Professional fighter-turned-actor Alex Montagnani has a few goals going forward into 2021, one of which stems from more than five years of team effort with friend and cohort, director Jesse Quiñones.
Their newest MMA drama, Cagefighter: Worlds Collide, is now available in the U.S. from Screen Media Films, and so without further ado, Montagnani joins us to share his perspectives on the film, filmmaking, the current state of the industry, and his hopes for the future.
Feel free to check out my interview with Quiñones as well by clicking here, and don’t forget to rent or purchase Cagefighter: Worlds Collide, wherever movies are sold (also click to check out previous interviews with Cagefighter co-star/stunt performer Jason Truong and stunt coordinator Daniel Ford Beavis).
Greetings Alex, and thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us. How have you and yours made out since the start of such an eventful year?
Hey Lee, thank you for doing this interview. The year’s been great – even with this crazy stuff happening all over the world right now we have managed to do some amazing things.
I wanna talk briefly about your earlier years being a martial artist. You started since the age of four, with your parents both active as martial artists at the time. Dive a little into their backgrounds for us, in terms of their training and their influence on you as a martial artist.
So like you said, I’ve been involved in martial arts from before I can remember but properly started training in actual classes from the age of four. My dad is a black belt in Judo, Aikido and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, so when I was a child I kind of had no choice! As a kid though, it was enjoyable as my dad ran a Judo club out of Streatham Leisure centre back in the nineties, so I was taught by him. My dad is deffo a nonsense tough type of guy. He lived in Japan for a while when he was younger and never fails to mention how he survived on nothing but boiled potatoes as he was broke so all he did was train and survive.
You’ve been fighting professionally for roughly a decade – of course, you can correct me if I’m wrong there – and you started acting several years later, doing an episode for a TV series, and then a film about a few years later. Talk a bit for us about balancing between pursuing acting, and committing to a training regimen for professional fighting up to this point.
Yeah that’s correct, but from the amount of injuries I’ve had, my worst was having me out for almost three years of my career – a full hamstring rupture where my hamstring ripped from the bone during a fight and needed reconstructive surgery. It was a career ending injury that I managed to work my way back from. I’ve been active and kind of injury free for about five of those years!
Finding a way to balance the two was hard as I ended up having to give like, fifty perfect to both acting and fighting at the start which wasn’t good enough in my books. It’s a hundred percent or nothing, and fifty in MMA will make you lose, so I decided if I was preparing to fight then I wouldn’t take any acting roles, and if I was preparing for a role, I wouldn’t take any fights.
Tell us how you prepare for certain roles. What are somethings you look for in a character you’re looking to play.
I prepare for them as if the role was a fight in itself. My training would include learning my lines and then developing the character, how they would talk and walk, etc., almost creating a world for this character. It’s what I did for Reiss in Cagefighter and it really helps you get in to character. And really, the characters I’m looking to play right now need to be fun and have a flair to them. I want to be an action star, so they are the roles I’m looking for right now.
I last spoke to Jesse earlier this year and he got quite a bit in-depth with the “nerve-wracking” process of casting for the feature film following the short he directed with you some time prior. And, he also says you’re one of his closest friends. Tell us about your friendship with Jesse and how long you’ve known each other. What was the first icebreaker like?
Yeah Jesse and I are tight! I’ve known him since I was like eighteen/nineteen years old, so he’s one of my oldest friends for sure.
We first met on the matts as we both used to train at BJJ School in Battersea, just before I started my MMA journey. After the Cagefighter short that Jesse cast me in, we stayed close and always bounced ideas off each other. Jesse was also the one who told me to start doing fight choreography, and that gave me another string to my bow. We also started training together again at another BJJ school in south London.
Having had a major hand in the film’s fight choreography, what were some influences you drew from in that respect? And also, talk about some of the mechanics you picked up on along the way in terms of how you and Jesse wanted the action to be shot and edited.
Jesse and I worked on the fight choreography up to a year before we filmed. He had an idea of what he wanted, so I put the fights together in my head and on paper then me and Jesse tweaked them until they were perfect. We both drew influences from actual fights to pay homage to the greats of MMA such as Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and the like. I deffo picked up a lot from working with Jesse, and will be bringing everything I’ve learned into the next time I’m fight choreographer.
Your character, Reiss, goes through some pretty grueling challenges and dark moments in the film. How prevalent would you say some of these instances are in terms of your own career or that of other fighters?
Yeah Reiss really goes through it! I think a lot of fighters can relate to Reiss especially on the terms of having to balance training/fighting and your family life, along with having no money. [laughs]
I could definitely see some resemblance in my career, from Reiss having to claw his way back to the belt which I’ve had to do, but rather, I had to claw myself back from injury. Having almost three years out due to injury ain’t no joke.
You have some pretty stirring moments opposite Jonathan Good who plays your rival in the film. Talk about how you guys treated those scenes, because I especially love how unscripted and unfiltered you guys look on screen during that press conference scene, and the way you bounced off each other is just incredible.
Yeah it was amazing working with Jon, he’s such a great guy on and off screen. We both basically told each other along the lines of “…Let’s make this shit look as real as possible. If you’ve gotta push me, hit me, etc., just go for it. We are both professional, we are both athletes who love to give the fans a show,” so we just went for it.
Talk about acting opposite Chuck Liddell for the first time.
That was an amazing experience, Chuck is a legend and a really cool dude! So to be acting along side him was great, he really brought it for this role and absolutely killed it!
Here’s a ridiculous fanboy question I’m sure some of the MMA blokes may be wondering: You versus Liddell in his prime. Who comes out as the victor?
[laughs] I think that would be an epic fight and deffo ones for the fans as we would both stand and bang, but for the victor I’d say Liddell edges it!
What was the roughest part of this particular shoot for you?
The roughest would part is being away from my family, then after that when I got injured, and that sucked pretty bad!
Have you and Jesse spoken about a continuation of this film as part of an MMA cineverse? And, could you clue us in just a little in terms of some ideas that are in the mix, if that?
We sure have had a few chats about the continuation and the ideas have been insane! But I couldn’t give anything away just yet as nothing is set in stone, sorry!
What’s your next move going forward?
My next move is either securing another big film like this or a big fight! What ever it is I’ll make sure it’s big.
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers as we exit this interview?
I really hope you all enjoy the movie. We all worked our butts off making it and trying to give you all the best movie possible. Thanks for all the support, and thank you Lee for having me on here.
All images courtesy of Screen Media Films