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Interview with top gweilo Mike Leeder
Mike Leeder, casting director 1/1 - Page 3
Info
Author(s) : Arnaud Lanuque
Date : 1/3/2010
Type(s) : Interview
 
 Intext Links  
People :
David Carradine
Chen Kuan Tai
Teddy Chen Tak Sum
Sonny Chiba
Chin Kar Lok
Jay Chou Kit Lun
Gary Daniels
Anthony De Longis
Grace Huang Chi Kei
Celina Jade
Nathan Jones
Bill Kong Chi Keung
Andy Lau Tak Wah
Leung Kar Yan
Jean Claude Leuyer
Jet Li
Nicky Li Chung Chi
Andrew Lin Hoi
Gordon Liu Chia Hui
Chuck Norris
Andy On Chi Kit
Yukari Oshima
Brandon Rhea
Cynthia Rothrock
Christine To Chi Long
Ridley Tsui Po Wah
Daniel Wu Yin Cho
Donnie Yen Chi Tan
Michelle Yeoh
Michelle Yeoh
Terence Yin Chi Wai
Ronny Yu Yan Tai
Yuen Woo Ping
Zhou Xun
Movies :
Bloodmoon
Bloodsport
Bodyguards And Assassins
Ip Man 2
Legend Of A Fighter
Lust, Caution
Mismatched Couples
Rush Hour 3
Tai Chi II
True Legend
The Way Of The Dragon
Lexic :
Wing Chun
 
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Page 2 : Mike Leeder, magazine writer
 
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Page 4 : People, films and opinions.


HKCinemagic.com: You are also a successful casting director. When did you start casting talents?
Mike Leeder: I pretty started doing casting in 1992, working for IFD, looking for westerners.
 

Mike on the set of Blood the last vampire

 
HKCinemagic.com: So you worked directly for them at one time.
Mike Leeder: Yes. IFD was a great place to work. A lot of people complain about them but it was fun. Nobody there was under the impression we were making a work of art. It was business and it gave us a lot of opportunities to try different things. There were many good times. Ridley Tsui was working there. He was always credited as Eric Choi, Hong Kong Tae Kwon Do champion or something like that. The best for that remain the Philippines though “Yukari Oshima? No, Cynthia Luster!” (Laughs). Andy Lau is Jason Chan, Lin Shao Lou is Sharon Foster, Chin Kar Lok becomes Juan Carlo… I got one poster from Philippines with Cynthia Rothrock with “The nemesis of Cynthia Rothrock, Cynthia Luster!” on it. It was always “the number one contender to Jean Claude Vandamme,” things like that. There is a film called College Kickboxer and it ended up being called The Young Van Damme Story over there! There's a fun little Gary Daniels movie called Capital Punishment which was marketed in the Philippines with the tag line “Bruce Lee's brightest disciple, [contemporary] of Chuck Norris and the man who killed Jean-Claude Van Damme in the 1992 Bloodsport tournament!” Not defeated but killed….they had great marketing.

I still keep in touch with Joseph [Lai], I think he's a great guy, he gave us a chance to work and have fun. I remember browsing into his files in his office and seeing an entry with Jean Claude Van Damme. And he was “yeah, yeah, that guy came to see us, but timing was wrong.” The funny thing is the IFD movies got released everywhere. I was in South Africa last year on a shoot and the DVD shops there had tons of IFD releases available…

 

Mike Leeder with several actors he cast for Fearless:
Brandon Reah, Jean-Claude Leuyer, Anthony De Longis and Ian Powers.

 

To get back about casting, I was still being called by companies always looking for people. So there are a lot of movies I did the casting. And on Fearless, an assistant director called Chu Wa called me for a meeting and asked me to do the casting for this Jet Li project. I worked a year and a half in total on Fearless. We went around the world to cast it. We went to Thailand for a couple of weeks, England for a couple of weeks, L.A. for 2 weeks… The funny thing about Sum Lok, who plays the Thai boxer, [is that] he was helping with the casting in Thailand and we thought “oh, what a friendly guy!” And every single stuntman and actor we saw were extremely respectful to him. And I had seen him in Born to Fight and he doesn't do anything in it. And one day, I asked why everybody was so respectful and his assistant said it's because he's the Olympic boxing champion of Thailand and I was like “but in Born to Fight he doesn't do anything!” “That's the big joke of the film, he's the boxing champ but he never fights.” Unfortunately, the time element on this fight wasn't what it should have been. There were always talks of coming back and filming more. And they never did and I think that's one of the reasons it was cut originally. Because it wasn't as good as [they] wanted. And then they reintegrated it for the director's cut. I could understand they cut the Michelle Yeoh scene but the Thai scene was supposed to show he understood he could kill him but he doesn't have to, he can control himself. We were disappointed it was not in. Originally Fearless was supposed to end with 12 fighters, a Savate guy for example. And it was supposed to have a bigger production around them. There were also four Japanese fighters, one being a female ninja, and their master, Yasuaki Kurata being a possibility for the part. Once we had a meeting with Ronny Yu, Yuen Woo Ping, Chun Wa, Bill Kong and me. And Ronny said “I have found a great English title for the film, it will be : Legend of a Fighter !”. They were like “Yeah! Yeah!” and I was “There is already a movie called Legend of a Fighter” “so?” “And it's about Fok Yuen Gap, and Yuen Woo Ping is the action director.” And Yuen Woo Ping was “Oh! Yeah!” And I found people for all those parts but then I was told it was cancelled and it would be less big. Finally, we locked in Nathan Jones, Anthony de Longis, Jean Claude Leuyer and Brandon Rhea. The funny thing with Brandon was that he really had that background, not just Wing Chun but also German sword, German spear. The last person cast was Shidou Nakamura because we were talking to various people, including Sanada.

 

Mike having fun with Jet Li on the set of Fearless

 
HKCinemagic.com: Was it your idea to bring back Jon Ben?
Mike Leeder: Yes. I said we should get Jon Ben but nobody knew who he was. “Jon Ben, from Way of the Dragon. ” “Oh, so he's from Italy ?” “No, he's from here.”He was great, very professional.
 
HKCinemagic.com: How did you get Jean Claude Leuyer as the boxer?
Mike Leeder: When we were doing the casting for the boxer, I showed Ronny pictures of boxers of the time and he said “oh so boxers were all like Mike, big but not ripped!” And Ronny kept saying I would play the boxer. I was “yeah, yeah, right.” And one day, Chu Wa told me “hey, you know he's really serious about you playing the boxer”… Finally, we found Jean Claude Leuyer but he's really ripped so we said “don't train, just eat more” (Laughs).
 
HKCinemagic.com: Did you do more with him on set than what is shown in the final cut?
Mike Leeder: We shot a little bit more. When Shidou came, he didn't have any martial arts background so a lot of time was spent on his fight which should have been spent on the others. It was a little frustrating because Jean Claude was there four weeks and he shot only four days. A lot of stuff got pushed back or changed. We were on this set five and a half weeks.  
 
HKCinemagic.com: You got involved in Rush Hour 3 because of Fearless ?
Mike Leeder: Yes, we finished Fearless and did a bunch of commercials and normal casting. And I got a phone call at five in the morning from the US proposing me to participate in the casting of Rush Hour 3. I spent four/five months on that.
 
HKCinemagic.com: There were talks at one point to have Jean Claude Van Damme…
Mike Leeder: It was the IMDB. We just started with the casting and that rumour appeared. I know Jean Claude very well and the role we had was not anything he would be interested in. When Jean Claude came to Hong Kong long before Bloodsport, etc, he went to Jackie and gave him his tapes and everything. And Frankie Chan almost worked with him. When Jean Claude was doing Bloodsport, a Malaysian producer showed Frankie some footage and they had a meeting. I think Jean Claude was kind of interested but he was advised not to do it. There were a lot of rumours around Rush Hour 3. Some of them were accurate; some of them were just people making things up. Originally, we wanted a super martial art guy to play the bad guy but he had to be a good actor too and speak English. I suggested Henry Hioyuki Sanada, and was impressed that Brett knew him not only from The Last Samurai, but also from his work with Sonny Chiba, etc. Unfortunately we couldn't work on the actual shooting due to union issues but it was good fun.
 
HKCinemagic.com: Did Jackie keep the full control of the action on Rush Hour 3 ?
Mike Leeder: I don't know. Brad Allan was in charge of the JC team on this film because Nicky Li was busy on some other projects. I'm hoping for it.
 
HKCinemagic.com: Do you see yourself continuing doing casting?
Mike Leeder: I like doing casting and production. I'm still occasionally in front of cameras but I find the production side more to my liking. Fearless was fun despite having a stupid haircut. The first fight with Jet Li and Shidou Nakamura started filming a Sunday. The first shot we did was me saying “are you ready?” “Are you ready?” “Fight” and that was it. Shidou doesn't speak English, doesn't speak Cantonese, doesn't speak Mandarin, only Japanese. So everything was being translated for him. First take, I say “Are you ready?” to Jet Li and Jet Li grab my arm, twist me, put me down. Three thousands Chinese extras start shouting! Jet Li is like “Big Mike, I win”. And Shidou was standing there wondering what was happening (Laughs). Once you get to a certain point with Jet Li, he'll play with you. He needs to know you before fooling around. It was really cool working with him. He was doubled at times but he can still do stuff you can't and movies are a business, and when you have a full crew of specialised stuntmen, if it's easier to get a shot done by using one of them rather than the main actor for a bit longer time, it makes perfect sense.
 

True Legend 's Chinese poster

 
HKCinemagic.com: What was your involvement on True Legend ?
Mike Leeder: I had just finished working on The Mummy 3: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor with Jet Li, as the stunt liaison for Vic Armstrong and his team. I had just got back to Hong Kong for Christmas and New Year, when I got a call to come in to Edko Films for a meeting with producer Bill Kong and Yuen Woo-ping. I'd worked with them both on Fearless , and subsequently with Bill on Blood : The Last Vampire and The Mummy, and was really excited when they told me about the project for a number of reasons. It was Yuen Woo-ping's long awaited return to directing, the project had been developed by two friends of mine writer/director Roy Chow (Murderer ; Lust, Caution) and Christine To (Murderer, Fearless and Secret), and was going to be the return to the big screen of somebody I have always thought should be a bigger star, Vincent Zhao (Zhao Wen-zhou).

I was asked to be one of the casting directors for the film, working with Rosanna Ng on putting together the main cast and supporting actors, and the contingent of foreign/western actors and fighters who would be needed for the film. I really think we put together a very impressive cast for the film. Vincent Zhao is someone who should be a bigger name both locally and internationally, [he has a] real dynamic combination of martial arts skills (both real and [on] reel), [he's] a very good actor and [has] a lot of charisma. He should be the Chinese James Bond. [He is a] very nice guy, hope to have a chance to work with him again in the future. Andy On is another incredible talent who should be a bigger name. He's a genuinely talented and very humble guy, he works hard and can make a great hero or a fantastic villain. He does actually steal the show in True Legendwith the look he has and the way he plays the character. Zhou Xun has a real fragile beauty about her too. It was also great to bring Gordon Liu back into the fray as the monk once again, and I was also impressed by Michelle Yeoh as an actress. I think she has matured into such a strong actress that I find myself looking forward to seeing her in more non-fighting roles these days than action ones. It was also interesting to work with Jay Chou, he's another person that I don't think many people really have the real picture of, [he is] very intelligent and works very hard.

 

Mike Leeder mesmerised by David Carradine's presence

 
HKCinemagic.com: What did you think of the performances of MMA star Cung Le and the legendary David Carradine?
Mike Leeder: It was great to be able to bring David Carradine in for what sadly turned out to be one of his final roles. I'd been lucky enough to work with David previously, we went to the Shaolin Temple together for the documentary David Carradine: A Martial Arts Journey and had kept in touch. He didn't suffer fools lightly, and at times could be a little difficult, but he delivered so many times, and I really think his role on True Legend was a nice goodbye. He was a lot of fun on set, and the western fighters were all excited to have the chance to work with him. I'm very happy to have a lot of memories of working with him on the Shaolin project and this, I rewrote his dialogue for the scenes and worked with him on the way Yuen Woo-ping wanted him to deliver the dialogue for his scenes and really enjoyed the experience.

I didn't really get the chance to work closely with Cung Le on True Legend. I was back in Hong Kong for most of the time he was filming in Beijing. He was someone we'd first looked at for Fearless, and he's an incredible real-life fighter but I don't think as yet he's really been given the chance to show what he can do onscreen as an actor or fighter just yet, we've been able to see glimpses of it but not a full showcase for what he can do --he's got incredible potential.

I brought in a group of fighters for the film, including Conan Stevens who has since gone on to appear in Game of Thrones and is currently working on The Hobbit , very good guy, intelligent as hell and has a very good approach to his career. He's someone who understands the way to build a career. Sylvester Terkay who comes from a pro-wrestling background but has also done a lot of film work including Universal Soldier 2 , My Favorite Martian and the insane Oh my Zombie Mermaid. [He has as] great look, phenomenal skills as a fighter and an actor, and is a very good guy too. John Heidenreich, another very talented guy who I was very happy to work with. Matt Weise who used to be Luther Reigns in WWE, is a good guy, and is currently recovering from some severe health setbacks and I wish him well. I also brought in Dominique Vandenberg from Pitfighter and Gangs of New York , he was originally supposed to do a lot more on the film, but some last minute changes left his character short-changed. It's a pity as he's a very skilled fighter and has so much to offer. They were a great bunch of very skilled and very professional fighters.

 

On the set of True Legend

 
HKCinemagic.com: What did you think of the final film and Yuen Woo Ping's direction after not being in the director chair for so long?
Mike Leeder: I really enjoyed the experience of working on True Legend . I'm still a fanboy and to have the chance to work with and spend time on set with Yuen Woo-ping, Vincent Zhao, Michelle Yeoh, David Carradine, etc., that's something I'll always be happy to do. And to have moments where you can laugh and chat with someone like Master Yuen about his past work, such as the day when he brought the break dancers on set for some of the finale and we started talking about Mismatched Coupleswith Donnie Yen, great stuff. I really enjoyed the film. I do think the pacing is a little off at times but I think it's a solid martial arts movie. Unfortunately in Asia it didn't perform as well as hoped, but it did well internationally which is very gratifying.
 
HKCinemagic.com: Did you participate to Teddy Chen's Bodyguard and Assassins
Mike Leeder: I was asked to come in and help on Bodyguards and Assassins after production began. I had known Teddy Chen for a long time, and I knew this was his dream project. I helped out with some additional casting, notably the hiring of Cung Le to play Donnie Yen's martial arts nemesis. The film was a troubled production for many people including Teddy. And also for myself I wasn't very happy about the way a lot of things were handled including my own involvement. And I think the finished film is a fraction of what it could have been. So much money and talent were involved but I didn't think the film delivered on the ideas behind it.
 

Mike Leeder and Darren Shahlavi back in the 1990ies

 
HKCinemagic.com: For Ip Man 2, you brought the talented Darren Shahlavi back to China from the USA.
Mike Leeder: Darren and myself have been friends for a very long time, he's a very talented screen fighter and also a good actor. We'd often spoken about him coming back to Hong Kong if the right opportunity came along. He'd gotten his breakout roles with both Tai Chi 2and Bloodmoon, but I don't think either of us felt that he'd been given as much of a chance to show what he could do as an actor in recent years. He'd been doing a lot of stuntwork but I knew he still wanted to be an actor. I'd said to him if the right project came then I'd put him forward, and when Ip Man 2came along, I knew he could deliver everything we needed both physically and as an actor., and he went that extra mile in terms of preparation, etc. When it came to auditioning and submitting materials, and that impressed the production team, they could see that he wanted the role and wouldn't let them down.

He came over and did a great job on the film, a few critics have complained that at times he's a little cartoony or over the top, but that's what Wilson & co wanted, they wanted Darren to be the racist, arrogant brash fighter and that's the performance he gave and it's what the character needed. He's not meant to be a likeable well rounded character, he's the evil foreigner!

 

Sammo Hung and Darren Shahlavi at the premiere of Ip Man 2

 
HKCinemagic.com: You have recently been involved in Rza's Man with the Iron Fist . What did you do on it and what can people expect from this film?
Mike Leeder: I can't really say too much about this project just yet. I was lucky enough to be brought in as the Hong Kong Casting Director for the film, and had the opportunity to work with RZA on his dream project, it's very much his love letter to classic Hong Kong martial arts cinema and I really think it's going to blow people away. I was involved with the casting of such people as Daniel Wu, Byron Mann, Gordon Liu, Chen Kuan-tai, Leung Kar-yan, Andrew Lin, Celina Jade, Grace Huang, Andrew Ng, Terence Yin, Ian Powers, Darren Choo etc.

The RZA is a true fan of the genre and he really put his heart into the film, as writer, leading actor and director and I really think people will see him on a different level after this film comes out. I was very impressed by him.

 
 
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Page 2 : Mike Leeder, magazine writer
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