Interview with Darren Shahlavi

Darren Shahlavi is know for his recent role in “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” as Kano. Darren has also starred with many great action stars Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo in “Ip Man 2” and Steven Seagal in “Born to Raise Hell”. Darren is also in the upcoming SyFy original movie, “Aladdin: The Curse of the Jinn” this year and also has a role in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Darren about his role in “MK: Legacy” to as working with his childhood heroes to what he has planning upcoming.

Mike Gencarelli: What made you pursue martial arts growing up?
Darren Shahlavi: I started training in judo when I was seven years old. When I was a kid my dad took my younger brother to class and I went along and I just enjoyed it. And after I saw my first Bruce Lee movie I was hooked. I wanted to be like Bruce Lee. So did a lot of kids. I wanted to kick so I moved away from judo to tae kwan do and karate…stuff like that. And since I was a little kid my dream was to be in movies. It was a combination of Bruce Lee films and “Star Wars.” I wanted to be Han Solo. I never dreamed of doing anything else in my life for my career. Actually, my judo classes took place in a drama theater. I’d get there early and see the actors performing… rehearsing their plays. So I kind of discovered both martial arts and acting together at the same time. It was the Hong Kong movies that really inspired me. I found the action in the American movies pretty boring compared to Hong Kong. I wanted to go to Hong Kong and train with the people that Bruce Lee worked with. Jackie Chan and Donnie and Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung. So I went off to Asia when I was 19 years old.

MG: How did you get involved with playing Kano in “Mortal Kombat: Legacy”?
DS: I’d been in touch with the films fight choreographer for a couple of years. There was another movie he was doing that I was going to be a part of but I had something else come up. He let me know he was going to be in Vancouver doing “Mortal Kombat” and I told him if there was anything I could do to just let me know. He spoke with the director and suggested me for Kano. So I met with the director, read for him and he gave me the part straight away. Again, it’s the good fortune of having somebody who has seen your work think you’re good for a part and suggests you. My friend had seen “Ip Man 2” and loved it so I thank him for recommending me for the part of Kano. And I like what the director has done with this rebirth of the “Mortal Kombat” legacy. It’s going to be really exciting.

MG: Where you familiar with the character of Kano?
DS: Absolutely. When I moved to Hong Kong I went over with my best friend. We had met each other 20 years ago at the Donnie Yen seminar. We hadn’t seen each other for a long time but, since we both loved “Mortal Kombat,” whenever we would see each other we’d say “hello baby, did you miss me?” Seriously, what the director got out of the actor playing Kano in the first movie (Trevor Goddard)…there are a lot of good layers to the performance. It was good, it was funny…truly a great performance. So yes, I was well aware of “Mortal Kombat” and Kano. I used to listen to the music when I was working out all the time. The first movie I ever did…a Hong Kong movie called “Guns and Rose”…Robin Shou was the lead in that movie and five years after that went on to play Liu Kang in the “Mortal Kombat” movie. Once I found out that Robin was doing “Mortal Kombat” I was thrilled for him. I’d followed his career and I thought he was wonderful in “Mortal Kombat.” Now I’m doing “Mortal Kombat.” It means a lot to me because the first film was something that brought martial arts back to the main stream public in North America as well as around the world.

MG: Do you think that the success of the web series will cause “Mortal Kombat” to be turned into a feature film?
DS: We hope so. Somebody has put my name down on IMDB but we’ve really had no discussions. I think they’re interested in doing another season of the web series because there are still a lot of backgrounds from these characters that you can explore. You can get the audience up to speed with the characters and their motivations and their intentions and then you can go into the feature film where we can do the tournament. This way people are invested in the characters and it’s not just all fighting. I think it will be cool to do another season, explore the characters further, and by the end of the season they’re all entering the tournament. I believe there is some kind of legal situation that needs to be cleared up but I think there’s a very good possibility of doing a feature and I’d be very proud to be a part of it. The series has so many interesting characters. I mean you talk to anybody and they each have their favorite character so there is really a lot to explore. I just hope that if they do another film that we can release it uncensored. This whole “censoring” thing is really a problem right now.

MG: How do you feel about the recent episode that was taken down so quickly because of the censors?
DS: It’s a problem for a number of reasons. Number one, “Mortal Kombat” fans want to see MORTAL KOMBAT. They want to see it as it was intended. Number two, there’s also the intention of showing Warner Brothers that there is a big demand for this. Fans want to see a new “Mortal Kombat” movie or a second season but not censored. We put the first episode on YouTube and it got 8 million hits. The second episode got 2 million hits. But it should be at 6 or 7 million hits. But the problem is that people have downloaded the uncut version and when they watch it we’re unaware. They’re watching it but not on YouTube because it’s been censored. If we’re going to do another season it needs to be released somewhere so fans can see it uncut. They can put a little warning before it stating that it’s “R” rated or mature…whatever it is. Because that’s what “Mortal Kombat” is. The filmmaker’s vision is what got everybody excited and to kind of quash that is not really fair to the filmmakers or the fans.

MG: How was it working with your childhood heroes Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung Kam-Bo in “Ip Man 2”?
DS: Sammo Hung and Yuen Woo Ping gave me my first lead role in a movie called “Tai Chi Boxer.” Yuen Woo Ping did all of the action in films like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Kill Bill” among others. “The Matrix,” of course. He and Sammo Hung have been the premiere fight choreographers in the world for so long. I met Donnie Yen 20 years ago. I was just a kid and I went down to London where Donnie Yen was doing a seminar teaching Hong Kong style film fighting. I lived in Hong Kong for awhile, then I came to North America and began doing films here. But unless you’re a name it’s not easy to get a good lead role in a movie. So I was doing a lot of supporting and smaller roles but not really getting the chance to use any of my abilities fight-wise. So I called a friend of mine who was a casting director asked him to please keep an eye out for me for anything in Asia. I hoped to get back there and really get to use my abilities as a marital artists. And very shortly after that he called me back and said they were getting ready to cast the main bad guy in “Ip Man 2.” Would I be interested in it? And, true story, I actually had “Ip Man” in my portable DVD player as I was on my way to the gym. I take my portable DVD player to the gym with me and I watch movies while I’m on the eliptical machine doing my cardio. So I watched the first “Ip Man” movie, called him back and said, “Listen man…anything I need to do to get on this movie let me know.” And they cast me pretty much right away. So it goes back to that first meeting with Donnie Yen. The first Bruce Lee movie I ever saw was “Enter the Dragon,” and the movie begins with Bruce Lee fighting Sammo Hung. I told Sammo that I’ve known who he was for most of my life. And to get to work on a film that’s about Bruce Lee’s teacher…with Bruce Lee being such an important part of my life…it was almost like going full circle. Getting to come back to Asia and work with two of my heroes in Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung on a movie about Bruce Lee’s master, Ip Man, it was really gratifying. I was thrilled to be a part of it. Not to mention the success of the film worldwide. It was the most successful Asian film of 2010.

MG: How did you get involved with working with Uwe Boll on his films?
DS: I had done a couple of films for a German filmmaker named Olaf Ittenbach, who is known for his splatter effects and quite hardcore depictions of physical violence. It’s very, very gruesome stuff but he’s very, very good at it. The first film I did for him was called “Legion of the Dead.” I’m sure the version you saw was the cut version that Artisan released here. Talking about censorship, when some of the more gruesome stuff was about to come up the screen would go black. So a lot of the stuff was actually taken out of the movie. The second film I did with him was called “Beyond the Limits.” It was censored almost every place it was released in. And I think the only uncensored versions you can find of it are in Germany and Austria. And Japan. So my agent let me know that Uwe was here and was looking to cast “House of the Dead.” So I went in and met with him. I don’t know what happened. He offered me a role but it wasn’t a big role so I went and did something else. Then “Alone in the Dark” came along and he asked me to do a part in “Alone in the Dark.” But what I understand is that I was going to be in a scene fighting with Christian Slater. But Stephen Dorff was going to be in a different scene and was willing to work for free to be in the movie more so my fight with Christian Slater got cut so I’m barely even in “Alone in the Dark.” Then there’s”Bloodrayne,” though I really didn’t get a chance to do alot in “Bloodrayne.” Then when “Dungeon Seige” came about Uwe gave me a script and told me he had a really good role for me. But when the time came to shoot the role he had already cast someone else in the part. Uwe was very insistent that he have “name” actors in all of his movies so that he could sell them. And if you look at “Dungeon Siege” you can see that those 10 big name actors got the movie $2 million opening weekend. So now he’s gone back to doing the movies he should be doing…smaller, personal films. Good actors don’t have to be movie stars if they can act. I like Uwe a lot. He’s really an intelligent guy. And he’s a good filmmaker. But I’ve done three projects and he’s never really used me properly…never gave me a good role. The stunt coordinator on “Dungeon Siege” said to me “if Uwe is not going to use you we can use you here” so I did stunts and ended up being Ray Liotta’s stunt double in the movie. In the end fight between Jason Statham and Ray Liotta that was me doubling Ray Liotta.

MG: How was it working with Steven Seagal in “Born to Raise Hell”?
DS: I was in China doing “Ip Man 2” when I got a phone call from Lauro Chartrand, the director, who said “I’m heading to Romania to direct my first movie with Steven Seagal and I want you to play the bad guy in it.” And I told him “I’m in China right now…I don’t think it’s going to work out.” But thankfully they were able to finish with me on “Ip Man 2” so I got on a plane from China to Romania, got a little sleep and the next day went to wardrobe fitting and began shooting. It was a very low budget movie, which puts a lot of limitations on what you’re able to do. I was happy with the way everything went, filming wise, but unfortunately they left the end fight between me and Steven for the end of the day. They kept shooting other stuff. So when it came time to do the fight scene Steven had to go off somewhere so we really only had an hour or two to shoot it because Steven had to go. It was really a shame that we couldn’t get a good final fight scene shot at the time but that’s the problem with low budget stuff. Steven was great. I really enjoyed working with him. He invited me into his trailer before I left and we had a really good talk about a lot of stuff. He was really cool. I don’t think he was too happy with a lot of the films he’d been doing recently and as a result I don’t think he really gives as much as he should be on a lot of the films he’s been working on. He could certainly help the film making process go a lot smoother and easier if he was able to give more time and commitment. He really doesn’t seem to have his heart in it anymore. Which is a shame because I think the guy still…he’s still very fast. He’s very good in his fight scenes. And he’s still a really good actor. He’s underrated in what he does. And I think that comes out in his commitment to the film and his character. He doesn’t want to put too much into it. But when it comes to the process he’s very natural. But I liked the experience. It was a chance to work with Lauro Chartrand, whose a good friend of mine. And I think that, with what he had to work with, he did a very good job. Because, seriously, it was not easy shooting a movie that quickly in Romania.

MG: Does one project stand out at being the most challenging for you?
DS: Well, there’s most challenging in a good way and most challenging in a bad way. Most challenging in a good way was working on “Ip Man 2.” I had to be in the best shape I could be in. That was a 72 day shoot and I shot for about 23 days. Pretty much every day I was fighting. I worked with Donnie Yen for 10 days. Sammo Hung for 7 or 8 days. All of the other guys in the ring. So that was very challenging. I was getting up at 5 in the morning, going for a run, coming back, having my breakfast. The driver would pick me up and drive me to the set. It would be an hour’s drive every morning and close to three hours drive back because of the traffic. So I was filming for 12 hours. Add in another 4 hours for travel. An hour for working out. I was on a really strict diet. So I was working out twice a day, shooting 12 hours, traveling for 4 more. By the time I’d get back to the hotel and Skyped for a little bit I’d go to bed. So I was working on about 4 hours sleep every day for five weeks. Then there’s challenging in a bad way, when you don’t really get to do much. Like not getting able to fight Steven Seagal at the end of “Born to Raise Hell.” We had no time. It’s tough just shooting things so quickly. We had a little time for rehearsal…Steven and I rehearsed. It’s a pleasure to work with people you really admire. It’s a lot of hard work. And sometimes it’s not enough hard work because there’s not enough time.

MG: What is your involvement in the upcoming “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”?
DS: Here again it’s another unfortunate incident that happens in this business. The stunt coordinator called me up and said they wanted me to come in and do a fight scene with Tom Cruise. I said, “I get to fight Tom Cruise?” They said yes so I said, “fantastic…I’m there.” Then I get to the set and it’s Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner and they’re going to be fighting three guys. I was going to fight with Tom and the other two were going to fight with Renner. Then Tom wanted to fight two guys so he was going to fight the two guys and I was going to fight Jeremy Renner. But the whole point of this fight scene was to show how good Jeremy Renner’s character was at fighting so the fight we’re in is very quick. It’s a nice scene. I mean I got to hang out with Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner for three days and watch them work, which was a thrill. Renner was fantastic. He picks up the fighting really well. He’s such a great actor. He comes across really well. Very strong and very capable. Trust me in the new “Bourne” movie he’s going to be awesome! Seriously, he’s going to surprise a lot of people. So even though it’s really just a cameo…you get paid good money and you get to hang out for three days with two of your favorite actors. It’s a great gig!

MS: Anything else on the horizon?
DS: I just got my first lead role in an American film called “Aladdin: The Curse of the Jinn.” It’s a SyFy original movie. They’re just finishing up the visual effects and I think it will air at the end of summer, first on SyFy then on a Blu Ray DVD release. I play Aladdin and it’s a very adult version of the story. The genie here is a real evil genie. He’ll grant your wish but whatever it is, he’ll turn it around so that you ultimately get killed. So the object is to get the genie back into the lamp and toss him back to hell. It’s a pretty good film. And it’s going to look good because we shot it on 35mm film and they’re taking their time on the visual effects. I’ve also got a movie called “Hanger 14” with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Plus it was nice to work with Michael Jai White again. It should be out by the end of the year, though it might have a new title…keep an eye out. (According to IMDB the film is now
titled “Tactical Force”).

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