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 HKCinemagic 2

Statistics :
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Interview with Darren Shahlavi, a versatile gweilo
Ip Man 2 [NEW] 1/1 - Page 6
Author(s) : Arnaud Lanuque
Date : 27/10/2009
Type(s) : Interview
 Intext Links  
People :
Bruce Fontaine
Mark Houghton
Sammo Hung Kam Bo
Bruce Lee
Mike Leeder
Richard Norton
Donnie Yen Chi Tan
Wilson Yip Wai Shun
Movies :
Enter The Dragon
Ip Man
Ip Man 2
Tai Chi II
Lexic :
Hung Gar
Wing Chun
< Previous
Page 5 : Other works in the US
The second part of this interview was made by Arnaud Lanuque (20/10/2010).
Many thanks to Darren Shahlavi.

Photos courtesy of darrenshahlavi.com/
All Ip Man 2 photos are (c) Mandarin Fims.

Back in Asia for Ip Man 2
HKCinemagic: Can you tell us how you got the part of Twister for Ip Man 2?
Darren Shalavi: I’ve been interested in working in Asia again for some time. I missed all the hard work, and the challenges and the thrill and energy of Hong Kong film making. I expressed interest to Mike Leeder, a producer and casting director in Hong Kong, and he tried to get me on a few projects but it never worked out until he called me about Ip man 2. Mike told me his partner Ean Tang and himself were casting a role for the British bad guy and Wilson Yip, the director, was considering me but thought I looked too modern to play a British boxer in 1949. So Mike asked if I could take some shots looking more appropriate for the role, which I did then he called back to say I’d been offered the part. Ironically when he first called me about the movie I was on my way to the gym with a copy of Ip Man, which I was going to watch while doing cardio!

The English boxer in Asia, Twister
HKCinemagic: How did you feel about coming back in China after spending so much time in Hollywood? Were there any difficulties for you to go back to the local working methods?
Darren Shalavi: Not at all. I love the Hong Kong way of shooting, and it was such a thrill for me to work for and learn from Wilson Yip, Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen. I began my career in Asian cinema and I’ve always been working hard there unlike in US productions where I’ve not really had the chance to do much action.
Creating the Twister character
HKCinemagic: In I Spy (Betty Thomas, 2002, US) , you played a boxer, fighting popular superstar Eddy Murphy. How did this experience help you to play Twister?
Darren Shalavi: On I-Spy I had a great boxing coach Darrell Foster who did the fights on Ali and has been training Will Smith ever since. Darrell took a southpaw martial artist and turned me into an orthodox boxer in five days. I trained hard for I Spy because I was 212lbs and muscular when director Betty Thomas hired me. But she wanted me to be the same size as Eddie so in less than three months I dropped 34 lbs. Darrell’s training stayed with me and I wanted to hire him to prepare me for Ip Man 2 but he was with Will on another movie. I decided to go to Sammo as an empty cup so to speak so all I did was conditioning. I had met another director about doing an American martial arts film and put some size back on for that movie but it didn’t work out. So again with Ip Man 2 I thought I looked too big to be a boxer from the 1950s so I did very light weights and ran twice a day.

Twister in action (shooting photography)
HKCinemagic: In Tai Chi 2, you played the main bad guy, Smith, whose characteristics are quite close to Twister (tough guy, arrogant, racist). How did you approach each character? Compared to Tai Chi 2, in Ip Man 2 you seem to be much more confident in your skills (acting as well as in the action) and seem to have more fun in the process. Was it indeed the case?
Darren Shalavi: On Tai Chi 2 I didn’t do anything to prepare for the role because honestly I had no idea what I was doing, no script or character breakdown, I didn’t even know I was to play the main bad guy. I just snarled and did my best to look mean! I came from theatre so I performed as a theatre actor not a motion picture actor. 12 years later I’ve been working consistently in film so my approach was much different. I saw Twister as a showman; yes he is twisted, racist and obnoxious. But he just landed in Hong Kong from London. Has he ever seen a Chinese person before? The British public love him, he’s the world champion in 1949. This is pre Elvis, James Dean, Mike Tyson, Don King. Who would have inspired him, was he a rich man what was he fighting for? Did he have something to gain? Something to lose? Twister was his own promoter, an entertainer before his time. I played him as a caricature of the evil oppressor, a man that would rile up the crowds and instigate anger and emotion and tip the scales to have his audience invested in the fight and the outcome. I based Twister on the older guys in a Guy Ritchie film, what were they like in 1949? In their 30s, in their prime, at their most feared? And physically my influence was Stallone in Rocky 4. This for me is Twister.

Twister, inspired by Rocky IV
HKCinemagic: Do you think such characters really existed in the 1940s/1950s Hong Kong?
Darren Shalavi: I’m sure there were much worse than Twister. Twister was an animal in the ring with an audience, in front of the press, in front of those who loved him and those who feared and despised him. The reaction to the character from certain audience members is a reflection of events and experiences from the past.
Page Working on the set
HKCinemagic: How did you go along with Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen?

Darren Shalavi: The first martial arts film I saw was Enter the Dragon, with Bruce Lee fighting Sammo in the opening scene. That movie changed my life. I’ve known who Sammo Hung is all my life and followed his career as a huge fan. I love his fight scenes, his direction, and as an actor I love how he plays such a varied assortment of characters who all look and act differently. Sammo’s work inspires me, he’s one of my favourite actors and the absolute best as an action director.
I met Donnie at a seminar he did in London 20 years ago. Donnie was already well known in Asia and I related to him more so than other action stars. He has a great physique and striking presence and I love watching him kick. I love to kick and I’d never seen anyone with such fast kicks. I’d watch his movies and copy the moves endlessly as I did with so many other movies. Getting to meet him was wonderful for me -- I was just a teenager with stars in my eyes, I quietly said to myself “One day I’ll be in a movie with you.” It took 20 years but I wouldn’t want it any other way or in any other film.

The heroic trio, Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung and Darren Shahlavi

Sammo was wonderful with me. It was by far a much better experience than I’d ever hoped for and Donnie was awesome too, not only was he such a great person to have lengthy discussions with but he also helped me with my performance too. During the first few days in the ring Donnie would look at me and say “Remember where you are and who your character is. I know you don’t want to mess up Sammo’s choreography but you are thinking too much about the choreography and forgetting your character!” He looked at me a few times and knew when I was thinking too much and not flowing. I learned a lot from him.

HKCinemagic: How difficult was shooting your fights against Sammo as well as against Donnie?
Darren Shalavi: To be honest I thought it would be a lot harder than it was. For sure it was really hard work especially playing a boxer against Hung Gar [boxing] and then Wing Chun. But Sammo is so experienced he knows exactly what I’m capable of and pushes me beyond that. His stunt team really helped me too. Sammo didn’t want me to fight like I’m used too with exaggerated moves and as a martial artist, he wanted to see a boxer from the 1950s and once I had it down we were fine. Sammo and Donnie are so fast and precise that they made it work easily.

Knocking Sammo Hung out in Ip Man 2
HKCinemagic: During your fight against Sammo, one of your punches made Sammo Hung faint and he was later taken to the hospital. Can you tell us how it happened?
Darren Shalavi: On the last night shooting we were finishing my fight with Sammo. Sammo had a bad knee and during the fight with him he had me punching him in the face for real. Of course I was hesitant as he’d just had heart surgery too, but each time Sammo would insist I hit him harder. During one flurry of punches from me which sends him to the ropes, he bounces on the ropes and comes forward to receive another punch but his knee gave way and he moved forward to far to meet my punch head on, hard. He went down but was on his feet pretty fast and continued shooting way into the night until we wrapped. Sammo is one tough man I can tell you that.
HKCinemagic: Many rumours say the relation between Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen was pretty tensed on SPL. Can you tell us how it was between the two on the set of Ip Man 2?
Darren Shalavi: Sammo and Donnie worked together wonderfully on this film. Never any tension. They both respect and admire each other so much, this was one of the most relaxed and enjoyable sets I’ve ever been on. Sammo was the action director and Sammo was Boss. Donnie was very much invested in his character Ip Man and worked incredibly hard. He has really evolved as an actor as much as he has a martial artist.

Fighting a stern Ip Man, in Ip Man 2
HKCinemagic: Did you feel limited in your physical actions because of the English boxing restriction to punches?
Darren Shalavi: Not really. I missed kicking but I’m playing a boxer so with all my homework done the character was mine.
HKCinemagic: What kind of directions did you receive from director Wilson Yip? How did he share the direction with Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen?
Darren Shalavi: Wilson is the director and was there every moment everyday. He has a keen eye and knows exactly what he wants. He knows the characters so well too. He is very instinctual and had suggestions to Sammo during the action scenes to do with the picture as a whole but when it came time to direct the action, it was Sammo’s set and he ran it masterfully.
Wilson is a great director, he pays attention to every detail and makes wonderful choices. He is a truly nice person too.

Sammo Hung directing action on the set of Ip Man 2
HKCinemagic: You did two fight scenes which didn’t make it to the final cut. Can you describe us their content? Was there any other scenes in which you played which were cut?
Darren Shalavi: I had one scene cut which is Twister's introduction. I fight another western boxer in the ring to win a world title, then I’m interviewed in the ring where I express disappointment in the lack of suitable opponents and I head off with my crew. I loved this scene because you see a different Twister, more human with a smile and much more relaxed. It’s a contrast to the rest of the film and it helped establish my character. It was a great scene for me but the movie is about Ip Man not Twister so the scene was cut. It will be on the DVD special editions as a deleted scene.
Gweilos in HK and new projects in Asia?
HKCinemagic: Do you feel the opportunities for western actors to act in HK/Chinese films have now changed compared to the 1990s? [The question also applies for the type of parts, is it still mainly bad guys parts compared to before?]
Darren Shalavi: As I said in the last interview I did with you, I believe the glory days for westerners in Hong Kong are done or you would have had many more movies featuring Mark Houghton, Richard Norton, Bruce Fontaine, and those guys who blazed the way in the 1990s.
I feel fortunate to have done the work I’ve been offered. Times are changing. The China market has opened up now and is huge. In a few years the box office in China will be bigger than in the US. Ip Man 2 is to date the biggest Asian film of the year, and beat movie like Iron Man 2 at the [local] box office! It’s a very interesting and exciting time for Chinese cinema, so let’s see. I was flown out to China for the premiere and travelled to five cities to promote the film and the experience was amazing and the Chinese audiences really loved to hate my character but were so gracious with me. I hope there will be more good roles for westerners. The emphasis is on quality films now for the theatrical market, not quantity as in the 1980s and 1990s video boom.

Ip Man 2 Poster from China
HKCinemagic: Do you have any upcoming plans to work in Asia again?
Darren Shalavi: I absolutely have plans but nothing is set just yet. I’ll let you know about it when the time comes. Thanks for your questions.
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