Starting with your martial arts background, was it film or family that first got you involved in martial arts as a kid?
Scott Adkins: My family, because my brother and my dad did judo. I was 10 years old and I just went along because they did it, I suppose. I didn’t even want to go — I used to complain about going — but they made me go. Then we all stopped judo, although my brother still practises to this day, but we stopped for a bit and then I moved into taekwondo, did that for a long time, then kickboxing and then various other martial arts. MMA these days, bit of everything. But yes, they got me into it. But as a kid definitely I was very interested in your action stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger and Bruce Lee, and then of course Van Damme came along when I was 12 and I was massively impressed by Jean Claude Van Damme. I remember watching Bloodsport and saying to my mother, “Mum, I want to do what that guy does.” I remember that vividly.
So, is it that you wanted to beat people up or you wanted to be an action star?
Scott: I wanted to be an action star. Before that I wanted to be a stuntman. But when I saw Van Damme in Bloodsport I was like, “Okay, that’s what I want to do. I want to have muscles from Brussels.”
Moving from judo to taekwondo to kickboxing, is that progression a natural thing as a young enthusiast, to spend a bit of time in one martial art and then take it to another level and go for something a bit more dangerous with a bit more action?
Scott: Well, as a kid I was so enamoured by Jackie Chan and all those guys that I kind of think that martial arts had a bit of flash to them. So taekwondo was perfect and just naturally segued into kickboxing, which was all striking-based obviously, and that was where my interests lay. And then as I got older I started to develop an appreciation for the real martial arts and the self-defence and the street fighting-type techniques. But when I was a kid I was definitely more about doing flashy stuff.
Speaking of some of those icons, you hear a lot about Stallone’s story and how he got into the film industry and he’s a bit of a legend now because of the risk he took and the leap he had to make and I guess some of the luck that he had as well. Talk a bit about your movement into the entertainment business and I guess how you broke in and how much good fortune it took also.
Scott: Well, you talk about Stallone and say he got lucky — he probably say that himself — but I find it hard to believe that he never would have made it. I mean, okay, he was 30 and he had to sell his dog and all the rest of it, but he seems like a very motivated, driven person. I can’t imagine that we wouldn’t have a Sylvester Stallone if somebody hadn’t took the chance on Rocky, I just can’t imagine it. I think even if that didn’t work he would have gotten through somehow; very charismatic guy, very clever, very smart, very driven. And I kind of feel like when you want something bad enough eventually you will get it — unless you are really, really unlucky. If you ask the universe for it enough times, eventually you will get there.
So for me it was the same thing, it was a struggle. But I made up my mind at a very early age that it was the only thing I was going to do and I was either going to do it or I was going to go out in a blaze of glory, I was going to fail miserably. I didn’t leave myself any other options, so it could have been a very dark time to be a 40 year old Scott Adkins working at McDonald’s for all I know. But I believe I had to do it. I was in there with the fire burning within me and it was just what I wanted to do and I was going to make sure that I got it, and eventually I did. I broke through and I found the right role to push me on a little bit further. It hasn’t been an overnight success for me, it has definitely been a slow upward climb, but it has always been an upward climb, definitely not an overnight success for me. But I kept persevering; I kept trying my best, I kept getting better and I got to this point and I hope to continue to rise.
On that point of you grinding away, was there a decision that you made that, like you said, maybe I will have to work at McDonald’s to pay the bills but I’m going to do this forever, whether I’m a superstar or whatever I may be?
Scott: Yes, that’s basically what I said to myself is, “Look, this is what I want to do and I’m going to do it, and maybe I am not going to be earning millions, maybe I won’t have a pot to piss in but this is what I want to do and I’m going to do it and I’m not going to listen to anyone telling me that I can’t.” So I made my mind up. It wasn’t about the fame, it wasn’t about the money; it was about this calling that I’ve got inside my heart. I’m going to go for it one hundred per cent; this is who I am, this is what I do. And I made that decision and success will follow after you’ve made that decision, I guess.
Do you feel more at home on an action movie set than you do on set in EastEnders or something like that?
Scott: Certainly in the beginning of the career I had more confidence filming kicks and punches in front of the camera than talking, doing the dialogue. I was definitely further ahead in that area than the dramatic area, and if I could do some of it again I would probably do it differently. But with experience comes confidence so the more I did the more confident I got, the better I got. And now it’s an equal thing: I can find myself on set with somebody like Gary Oldman and feel completely confident that I can hold my own with him as a dramatic actor as part of the ensemble cast.
Getting involved in The Expendables projects and seeing your name thrown around with some of the guys that pretty much invented the genre, what was that experience like?
Scott: It was brilliant. For me, it felt like I was getting accepted by my peers, somebody likes Stallone saying, “Come on kid, be in The Expendables. You’ve earned your stripes as an action guy.” Obviously that was a huge honour just to be around all those guys. I’ll tell you what though, it was a battle to try and get on the poster, because (production company) Nu Image were like, “Yes, yes, great.” Stallone, “Yep, put him on.” But Lionsgate they did not want to put me on the poster and that pisses me off to this day. So that pissed me, off to be honest that didn’t put me on the poster, because I felt like I deserved it. But anyway, to be part of the movie was amazing.
Well, I guess there was a lot of big names and there’s limited real estate on a poster I guess.
Scott: They were like, “Man we’ve only got 12 spaces, we don’t want the number 13 in it, bad luck.” “Oh, yeah, thanks a lot.”
Who were you most excited about working with on that film?
Scott: Well, it was my fourth time working with Van Damme at that point so he was old news. For me, you’ve got to love Arnold; he’s amazing. But Stallone, man. Stallone is a true film maker: writer, actor, director. Massive amounts of respect for Stallone. Arnold’s amazing as well, though. But, you know, Stallone, he’s a true filmmaker, man.
Yeah, and he seems like a really sort of grounded guy and he’s someone that can sort of laugh at himself. And I guess once you get to that level and you’ve had so much success in so many different areas you can probably do that. Is that a fair assessment of the type of bloke he is?
Scott: He’s very intense when it comes to the work; he’s demanding excellence from people and himself. Everyone kind of falls in line after Stallone, except for Willis and Schwarzenegger, because Stallone is the boss, he has put the project together, he’s proved himself many times over, he has been good at success and nobody has got a problem with that; that makes perfect sense. But he’s a smart guy though; very articulate, he’s a smart cookie. And to stay on top from the 70s through to even now for so many years, that’s difficult to do; not many movie stars has been able to stay on top for four decades or whatever it is.
I guess some of them were obviously not in the best shape they’ve ever been in, but who impressed you physically? And obviously you got to kind of work physically with a few of the guys, so what were they like to kind of grapple with and go toe-to-toe with physically?
Scott: Well, obviously I only did that with Jason Statham, and the guy is incredible, he’s a true athlete. He wanted it to be perfect; he wouldn’t settle for a take that he didn’t think was his best. We kept going and going and going, very exact in what he was trying to do. And he’s a true athlete, he picks things up very quickly. I’ve done a lot of fights obviously and sometimes you will work with a real fighter, but they don’t know how to translate that to screen and Statham has that in spades; he knows exactly how to make it look good for the camera. And he’s a tough guy, he gets on with it, he obviously puts the effort in. Him and Keanu Reeves I have a massive amount of respect for because it’s clear that they care about the action in their movies and you have to put the effort in to make it look good and it’s clear that they do.
Just in terms of the choreography, how much work is in that? Obviously a lot of your fight scenes are unbelievable and look truly amazing, can you talk a bit about the process and how that evolves?
Scott: Yes. First of all, I always work with a fight coordinator that’s better than me, so that’s the first thing I should mention. I have worked with some great guys that made me look very good. And you should kind of choreograph the fights with the camera in mind because you can have the best choreography in the world but if you don’t film it right it’s not going to look that good, so you’ve always got to have the camera in mind. And then of course you’re choreographing it with the stunt guys to get to the set, and you could be working with a camera operator that’s never shot fights before and he’s getting into all sorts of problems, because really you need to get that guy to come to the gym and see what the stunt guys are up to, which happens less than it should, to be honest. The camera operators need to know the fight as well as the stunt performers because it’s okay to sit back with the camera and just film guys having a fight, but if you want to get it properly, you have got to get the camera in there as part of the choreography. And it’s hard, it’s a skill within itself as a camera operator; not a lot of guys can do it. And a lot of the times I find myself on a new film having to educate the camera operator how to do things, which can be frustrating, but that’s filmmaking for you, it’s all a collaboration. You’ve got to get it right though, that’s most important.
Just really quickly, obviously in Undisputed II you’re massive and you’ve had to change your body for roles. Just talk a bit about the training process and whether you enjoy lifting weights and probably stuffing your body with protein and all that sort of stuff. What’s your favourite type of training program to get into a particular type of shape?
Scott: I like lifting weights, I find that fun. I’ve always enjoyed it. I like looking good, it’s a vanity thing as well as trying to stay healthy, I’ll admit it. But also I’ve got to do that for my job, right? But I do enjoy just lifting weights, which is sort of counterintuitive to martial arts, the two don’t go together very well. We should be training with plyometrics and just stuff about performance, which body building isn’t. But anyway, I do enjoy it and I do train that way. And obviously I really enjoy training in my martial arts, which is going to the gym, hitting the mitts; obviously I’ve got to make sure I can perform my kicks that people want to see and stay on top of that as I get older. I’m happy to report that I can do more kicks now at 40 than I ever could when I was 23, so I must be doing something right. So yes, those are the two styles of training that I like the most.
To all of us ageing folks, that’s an inspiration. Thanks very much for your time Scott, I appreciate it.
Scott: Okay mate, thanks a lot.