Michael Dudikoff is the American Ninja.
We were thrilled to get an opportunity to chat with the action star, who was doing press to promote the release of the action film Navy SEALS Vs Zombies, but were kept at a considerable physical distance. While telephone interviews can be a bit difficult, I was secretly relieved that we wouldn’t have to come face-to-face with a man renowned for his work as a ninja. Safely tucked away in a different continent meant that, no matter how stupid our questions were, we weren’t in danger of being kicked in the chops.
It turns out that we needn’t have worried. Den of Geek found Michael Dudikoff to be a particularly friendly and fun interview subject. It’s great to talk to someone who’s enthusiastic about what they do. Far from frightening, the interview turned out to be an absolute pleasure, at least for us. Perhaps he found himself wishing he had us close enough to get at with a samurai sword.
Here’s how our interview with Michael Dudikoff went.
We haven’t seen much of you in films for the last while. What was it about Navy SEALS Vs Zombies that made you think you’d like to jump back in with it?
Well you have relationships in this business, and it’s important to have relationships in this business. I got a call from Phil Goldfine. Phil said “Hey, would you like to be in this movie?” and he described the character and everything, and I said “When do we start?”
So I did it, and totally enjoyed it.
There was one particular line I noted that your character said; “Get that chopper airborne!” When I saw that, I got the impression you were enjoying yourself. Was it a fun set to be on?
Oh, it was really fun. A lot of young kids, everybody was doing social media, everybody was on and moving. It was a very fast paced film. It was exciting to be on it, matter of fact. I’m coming from home, and not working a lot but going out for lots of meetings. Being on the set there, it was like day and night. It was like ‘Oh my god, this is so exciting. This is why I’m doing what I do. This is why I love doing what I do.’
I was there with my kind. Lots of actors and people in the business. When you’re around all that, and this is your passion, it’s real comforting to be around these kind of people. So, yeah, I had a good time.
I know you did a short film about zombies, so this is your second zombie project. Is there something about zombies particularly that’s interesting to you?
I’ll tell you something, my kids, I’ve got twins – a boy and a girl, nine years old – and zombies are a very popular thing. When I told them about the show, I said it’s about zombies, and they said “Ah Daddy, you’ve got to do it! It’s gonna be so good.”
So I read up and started looking at all these different movies; there’s no question about it, I’ve got to do this movie. Even if it was that my kids were the only reason to do it, I’d do it.
Something about your character is, at least at the beginning, he’s quite sceptical about the possibility of zombies. If there really was a zombie uprising that brought on some kind of apocalypse, do you think you’d be sceptical too?
Yeah, I think I’d definitely be sceptical about it. That was the reality of how I played him. Commander Sheer was a tough guy. He’s been in combat, he knows exactly how to go in and take ‘em out. But zombies? What are you talking about? He was ready to do anything else in his career, but he’s never dealt with zombies.
One of the things about Navy SEALS Vs Zombies that’s different from the 80s action films that you’re best known for is the look. Even though it’s zombies, it has a much more gritty, realistic look and feel than something colourful and fantastical, like American Ninja 2. The tone and the look are very different.
I mean, 80s movies are totally different, right? We’ve come a long way. This movie definitely looked very real, and that’s the genre. That’s what I love about coming back; different genres, different movies, different types of movies. That’s what’s exciting for me as an actor. Going in and experimenting and experiencing different genres.
So when I got this, I knew it was gonna be different. It looks real. When you’re filming, you don’t know what it’s looking like. You’re just in there and you’re doing the best job you can, trying to layer a character and come off real.
Nobody really knows what we’re shooting unless you’re going to dailies. Once you’re seeing dailies, you’re seeing the picture, you’re seeing exactly what you’re doing and how you’re coming off as an actor. But you never know, if you’re not going to dailies, how you’re really looking. For me, I was just trying to do my job, do a good job, and have fun. To do it the way the producers thought I should do it. And if everybody was happy, I’m happy. And they were happy.
Your character is more of a senior, guiding role. I kept expecting him to grab a samurai sword and jump into the fray. Was there ever any talk of your character taking on a more physical role?
No, there wasn’t. Commander Sheer just stayed right in the command centre, which was really exciting for me. I get a lot on my Facebook, everybody wanted to see me do more, they wanted to see me in the action, which is understandable. But part of the reason I took this role is because it was different. I was in there and I was calling the shots. It was very different for me, to not go in there and fight and do all that. Commander Sheer was a no-wasted-words kind of guy. I really enjoyed it.
I suppose that’s a good shout. If people see you in a role like this, it might show you in a new light that helps you get to try other roles, too.
Well, yeah. I love acting, it’s a lot of fun and I love trying different things. That’s what’s so nice about being in the business as long as I have; the years go by and all your experiences come to fruition. Everything that you do in your life, it helps you as an actor. All of a sudden you’re using all those things you’ve learned along the way to layer a character, and to make a character real and come alive. I really think life experiences do help you prepare for roles. Gosh, my life experiences have been so abundant, it’s been fantastic. I’m a lucky guy.
Have you got any other films coming up that you’re excited about?
You know, every time I do a project I’m excited. Because it’s something new, it’s something to dive into. Like when I started this show, for instance. It was so different for me because I came from getting my kids all prepared for school, and waking up every morning at five and making sure they’re going to be professional students. And then, all of a sudden, at five am I’m getting my hair buzzed off and getting a scar put under my eye and becoming somebody totally different and realising ‘Wow, this is reality. This is Michael Dudikoff doing what he loves to do.’
Not that I don’t like being a daddy, because I really do love that. But this is the first time being in that position. I realised ‘I’m coming away from being a daddy and I’m doing what I like to do. This is all about me.’ Because when you’re a daddy it’s really not all about you. It’s about the kids, it’s about the family. So this was really exciting for me to do, just become totally engulfed in my character.
Now, you’re well known for martial arts roles, and as we’ve said, film has changed so much since the 80s. Are there any films in in the last few years that you’ve really enjoyed?
Action, period. The action has gotten so real, but so different. Because now they use a lot of blue screens. When I was doing it, it was ‘let’s do another take, let’s do another take’. You were the fighter, you were the one pulling the punches, you were the one making sure that there was a connection and the camera angle was just right. With Chuck Norris and Charlie Bronson, we were all the guys over at Cannon, you had to make it real. There was no blue screen. You had to do it all.
So for me, seeing the movies today, it is a lot different, but it’s exciting. They can do so much today that we couldn’t do before. You walk away and you just go ‘that was pretty darn amazing’. I mean, even Tom Cruise, all he’s done with all his action stuff. And the special effects are unbelievable. Liam Neeson, who would have thought he would have been an action guy? He’s probably one of my favourites.
You mention your Cannon run in there, and I did want to ask you about that. There’s been a renewed interest in that time and that group of film-makers recently.
Yeah, I’ve noticed that. Everybody’s asking me, even on Facebook, when are you gonna do another American Ninja? Let’s reboot it, you know? I think the American Ninja, Joe Armstrong, has legs. I think it would be really a great thing to bring that forward again. I’ve written a script and it’s being looked at now. ‘Cause my fans, I go to the grocery store, wherever I go, it’s “Hey, are you ever gonna do another American Ninja?”
I really want to do another one, only because I really, truly love Joe Armstrong. I think he’s a great guy to portray. I would like to see him in another.
So you’ve written a script yourself for another American Ninja film?
Yes, and it’s being looked at and I’m hoping it can be done.
That’s awesome. I think people would love to see that. That’s such a badass thing to be recognised for. It’s a great legacy. It must be very exciting to have people coming up to you about that.
Well, Matt, you know what’s really unbelievable to hear? It’s when people come up and say “I started doing martial arts because of you; now I have my own academy and I teach martial arts, and I just wanted to thank you and come over here and shake your hand.” That right there, it gives me chills just talking about it. I get choked up when people come up to me and say those kind of words. You’re doing a film and you don’t know what kind of reactions you’re getting from people until you walk into the public and they walk up to you and tell you how much they care and love you. It’s, to say the least, humbling.
I have heard stories, but I never know how true they are, that when Cannon were going to do their Spider-Man film, they had you in mind to be Spider-Man. Is that accurate, and if so how close did it actually come to happening?
You know, the days with Cannon, it was very hectic, and it was very fast, and it was very indecisive. So, one minute I was supposed to be doing Spider-Man, then I was going to be doing Superman. It was all speculation, but words that came out of Manahem (Golan)’s mouth. I was under contract. I would wait until I was told what to do and I would do it.
Was I excited to play those characters that were promised to me, or at least verbally thrown at me? Yeah. To look at who actually got those roles and who did them; wow, that’s pretty amazing. Am I excited for them? Yeah. Would I have loved to have played them? Yes.
But I’m a firm believer that things are gonna happen the way they should. Even doing what I’m doing today, I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. That’s meeting people, keeping the doors open and wanting to come back and get into this business, which I truly enjoy and love.
What is your favourite Jason Statham film?
I just love him. I just think he’s great. I love everything he does, I don’t think he can do anything wrong. I’ll keep it clean and just say anything he does, I love. That guy can’t do wrong. All he has to do is step on the set.
Michael Dudikoff, thank you very much.
Navy SEALS Vs Zombies is out now.
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