ABOVE: SCOTT ADKINS. PHOTO COURTESY OF MIKE HOLDSWORTH.
British actor Scott Adkins is something of a hero in the world of martial arts and MMA films. The 36-year-old has had other parts—he appeared in both The Bourne Ultimatum and The Pink Panther and early in his career, he floated around English soaps such as Holby City (think General Hospital) and EastEnders. Adkin’s die-hard fans, however, come from his role as Yuri Boyka, a Russian convict and MMA fighter, in Undisputed II and III. And the man has quite a few.
Mixed martial arts or MMA is, Adkins informs us, “the fastest growing sport in America.” Brought into the mainstream by films such as last year’s Oscar-nominated Warrior, MMA is still fairly new. “As far as I know, [Undisputed II] was the first film to actually deal with mixed martial arts the sport,” Adkins explains.
Adkins is continuing to branch out—you cannot, one assumes, be an action star forever. The actor has just finished filming Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, with Joel Edgerton, Jessica Chastain, Christ Pratt and Mark Strong. First up, however, Adkins is joining action legends Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Jason Statham and a 72-year-old Chuck Norris in The Expendables 2. Perhaps you can be an action star forever after all.
Here, Interview speaks to Adkins about Bruce Lee, aging, the evolution of action movies, and the ongoing Cold War cliché of the Russian villain.
EMMA BROWN: How did you get into martial arts?
SCOTT ADKINS: Well, I did martial arts since I was 10 years old, and I’ve got as much love for the movies as I have for martial arts so, when I was 18 years old, I started studying performing arts with the eye of getting into the film industry and went to drama school after that. My first break was in a Hong Kong movie that I shot in China—I was going out there and working as a western stunt man, if you like, but at the same time in England I was working in daytime soap stuff. Eventually I put the two together.
BROWN: What is the first movie you saw that made you want to be an actor?
ADKINS: I’d have to say Enter the Dragon. I was about 10 years old. I just remember Bruce Lee blowing my mind on the screen and I thought to myself, “That’s what I want to do for a living when I’m older.” Bruce Lee was so magnetic and charismatic and held the screen so well. It’s just a very powerful performance in that film. That’s the first memory I have—him in that movie.
BROWN: How did you pick Enter the Dragon? I definitely did not know about Bruce Lee when I was 10. Did you watch it with your parents?
ADKINS: I used to stay up late and watch it when they’d gone to bed. I just remember that there was always this film on late at night, it would be on once every three months and whenever it came on I had to watch it.
BROWN: And your parents had no idea?
ADKINS: My parents had no idea about a lot of things, [but] my dad used to bring home all these action movies and we’d all watch them together, the Rambos and the Schwarzenegger films. So he was as big of a fan as me and my brother.
BROWN: Did you ever want to compete professionally instead of acting?
ADKINS: No, I didn’t want to compete; you’ve got to be a certain type of person to be a professional fighter. I prefer to do it for pretend.
BROWN: What kind of person do you have to be?
ADKINS: Well, they don’t mind getting punched in the face and, more importantly, they don’t mind punching other people in the face. I’m just about the movies; I enjoy the dexterity of actors in action movies and the choreography side of things. You’ve just got to be a different person to be a professional fighter. I train with professional fighters so I know what it takes. It’s a very difficult profession, probably harder then the acting profession.
BROWN: How big is the martial arts film world; do you get to know most of the other actors?
ADKINS: You know people in the film industry that are doing action movies. I just did The Expendables 2 and I’ve worked with Jean-Claude Van Damme a few times before and I’ve worked with Dolph Lundgren a few times before. We’ve all crossed paths.
BROWN: What about Sylvester Stallone, was it weird working with him in The Expendables 2?
ADKINS: It was weird working with all of them—Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris. There’s a sequence in the movie where myself and Jean-Claude Van Damme are running through this airport and there’s this silhouette behind this big screen—it smashes, and there you see Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Bruce Willis all firing their weapons at me and Jean-Claude. It’s kind of surreal when you think about it, the three ’80s icons of action movies, unloading as many bullets as they could at us. It’s pretty crazy.
BROWN: What do you think the biggest difference is between action movies today and action movies in the ’80s?
ADKINS: The difference now is that CGI is so good that you can seemingly do anything. You have all the comic-book movies— Iron Man, Thor—and any actor can be in the suit because at the end of the day, it’s the stunt man performing all the dangerous moves and they’ve got the costume on so you can’t tell.
Back in the ’80s, you needed the real action guys with the real physiques, not strap-on bodysuits. Guys like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone. That became the genre of ’80s action movies. I think it changed really when The Matrix came out and Keanu Reeves was able to perform kung fu. Then you had Matt Damon in the Bourne films, doing a great job. So it’s different now, they can train actors to do their own fights convincingly on screen, so those guys aren’t needed anymore. But I think everything goes around in circles; people still do want to see the guys that can do stuff for real, that’s why The Expendables is so popular. I think it will come back again.
BROWN: It’s amazing that they are still doing these intense action movies—Schwarzenegger and Stallone are in their mid ‘60s and Chuck Norris is 72. Are you worried about aging affecting your athleticism? Did you ask all of those actors what they do to stay in shape?
ADKINS: They’re all pretty beaten up, to be honest. They’re all nursing many injuries, and all I can do is be comfortable with the fact that when I’m gray and old, I’ll probably have trouble getting out of bed. But I will push it as hard as I can. It’s starting to get a little bit more difficult now, mid-30s. But it’s all worth it, you’ve just got to keep on playing through.
BROWN: You often play Eastern European characters…
SCOTT ADKINS: I do, yeah. [laughs] I’ve been typecast. People don’t want to take a risk or a chance. Quite a few times they’ve come up to me and [say] “We want you to do that Russian accent.” And I’ll be like, “How about if I do an Irish accent or a South African accent,” and they don’t trust that you can properly pull them off.
BROWN: Do you ever feel frustrated: “Hey, English people can be tough, brawny martial arts fighters as well. It’s not the Cold War, the villains don’t have to be Russian”?
ADKINS: Exactly. I should be an Englishman in one of them. But with the Expendables I did the Russian accent again because it fit with where the film is actually set and it made a lot of sense. But certainly on a few films they just wanted me to do it to play it safe.
THE EXPENDABLES 2 COMES OUT TOMORROW, AUGUST 17.