Martial arts action cinema fans are just weeks away from catching Jesse V. Johnson’s newest ensemble action adventure thriller, Triple Threat. Respective reviews will likely go out by the week of Friday, March 15, which is when we’ll proudly post ours.
In the meantime, Thai action star Tony Jaa who broke out in 2003 with venerable cult hits like the Ong Bak trilogy and the Tom Yum Goong films, has kept himself favorably busy working with directors in China and Hollywood. He’s back with us for the first time in about five years touching base since we last exchanged in 2013, and I’m also pretty glad we cleared the air on a few items of mention.
Jaa, it is an absolute pleasure to be able to share and exchange with you once again. We last spoke in 2013 thanks especially to our mutual friend, your manager, Mike Selby. I have to confess, I have not had the opportunity to get some Thai food in my mouth since we last spoke – it’s still in the cards, so please don’t hit me with a flying knee just yet!
Nice to be in communication with you again Lee. I usually don’t hit anyone until they are finished with their meal except in TYG.
Fair enough. So, here we are, being cast among this lot with Triple Threat and you Jesse Johnson at the helm… I remember when it was previously noted as “Makeshift Squad” and then over the course of some months that project took on new life with some new casting additions, a new director…I’m curious. Did you ever envision yourself being on set with this many awesome people.
Well at first this was supposed to be a film called Makeshift Squad – I discussed the project with the producer at the time and my manager. We envisioned having Iko, Michael Jai, Scott Adkins and Tiger. That is what really attracted me to the film. Ultimately we also got Michael Bisping who became a good friend when we filmed xXx3, and of course Celina Jade. Celina and I go back quite a ways and are very good friends.
You play a character called Payu. I love that he’s a bit of a smartass at times and I enjoy the chemistry you and Tiger Chen share as partners on screen. I read that Jesse had the cast apply some of their own creative initiatives to help bring the best out their roles. Talk about your role in this sense and how you shaped and molded him? Because your character has some great and memorable lines in this movie, especially in the third act.
Jesse let us independently develop our characters. I saw Payu as I guy with a tough background, confident and wise cracking but ultimately having a solid sense of right and wrong. That is what I think can make someone a hero.
You also just mentioned Celina, so how did you enjoy being on set with her again after Skin Trade? Mike told me the other day that she’s actually his goddaughter! I had no idea, and so that was a delightful surprise.
Celina and I have kept in touch quite often since Skin Trade, I always enjoy seeing her. Working together is always fun, she is a great actress and a great friend.
Talk about the arragement of the action sequences and rehearsals. I understand the production was maybe less than two months and I reckon that would do quite a number on the process in terms of putting fight scenes together and making sure actors don’t get hurt, etc.
We had a lot of fight rehearsals (and a few bruises). Tim Man and the stunt team did a great job with pre-viz on the fights so that when we rehearsed we knew what it should look like. We also had a chance to add our own moves, all of us had fun with that. The stunt team under Seng is top notch. It was a great group to work with.
This film also serves as an answering-of-the-call of sorts for fans who’ve especially been pining for some narrative action between you and Scott Adkins. Tell us about getting to finally work with each other?
Scott and I have been friends for some time, and I am a very big Scott fan. I would love to do a buddy movie with Scott, but this time he was my enemy. We really pounded it out. I don’t think you will find a better on screen martial artist than Scott.
What would you say was the biggest hurdle during this production?
Actually, nothing. It went very smoothly, everyone from cast to crew was very professional.
This is a pretty huge question and it has to do with numbers, I guess. Triple Threat is only getting a one-night theatrical release, and it’s only on a little over 150 screens from what I read. Then there’s the VoD release but I’m curious: in your view, say, for sequel prospects, what does one-night achieve as opposed to say, a week or two on select theatrical release? Because I definitely want “The Triple Trilogy” and I’m already fancasting it in my mind as we speak.
I really don’t know, remember I appear in the film as an actor but I don’t have any involvement in how it is sold or distributed. I guess it would be up to the owners of the film and of course it would depend on what the cast was doing at any given time.
What are some of your fondest memories from being on set?
Friends. It was warm (Thailand is always warm but in this way I mean friendly warm). I had a great time with Scott, Michael Jai who is a close friend and Mike Bisping. I also enjoyed getting to know Iko and Tiger. Celina has a great sense of humor so we were always laughing.
Dating back to 2015, you’ve broken ground for yourself and your career, and you’re much more active on the world stage than ever before. In that same period or maybe before that, your last directing effort, A Man Will Rise, ended up in limbo since leaving your previous management. Has there been any movement on that project, and do you have anything developing at the moment as a director?
That project is dead. I wasn’t actually the director, that was a guy named Nung. There was not much structure or direction to the film, and it just sort of stopped about 1/4 of the way into the shoot. I guess the man didn’t rise.
I don’t really have plans to direct, though I enjoy acting.
Do you have any plans to get back together with Jesse if all works out, Triple sequel or otherwise?
You never know what the future will bring.
I wanna bring this question to you and it goes back to maybe the last few years which saw news that you were hopefully circling a project called The Gate, which will be a feature rendition of a shortfilm by Kellie Madison in 2016. What can you tell us about your involvement that project?
I don’t have any involvement in the film. My manager was approached at one point but didn’t hear anything further about it.
And can you also confirm some updates regarding Kickboxer reboot star Alain Moussi’s new film, Jiu-Jitsu with Dimitri Logothetis? I noticed some sites wrote about this late last year but I wasn’t sure with market news pending, and I know there was some sales art available in Berlin at EFM this season.
There have been some discussions with my agent, but nothing has been agreed or finalized.
Your next big screen turn-out will be Sony Pictures’ Monster Hunter in 2020 with Milla Jovovich. It’s your next, major Hollywood foray after Furious Seven and xXx: The Return Of Xander Cage, BOTH being massive hits. Tell us about it.
This was really exciting. This was my first chance to play the male lead in a large Hollywood film. Milla was amazing, we hit it off immediately. She handles action scenes very well and is fun to work with. My good pal from Skin Trade, Ron Perlman, was in the film which really made it fun, and I enjoyed catching up with Diego Boneta. It was a lot of work.
We shot in South Africa and Namibia. The people were very nice. Paul the director was very professional and helped me develop my character. The producer, Jeremy, is a great guy. The action in the film is pretty crazy and really stretched me on my stunt work. I even got to fight a couple creatures that I can’t see until the CG is done.
I have one more question and before I get into it, I just wanna say from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being one of the BIGGEST voices on my website. I honestly can’t wait to meet you one lucky evening, and on that note, do you have a message for our readers as we exit this interview?
First thanks to everyone who has supported me in my career I would be nowhere without you. And………keep reading Film Combat Syndicate! I always do.