Today I proudly present my exclusive interview with one of the most popular fighting choreographers Larnell Stovall, who has just won The Award of The Best Fighting Choreographer 2011, the man, who knows all too well the importance of planning, preparation and timing when it comes to action scenes. He was working on such martial arts movies as Undisputed 3, Mortal Kombat Legacy, Bunraku or Never Back Down 2. Enjoy!
Budomate: Your short video Steel was a Winner-2007 Action on Film Festival and got awards for the Best Martial Arts Action and Breakout Action Star. How did you come up with idea of Steel?
Larnell Stovall: Steel came to me during a time frame when due to lack of work I had a lot of time on my hands. Instead of doing the same routine of training and mailing out headshots, I choose to create. I’m a huge fan of comic books, graphic novels, anime etc. so it felt right to create my own comic character. More will happen with that project in the next two years!!
Larnell Stovall: Funny you should say that due to when it was created I never intended to star in it, I only wanted to choreograph it. When it came down to it, I couldn’t find anyone to commit to the training or the off and on schedule of shooting it. This lead to me having to step up and get it done. The names you mentioned are big influences on what/who I thought would be great in the lead role for the feature film.
Budomate: You hardly kicked hell out of Lateef Crawder in the Steel, what do you think about using Capoeira as a style of fighting in the movies?
Larnell Stovall: I love the style, the beauty of it, how it plays to camera so friendly but yet can be brutal when choreographed correctly. I truly wish it were used more often on screen.
Budomate: In 1993 Mark Dacascos made a wonderful action movie Only The Strong and only in 2009 Joao Daniel Tikhomiroff released Besouro. Why, on your opinion, film makers do not want or can’t use Capoeira in the movies?
Larnell Stovall: I’m not sure what it will take for it to receive more exposure. In Undisputed 3 many people said the fight with Scott and Lateef is one of their favorites, but due to it was a STV movie not much exposure was gained. Now if that style was in a Bond movie then it would start a domino effect to other movies.
Budomate: When did you understand that you want to be a stuntman and fighting choreographer, was it by a chance?
Larnell Stovall: When I first moved to L.A. in 2000 I wanted to be a stuntman and nothing else. It took a few years of seeing how this business goes to see I needed to do/become more if I wanted to consistently work. I embraced the thought of choreography as a career not too long after I finished “Steel”. Even though it was just a short it gained the right attention for the right people to consider me for choreography jobs in the future.
Budomate: How the vision of fight choreography changed with times, do directors give more green light to choreographers to work on the fight scenes on the sets and in editing room?
Larnell Stovall: We always respect the vision of the director 1st and foremost. Sometimes we have a lot of freedom to create the fight scenes from beginning to end with only a few notes from directors. The editing room is a different story, this is the one place that can crush your fight scenes no matter how well they were filmed. Unfortunately we are rarely asked our opinion on the edit of the fights. Undisputed 3 was the last time I was involved with the editing when it came to the fights due to Isaac Florentine. He constantly kept me in the loop for every fight, finding different angles, takes etc. and I truly appreciate his kindness for that.
Budomate: Where do you get your inspiration, ideas from?
Larnell Stovall: Inspiration for me comes from all forms of entertainment. Gymanastics, tricking, boxing, martial arts tournaments, comic books, cartoons, youtube, old and new martial art films etc.
Budomate: Stuntmen like martial artists have to train a lot, where do you train?
Larnell Stovall: When I do train its normally at a private gym in my hometown or when I’m in L.A. at the 87eleven facility.
Budomate: Jason Statham works on his skills and body shape 5-6 days a week, do you keep the same schedule?
Larnell Stovall: Nope!! LOL… His job is to be in top shape in front of the camera to pull off his action scenes with ease. My job is to be as mentally creative as possible to be sure that after the choreography is learned that it is executed as best as possible on set.
Budomate: Is there any difference in training process for stuntmen and fighting choreographers in comparison with martial artists?
Larnell Stovall: Big difference, not everyone who takes or knows martial arts has what it takes to become a stuntman. Some martial artists are very stiff and don’t know how to become fluid in movement. When they perform it looks like a self defense demonstration instead of movie fighting. This process takes time, you have to act, open up your punches and kicks for camera, learn reactions, falling, distance, timing. It is an art and a JOB, if it were easy everyone would be able to do it. Choreography is another story, anyone can choreograph a fight, but will it be good, something fresh, can u tell a story, be versatile etc? Its another art form that has to be practiced, so get out there pick up a camera, get a few friends and start creating!!
Budomate: You worked with Jason on The One in 2001 and on the Mechanic in 2011, did he change somehow? How can you explain his popularity?
Larnell Stovall: I don’t think he has changed, it is only a matter of time when you are consistent and good at what you do before the world takes notice. Jason stayed persistent in the action category while other actors simply did an action role every once in awhile.
Budomate: What do you think about Steven Seagal brutal fighting style on the screen, when he breaks arms and legs. Do you prefer to use brutal and down to earth style or with more acrobatics and kung fu?
Larnell Stovall: When Steven hit the scene he was known and still is known for being a master of Aikido. The techniques were brutal, quick and efficient, he never had long fight scenes which in turn was a smart move for his onscreen persona. I tend to use what fits the script, I don’t want to thrown anything in there that will take the audience out of the fight simply because I think its cool or the popular thing at the moment.
Budomate: Before working on MK, have you ever played any fighting games? And did you like adaptation of Tekken game under Cyrill Raffaelli choreography?
Larnell Stovall: I played many fighting games, King of fighters, Street fighter, Tekken, and of course Mortal Kombat. Tekken had its moments just unfortunately not enough of them to be memorable. The material and characters are there for a great movie in the future, hopefully it will happen in due time.
Budomate: If there will be possible to add more characters like Kun Lao or Nightwolf, who can play them the best on your opinion? Did you offer to Kevin invite anybody of martial artists to MK Legacy?
Larnell Stovall: I prefer not to throw names out when it comes to casting, we all have our wish list though. For Legacy, I threw a few names out and most of them did work out.
Budomate: How do you think why Undisputed 3 became such a popular movie and we have Boyka fans around? Is it because of Scott Adkins or mutual work of talented people?
Larnell Stovall: UD3 was a passion project for me due to it was my 1st project solo in a different country and doing a sequel to a movie that had great fights in it. Scott was awesome to work with due to he always pushed for more and wanted the best for his character and franchise. It was a huge team effort of course led by Isaac Florentine. I truly hope UD4 happens with a bigger budget, more exposure and the pirating situation is more controlled next time, it really hurt us.
Budomate: Probably you are get well with JJ Perry, he recommended you to Kevin for MK and probably to Isaac for Undisputed 3. How and where did you meet him?
Larnell Stovall: I met J.J. many years ago, but he took a liking to me during the rehearsals of Ultraviolet. I volunteered around a lot of stunt guys for wks at a time to network, learn, prove myself etc. After that we kept in touch more often and he would give me opportunities here and there to work with him or help choreograph something.
Budomate: Could you name the most popular fighting choreographers of Asia and do you know personally any of them?
Budomate: You worked on The Art of War III as a stunt double for Anthony ‘Treach’ Criss, what do you think about original film and do you want to work with Wesley Snipes sometimes?
Larnell Stovall: I would love to work with Mr. Snipes someday, he is the main reason I got into this business due to Blade!
Budomate: You worked on Blood and Bone and Never Back Down 2 with Michael Jai White, why Michael is always playing such a tough skilled guys who can kick anybody’s ass without a sweat?
Larnell Stovall: LOL, well I’m sure it depends on what’s in the script of course. MJW is a different kind of actor due to if he fights someone small he looks like a bully, if he fights someone bigger then they usually look very slow. You have to find a balance with how you choreograph him.
Budomate: Never Back Down 2 became the best martial arts movie of 2011 by people votes on budomate.com website. Why do you think it is so popular and did it overcome the original on your opinion?
Larnell Stovall: Well It had a built in audience so the expectations were very high. We all worked had and did the best we could with the time and budget we had. Both movies have their great moments and stand on their own. MMA is popular period, combine that would a known movie brand and you stand a good chance of a successful movie. We had great actors, a good crew and director so all the elements were there.
Budomate: One of the unusual movies you worked on is Bunraku, which is incredibly great. Was it hard to work with Josh Hartnett, Gackt, Kevin McKidd and Ron Perlman?
Larnell Stovall: No one was hard to work with but with such an eclectic cast you will face challenges. What you see in your head as a choreographer changes sometimes based on what your actor can pull off and the time you are given. So you adjust and do the best you can with what or who you are working with. All the actors did their best, put in extra time, worked on off days, would train go shoot a scene then come back for more training. It was a great team effort all around and I’m proud of that movie due to it was my 1st real challenge as a choreographer.
Budomate: How did you become attached to this no guns world movie and was it interesting to choreograph the sword and axe fights?
Larnell Stovall: I became attached through the Stunt Coordinator Clayton Barber. He blessed me with the opportunity to be the fight choreographer of this amazing script. It was intimidating at first when I read how many fights needed to be choreographed but I was surrounded by an excellent team to help out.
Budomate: In which particular movie you invested much more time and energy and did it cover it?
Larnell Stovall: I would say Undisputed 3 was the hardest due to it had the least amount of time for rehearsal. So to make up for that I was constantly working on my off day either creating or asking the actors to meet me in the courtyard for a quick rehearsal. In the end it paid off and I’m very proud of how it turned out in the end.
Budomate: Your future looks incredibly bright, so what is your dream project?
Larnell Stovall: That’s a hard one when you say dream project. There were a few projects that I chased and wanted very badly but wasn’t chosen. Most of them didn’t turn out well or it wouldn’t have done anything for my career as a fight choreographer so I really didn’t miss anything. God always blessed me with the ones I really needed to do, not the ones I wanted to do and in the end he always knows best. Yes there are a few that are still on my list, Black Panther, Thunder Cats, but recently a few projects came my way that I cant talk about and one of them is a dream project!!
Budomate: Who has it all to become the next gen action star? In 2012 a lot of female martial artists like Gina Carano, Zara Phythian, Celina Lo, Samantha Tjhia made their wishes to become an action star like Cynthia Rothrock or Michelle Yeoh. What do you think about that and have you seen High Kick Girl or Haywire movies?
Larnell Stovall: Its hard to say who has the it factor due to everyone you named can become a star. It’s a matter of putting them in the right project that will give them the most exposure to the world and not just a limited market. I need to check out the movies you mentioned, haven’t seen them yet.
Budomate: 2012 is a very promising year. You worked as a fighting choreographer on Stolen with Nicolas Cage and on Snitch with Rock, was a stunt coordinator on Dragon Eyes with Cung Le and US4 with Van Damme, worked as a stuntman on Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Which of these movies are the most worth to watch on your opinion?
Larnell Stovall: I’m most excited about Universal Soldier 4 due to the action and the fight scenes in there should be a crowd pleaser. The rest will stand on their own I’m sure but US4 will make some real waves.
Budomate: It is interesting to know your meaning about Van Damme’s come back and your work with him on Universal Soldier and Dragon Eyes. What can you tell about him?
Larnell Stovall: Bottom Line J.C.V.D. is a legend and I’m honored to have had a chance to work with I’m twice in such a short amount of time. I did my best to choreograph him in a way that was comfortable, safe but yet hopefully gives the fans what they expect from him as well as me.
Budomate: You are from New Orleans and a former world and international champion in fighting, weapons and forms (kata). Please tell us where and when did you start training, which styles do you practice and what is your favorite?
Larnell Stovall: Good times you mentioned there.. but right now I practice holly-wood-do… which means I simply use/practice what works best on film LOL. Most guys train in a hybrid of things, not too many people stick with one style anymore due to there are so many to choose from. When you are in the industry its best to be versatile, especially as a choreographer.
Budomate: One of your personal quotes is “Let God use your talents, instead of your talents just being used”, what does it mean, any advice to young lads?
Larnell Stovall: To me it means let your talents be lead by God to inspire others, to help others, to make a way for others. What I do is not just about me, I really don’t care for the attention, my goal in the next few years is to become so busy I can pass projects to others so they can lead the way. The youngsters seem to be doing well, I say study your craft, stay on top of your game, create what is next, become what is next but most of all stay humble through the process no matter how talented you are or become.
Budomate: Please name 3 western martial arts movies (made in US/Europe) which became a classic on your opinion?
Larnell Stovall: 1. Undisputed 3 (I still haven’t seen a pure martial arts movie outside of Asia that can compete with what we did on such a tiny budget)
2. Blood and Bone this movie still gets a lot of play til this day and the public wants a part 2 to it.
3. Safe, Jason Statham’s next movie (It is not out yet but I’m hearing the action is top notch and will be well received as a great action/fight movie)
I’m just like any other fan and I cant wait to see Expendables 2, T.D.K.R., Avengers etc but they are not martial arts movies but all will have some cool fight scenes in them.
Budomate: Thank a lot for your time Larnell, can’t wait for the next movie with your choreography.
Larnell Stovall: Thank you for the interview, the support and the award. I hope to deliver more and better fights with each project I’m attached to.
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