Back in 2006-11 Phil’s Quick Review editor in chief Phil Hobden was the Film & TV editor and chief writer for the legendary martial arts focused Combat Magazine. The Combat Magazine Series takes look back at some of the best interviews, conversations and articles that Phil wrote or edited during that time.
First up: British martial artists and actor Darren Shahlavi. Interview by Phil Hobden
Sadly Darren Shahlavi passed away in 2015. Aged just 42 years old, he died from a heart attack caused by atherosclerosis. Shahlavi may not be a name you instant recognise but the English actor, martial artist and stuntman had worked on a over 50 film and TV shows at the time of his death – from stunt work on films big budget fare like The Chronicles of Riddick, Night at the Museum and 300 to acting roles in films like Ip Man 2, Red Riding Hood and a host of direct to DVD martial arts and action films.
He was also someone I knew personally from my time producing features back in the last 2000’s. In fact when he sent back the answers to these questions he signed off with “btw congrats on the success of 10dm you deserve it… well done.” in reference to Ten Dead Men, the film I produced with my podcast co-host Ross Boyask. He was a friendly, honest and charming.
This interview was written in 2009, just before Ip Man 2 was release, a role very much considered to be his break through.
Hey Darren! So let’s start at the beginning (and I guess something that will be most relevant for Combat readers)… tell me about your martial arts background?
When I was 7 years old my parents took me to Judo class with my brother and I loved it, my father trained with us too for a while. After seeing Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan and Van Damme’s early films I got bored with Judo. Later I studied Kickboxing under Ronnie Green and Karate, my Sensai was Dave Morris at Shorai Karate, I also trained at Master Toddy’s in Manchester.
I also studied all the martial arts film I could get my hands on and later. I learned film fighting working for different fight choreographers like Mark Houghton, Ko Fai, Yuen Woo Ping, Tony Leung Siu Hong.
So let’s get to movies… how did you get your first break in the industry?
Bey Logan (former Asia vice-president of the Weinstein Company) hired me to assist him on a Hong Kong film that he wrote the script for. In fact I was originally going to star but when we went out to Asia there was no money. So instead I worked for Mark Houghton in Malaysia and then moved to Hong Kong where I got my first real break working for the legendary Yuen Woo Ping on Tai Chi 2 as the main bad guy with Wu Jing. It was a great experience and it lead to many other roles. I haven’t had my real breakout role yet… that’s to come.
Who were you inspirations growing up?
The usual… so Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan in terms of Asian cinema and then Van Damme, Stallone, Schwarzenegger in the States. I also have huge admiration for George Lucas and what he achieved.
What advise would you give to others looking to get into movies?
Train hard in what you want to do. Be the best. But also create the tightest bonds you can with your significant other… this business is so hard on relationships with lkong hours, lots of travelling. It can be rough. But also be real, be realistic. Auditioning sucks but learn from it, treat it like training, get headshots that look like you, treat everyone with love and respect, be a good guy, appreciate everything about being in the business. Save money. Never compare your self to anyone you will never have the same career as someone else so stay unique.
What is it about action films you enjoy?
I love stories of redemption, love, passion, revenge ,or any of the human emotions expressed through physical actions when plain old dialogue can’t solve the problem. That’s what action movies bring.
What’s been the hardest part of working in films?
Living in other countries away from my family for the past 15 years… going through a divorce, never earning a steady wage, I work all the time when I want to but still worry about getting the next great role. Doing a job because you need money instead of the need to express yourself and create and advance your career… that’s not always fun!
You’ve worked with a whose who of actors already in your career. Who have you most enjoyed working with?
Yuen Woo Ping, Tony Leung, Wu Jing, Billy Chow, Gary Daniels, Chuck Jeffreys, Matthias Hues, Olaf Ittenbach, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Sir Ben Kingsley, Jesse Johnson, Mark Dacascos and some really great crews and co-ordinators too many to name.
Would you rather have a lead role in your own movie or a smaller role in a massive blockbuster?
Good question! I’ve done both and believe me it’s great being in a movie theatre with hundreds of people… going to the big opening night watching your work on the big screen. But nothing beats the creative freedom of collaborating with people on films you are really a creative part in. I did the big movies for the money so now I can afford to do those important films for me.
You’ve working behind and in front of the camera. What do you enjoy most and why?
Infront of the camera, acting and fighting that’s where my heart is. I’m really a performer. But I’ll continue to do both because I really enjoy the creating that happens before shooting.
What action movie would YOU recommend for someone to watch?
Any highly rated film from Hong Kong Thailand Korea, Japan as well as the big US ones and the exciting films coming out of England! I recommend being adventurous and searching out films. I also want people to support independent low-budget features too.. I lent my copy of OldBoy to someone recently and want it back to watch again so there is my recommendation.
Finally Darren if you HAD to pick 5 favourite action films want would they be?
Thats really Hard. Today as you ask me this I’d say… Enter the Dragon, Rocky, Star Wars, Armour of God, Leon