Scott Adkins interview: Ninja, The Raid, and evil ninjas

Matt chats to action star Scott Adkins about his new ninja film, working with Statham, and Geordie accents

You may know Scott Adkins from his starring roles in some pretty great DTV action movies. Or, you may know him from his smaller roles in films like The Expendables 2, X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Bourne Ultimatum. Or you may not know him at all, in which case you need to get yourself a copy of Undisputed III immediately.

Scott Adkins is a particularly brilliant film fighter and we were lucky enough to catch him on a rare break from spin-kicking henchmen to death to have a chat about being a ninja. His latest film, Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear, is a particularly fun bash ‘em up martial arts movie that some of you will get a real kick out of. Here’s what the kicktacular Adkins had to say about it, and his career as a on screen bad guy bludgeoner in general.

Is it as fun to prepare for a film called Ninja as I think it probably is?

Well, when I was 12 my Dad bought me a ninja suit and I never took it off. I was running around in the back garden having a whale of a time. If someone’s gonna pay me for that, obviously I’m a happy man.

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They presumably wouldn’t let you shoot this movie in your back garden, though.

It would have been a nice touch, with my Mum’s washing on the line and everything. No, unfortunately not.

This is the second Ninja film. I thought it was really great. I also thought it was a great deal better than the first one. What did you guys do differently this time?

We were upset about the first Ninja film. You don’t set out to make a bad film, but for a variety of reasons we ended up looking at it and thinking ‘ah right, this hasn’t worked’. You can’t really see when you’re doing it. But I think the main reason was my character was a very weak lead. He wasn’t very proactive, he was reactive, he was a bit of a cheeseball and he was a squeaky clean guy, so we fixed that for the second one. Obviously, the way the film begins, it sets him up as a guy who’s going out for revenge rather than just running around scared.

I think we didn’t make the action scenes in the first one as good as we could have done. We certainly made sure we did a better job of those in the second one. It’s a better story. Of course, the revenge plot is a staple ninja plot device. If it’s not broke don’t fix it. So we used that again.

When you’re looking for a film like this, and I suppose this is true of most martial arts films, where much of the success of the film is going to come from the action, how do you pick one that’s going to be good?

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God, you just want to get a good script. We can figure out the action, we’ll make the action good. What we’re really looking for is a good script. Now, the audience wanna see some fights, it’s a martial arts film, so you need to make sure that you don’t leave it too long in between fight sequences. But that’s easily done. So you do sometimes find yourself putting in a fight scene that’s not necessarily needed, but you put it in there because it’s action porn. That’s just the way it is.

But really, what we’re always looking for is a decent script. Sometimes you don’t get a decent script, and you have the opportunity of working and you try to improve the script. You do what you can with what you’ve got sometimes. But, hopefully, you’re starting with a great script.

One of my favourite scenes in Ninja 2 is one at the beginning of the film, where your character hops onto the roof of a building to avoid a confrontation with some muggers. Is that something you’ve ever considered doing, maybe at a family gathering?

Hopped onto the roof and done one?


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I’m not as good at ninjitsu as my character is so I’m not sure I could just hop onto a roof like he does.

But it is interesting for the character, because at the beginning of the film all he wants to do is not fight. He’d rather give them his money than fight them because that’s the kind of guy he is. But because he gives these thugs his wallet, they end up knowing his address, or at least we think that’s why, and that’s what leads to his wife being killed. So, it was his own fault for being such a nice guy. It makes you think. Ninjas should just be bad guys.

Maybe they should.

When in doubt, kick the shit out of everyone. I think that’s the best way to do it.

That’s not a bad policy. You could have that on a family crest.

That’ll be in my next movie. That’s Ninja 3.

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I was going to ask you about that. There will be a Ninja 3, right?

I honestly don’t know. I’d love to do it because it’s nice to do a trilogy, isn’t it? We’ve done one and two, we might as well do a third. I think we’ve put the character in a nice direction now and it’s working well. I think people would like to see a third one but it’s not up to me.

I think you guys got into a really nice groove with the fight scenes in this one. They were brutal. The thing with action films is you want there to be a sense of escalation. Was there any pressure when you’re putting together the final fight scene?

Yeah. I’m a big believer in finishing on a high note, so I always want the end fight to be the best fight of the movie. Which is kind of difficult sometimes because sometimes you can film the end fight half way through the schedule, or at the beginning, and for whatever reason, you get injured, and it doesn’t work out.

Undisputed 2, for example. I thought the end fight was a bit anticlimactic and since then I’ve tried to make sure that the end fight in my films is really good. I think it’s really important to end on a high note and give the audience what they want. You’ve got to schedule yourself enough days and hope that you don’t get injured. There were three fights in Ninja 2 where I was pretty badly injured. It affected them a little bit. We had to shorten two down and chuck another one out altogether. But I suppose we had enough action anyway.

What injuries did you pick up?

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I hurt my back pretty badly. I tore a muscle in my back, so I couldn’t kick with my right leg for about a week. I knew that the end fight was ten days away, so I had to make sure that I took it easy and didn’t push myself too far, to heal up for that end fight to be filmed. Part of me just wanted to grit my teeth and get on with it, but I didn’t want to risk making it worse.

The way I heard of Ninja 2 was from Raid director Gareth Evans’ Twitter account. He was very complimentary of it. I understand you’re a fan of his as well.

Absolutely. Massively.

What did you think of The Raid 2?

I loved it. Do you know what? I prefer the first Raid, because that story just works so well. It’s so tense, he really goes through the ringer with all these characters. I need to watch the second one again. I loved it, but I think Raid is the better movie. It’s great that he’s not just regurgitated the same thing and he’s tried to do something different. I’m a fan of the John Woo type movies, the Japanese films that he’s tried to emulate. He’s doing a great job. The car chase was amazing.

Wasn’t it just? I know you’ve mentioned The Raid 3. You would want to be in The Raid 3 – is that fair to say?

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I’d like it… I’d like it. If you say too much about these things it kind of works against you, to be honest. Obviously, a Hollywood remake of a film that’s got a lot of action, and it’s fighting action, I would suit it very well.

I would agree with that.

You need someone who could do the business and there’s not that many of us out there.

Also on Twitter, Gareth Evans pitched you as a villain for Bad Boys 3, which I would love.

[laughs] I saw that tweet but I think that’s as far as it goes.

I know they haven’t started production yet, but if they’re not going to get Michael Bay back, I’d say bring yourself and Gareth Evans in to take it over.

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That’d be great, as well. Anything like that. I love Gareth, he’s fantastic. It blows my mind that he’s from Wales. He’s really flying the flag for the kind of films that you don’t get any more. It’s all these summer comic book movies now. You don’t get hardcore action films any more.

Funnily enough, I saw Captain America 2 the day after I saw The Raid 2, and I was really struck by how much the action paled in comparison.

I’ve heard somebody else say that, but I actually thought the action scenes in Captain America, the fight scenes, were some of the best stuff I’ve seen in a Hollywood film. If you see it after The Raid, obviously it pales in comparison, but I know very well the fight team behind it and they did a stellar job. They still cut into it too quick, but a lot less than a lot of other films. They did a really good job, I thought.

I want to ask you about Jean-Claude Van Damme. You’ve done a few movies with him. Would you consider him to be a friend?

Yeah, absolutely. He’s a friend. He congratulated me recently on my marriage. That was very nice of him, to ring me up and do that.

Oh, congratulations. I appreciate mine probably don’t mean the same as Jean-Claude’s. How did you get to work with him?

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Because I did Undisputed 2, the director’s next film was The Shepherd with Van Damme and he brought me into that. I’d met Van Damme previously to that in Hollywood. We’d had a talk about a few things. He was talking about trying to do a Kickboxer TV series at one point, with me as the lead. We only spoke about it, nothing really came of it, but the relationship was there. We’ve done four movies now.

My favourite film of yours is one with Van Damme and that’s Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning. But that’s another one with a script that’s… I imagine that was an odd one to read.

I really liked what John [Hyams] was trying to do with that. I think it’s a really great film and a lot of people have put it down unduly. It’s a clever film. Maybe some things should have been a bit easier to grasp for the audience, I’ll give you that. But John is the type of director who doesn’t bang you over the head with it, he wants you to think about it and work it out for yourself. That’s really a story about the monster, through the monster’s eyes, from his point of view. It was an interesting way to take the franchise. It’s dark and it’s moody and it’s depressing, but it’s a valiant effort and I’m very proud of the film.

I think the critics liked it a lot more than the fans who wanted a stupid action film did.

I think my favourite scene in that film, and I’d like to ask you how difficult it is to make a scene like this, is the one where you’re being attacked by former UFC heavyweight champion Andre Arlovski with an axe. Because that must be frightening.

We did some strange stuff with that. The first shot, we wanted the axe to go into the wooden floor. The rubber axe doesn’t go into the wooden floor, and we thought ‘we want this shot’, so we ended up bringing in the real axe. So the first thing when I duck and he puts the axe into the cupboard and it hits the lamp shade, it was a real axe. Because we needed it to obliterate it. When it goes into the wall it’s a real axe.

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When we did the baseball bat fight, the fake baseball bats kept breaking, and we’ve only got two days to shoot the fight. We’re shouting at the props people, there’s a big argument, they’ve got to go away and they’ve got to spend time making another one make because they only made four to begin with and all this bullshit. We just ended up saying “Bring out the real bats!”

You try to be safe, but at the end of the day you want to raise the bar and do things in a short amount of time, because it’s not a big budget movie. I think it’s nice for people to know what goes on behind the scenes, because we put our hearts and souls into it, know what I mean? We spill blood for them.

I think that’s why you have a dedicated fan base, because people recognize that. One of the films that seems to resonate strongly with your fan base is Undisputed 3, and certainly the Boyka character. Is there any chance of him coming back?

Yeah, a big chance. We’re trying to sort that out at the moment. Don’t ask me why it takes so long, but we’re definitely talking about.

Can I pitch you my idea for Undisputed 4?

Go on then.

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It’s an underground fight tournament in a Geordie youth club with Ant and Dec as the villains. We call it Boyka Grove.

[laughs] That’s a good one. [adopts Newcastle accent] Why aye, man, I am the most complete fighter.[stops]. Do you think it would work, if I talked like that?

I don’t see why not. It’s about the only accent I haven’t heard you use yet on film.

I’ll have to work on my Geordie accent.

Now, you’ve made a Hercules film with Renny Harlin. How was he to work with?

He would have these dinners, the whole cast would meet up. He’s a really nice guy. I loved working with him. He’s got loads of great stories about the action elite that you can all just sit down and listen to. But he keeps the set very light as well. Really funny guy. I had a blast making that film and I really enjoyed playing that character. It’s a shame it hasn’t been received a bit better but I really did enjoy it.

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I’d like to talk to you about The Expendables 2. So many of the action icons I used to watch on screen growing up were in scenes with you. How exciting was it to be around them?

It’s mind blowing, isn’t it? Doing the airport sequence, just to meet Stallone on his own is massive. Just to meet Arnold on his own is massive. But they were all there in the same place together, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, Dolph, Van Damme. I used to be star struck by Van Damme, but at this point it’s me and him getting all nervous together. I saw that Jean-Claude was as nervous as me to be honest, which was an interesting dynamic. I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that, because we all respect the top three guys; Willis, Schwarzenegger and Stallone. Of course we do. Just a mind blowing experience.

Then of course, when you’re not filming you’re seeing them in the gym and you’re getting to train with them. You try and be cool and act like you’re not that impressed, but inside you just want to jump up for joy and say “Yeah! I’ve made it, Mum!”

You had a fight scene with Jason Statham at the end. The scene where you two represent the young action stars. How was that?

Well, it was frustrating because we only had a day to do it. I’m there thinking ‘Surely people want to see a good fight here. Isn’t that what people want to see? Me and Statham going at it and have a good fight scene?’ But try telling that to the producers when you’re getting to the end of the schedule and people are trying to save money. But that’s filmmaking for you. That’s why they’re businessmen, not artists.

It’s frustrating because they took half a day away and gave it to Djokovic hitting tennis balls around, which wasn’t even in the movie. That was very frustrating.

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And finally, what’s your favourite Jason Statham film?

Hang on, let me have a little think.

Like, you can say Expendables 2.

No, I’m not gonna go for that. I am gonna go for… Safe.

Safe is underrated.

Safe is a good film and the action is sick.

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Thank you, Scott Adkins!

Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear is available on bluray and DVD from 12th May. It’s worth noting that you don’t need to have seen the first movie to enjoy it.

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