Tekken badass Gary Daniels talks kickboxing, Hollywood and working with Stallone, Chan and Li
When you think of big screen hard men, you'll probably think about Stallone, Schwarzenegger or even Statham.
But British actor Gary Daniels, who now lives out in LA, has probably more claim to being an actual hard man than any of the big names he has starred alongside.
The actor, who swapped London for LA, started out in martial arts inspired by the legendary Bruce Lee and fought his way through the ranks as a professional kickboxer. Unlike many of Hollywood's action heroes, the man can fight.
He has worked alongside the likes of Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Sylvester Stallone.
JOE wanted to find out what it was like to be part of The Expendables movie, who really are Hollywood's toughest guys and how, at 52, he's in better shape than most blokes half his age, ahead of the release of his new film Tekken 2: Kayuza’s Revenge.
How do you get in shape for film roles, or are you pretty much in shape all year round?
It’s my lifestyle. I train all year round. It’s something I've been doing since I was a kid, and I never stop actually. I train five or six days a week – I will do a typical three-day split – so three days in the gym and one day off, working different muscle groups.
I stay in shape all year round which is beneficial for films because like they say ‘if you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready’.
Do you do strength and conditioning stuff more now, or do you work that around martial arts training?
I start out with weight training. I do two body parts each day in the gym. Monday is chest and biceps – and I do abs and a lot of stretching in between sets.
Then I go in the cardio room and jump rope and do 10 three-minute rounds hitting heavy bags.
I then run three or four miles on the treadmill. Nearer shooting time, if I’m going to be taking my shirt off in the film, I will up the cardio. I get up at like 4:30am or 5am and go for a three to five mile run. Then I come home, have a nap, then hit the gym and do my routine.
I will step up the cardio and diet.
Have you had to train to get that action hero body?
I used weights to supplement my training while I was fighting. In full contact kickboxing you’re going to take blows, no matter how big you are. You’re always going to take kicks and punches to the body. I used to think of it as building armour. I would do the weight training – not so I was super heavy – but to help me absorb blows.
Then, as I got more into film, I started lifting heavier to get that look. Then I got the role of Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star early in my career - he was a Japanese comic book hero. Now if you look at the character he had an absolutely incredible physique. So to play that role I wanted to pack on some pounds so I did and I got up to like 194lbs.
It made me feel a bit more uncomfortable with the movement in a martial arts way, but you feel very strong and powerful which is good for the mental side of the character.
You’ve worked with a lot of big figures in the martial arts game – who would you say is the 'toughest'?
It’s weird when people ask ‘who is the toughest action actor you’ve ever worked with?’ People get mixed up between someone who looks good doing choreography and an actual badass.
But if you asked me, I worked with Don Wilson early in my career on a film called Ring of Fire and I used to train with him. He was the really toughest guy I have ever met – and yet he was one of the nicest guys too.
Jackie Chan is obviously a great martial artist, but if you’re talking tough – on screen he’s more comedic and he has a lot of charisma. But when you’re around him you don’t get the feeling that he’s a badass that could kick your ass if you got out of line.
Randy Couture was in The Expendables. You would not want to mess with him. He is the real deal.
Was there a lot of this bravado around the Expendables?
When we did Expendables there was so much press around ‘who’s going to kick whose ass on set’. It was funny. I was reading so much like ‘Jet Li, he’s a badass. He’s going to kick everyone’s ass.’ And I was thinking ‘are you kidding me?’ This guy is like 5ft 5in, he studies Wushu, which is all choreographed stuff. But in people’s perceptions, because he does Chinese Kung Fu and he’s in all these movies, he’s a badass.
I have to disagree 100% with people’s perceptions. It’s all choreography, sound effects and stunt men taking wicked falls and making you look good.
What do you think about guys in the industry now?
It’s incredible some of these athletes now, you see some of the young stunt guys coming up mix acrobatics and gymnastics and parkour with martial arts kicks. They are incredible. But this is what people like to see these days. But it’s quite ridiculous to think you’d ever do a flip in a fight, but it’s what people want to watch. I’m pretty old school.
You’re more the real deal. You’ve fought in the ring and won titles and then moved into acting?
You see it more and more these days. MMA is so popular now. You see a lot of these guys now like Randy Couture and Ronda Rousey and even Michael Bisping, who was in Strikeback recently.
The producers like it if these guys already have a following. MMA is watched by millions and millions worldwide. Producers are looking to cash in on the followers they have and hope it will help generate dollars if they put them in their films.
What do you think of people like Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor, do you follow the UFC?
I have a lot of respect for these guys. They are true warriors. They put their bodies on the line. It’s a hell of a way to make a living. It takes a lot of dedication to devote your life to fighting. You have to devote every minute to it – your training, your sleeping, your diet.
You famously shot a scene giving Sylvester Stallone a good hiding in the Expendables, can you tell us about that?
I got to spend a lot of time with Stallone when we shot the first five weeks in Brazil. We stayed in the same hotel and it had a great gym, so we were both in there every morning. We got on well together. I would talk to him about the character and when we were plotting scenes out and I would talk about how I think it should be done. He was very open to suggestions and before we left Brazil, he said he wanted to make my part a lot bigger.
Then what happened?
So we threw some ideas around, then we went to New Orleans to carry on shooting and we got a brand new script and Stallone had actually written in a lot of the ideas we had talked about. He wrote in the scene where I was kicking the hell out of him. In the script it says ‘I pummel him for like five minutes’. So I was thinking what can I throw at him – spin kicks, hook kicks, punches. He knew I trained Muay Thai and kickboxing, but on the day he only let me do two round kicks to his body. I said ‘don’t you want more?’ He said ‘I know you Muay Thai guys are badass, just two will do fine.’
So that was it. It came down to two kicks.
What was it like sticking the boot in on one of the all-time greatest action heroes?
It was such a pleasure working with him. On the first day of shooting he was walking around with his cigar, telling everyone what to do and it was pretty surreal. It was like ‘this is Rocky’ and you’re right here on set with him.
What’s he like in the gym then?
He works out like a maniac that guy. He just goes at it. I was watching him thinking ‘you’ve got to be kidding me!’ He is absolutely ripped to shreds. His legs are huge, his forearms are huge even his fists are huge. He looks more like a construction worker.
What was it like working back on the Tekken film
The original Tekken film was really cool. It was a really great experience. There were a lot of great people.
I had a small part in the second Tekken film because it was not focussed on the Bryan Fury character. They were shooting over in Thailand. So I flew out there for a few days.
It’s a prequel to the original Tekken we shot. The focus is about Kazuya’s Revenge. He has lost his memory and it’s about finding out who he is. I was like a mentor to him in the film.
Were you a fan of Tekken in the 90s, the games?
I'm totally not a gamer. I hate to sit on my arse and watch TV and play video games, unless it’s watching footy.
I didn’t know the games, so when I was on the original Tekken I went off and did some research. Thank God for YouTube and the internet – I went on and watched games in play and read the character history.
I was going into arcades to play the games to see what the character did and what they were about.
They were massive games. People were showing me on set how big Tekken was. There were fans coming to the set with things to sign.
Tekken 2: Kayuza’s Revenge is out on Blu-ray and DVD October 19 and is available to pre-order now.