My lost, never before published in English interview with martial arts superstar, Loren Avedon. The interview was taken on August 22, 2009.
Loren Avedon first got his break, when he started shooting “No Retreat No Surrender 2” back in the end of the 80’s. Producer Roy Horan was looking for a new actor, who could substitute Jean-Claude Van Damme (who starred in the first movie), and Avedon was right for the part. Since then, his career took off, and he became one of the most internationally recognized martial arts actors. Today, Avedon lives in Hawaii, with his family. He has a 5th Dan in Taekwondo, 8th Dan in Hapkido, and he runs his own martial-arts school. In this interview, Avedon brings back his memories of shooting in Thailand, talks about environment, Azerbaijan, and Quentin Tarantino…
When your career as an action star was launched, weren’t you afraid that you just might stuck in the B-movie world, and get typecast over and over again?
When my career was launched, I was just back from a trip to East Africa with my father, and I had spent every dime i had… At that time i was more afraid I would be stuck selling used cars for the rest of my adult life! On that Friday night I happened to go to the karate studio to hit the heavy bag after my first week trying to sell used cars at a dealership in Santa Monica. I was doing my best from 6:00 am to 8:00 pm every day that week, to sell a car and hadn’t sold anything to anybody! I was at my wits end. When that phone call came in to the karate studio at 9:30 pm, from Roy Horan (a producer from Seasonal Films in Hong-Kong, and the maintenance man answered the phone, couldn’t understand him, and asked me to talk to the caller. I was like, who calls a karate studio at 9:30 pm, and later that night it all got started. I got my break, after convincing Horan to give me an audition, and then a week later I was on a plane to Thailand for filming “No Retreat No Surrender 2”. In one week I went from zero to hero. It was only when I got back, I realized I was now defined by what they said I could be. Typecast. Yes, in fact, every actor is like that, that is why he gets work for most part, if you think about it.
Please, tell about your work in “King of the Kickboxers”, with such great cast (Billy Blanks, Don Stroud, Richard Jaeckel, Sherrie Rose, Keith Cooke), you must have great memories…
I do have lots of memories, and watching other great talent at work is an incredible experience. There are so many many memories. I can’t think of just one that stands out, I could write a book about ever day I was on set about my experiences on “No Retreat No Surrender 2”. I remember vividly jumping out of the way of a moving train…!!! We were shooting by the river Kwai, when it started raining like hell…and here comes the train. Just so happens, I’m standing alone on the tracks in the middle of the bridge. As it was a long shot, so the crew was on the other side of the river, and they were now all scattered cause the rain was coming down. I guess, nobody thought to check the train schedule for that day, so here comes the train…! It was a huge black steam locomotive, with plenty of rail cars behind it. Its headed straight for me, whistle blowing, the bridge is trembling as it approaches me at about 25 miles an hour, and I’m standing about 15 feet above the ground on this old wood trestle bridge built by the river. And the train is not slowing down one bit… roaring towards me…
So I jumped off the side of the bridge and onto a rock outcropping, then to get out of the rain, I ducked under that same long wood trestle bridge. This was one of many bridges built 50 years before by dying British pows, tortured by their Japanese captors in WWII, when that part of Thailand was actually a part of Burma and under Japanese occupation. So, I climb up into the bridge a bit to get out of the water and dirt that are pouring down the hill… I then realize I could have been killed as the train rolls over my head. There I am under a bridge by the river Kwai during a tropical downpour as the train literally roared a few feet over my head…! I screamed as loud as I could knowing no one would ever hear. I could have died right then and there, and down those same tracks, just a few days before, when we were walking to the river Kwai jungle house we all see what looks like a small burrow or hole in a rock about 3′ high with light and incense smoke pouring out of it. So naturally, you want to see what is inside. To get in, you literally and symbolically have to crawl on your hands and knees, and once you have made it inside, you find a 35′ tall stone Buddha, resting inside this natural cave, sitting there in the lotus position, with one hand palm up, index finger and thumb touching, draped in yards of orange and gold silk and surrounded by thousands of lit candles, and hundreds of flowers and flower petals everywhere, and thousands of incense sticks burning. And you wonder how in the blazes did they do that…!? Amazing!
I am truly a very lucky man to have been able to work with some of the most talented people I have ever met in every department on 5 continents. And to have had some of the most amazing experiences of my life with them. The best thing I can share from memory is the realization that i am truly blessed to be one of the few to work internationally, in some of the greatest “B” movies ever made in that genre, up there with my idol Bruce Lee. Nowhere near him, but at least I’m on the list! Richard Jaeckel and Joseph Campenella were the greatest. You knew when you watched them performing it was something special. Its a surreal feeling to see yourself as a character and know what actually happened during every moment.
You starred with Matthias Hues couple of times throughout your career. First time you went head to head with him on the set of “No Retreat No Surrender 2”. How was it like fighting a big and agile guy like him? On screen the fight looks extremely real and brutal.
It was in fact. There was allot of cuts and bruises, complicated fight choreography, very near misses, lots of gut shots, and ground pounding, getting the wind knocked out of you, over and over again, and getting up and doing it again and again…
The dreaded words were “chun bang” (spelled phonetically) which means “fake” in Cantonese. Whether it was me, Matthias, or any other character in an small facet of the fight… We would do take after take until the director said “ok” and then we were onto the next shot, not necessarily in sequence. And what made it work was the fact that Matthias was, and is, the man that he is. Powerful and agile, but humble, and a team player to the end. He is one of the nicest men you could ever meet. He knows his power. Usually, big men like that are very careful because they have hurt people unintentionally in their lives just by the fact that they are so big they don’t know their own strength. Then, they find out how fragile the rest of us are and they become very self conscious of their power. You know, when you meet the biggest guy in the world you’ve ever seen, and he shakes your hand gently. He knows he can crush you, but no one wants to be feared, no one wants to hurt anyone else, unless they’re a little sick in the head of course.
So he was very careful with everyone. To his credit, he had never done any fighting for film so he learned everything on the spot…! And he is an amazing athlete, and very brave too. He did all of his own stunts. Of course at 6′ 6” and 295 lbs. they could not find anyone who could double him in Thailand so he did what he had to do. As a body builder and athlete he developed his physique for aesthetics rather than, as say, a pro football player would develop his physique to endure punishment. Those pro athletes not only develop their bodies for power but also to absorb impact, over and over again. They have conditioned themselves for pain. Matthias wasn’t used to impact on his arms and legs, and of course nobody is conditioned to get dragged behind a jeep, or hit the ground for 14 hours a day, 6 days a week. Poor Matthias would be in such pain from my blocks, kicks and punches, his arms would literally swell up to twice their size! The Chinese would put lineament and ice on his arms and legs to get the swelling down so he could do the next shot. I was used to getting my ass kicked from years at the karate school. Master Chong and master Phillip Rhee used to use me for demonstrations because they trusted me. They had helped me develop control, speed, timing, and my ability to sell the technique on the receiving end. I learned early how to sell a punch and kick, get swept or thrown to the ground and make it look real as safely as possible… So unlikely as it seems, it was Matthias who endured the majority of the brutality. I admire him a lot, and have nothing but love and respect for him. He is a great man.
You trained with masters of martial arts, Simon and Phillip Rhee. Simon Rhee is still very active in the movie business, which can not be said about Phillip, he seem to have vanished after the “Best of the Best” movies. Where is he now?
That’s not really true. Phillip is producing and directing still in many different mediums. He made a career for himself. He is a great master, a great person and he and his brother Simon were great men before they ever got in front of a camera. Simon went the route of stunts. I remember, when we would train and he would always be fearless. He would say: “I’d rather die young and leave a good looking corps behind”. And he meant it. He has the confidence of knowing his abilities and he’s willing to meet any challenge. His brother similarly was and is an amazing athlete and martial artist, but he was far more ambitious. He started from nowhere, and he wrote, directed and starred in his own movies! Not too many people of any background can say that, but he can. They are great men, and I was very lucky to have them as my teachers and mentors.
What business are you currently in? Seems like your last screen appearance was in 2004.
I’m waiting for Quentin Tarantino to rediscover me (laughs). I have done al lot of work behind the scenes the last 18 years. Right now, i am building a compound in Hawaii that I want to make my home, but I will still be traveling, teaching martial arts, staying involved in the movie business but also lending my name in whatever effort i can leave this world a little better than i found it. These days that’s kind of hard to do, but I’m going to keep at it. People still recognize me and a whole new generation of Loren Avedon fans is out there thanks to Youtube. I also have an interest in internet business’. The last few years have been devoted to my family, my mother and my daughter. She is 16 and thriving, so my goal, as I mentioned is to leave the planet hopefully a little better than i found it. I have always wanted to live in Hawaii and have a lifestyle that is more organic and sustainable, but still have the benefits of the digital age. I have always wanted to create a family compound that i can pass on to my daughter and her children someday. So that is what I am up to at the moment… Then if i make another appearance in films, great. These days I am more concerned with the health of our planet and all its inhabitants, and what we all should do to come together as one human race. Now I just have to think of a story, write a script and make a movie about just that. Know anybody with a spare us $10m that likes adventure (laughs)?
Loren, do any of your future plans include coming back to the movie business? Maybe as a director, stunt coordinator or a fight choreographer maybe?
I would love to direct. I have been blessed to know some great stunt coordinators, and choreographers. I’ve given some of today’s greats their start in the business, and I have learned from the best in the world. So lets just say I have a bag of tricks I’m saving for the next incarnation of Loren Avedon (laughs).
Well, Loren, thanks a lot for your answers, however one, I’d still like to ask – do you happen to know anything about Azerbaijan?
You know, the only thing most Americans know about Azerbaijan is that it was a part of Soviet Union, that it was at war with Armenia, that its a Muslim nation, with rich oil resources. I would love to visit one day. I was in Lebanon on film shooting, and someday would love to visit Israel, Turkey, and go back to Russia. I was there in 1992, right after the fall of Communism, got some stories about that experience too. Thank you.