Not all of you know young lads, who jump around the movies and play bad guys brutally beaten by movie heroes like Tony Jaa. I had have a wonderful opportunity to talk to young and talented Dean Alexandrou, who believes in hard work, passion, and living his life, with verve and gusto.
Budomate: Dean, please tell more about your childhood and how did you start your way in martial arts?
Dean: My father was a Wu Shu Kwan black belt, and like most martial artists of that generation was strongly into watching Bruce Lee films – so much so that I could probably quote you the entire Enter The Dragon film verbatim.
I got put into Judo classes when I was 5, but had little interest in it personally and stopped almost straight away, and it was only when I was around 13 that I got the bug for martial arts myself; Which I can attribute to watching a single film – Armor Of God. It was mind blowing, inspiring, and like nothing else I’d ever seen.
Shortly afterwards I started taking classes, any classes at random, then eventually settled into TaeKwonDo (ITF style if you’re wondering). I had a great instructor who was a strict disciplinarian, extremely talented, and former world champion (Master Tham Ying Au VIII Dan). It started to take over my life, and I was training up to 7 times a week in three different schools, attending tournaments where-ever I could, and generally just living for the sparring competitions (of which I’ve won a few nice ones :).
Budomate: You are an acrobat too, is that your other passion or you just wanted push yourself to the next level in taekwondo training?
Dean: I started gymnastics classes a few years later when I got into TKD, the instructor at the time was none-other than Ray Park, and began to steer myself more in the direction of performance martial arts rather than just sparring. A huge influence around this time was also the hugely popular Bilang website, which hosted videos of all the craziest martial arts tricks flips and kicks.
Incidentally, words like ‘parkour’ and ‘tricking’ had not been invented yet although there were hundreds of people already doing it, having come from a background of watching 80s KungFu movies like Drunken Master, Mad Monkey KungFu, Operation Scorpio, etc. This is the scene that I started to inhabit.
I remember watching future B13 star Cyril Raffaelli doing a half-time demo at a French martial arts tournament in 2001 before he was famous. Very cool stuff.
Budomate: You said your gymnastics instructor was Ray Park, please tell more about your relationship and do you want to work with him together in movies?
Dean: Ray Park was teaching at the gymnastics centre when I joined, but left shortly after I started. I don’t know if he would recognise me now or even knew my name, but he taught me my first front flip.
Budomate: Having a solid grounding in TKD and gymnastics no wonder that you decided to step into the movie world, so how did you do that?
Dean: My father had died by now, and so without the influence of a parental guide telling me to pursue a sensible office job (my mum is chilled out about things like that), I set forth to work in action cinema.
I worked on a few lame gigs doing martial arts demos in shopping malls, and Christmas pantomimes as an acrobat, and then auditioned for some stunt shows in Germany – a Warner Bros Hollywood Stunt Show and a Batman high-diving show. The shows were pivotal as they provided me with a year of solid training in high-falls, high-diving, combat for an audience (very different from fighting in a tournament), and gave me access to professionals who worked regularly in Hollywood movies.
On returning to UK I got a few high-profile jobs with my action team – (me, Terry Kvasnik, Jamie Cho, and Jon ‘Tekken‘ Foo) – and we were eventually hired to do some fighting on the new Batman movie. On the advice of some of the stuntmen I met there, I subsequently set off to Hong Kong to follow my dream and get into Jackie Chan movies.
Budomate: Please tell more about your action team and your mates. How did you meet Terry, Jamie and Jon? What happened with your team now?
Dean: I met these guys on the training and audition circuit in London. It is a small world, particularly in the UK (if that makes sense??). Most of the names in martial arts action from the UK have all worked and trained together at some point. Ultimately our team went in different directions and to different locations around the world – it is impossible to stay together forever as each person has their own goals, opportunities, and responsibilities. Terry’s been around the world touring with Kylie and Britney and is now in LA working in action cinema. Jamie has done a lot of Hollywood films and TV here in UK, though I’m not sure where he is based now. Jon ofcourse you know about, but I’m not sure where he is right now either. We’re not great at staying in touch!
I just want to shout out to Joey Ansah too, who we all trained with in London, he is doing really well for himself and getting some big roles in major studio action films! Woop woop.
Budomate: So you moved to Hong Kong to follow your dreams?
Dean: I turned up in HK alone with nothing but a back-pack, a Lonely Planet Guide book and £1,000 in cash – I didn’t know a single person in the country.
I took the first bus to Kowloon and agreed to rent a room with literally the first hustler that came up to me. I was staying in the horrific Mirador Mansions (next door to the infamous ChungKing Mansions) – not much of a mansion, more like a concrete toilet with a cockroach infestation, but anyway it was cheap, and there were no dead bodies.
I sent my portfolio around from internet cafés, got in touch with people like Bey Logan and Mike Leeder – who were extremely helpful, and generally tried to meet people and see what was happening.
Armed with a showreel, I spent one of the days tracking down the legendary Jackie Chan Stunt Office in Waterloo Road (it is just around the corner from where that wonderful scene in Police Story 1 was shot), and spent an hour talking my way through disarming receptionists until they granted me an audience with VP Steven Lo (Jackie wasnt in the country at the time unfortunately). After more talking I convinced him to watch my demo, and he said there might be some work for me, and to return in a months time.
Budomate: You met Bey Logan and Mike Leeder in Hong Kong, what can you tell about them?
Dean: They are both very cool guys, and were extremely kind to me, and quite receptive to a fellow Brit out in a strange land trying to make his way. I found both of their email addresses and got in touch with them when I arrived in HK.
Because I had no specific plans or commitments when I was out there, I was always available for pretty much anything at 5 mins notice. Bey introduced me to a lot of big names out there at various events, and although I didn’t really get a chance to chat to them, I did get to meet Stanley Tong, Sammo Hung, Jet Li, and others. He also got me a ticket for the screening of the new Bruce Lee re-release Way Of The Dragon, which was shown in the original cinema it premièred in to Bruce Lee, pretty cool eh? Thanks Bey!
Budomate: And what about Steven Lo, did you get any response from him, maybe they called you for Armour of God 3?
Dean: Armor Of God 3 I hope will be amazing. The most important thing is that Jackie calls all the shots I think. The skill of Jackie Chan is wasted on Hollywood productions as they don’t know how to use him, and I presume he doesnt have the same leeway to control the action, because of insurance and red tape there?
I never did found out what that work might have been, I got back in touch a couple of years later I think Steven Lo had left the company. Week after our meeting I was on a plane to Thailand to do some training with Dan ‘Bangkok Adrenaline’ O’neill (one of the most talented people I’ve ever met), and a new opportunity presented itself. On the tip of a film being shot in Chiang Mai (thanks Bey), we travelled up north to the location and were allowed to audition for stunt coordinator Seng Kawee (Seng Stunts).
A few days later we were both in costume, on set, and under contract. I was now officially a martial arts stunt double, Woohoo!
I managed to work on different projects almost back to back for the next year, including fight films, pirate films, a commercial with JLo and Beyonce (set in Hong Kong, but filmed in UK.. go figure?), and eventually… with Tony Jaa on Tom Yum Goong.
Budomate: You said you worked on Bangkok Adrenaline alongside Daniel O’Niell and huge Australian guy Conan Stevens, do you remember any dangerous moments on the sets?
Dean: I didn’t actually work on Bangkok Adrenaline. I was going to originally, but ended up working on Hanuman Klook Foon as one of the lead bad guys. The two films overlapped, and I went for the Thai studio film rather than the indie one. I think was in another film shooting at the time too (Brave), so yeah, I was already double booked and too overworked to get involved in anything else unfortunately.
Budomate: What do you think about Tony Jaa Ong Bak 2,3 movies, don’t you think that it is just a demo reel and Tony flashed his career away with that?
Dean: Ong Bak 1 was so good that I’ll always buy a new Jaa film in the hope that it reaches the same levels, but Ong Bak 2 & 3 suck. The best Jaa films are the ones where he collaborates with Panna Rittikrai.
P. Panna, as far as I can tell, is the driving force behind all the biggest and best Thai martial arts films of the past decade. When I first arrived in Thailand I rented out the original Born To Fight movies that he starred in from the 80s. I was amazed, and have nothing but respect and admiration for his perseverance in following that path and making Thai action cinema an international force that it is today.
Budomate: So you was lucky to work on TYG alongside Tony Jaa, please tell more about that?
Dean: By this time, everyone knew Ong Bak. It is the first film in years that has pushed the boundaries and touched the sort of inspiration felt from the 80s Jackie Chan flicks. With excitement and anticipation I headed down to the MuayThai stunts training centre to start workshops for a 2 on 1 fight against Tony Jaa (me and Dan vs Jaa) in his new film Tom Yum Goong. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I’d only auditioned infront of director Prachya prior to this.
We arrived early, but there and waiting was an already warmed-up and smiling Tony Jaa and his trainer. The session started off with an absolutely amazing demo from Jaa (maybe he was just letting us know who was boss incase we got any funny ideas!) – but what followed was an impressive mix of Muay Thai, Wushu, and some incredible acrobatics.
And by incredible acrobatics I mean — back-tuck rebound side-flip rebound front-flip all in one — corkscrew punch front – and all on hard floor!
We worked out a slick little fight that had a lot of kick tricks, stunt falls and flips, which was then filmed and ruff-cut ready for shooting.
Shooting started, and after a few days of kicking and fighting in a burning wet church and having our heads pounded and knee’d in, we wrapped, and looked forward to seeing the end result on screen.
It was only at the wrap party months later that Prachya told us we’d been cut – WHAT THE!!? Who knows why, but I suspect it is because between the two of us we only looked about 20 years old – not good for the hero to be beating down two kids right?
For what it’s worth, a bit of the fight is still in some of the trailers and we can still be seen appearing mysteriously on the floor just before Jaa fights Lateef Crowder in the temple. 🙂
Budomate: Thailand became a very popular place for shooting the movies, is it because of Ong Bak?
Dean: Yes. When I first went to Thailand there were very few martial arts film foreigners out there, but as the steady stream of Thai action movies made their way into international martkets a lot more people have travelled there. If you go for an audition there now you can expect to be up against some of the very best people in Europe for a role, which is fun but makes it hard! Don’t go. Stay at home. Eat your Weetabix.
Budomate: So you moved back to England to work on your career, have you heard about the upcoming movie Shaolin Monk, maybe you know guys from JNC Productions?
Dean: I am very much out of the loop with what’s going on in the UK as I’ve spent most of the past 5 years commuting to Asia and back. But thanks for the info – I just checked out their website and will drop them an email to see if they are still shooting! I have my own projects brewing too of course, and will harass you for an interview when they get closer to fruition 🙂
Budomate: I have noticed that a lot of young martial artists showed up in England recently, it is the new wave like it was in the 90s with Gary Daniels or Darren Shahlavi. Moreover there is a place for female martial artists like Selina Lo and Zara Phythian, what do you think about that?
Dean: UK definitely has the talent, but not the industry to support it at the moment. Maybe it is because of Hong Kong being a former British colony and the reciprocal influence of that, but there seems to be a very strong brood of action film players coming out of the UK.
What England needs is a big budget martial arts film to happen, that is *supported* by the film council – instead all we get is year after year of council-estate based depression-fests, (and nobody wants to watch another hatchet-faced reprobate crawling their way through drugs and knife-crime to end up worse-off than when the film started right?). All the UK martial arts filmmakers and actors have to struggle independently and it is hard to make global products without good support.
Check out Ross Boyask and Mark Strange – theirs and others inexorable work may well be the thing that gets the industry going here.
It is probably even harder for the girls than the guys to get decent roles in action cinema, as typically there is only ever one female role of consequence in any action film. Selina Lo is kicking ass in Hollywood though, and was recently in LA doing lots of Scorpion King 3 press. Chloe Bruce, and Zara Phythian are also very much on the map, and I’m looking forward to Cecily Fay’s new action film when it comes out.
If by any chance someone from the film council reads this, then call me, I have some projects for you to invest in! 🙂
Budomate: Scott Adkins now is the face of British action movies, you have seen his films of cause, have you met him and do you want to work together?
Dean: Scott Adkins is the benchmark to measure yourself against if you’re a Brit doing martial arts films. I’ve never spoken to him but am of course aware of his work. It’s brilliant.
Budomate: What is your advice to young lads outthere, who want to get into the movies, there is a lot of them, I sure?
Dean: Don’t do it. Stay at home. Eat your Weetabix. Haha, just kidding… Get yourself out there. Do something. There is no set path, so you’re gonna have to make one up for yourself.
Budomate: What can you say about your career now, have you reach a turning point?
Dean: Since then I’ve done a bunch of other film and TV roles, and started a production company Stunt Power Films.
We’ve made a few martial arts action shorts, one of which got screened at the Doha International Film Festival in 2010, and now I’m working on getting a number of my own feature projects off the ground. We’ve just shot some promo stuff with the talented Selina Lo (Scorpion King 3), and Silvio Simac (Black Mask 2, DOA).
I feel that I’ve reached the point in my career where I am now fully qualified to make a cutting edge martial arts action film, and can do so with full authenticity, such that the audience knows there are no stunt doubles, wires, or possibly even pads used in the filming.
After nearly dying a couple of times in India I am now reluctant to take such big risks without getting the glory that goes with it. I’ve jumped out of 16 storey windows having to either catch a dangling rope or plummet to the ground, only to see a smug quinquagenarian actor telling journalists how hard he’s trained to get into shape for the movie’s stunts.. Give me a break!.. No, really, give me a break. It infuriates me no end to see the number of Hollywood actors these days that falsely claim to do all their own stunts, whilst robbing the stuntmen of the small bit of credit they can get.
But rather than fight the system, I’m getting the assets in place to make my own stunt-packed martial arts action film, and continue the dream that started with a single movie, many years ago..
..and who knows, a couple of years from now I may be wearing my very own Armor Of God.
Budomate: My traditional question: which 3 martial arts movies you can call a classic?
Dean: Armor Of God, Project A, Enter The Dragon, for me personally. But it is almost impossible to pin it down to only three.
If it was for influential choreography I would have to say Drunken Master 2, Opration Scorpio, Mad Monkey Kungfu. If it was for grandeur and epic I would say Once Upon A Time In China, Fist Of Legend, Crouching Tiger. If it was for game-changing and effects on the world I would say Enter The Dragon, Drunken Master, and Ong Bak. Maybe even B13 deserves a mention here.
All rights for Dean Alexandrou interview reserved by budomate.com and can not be used without official permission. Photo by Theo Chalmers (theochalmers.com).