The martial arts genre has long been defined by its biggest stars. Long ago, Bruce Lee was the biggest stars in the world, and heremains the martial artist by which all others are judged. In the 1990s, the over-the-top physicality and theatricality of actors like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jackie Chan breathed international life into the genre.
In the modern era, stars like Michael Jai White, Tiger Chen, Iko Uwais, and Scott Adkins are among the biggest names in the martial arts scene. The new film, Triple Threat, brings all of these actors – and more, including MMA legend and rising action star Michael Bisping – together in an R-rated action extravaganza. Directed by Jesse V. Johnson (Savage Dog, The Debt Collector), Triple Threat offers a dazzling mix of bloody gunfights, martial arts beatdowns, and sassy one-liners; everything an action fan could possibly want in this sort of movie!
While promoting Triple Threat, Scott Adkins spoke to Screen Rant about working on the high-octane actioner, his history in the movie business, and the differences between Eastern action films and those of the West. He also talks about working with one of his childhood idols, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and getting to fight him to the death in 2012's Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. This is one interview fans of action – martial arts in particular – should not miss!
Screen Rant: This movie kicks a lot of butt. I went in hoping to see you kick some butt, and that is exactly what I got. You are a crowd pleaser like none other.
Scott Adkins: Well, there's quite a few crowd pleasers in there, let's be honest! This film is full of ass-kickin'. Full of people getting shot at, and yeah, the best guys in the business at the moment for that type of specific movie, which is, you know, martial arts action entertainment.
Screen Rant: Not to spoil anything, but there is a two-on-one fight with you versus Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais. If that's not worth the price of admission, I don't know what is.
Scott Adkins: When I found out, I thought, God, are you guys gonna pay me some more money? Because this is going to be difficult!
Screen Rant: Was it difficult?
Scott Adkins: It was actually easier, to be honest. When you work with people who are that proficient and skillful in what they do, it takes less takes to get it right. I could be working on another movie with some stuntmen who aren't very good, and it's quite frustrating because you end up doing it more times than you want to do it. It hurts! The less takes you can do, the better. With Tony and Iko, obviously, I'm working with the best of the absolute best. It's still difficult because making fight sequences, when you do it properly, but it's much more smooth sailing when you're working with guys like that.
Screen Rant: There are so many different martial arts styles in the world. When you're working with people different fighting styles, does it provide a unique challenge choreographing those fights?
Scott Adkins: That's more of a question for Tim Man, our fight coordinator. Tim is somebody I've worked with many times, and he had a real tall order on Triple Threat, because he didn't have a lot of prep time, and he had to choreograph a lot of fight sequences, and, yes, he had to deal with the different styles of the different individuals involved, and mesh it all together. And also, the pressure of choreographing for some of the best guys in the world. For me, in terms of performing the fight sequences with different styles of martial arts, I feel like screen fighting all comes down to the same sort of thing. Somebody may have a different rhythm of attack, but as long as I understand their rhythm of attack, I can deal with it, as long as we understand the rhythm. It's not a real fight, it is choreographed. The easiest way for me to know when a particular punch or kick is coming is to work to a specific rhythm.
Screen Rant: I've talked actors before, and they've compared doing fight scenes to dancing.
Scott Adkins: Absolutely. It's a violent dance, but it's choreography. Jackie Chan is the guy who always talks about the rhythm. The reason behind that is, I can either wait for you to throw the technique like in a real fight, you know, I'm looking for the tells and watching your shoulder and watching your eyes for when you're going to throw the technique. Or we can come to some sort of agreement on the rhythm, and then I know when it's coming, so it's easier for me to react to it. It's very much like a dance. It's very much a partnership. The only difference is, it's much more painful because we're actually hitting each other.
Screen Rant: Can you talk a bit about your history with martial arts and how you segued into acting from that?
Scott Adkins: I started martial arts when I was ten years old. My first martial art was Judo. It's a very good martial art. It really is very practical and it works in real situations. Judo actually means, "The gentle way." It doesn't have to be very gentle, especially the way Ronda Rousey does it! It's a great martial art, and it's really good for kids, as well, to build confidence. It's not striking. You're not hitting people in the face, but it's still very physical and it can be devastating if you know how to use it. The reason I started was because my dad and my older brother did it. They stopped doing it, but I continued. Somewhere along the line, I became fascinated with, of course, Bruce Lee, and then Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jackie Chan and all the usual suspects. And really, from a very early age, I felt like I knew what I wanted to do, and I wanted to do what those guys were doing, the heroes I was looking up do.
Screen Rant: Is there a difference between making Western films like Universal Soldier and The Expendables 2 versus Eastern films like Triple Threat and Wolf Warrior? Which do you prefer?
Scott Adkins: Triple Threat, to me, is a bit more of a Western film. We have Jesse Johnson directing it and lots of Western actors in there, and the vibe, for me, was quite Western. But to make a film like Wolf Warrior or Ip Man 4, which I recently did, it's quite different in terms of what's expected from you. In the Hollywood films, you can get mollycoddled a little bit and maybe spoiled a bit too much in terms of having a trailer and, you know, actors can be a bit of a pain and get away with more than they should. And then, on the Eastern movies, it is not that way at all. You won't have a trailer. Everyone will muck in together. There's no unions. It's just about people getting together and making a film. You work really hard. For me, I started off in the East. I started off in Hong Kong movies, and that was the way I learned. I learned to be able to take punishment and hit hard and be hit hard. That's what it takes to make a fight look good. I wasn't mollycoddled like in Hollywood. We didn't have a trailer, we sat out in the hot sun. When somebody said, let's put some boxes up here for one of the stuntmen, we all did it together. In the East, it's very free, they make things up on the spot. It's less organized sometimes, but at the same time, it's very spontaneous. You can come up with some very ingenious things on the spot... It's much harder work, though.
Screen Rant: And martial arts movies, in general, sound like they can be so grueling unless you're a real pro.
Scott Adkins: They are really grueling, yeah. Listen, it seemed like a good idea when I was twelve! It's really difficult! I might as well be a bloody brick layer! If you do it correctly, it's really gonna take it out of you physically. But, you know, I love it. I love it so it's okay.
Screen Rant: Let's talk about your relationship with Jean-Claude Van Damme. You've been in multiple movies together. I don't think that's a coincidence, is it?
Scott Adkins: It kind of is a coincidence, really! It's not something that I set out to do. For me, I was a huge fan of Van Damme. I mean, my wall was plastered with him when I was a kid, and I think that's the same for most kids of my generation who were into martial arts. We loved Van Damme. Bloodsport, Kickboxer, and all that stuff that came out in the 90s. It was glorious. He was right at the top of it, and there were so many martial arts movies at that time, and he was the guy. I'm a white martial artist who enjoys bodybuilding. There are definitely similarities. I'm similar to him in many ways, and some of it is subconscious, I should think, but he had a huge influence on my life. It was a dream to work with him. But, the fact that I've worked with him so many times has been a coincidence. There have been times where I've wrestled with whether I should or shouldn't do a movie because I didn't want it to seem like I was riding on his coattails or trying to do so, but I just kept getting offered stuff that was with Jean-Claude. There's stuff that I've been offered since that I've turned down for that very reason. At the same time, what a wonderful experience, to work with your childhood hero! He's a great guy and he's given the world some brilliant action films and he still is.
Screen Rant: To work with your childhood hero and then in Universal Soldier, to kill him!
Scott Adkins: That was a bit of a big deal, actually! You know, Van Damme doesn't take lightly being killed onscreen. There are politics that go on. You don't want to be the guy who kills... I mean, I'll get killed by anyone! In fact, I think a lot of actors love a good death scene, and I'm one of them. But a lot of these action guys, they do not want to get killed onscreen, for whatever reason. And it's not just Van Damme; it's many of them. It was a bit of a thing, but I actually took it as quite the compliment that Van Damme allowed me to kill him. I saw it as passing the torch... I don't know how he saw it, but that's how I interpreted it in my mind!
Screen Rant: That's really cool. We were just talking about everyone you've fought. You've fought Van Damme. You've fought Jason Statham. You've fought Hugh Jackman. You've even fought Benedict Cumberbatch! Who do you want to fight who you haven't fought yet? Obviously, I don't mean a real fight, but shoot a fight scene with.
Scott Adkins: There were a few guys, really, who kept cropping up. For the longest time, I really wanted to fight Tony Jaa. When he burst onto the scene with Ong Bak in 2003, that was about the same time that I was coming through and making my first movies. There's the guys you grow up watching and idolizing as a kid, and then there are performers who are your own age and you feel quite competitive with it, but it's a healthy competition. I saw him as a colleague, but I wanted to test myself against him. One of the greatest parts of Triple Threat was getting to fight Tony Jaa and test myself, physically, against a guy who I, for the longest time, had considered to be one of the great martial arts performers. At his peak, at that time. When I got to fight Jackie Chan, he wasn't at his peak anymore, but I got to do that with Tony, so that was an amazing experience. And Iko, as well, of course. Let's not forget about Iko. I was very lucky with Triple Threat. And the other guy who's name kept coming up was Donnie Yen. I got to fight him last summer in Ip Man 4, so in terms of fighting, I think I've done a lot! I've done all of them.
Screen Rant: That's a career! Now you can go and become a brick layer!
Scott Adkins: Now I can just do romantic comedies and forget about this silly martial arts business.
Screen Rant: You've got the face for it!
Scott Adkins: I didn't take too many punches in the face, so I'm still okay!
Screen Rant: You're a martial arts superstar, a legend at this point, even though you're only 42.
Scott Adkins: Yup, it's not the years, it's the mileage. The mileage! Some of my joints are getting past their sell-by date, but...
Screen Rant: What are some of your favorite martial arts films, both from your youth and more recently?
Scott Adkins: My favorite martial arts film has always been, and probably always will be, Enter the Dragon. Bruce Lee had already died by the time I knew who he was, and there was this film that would come on late at night, Enter the Dragon, and some people I know prefer Fist of Fury or Way of the Dragon, and that's probably seeing Bruce Lee more as he would have wanted to be seen, but the way he was in Enter the Dragon, so vicious and powerful and kind of mean, I really love the way he is in that film. He's almost scary sometimes. You know, it's the quintessential "martial arts tournament" movie. It's just fantastic. I don't think we'll ever get anything better than that, because we won't have Bruce Lee. For me, that's Bruce Lee's best film, so it's the best martial arts film. But for more modern day martial arts films, there's Ong Bak, The Raid... I've always loved Fist of Legend, with Jet Li. I think it's one of Yuen Woo-ping's best films. There's many more, like Armour of God, but let's leave it at that, for now!
Triple Threat hits Digital and Video on Demand starting March 22, following a one-night-only theatrical release on March 19.