In a perfect world, a man like Alexander Nevsky would need no introduction. Often referred to as the “Russian Schwarzenegger”, the 6′ 6” bodybuilder and fitness author has been a cinematic force to be reckoned with since writing, producing and starring in the 2004 actioner Moscow Heat. Since then, he’s grown exponentially as a filmmaker and cinematic diplomat with a series of action extravaganzas; all possessing strong themes of international cooperation and understanding (along with a healthy dose of action and explosions). Coming off of his directorial debut in the 2014 thriller Black Rose, he’s back as the producer and star of Showdown in Manila; a throwback action film from first-time director Mark Dacascos.
Alexander Nevsky: Hello James. Let me tell you something… Film Combat Syndicate was supporting me and my films long before I started to publicize them here. Big thanks to your readers, and a big thanks to Lee for supporting my films. It’s a great pleasure to talk to you. Thank you for your support and I’m glad to finally be doing an interview with you for Film Combat Syndicate.
Nevsky: Thank you, you saw that one? How did you like it?
Nevsky: Good, then it’ll be very easy to talk to you. Since Moscow Heat, I’ve been doing the same thing in every new movie I make. I always have a great cast and I’m always trying to do that old-fashioned action movie. I’m a huge fan of that genre, and I’m a huge fan of the people I’m working with. Moscow Heat was the first film I ever did as producer and star.
Nevsky: Ah, Maximum Impact! I want to talk to you about that one just a little bit. This is my biggest one and Andrzej Bartkowiak is the director of it. It’s kind of like his “comeback” movie after Street Fighter. He hasn’t directed anything for a few years but Andrzej was also executive producer on Showdown in Manila. He helped us with a lot of things on this film. When the first draft of the script was ready he took a look at it and said “Everything is great, but you need to have more women in the script.” I mean, I wanted to get Cynthia Rothrock involved from the beginning but it was Bartkowiak who put the Tia Carrere huh character in it and my girlfriend in it. She was played by Maria Bravikova who is a great Russian actress and also happens to be my real girlfriend. He also added roles for Filipino actresses including Iza Calzado who is a huge star there. But yeah, Maximum Impact should be released later this year.
Nevsky: To be honest with you, it was very easy; I was inspired by The Expendables. I know Sly Stallone personally and that first Expendables, it was unbelievable. Because he got together EVERYONE. And it didn’t matter if it was Arnold Schwarzenegger or Gary Daniels, if they did huge movies before or small movies before, they were all action icons. It was the same idea for Showdown in Manila. I wanted to bring in all the great martial arts stars who, for whatever reason, didn’t make it into the Expendables movies. I mean, they all should have; Casper Van Dien, he deserved to be in The Expendables. Cary Tagawa deserved to be in Expendables. Matthias, Olivier Gruner, Cynthia Rothrock, Don “the Dragon” Wilson… they all deserved to be in Expendables. So Expendables was a big inspiration.
But also I wanted to work with Mark Dacascos as a director. This was his directorial debut. I really related to the pressure he was under after doing Black Rose where I was director/actor/producer/writer; that was a difficult experience but also very rewarding. And with Showdown in Manila, I supported Mark and he supported me and I think he did a great job. Also, Casper Van Dien! He’s not just an action icon, he’s a great actor and he brought a lot of comedy to the movie. So Expendables was an inspiration but I think we brought something a little bit different.
Nevsky: I’ve known Mark for many years, he’s a personal friend. We were supposed to do a movie together back in the 2000s, but it didn’t happen. I like him a lot. I liked him in Andrzej Bartkowiak’s film Cradle 2 the Grave and the great French movie Brotherhood of the Wolf. By the way, first Mark spoke with Monica Belucci about being in Showdown in Manila and she wanted to make the movie but she wasn’t available. She was supposed to be doing Jame Bond at the time. For some strange reason, she decided to do James Bond instead of Showdown in Manila (laughs). When she couldn’t do the film, it was Mark’s idea to get Tia and I think she was great in the film.
But for me to work with Mark, it’s always great to work with friends. But I’ve been trying to do that with my entire film career; surround myself with great professionals who can make ME better on screen. Mark is a really experienced martial artist and he can do so many great things on screen. He’s an unbelievable fighter who has tons of knowledge about screen-fighting but also he’s a great actor. You can call him a Shakespearean actor. He’s been studying acting for years while he’s done movies and he keeps learning all the time. He started directing and he’s continuing directing since. I think Showdown in Manila was the perfect project for him to do this and for the fans it was good to see Dacascos onscreen and off-screen.
It was challenging for him and it was challenging for all of us, but him especially. We shot it on location in Manila, we had a lot of locations, we were shooting in streets and in the jungle. And it was an independent film; so we had less money and less time for production and planning. We had to create a lot of things on the fly but even with all that stress, Mark was always positive and supportive as a director. It’s very important to have a great captain on the ship, and the fact that he’s a martial artist has made him a strong guy physically, mentally and spiritually.
For me, it was a dream come true. Because as well as you, Lee, and your readers are I’m a big fan of action genre. And I’m a big fan of everyone who worked on Showdown in Manila.
Nevsky: Again, it was easy for me to relate to everything Dacascos was going through directing this film because I just did it myself. When I signed on to Black Rose as director, and writer, and producer, and star… I didn’t really know what I was doing. It was a really tough experience. On the other hand, I had Sheldon Lettich by my side as Executive Producer. He was a great director himself and made a lot of great action movies in the 90s with Van Damme. It was great because I was learning all the time. For sure it changed me, because now I have more appreciation for everyone. I already had a lot of respect for everyone in the crew, but after Black Rose gave me a better perspective on finding a great DP, and finding great lighting, and costume and all those things. And of course, pre-production; the more time you have for pre-production the better, especially on independent films.
That’s make it or break it. You should work longer on the script and you should work longer during the pre-production. When you start to shoot a film, it’s like you’re going into a war. You have to do it all fast but without losing any quality. On an independent film, that’s very important because your resources are limited and there’s no studio behind you. I learned a lot on Black Rose and now with Showdown in Manila and Maximum Impact, I’m not directing (laughs). Trust me, even when you act in it and produce it there’s a big difference from producing, directing, and acting in it. I mean, I barely got to work out when I was making Black Rose. I lost so much weight because I only worked out a couple of days a week instead of every day. I remember when Matthias Hues showed up on set, he was so huge and I was so skinny because he was training more. So later when we did Showdown in Manila, I was bigger than him again.
When you’re director, all your stars and all your crew should support you. Especially on independent films. And that’s what we did on Showdown in Manila. To Mark’s credit as a first time director, as I said, he was always positive, he was always nice, and he was always supportive. Everybody on the set were good friends and he knew everyone; he knew Don “the Dragon” Wilson, and Matthias, and me for years. He did a great job. Talking about me, I’m planning to direct again. I’ve had two movies to take a break and I want to direct again. But on the next directorial effort, I’ll definitely have more time working on the script and doing pre-production. Those were the best lessons I got from Black Rose. It’s really tough while you’re doing it but it’s also fun.
Nevsky: Thank you very much for saying that and I’m happy you noticed that about my films. And again, all my films are for entertainment because I’m an artist not a politician. BUT… for me, for the guy who was born in the Soviet Union in the middle of the Cold War in the 80s… I remember it. I remember Mikhail Gorbachev and how he really changed the world, he stopped it. He changed the Soviet Union, he changed the country and I’m so proud to know him personally. He’s unbelievable. I remember watching all the documentaries about Russians and Americans fighting Nazis together during World War II and I loved it.
When I moved to California in 1999, I loved it. I love America and I love Americans; actually we have a lot of things in common. And by the way, Casper Van Dien went with me to the premiere of Showdown in Manila in Russia a year ago; he was amazed by Russian people cheering for him and loving him. They loved his movies, and Showdown and the idea of Russians and Americans fighting evil together onscreen, not each other.
We’re in 2018 now, and what do we have in every Hollywood movie? Russian bad guys. Even more of them than in the 70s and 80s, in every freaking movie. I heard Wonder Woman will fight Russians in Wonder Woman 2. Ray Donovan, my favorite show, is killing Russians in one season. I know it’s fiction, but what is the audience getting out of it? It’s very easy to create hate, very easy. And in Russia, when we did Moscow Heat in 2003, they all knew me as “Russian Schwarzenegger” and knew me from my TV show and my books. It was my first film, and a lot of people told me “let’s not make an English language movie about Russians and Americans working together, let’s just make Russian Rambo”. I didn’t want to do that in 2003, I don’t want to do it now; I think now it’s even more important to create films about friendship. In Russia right now, they’ve started making the same type of movies with American bad guys and Russians killing Americans the same as here. I did an interview with Hollywood Reporter last week, and I said exactly the same thing.
I was recently on a flight from Moscow to L.A., which is about twelve hours and I watched three movies in a row: November Man with Pierce Brosnan killing Russians, Taken 3 with Liam Neeson killing Russians, and The Equalizer with Denzel Washington killing Russians. Now again, it’s all fiction and entertainment but the audience watching it, what ideas are they getting from this? So what I’m trying to do is fight anti-Russian stereotypes and it’s getting tougher. Same thing over there; I’m trying to fight anti-American stereotypes. I just went to Russia a month ago when my new book was published and they asked me that question. I told them that I love America and I love American people. No one said bad things to me like “it’s propaganda, it’s propaganda!” So I’m against anti-American stereotypes over there and in my films it’s Russians and Americans fighting evil together. And you know that because you’ve watched Moscow Heat. It was exactly the same thing in Treasure Raiders and all my other films. It’s very important to do that, and I just hope that studios will follow. And if not studios, independent filmmakers.
We should prevent another Cold War, we shouldn’t SUPPORT it. Because Russia and America, it’s my strong belief, are the greatest countries in the world; we should be friends! With respect to everyone else. And bad guys… It’s not Russia who are bad guys, it’s not America, it’s not even North Korea; it’s terrorists who are the real bad guys. They’re not just talk, they really kill people every day. They exist and they don’t have any real nationalities, they just kill people for their own reasons. We should fight them together both onscreen and off-screen. Showdown in Manila is for fun. We have comedy in the movie, we have action in the movie but I’m glad you got that theme in the film. It’s an international team of people who fight terrorism together: Russian guys, American guys, French guys. I’ll definitely continue to do that with Maximum Impact, which is the same thing. I know it’s not the best time to produce movies like that, but the fact is I don’t care. I’ll continue to do it.
Nevsky: It was great talking to you. Please, say hello to all the readers; say hello to Lee. Because you guys are doing a great job. You’re supporting independent film. You’re supporting action cinema. I know you write so much about international action cinema; different guys who are just trying to make it as actors, producers, directors. You do a great job, so keep it up.
Showdown in Manila is locked and loaded for its American select release date of January 19 in theaters and on VOD and Digital on January 23!