GD - Peter was great to work with, a true professional and a gentleman. I have worked with several named actors that 'step down' to work on smaller movies and I often felt that they took the paycheck and sleep walked through their parts but Peter was totally on the ball and his performance elevated the dramatic quality of the film.
R!S!P! – Agreed. Having seen the movie myself, he’s a lot of fun in it. Do you have any favorite directors or co-stars you like to work with?
GD - I have been lucky enough to work with several directors that I have enjoyed working with for different reasons: Jeff Burr, Richard Martin, Issac Florentine (because he understands action), Joseph Merhi (a good friend), Sylvester Stallone (a true legend), Dwight Little and more recently Wych Kaosayananda (who is a writer, director, producer, a truly talented film maker) and it was a pleasure working with Jonas Quastel who wrote and directed Forced To Fight. I have worked with a lot of great actors, Lance Henrikson, Cary Tagawa, Jeff Fahey, Eric Roberts, Chris Penn, Dustin Nguyen, Ron Yuan, Giorgio Serafini, too many to name.
R!S!P! - Which is the film that you are most proud of and why?
GD - Actually the two films I am most proud of are 'Spoiler,' a lesser known drama and a film I worked on in Thailand last year called 'Angels' where I was not the lead but I loved the character I played, multi-layered, multi-dimensional but no fighting in either of these two films. I enjoy playing characters that are well written in good stories. And of course playing 'The Brit' in 'Expendables' was just a ton of fun.
R!S!P! - So what first drew you to kickboxing and martial arts?
GD - As a child I was enamored by the world of super heroes, when I got paid for my paper round on a Saturday morning I would buy at least five comic books I had on order every week. When I first saw Bruce Lee on screen as an eight year old boy I was mesmerized, this guy was like a real life super hero, so the following week I went out and joined the local Kung Fu club. I got my black belt at the age of fifteen/sixteen but wanted a new challenge and the P.K.A (Professional Kickboxing Association) was just starting in England at that time so I saw it as a way to put into practice a lot of the philosophies that I had learned from reading books about Bruce Lee, ideas and teachings that I had never gotten from my more traditional Kung Fu or Tae Kwon Do teachers. It seemed like the obvious 'next step' in my evolution as a martial artist.
R!S!P! - What brought you from England to the United States?
GD - There was no money to be earned fighting in England and we had heard rumors that you could make hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting in the U.S., so along with following my dream of following in Bruce Lee's footsteps of getting into action films, after speaking to my fight promoter in England for advice, I got a stand by ticket and headed for what I believed to be 'greener pastures.’
R!S!P! - How did you first get into acting?
GD - Once I arrived in Florida I immediately got into acting classes with a wonderful coach named Kathryn Laughlin. From there I got some commercials, a small part on Miami Vice and was contacted by a director in the Philippines who said if I went there he would make me a star. So I hopped on a plane only to find out he thought I would invest in films for him. But I met another producer there at Solar Films who asked me to do a demo of my martial arts and then signed me to do six films on a two year contract. I only made two of those films because he then asked me to do soft porn! It was a shame as I loved working and living in the P.I, the industry was booming there at that time in the late 80's and I met a lot of good people. Anyway, I returned to the U.S with two lead roles under my belt and a lot of confidence and at that time in the early 90's kickboxing films were becoming popular after the success of 'Bloodsport' so I fit right in.
R!S!P! - Did you ever have a tough time landing roles because of your British accent?
GD - When I was doing leads my accent was not a problem as it was easy to write in a line or two to explain it but it has hurt when I have auditioned for roles on TV (I used to hear 'that was a good reading but can you do it without the accent' quite often).
R!S!P! - In the early 90s you worked with Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson a few times. He always comes across as a really nice guy – what was he like to work with?
GD - I did a couple of films with Don Wilson when I arrived back in the states but they were not good roles, mostly just fighting parts. Don is a nice guy and someone I really respect as a fighter and as a human being. These were smaller budget straight to video films but fighting films were very popular at that time and it didn't take a lot of money to have two guys with their shirts off fighting in a ring. All we could do was focus on our performance and hope the producers and directors would take the time and effort to bring higher production values to the films but to be honest at that age and time in my career I was just enjoying doing what I was doing.
R!S!P! - PM Entertainment. They helped to shape your career, how did that all come about? And what can he tell us about them and their way of doing business?
GD - Working for PM entertainment was a very enjoyable time of my life / career. I met them when I originally auditioned for 'Ring of Fire' and after that performance they offered me a second lead with Chad McQueen (son of Steve) in 'Firepower' and then they offered me a three picture deal and we made 'Rage', 'Riot' and 'Recoil', these were three action packed, high octane films directed by Joseph Merhi with the amazing Spiros Razatos as stunt coordinator. PM were smart in their business model as they put all the budget on screen into the action, the stories were not always the greatest but the action in those films was second to none at that time and these films were hugely successful around the world. They would take me to Cannes for the screenings and the buyers would constantly be applauding the action sequences and would give them standing ovations at the end, they were good times! I really appreciate the opportunities that Joseph Merhi, Rick Pepin and George Shamiah gave me.
R!S!P! - You’ve also worked behind the camera as a producer and as a fight choreographer. Do you prefer the behind the scenes stuff to working in front of the camera?
GD - Yes I have choreographed a lot of fights but it is very frustrating when I do not get to have a say in how they are shot. i.e. picking the lenses, camera angles and not being involved in the editing. To get your vision you need to be in control of all these facets. I love to be in front of the camera but I really would like to direct.
R!S!P! - The DTV market is changing. DVDs are being replaced by VOD and budgets are shrinking, how does you, as an actor, feel the business is changing? Do you feel this is helping the industry or hurting it?
GD - The industry has changed a lot in the past ten years and budgets are getting smaller and smaller so unfortunately it is difficult to do the kind of action PM used to do. Films have to downsize so yes, I think they suffer from that, fewer good locations, much smaller action sequences etc., so it’s important now to try to work on films with very good scripts and directors / producers that can get the best out of the money they have. This is why we see a lot of films going to Eastern Europe and South East Asia now.
R!S!P! - You worked with the great Jackie Chan on City Hunter. How was that experience? What was it like shooting in Hong Kong as opposed to the United States?
GD - Working with Jackie Chan on 'City Hunter' was a fantastic experience for me. It was like going to film school. It came early in my career so I would go to set even on days I wasn't working so I could watch and learn how these guys created the best action scenes in films at that time. My original contract on that film was for four weeks but I ended up working four months. We shot the first two weeks in Japan aboard a five star cruise liner and the rest was in Hong Kong , a truly remarkable city. Working in Hong Kong is different than working in the U.S (but every country has its own way of doing things). For one we had no script! That's right no script, so as an actor you have no way to develop and build a background for your character, I just played a stereo typical bad guy based on Hong Kong movies I had grown up watching. As I said this role came very early in my career, I might do things different today. Also a big difference was the way they shoot the fight scenes. When we shot fight action the director would leave the set or go to sleep and let the action director take control. My first action in the film was choreographed, directed and even shot by Jackie. In the U.S. the director would never give up control of his set like that.
R!S!P! - One of your biggest and best roles was that of Kenshiro in the live action version of Fist Of The North Star. What was involved in bringing this very popular Japanese manga and anime series to the big screen? Was it different from any of your other roles in that regard?
GD - Well I was dealing with Overseas film Group on another project when they were contacted by the Japanese company Tohei about doing a co production of 'Fist of the Northstar' so I was introduced to the Japanese producers and they agreed that I would be right for the role of Kenshiro. I was pretty excited as I was a huge fan of the anime already but I was also a little apprehensive about how to bring that story, that world to the big screen, remember this was back in 1994 before all the green screen and CGI that we have today. I think Tony Randall did a great job with casting the film and the look of the film but we disagreed on the scale and how to shoot the action. When you make a film based on a video game or a popular cartoon you will never be able to please everyone. We tried to stay true to the source material but you have to try and make a film that pleases the fans of the anime but also make a film that makes sense to viewers that have never seen the source material, not an easy task. For me personally I trained hard to put on ten pounds of extra muscle to try and look like the animated character but soon lost weight during the shoot as we were shooting sixteen to seventeen hour days in a sound stage that would get up to 120 degrees.
R!S!P! - In 2000 you made Delta Force One with Mike Norris directed by Chuck Zito. What was Zito like to work with as a director? What was it like shooting the movie on location in Israel?
GD - Shooting 'The Lost Patrol' was a difficult shoot for me for many reasons I won’t go into. But a positive note was that Mike Norris and I became good friends and are still in touch to this day.
R!S!P! – Fair enough. 2005 saw you pop up in Submerged alongside Steven Seagal. What was this project like? Seagal has a reputation for being difficult at times, what was your experience like working with him on this movie? What about Vinnie Jones’ involvement here? Any stories from the set?
GD - 'Submerged' was definitely not a highlight of my career. Originally Avi Lerner (the head of Millenium/Nu Image) wanted me to play a co lead in that film but Mr. Seagal had other ideas and he cut my role down so much they might as well have hired a local stuntman to play the role. You have to understand Mr. Seagal was the lead and the film is financed on his name so like all leads they have a vision for their film which you have to respect as a co actor, so he cut my role down, I respect that and move on. Vinnie Jones was great, a nice bloke, we didn't have many scenes together but was a gentleman off the set.
R!S!P! - A few years ago you landed a role in The Expendables. How was that experience? How did that come about? What was it like working on such a huge production?
GD - Originally I was contacted by my old friend Chad Stahelski who was the stunt co coordinator, he asked if I would be interested in coming onto the project. He said that Sylvester Stallone was looking for someone that could play a small part but someone that he could throw into the action scenes without needing a double. So I gave him my reel to pass on to Sly and then I was asked to go meet with Mr. Stallone at his office. I met with him and we discussed the project for about twenty minutes and the next day Chad called me to say that Sly liked me and I was onboard. To be honest I accepted this before reading the script, this was not an opportunity I would have passed up based on the script. Remember this guy wrote ‘Rocky!’ The way Mr. Stallone works, the script was constantly changing and evolving as the show went on.
Working on the 'Expendables' was an experience of a lifetime, I didn't have a huge role but just to work with Mr. Stallone as an actor and as a director was a true honor. Everyone of the cast was very professional. The first day I was on the set being directed by Mr. Stallone, I had to pinch myself… 'This is Rocky, this is Rambo!.'
R!S!P! - That same year you’d work with Steve Austin again on Hunt To Kill. How do you like working with him?
GD - Steve Austin called me while I was in Detroit working with Wesley Snipes on 'Game Of Death' and asked if I would go up to Vancouver and work with him on 'Hunt To Kill' and it was easy for me to say yes as we had become good friends on 'The Expendables'. Steve is a great guy, very humble with a terrific sense of humor, he looks like the meanest bad ass but he really is a diamond geezer. It was a tough shoot, we were up in Vancouver in November/December shooting up in the Golden Ears national park in the mountains, and it rained and snowed everyday! It was bloody freezing but no one complained as the cast and crew were great. I was asked to choreograph the fight between myself and Steve but again had no control on how it was shot or the editing.
R!S!P! - You’ve also worked alongside Wesley Snipes in 2010’s Game Of Death. Zoe Bell and Ernie Hudson also starred, which makes for a pretty strong cast. Any stories from this set?
GD - Well not too many stories from the 'Game Of Death' set but this was the last film Mr. Snipes did before going to prison so that certainly affected his mood on the set. Again I will mention that the final fight I did with Mr. Snipes looks nothing like the fight that was originally choreographed, it was cut up and put back together in the editing room and looks nothing like our original vision.
R!S!P! - What’s next on your agenda? Any upcoming projects you’d care to talk about?
GD - I did a film last year called 'Angels' in Thailand which starred Dustin Nguyen (from the 21 Jump street TV series). It’s a very cool crime drama and just had its premiere in Vietnam. It should be out here in the near future so I hope you will support the film.
R!S!P! - Will do, and thanks Gary, for taking the time to do this! Thanks also go out to Alison Jane for the nifty banner art, to Swedish Joe for helping out with the interview questions and to Jarred Hopkins for arranging the interview in the first place.