Alain Moussi interview: Kickboxer: Vengeance, action icons and Statham

Alain Moussi takes us through the new Kickboxer film, the joys of Jason Statham, and salutes Scott Adkins too...

Alain Moussi is a very happy man. When we spoke to him on the phone to talk about the home release of Kickboxer: Vengeance his enthusiasm and passion for the film and all things action movie related were in abundance and rightly so. Moussi has been working in stunts for years, doubling for the likes of Henry Cavill, Aaron Eckhart and recently Hugh Jackman in this year’s X-Men: Apocalypse, but Kickboxer has given him not only the chance to play his first lead role, but to act alongside several of his childhood heroes. There’s also the benefit that two sequels have already been greenlit and are under production already, so here’s hoping Moussi’s first franchise shines a light on his burgeoning talent.

For action fans, Kickboxer: Vengeance is a welcome throwback to the visceral fights and revenge trappings that were such a delight from the seventies through to the early nineties, watching one man train his way to a blood soaked victory, via the ever welcome montage. Yet Vengeance also manages to put some fresh twists on the classic material, which is helped by Moussi’s likeable turn as the new Kurt Sloane and boosted further by the stellar supporting cast, including one Jean Claude Van Damme.

During our talk about all things Kickboxer, we got into a discussion on the current state of mainstream action movies, Christopher Lambert, with a little side of Statham, obviously. So without further ado, Mr Alain Moussi…

Firstly, congratulations on the film and your performance – I was a big fan of the original, so I think I went into it with a bit more expectation than a lot of people, but I really enjoyed it.

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Oh thank you very much, I really appreciate that. That’s awesome.

It must been nice to have the film out there now, because I imagine that since it was your first lead role, it must have been quite nerve wracking waiting for it to be finally released?

Oh my god, absolutely! [laughs]. I would say that from the start of the process, I think from the moment I got cast, you know I thought when is it going to start? And then finally we get started and we’re almost there, you know I’m in New Orleans about to start production and when we’re done, we get to post and then when will it be released – might be spring, might be next fall, might be like… nobody knows!

And so finally, it’s like I have this thing where say I’ll believe it when I see the movie is out [laughs]! Dude, it was just awesome. I mean I think the anticipation of it is just as much a part of the process and a part of the whole thing, right? So, its makes it that much sweeter when it does get released.

I seem to remember over the past few years, that there’s been talk of trying to bring Kickboxer back, so at what point of the process did you get involved?

I knew about this in 2011!

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Good grief!

I knew about it when Dimitri Logothetis, who’s our producer, I worked with Dimitri, for the first time when he cast me in a role back in 2011, that’s when I met him. I was part of the stunt team, in Montreal because the onset stunts that we were doing for all of his films meant we did a live showcase for him and we ended up doing the opening and end fights, doing everything from acrobatics, to martial arts, to weapons and finally comes to meet me and talks to me for five minutes, asked who I was and my background. But he didn’t really speak to everyone, he just singled me out for a talk and I’m like ‘Oh, cool’.

And the next day I got a call from casting asking to me to audition for the lead role and that was the first time I did and I got it. So that was the first time I worked with Dimitri, was on this film and I happened to be a stunt guy on the film who stood out and he liked, so now all of a sudden I’ve been cast in a lead in a film. Unfortunately the film never got done, because the financiers pulled out so there was problems with that, so that never got finished.

However, in conversation Dimitri mentioned that he and his company partners had bought the rights to Kickboxer – I think they bought Kings Road Entertainment, which owned it. So he asked me if I wanted to be part of the remake and I said “Oh man that would be incredible.” So two years later was when I finally met up to with Dimitri, to audition again for Kickboxer – same thing with another showcase, did that first, then another screen test and that was 2013. And in 2014 was when they announced we were doing the remake. So all in for me, it’s all for me been since 2011!

That’s funny to hear – being an action fan, I’d been aware there was talk of a reboot but had no idea it started all the way back then.

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It’s crazy. Around the time they also started talking about Bloodsport as well – whether a remake, or a sequel, or whatever they were going to do, but that was around the same time.

I take it that you were a fan of the original Kickboxer?

I was. It’s one of my favorite ever movies, guaranteed. I actually prefer it – a lot of people prefer Bloodsport, but I prefer Kickboxer.

Yeah, it’s a tough call – I wrote an article on Van Damme a few years ago and I was trying to rank what I thought were his best movies and… I did actually go for Bloodsport I have to confess.

Ha! Yeah, see there you go! See people prefer Bloodsport, but I don’t know – I just connected with Kickboxer more, I think it was the dancing! [laughs]

Yeah it was lovely to see that reference at the end of your version!

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Good, good, I thought it was a great homage!

In Kickboxer: Vengeance, pretty much of all your co-stars made that transition from fighting, or martial arts, into film stars and for Gina Carano and Dave Bautista that had happened fairly recently, so it must have been nice to have those people around you, was it supportive?

Really supportive. It was really, really incredible the environment we had was, I have to say, amazing, great energy on set all the time. Working with Dave, that was a blitz, Dave Bautista, we had four days, four and half days and that’s it. So we had to shoot the end fight and the whole bunch of other insert scenes here and there, so the end fight with him, believe it or not, we did that in two days. So, we did that and we had extra time with the double later on, to get some of the other shots we needed with me. But otherwise, me and Dave together that was two days and we just went at it.

And what’s cool about Dave is the fact he told me right off the top, he said “Listen man, I haven’t had much screen fighting experience, I’ve like done Guardians Of The Galaxy and all of this kind of stuff, there was a lot of action, but not tons of like fighting. So tell me what you want, let me know what to do and I’ll follow you, you lead the way” and I was like “perfect”, you know that’s awesome. That’s cool, let’s have fun and it was amazing. Dave is an awesome fighter. He’s an awesome martial artist, but he also has great timing which is not always the case, he has amazing timing so it was so much fun working with him in this action scene, that was epic for me – and I was a huge day Dave Bautista fan as a kid, so to be on screen fighting with him? Like I could almost see myself in the ring – it would have been fun! I was just there in my own world, in my own movie universe and it was like me and Dave going at it, it was so cool! [laughs]

And Gina too, Gina was funny, she’s a joker…she just loves to laugh and is awesome. And you know what? When you’re talking about support, my last day shooting in New Orleans, Gina had a scene, she had a scene before me on the day and we were shooting nights and her scene was right at the top of the day and then I was on another camera, on a split unit, we were just doing a whole of pick up shots for the fight. She finished maybe… I don’t know, maybe six hours before our day had ended, she and everybody else stayed till the end just to be there, because I was just going at it non-stop, all night just doing fight stuff. So, she stayed and everybody else, Darren stayed, Sara stayed, Sam was there – everybody stayed till the end, till I was done. Nobody wanted to leave till I was done, it was so cool and we all ended up all going for breakfast right after. I was like “You guys actually stayed?” and they said “Of course we stayed, we had to see you through to the end” You know not everybody would do that, it was really cool.

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That’s awesome and lovely to hear. It’s funny, I was born in the mid-seventies, so my teenage years were just filled with what I considered to be that really glorious, golden era of western martial arts and action movies, because obviously there was Schwarzenegger and Stallone, but then Van Damme came into it and to me he was a discovery, because at that point he wasn’t as well known. It must have been great to have him as a part of your Kickboxer, as I thought it helped to get the fans on side and at the same time he’s endorsing your portrayal of his original character?

Absolutely, it was, it was really cool. I mean we had talked about having Jean Claude as part of the shoot in very early on discussions with Dimitri and Ted (Field) and at one point I said wouldn’t it be cool if he actually came in and took the mentor role and they said would I mind it, and I said “Mind it? I think it would be great, I’d love it – if he does a cameo I’ll be happy! But if he would come in and play on a full on, actual role in the movie, then why not, it would be great to merge two generations wouldn’t it?”

And everybody’s like “Oh, okay” and then finally Tony Jaa came into play and that was going on – and I would love to work with Tony Jaa, that would be amazing – and finally because of scheduling that was being changed all the time, Tony’s schedule became full and he was no longer available and all of a sudden Van Damme was now not available and that’s how it worked out. But we had talked, I remember, in early conversation bringing that up and then it all kinda came to fruition as we were into the shoot. Amazing.

And honestly, the fact I got to star in a remake of Kickboxer, one of my favourite movies, one of the movies that inspired me to train into martial arts, by the dude who inspired me to start training in martial arts, Jean Claude Van Damme and all of a sudden he’s going to be in the movie I’m starring in? Oh my god, come on! I couldn’t write this in a better way! So it all kinda fell into place and I’m really grateful for it. I think it’s brilliant.

It was one of the things I was going to ask you, actually, who were your early influences?

You know what, early on was Van Damme first and then second was Bruce Lee, my dad was a huge Bruce Lee fan, he used to watch Bruce Lee movies in the theatre in Lebanon, because my Dad’s Lebanese and in Lebanon they’re crazy about martial arts stuff – they love action and they love martial arts. So he was all about Bruce Lee, so right away he bought me the Bruce Lee box set with all of his films and he wanted to watch them with me, so we started watching Bruce Lee and I loved it, loved watching Bruce Lee, I still watch Bruce Lee movies to this day. I go back, because I think for me it’s amazing, I love watching Bruce Lee, he’s incredible.

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But then, then came Steven Seagal who brought in something totally different, he brought in the pain essentially to everybody else! I loved seeing that and I discovered aikido, that I had never seen before and all of the sudden there’s a big dude up there trashing everyone, with these very simple movements – I mean they looked very simple and I was doing jiu-jitsu, so I really connected with that, because of the boxing [aspect] and thought ‘somebody is using this in movies, this is really cool’.

And then Wesley Snipes came in and… wow! Like he was doing a mix of everything and it looked like there was some karate in there and looked like some throws, some jiu-jitsu so, he was one of the guys that was kinda of mixing it up and I again connected with him because of the art I was practicing with, which was jiu-jitsu. So, all of these guys had major influences on me as I was growing up as a martial artist.

It’s funny hearing you saying about that because we were spoilt for choice in a way, you just you had all these great actions stars existing all at the same time.

Exactly, there was one era where all these guys and all of a sudden *boom* it’s almost like it’s done and then there’s this void, it’s interesting.

It’s strange, as a lot of my writing is about a love and defense of action movies, so a few years back when The Expendables launched, we spoke to Dolph Lundgren a few times and he mentioned how the was the era of Bond and Bourne, where suddenly a dramatic actor could become an action hero, in large part due to the editing and the art form was a little lost – that must have been something you witnessed too?

Absolutely, one analysis I made and it was interesting – I told my friend about this – when you compare stars from eighties and nineties, possibly before then too, I’d say action stars were the guys that were doing the whole thing, that was the real guy that was getting the hits and doing the action and you connected to them, I was connected to the dude I connected not to Kurt Sloane, but to Van Damme, I didn’t connect to Rocky, I connected to Stallone and whatever he was going to do, I was behind it no matter what. It wasn’t about Captain America, it wasn’t about Iron Man, it wasn’t about James Bond, it was about the actors, the dude playing that person. Today is not like that, today is different, today there are these great actors playing these awesome characters, but you’re not connected really connected to them, it’s very seldom you actually connect with who’s playing them.

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Other than guys like Hugh Jackman, because Hugh Jackman, he is Wolverine. It’s going to be hard for someone to step into those shoes, it’s going to have to be somebody but, man, that’s a role that’s going to be really, really, hard to step into, because of Hugh Jackman, he is the Wolverine. You know people are behind Hugh, because he’s such an icon. People are behind Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson is one of dudes that again. So, I feel like today like there is a lot less of that, whereas everybody in The Expendables like Dolph Lundgren and Wesley Snipes and these guys were the stars that everybody connected to. Their fans connected to those guys, not necessarily the characters who they played, that’s one of the major differences in yesterdays’ action stars, if you will, rather than todays’ actor who plays an action role, if you want to call it that, you know?

And again when I say that, I say that it with all the respect in the world, because I’ve worked with these actors who are amazing actors, amazing dramatic actors. A lot of them play these awesome action roles as well and I’ve seen guys train their butts off and actually pull it all off and they’re great at it, you know. What I’d say for me, when I come into this environment. I come in and say “Okay, we’ve got this opportunity to do this film and it’s all about making it real, every scene that I’m doing, every time a take a spill, I want it to be done in a way that looks real and the hits look real.”

I get hit! [laughs] I do get hit, you know, a lot! On Kickboxer: Retaliation, every morning Christopher Lambert would come up to me, and it was so funny, and say, “How do you feel today?” And I’m like, “I feel fine, I’ll feel good, I’ve had breakfast.” and he says “Aren’t you hurt?” and I’m like “Err… No I’m good” and he says “Yeah, but you got beat up yesterday, how come you’re not hurt” and my reply is “I don’t know, I’m just trained for it” and he says “You should be hurt! I don’t get how you do what you do, I don’t understand. I’ve never seen someone take a beating, like you take a beating” I’m like, “Well I get beat up as a martial artist and it’s a different game”. That’s why guys like him look at it and are like, ‘wow!’ because I’m taking a beating and not many people can do that. It’s a different approach to this work than a lot of people would have, but I love it because, to me, I was connected to that as a kid. So if there is anything I want to do, it’s that! It’s exactly that!

I think one of the strengths of Kickboxer: Vengeance, was that it was reverential, but it wasn’t held back by that and elements of it felt familiar, but elements of it felt fresh at the same time. That must have been a big appeal to you?

Absolutely, absolutely! When I read the script the first time I was happy about everything that was being done and they modernised the story and tell it in a new way, to try and tell it in a new way and every element that could be fresh and I was like “cool!” My friend when he saw it the first time, he’s like, ‘I love the flashback, because it took me out of the original’ and I thought that was great. Everything that could be done, in order to do that I thought was amazing, because as soon as you’re introduced into the new story you’re not thinking about the original, it’s really cool.

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You mentioned the mighty Christopher Lambert, being in Retaliation, but what can you tell me about parts two and three (Kickboxer: Retaliation and Kickboxer: Armageddon)? Because part three is about to begin filming isn’t it?

We are in pre-production now, I don’t know for sure and I don’t want to say for definite, but it looks like we are going to start shooting sometime in the spring. I’m really looking forward to that and the story just becomes insane, it’s really, really cool. Yeah, Retaliation was a beast man! It was bigger, a huge scope compared to Vengeance, it opens up. There’s more action, heavier duty action and just an insane amount of days and it was an insane undertaking, from a directing standpoint, from an acting standpoint, from every standpoint.

It was like fighting a war every day to get through everything we needed to get through, because there’s a lot, but it was fun, the most fun. It was really cool, that’s why I appreciate this film so much because I got to work with really cool people I hadn’t worked with before and that was like Chris Lambert which was amazing. Christopher Lambert was the perfect gentleman. A true passionate actor, the only thing is he’d just got to set in Thailand and he’d just want to start, even when it wasn’t his shoot days, we was like, “I just want to be on set”. He’s amazing, amazing to work with, such a gentleman. I just tried to absorb all the experience from him, we had conversations and I found I learnt a lot from him and then obviously Mike Tyson, another highlight for the shoot of Retaliation. He’s a legend, he’s an icon and again to absorb any of his greatness, in his sport. I did a lot of movement with him and a lot of boxing with him. It was such a pleasure to get to do that, because nobody really gets to do that and as a martial artist and a fan, to be in front of Mike and throwing punches and not getting knocked out!? [laughs] It’s a pleasure!

With Retaliation we really pushed the envelope. It’s a different movie, it’s a bigger movie. We played the trailer for some buyers and when I saw that trailer I was like “Oh my god”. The footage looks great. I’m looking forward to releasing that and at the moment I’m in prep for the third movie and again it pushes Kurt Sloane into a brand new place. Places that he’s never been before, a psychological spot he’s never been before. It’s cool in a way, the fact that they had a trilogy planned and I get to really follow this character and it’s such a journey and often at times it takes a few more years to get to that journey, but in three years I want to be able to take this character to a new place every time and its cool. These guys are not holding back, these producers, Dimitri Logothetis and the rest of the team, they are not holding back.

And finally, we try to ask everyone this question, but I’m looking forward to asking you as you’ve already mentioned him, but what is your favourite Jason Statham film?

[Immediately] Transporter! [laughs] I’m a huge Transporter fan man, I love Transporter. Some people would say Lock, Stock, it’s great, but my favourite has to be Transporter. I follow Statham in everything he does. I haven’t seen the new Mechanic yet, I’m about to watch it, but I hear it’s very good. I hope it’s on the plane to Hawaii actually. I’m about to go on vacation to Hawaii, but yeah I’m looking forward to seeing The Mechanic.

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And I have to mention as well, because obviously you guys are in the UK, but Scott Adkins – he doesn’t get anywhere near the credit which he deserves to get in the film world.

If there is one dude who’s been an advocate for action, who has been doing it for real, pushing everyone to new levels, it’s Scott Adkins. I’ve got to give him a big shout out, because honestly I follow his career and I just saw he’s got Accident Man, which I’m looking forward to seeing. So yeah, I think Scott’s awesome and he deserves way more credit that he gets in Hollywood.

That’s a well-deserved shout out! Alain Moussi thank you for your time and we’ll hopefully catch you for the next one!

See you next time, thank you!

Kickboxer: Vengeance is out now on demand, DVD and Blu-ray