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Highlander: The Source: An Interview With Adrian Paul (2008): The Combat Magazine Series

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 and his team wrote or edited during that time.

Next up: Highlander: The Source: An Interview With Adrian Paul.  Interview by Ross Boyask, forward by Phil Hobden.

If you’re a fan of the hugely popular Highlander television series, then the name Adrian Paul will be more than familiar to you.  Even if you’re not a fan of Highlander, then chances are you would have stumbled across the actor in one of the numerous TV shows or films that he has been a part of over his lengthy career.  

For those of you not in the know, he was born in London, England in 1959, the first of three brothers to an Italian mother and a British father. Adrian first became a model, then a dancer and choreographer. In 1985, he left Europe for the United States to pursue a dance and modeling career. He made his acting debut in Dynasty spin off The Colbys (as a Russian dancer named Kolya), and has also trained in various martial arts; including Hung Gar and Choy Lee Fut, Tae Kwon Do, Kickboxing and Kendo, using the Japanese Katana.

Since then his acting career, now spanning over 20 years, has seen him appear in everything from big budget films, movies of the week and higly rated TV shows.  Beyond acting, Adrian has kept himself busy behind the scenes role taking on both directing and producing duties, and even appearing as himself alongside the greased up muscle men of the WWE.  He was even touted by many for one of the biggest gigs in film, heir to Timothy Dalton’s James Bond (a role which, of course, ended up going to Pierce Brosnan).  

But as I noted at the start, by far Adrian Paul is best known for his role as Highlander Duncan McCloud in the long running Highlander TV and film series, picking up on the storylines and spirit of the original film.  

Personally I was a massive fan of the Highlander TV series, which lasted over 100 episodes.  It was action packed, had far arching plots and challenging adult storylines (the series featured a harrowing rape episode early in it’s run).  In fact if I’m honest, I was a bigger fan of the TV show than the films which, at the time, ranged from the brilliant (Highlander) to head scrapingly poor (Highlander 2). 

The TV show was massively successful, and even almost 10 years later is still remembered fondly by those who watched it (which in the UK was never as many who should as ITV did a piss poor job of scheduling – moving it eventually to a 1:00am slot).   The series spawned an animated series, an official spin off (in Highlander: The Raven) and reinvigorated a film series that was killed stone dead by the dire and confusing Highlander 2.  

After the series ran it’s course in 1998, Adrian returned to the franchise two years later in Highlander: Endgame (the fourth film in the series), which finally teamed up the two Highlanders McCloud, and marked original Highlander Christopher Lambert’s last appearance in the film series.  

At the time it seemed like Highlander was finally over. But now, seven years after the not brilliantly received Endgame, Duncan McCloud is back in Highlander: The Source, a film he also acts as executive producer on.  

So when the opportunity came up to chat to Adrian about his career, his background in martial arts AND the new Highlander movie I jumped at the chance. 

It was a shame then, that the one day he was able to chat to COMBAT was the day I was scheduled to be on a flight back to London.  Typical.  

But like any good writer I had a plan B, which in fairness worked out better than my plan A. In my absence, I passed the reins over to someone who is far more suitable for the job – passionate Highlander fan, martial arts encyclopaedia, and my partner in crime – Ross Boyask. 

Ross Boyask: Morning Adrian.  So to start, let’s talk about your background in martial arts…

Adrian Paul: I started training in martial arts three or four years before I started working on the Highlander TV series, mostly for fitness purposes. I started with Kickboxing, as well as learning Katana. I then studied Hung Gar Kung Fu, a Northern style. This has actually been my basis for around fifteen years now.

RB: How has your training developed or changed in terms of your involvement with the industry?

AP: It’s interesting that you ask that. I’m now training in Shao Lin Kung Fu. I started training a year or so ago in New York with two monks, and I can do things now that I couldn’t do ten years ago! It goes to show how you can develop as a martial artist as it is very interesting to move from category to category. It opens your eyes to the possibilities. 

RB: How does your practice of martial arts in real life differ from that portrayed onscreen?

AP: Of course the martial arts that I practice in my personal life is not the style that I tend to practice onscreen as there are obviously differences in what works in a real life situation as opposed to performing onscreen. I’ve been very interested in the recent rise of MMA-style action, and it indicated that fight scenes are still evolving to this very day.

RB:  Tell us about the process you went through getting the part of Duncan Macleod.

AP: I was actually the first person they had seen. I told them not to see anyone else! At that stage though my action capabilities had nothing to do with getting the role. I went through extensive screen testing with five guys in London, New York and Los Angeles and then a decision was made between the several production partners involved. 

RB: How long did the process take and did you read with any of the other actors who were to appear with you?

The whole process took about three months, and no I didn’t read alongside the other actors. We did one screen test at Universal.

RB: You worked closely with Bob Anderson for a considerable amount of time. Tell us about working with this industry legend.

AP: Bob is such a lovely man. I have a special place in my heart for him. I remember him taking me through some of my first fight scenes on the show. You have to remember that at the time he was in his sixties and he’s still rolling around on the floor to demonstrate moves! I believe loving all this keeps him young. What I love about Bob was that he wasn’t a “bricklayer”. By that I mean that when he looks at a fight scene, he looks at the whole picture, and the beauty of the fight. He is a real visualist, and he makes it a lot easier for the director to film the fights. When planning a fight, Bob would ask what I wanted to do, and then we would progress from there.

RB: The television series, especially later on, focussed on your physical martial arts abilities, showcasing numerous training sequences, normally involving emotional resonance (for example the scene when you were contemplating the death of Michael Moore/Quenten Barnes). How much of this element was actually in the scripts for the show, and how much of it was the cast and crew’s interpretation of the stories?

AP: Somebody else mentioned that the other day! A lot of the times in shows and films the characters and story end, and then the fight begins. I believe that fights and training scenes are like conversations and contain emotion. Sometimes this was explicit in the script, and sometimes it was subject to interpretation. In fact sometimes we would have to improvise depending on the location. 

RB:  How did you come to direct the episodes that you did, and how do you feel about the finished results?

AP: I always wanted to direct. I feel that an actor can learn a lot by directing, and I’m a control freak as well! I learned a lot more technical stuff too. I made a lot of hard work for myself though. For example, my Byron episode had two quickenings, four swordfights, stunts and of course the other dramatic scenes, and I had to shoot it all in seven or eight days. I’m always up for a challenge, and I like to push the envelope.

RB:  What was the transition like from making Highlander as a regular television series, to making it as separate feature films?

AP: Well they brought both characters (Connor and Duncan) together in a bid to sell more tickets. I think the main difference is there is very little consistency between films as opposed to the continuity of a long running television show, and most of the decisions are made for purely financial reasons, or to satisfy certain buyers, rather than to please our longstanding audience. 

RB:  Each episode of the show had so many action sequences, (most of them focussing on yourself) that it almost felt like each episode was it’s own full-length film. How did your team manage to keep the action fresh and exciting each week?

AP: You know I’m not sure how we did it ourselves. We shot each episode for six days in Canada, and when production moved to France we sometimes shot for up to eight days on each episode but we had less working hours on each day. I still don’t know how we were able to shoot so many action sequences for each episode, let alone all the other scenes needed for each episode. It’s all a blur!

RB: Tell us a bit about the fan conventions you have attended, and how you interact with your fans.

AP: I’ve been to a few conventions now. I tend to attend one every couple of years. The fans have put me where I am and I like to be courteous when I can. We’re all fans of something to some degree, as we all have our interests. One convention in Vancouver led me to meet someone who had written a paper on transitional television series and their influence on culture and society, and he referenced Highlander as being one of the main shows!

RB: How did this current instalment of Highlander come to be made?

AP: In 2005 Bill Panzer asked if I would be interested in doing a new instalment and I said certainly, if the script is decent. He told me that David Abramowitz (the series creator and regular writer) would be writing it, which I was excited about as David has such an in-depth knowledge of the Highlander universe. Bill also told me that Brett Leonard (The Lawnmower Man, Virtuosity, Feed) was attached as a director, so I knew the film would have an interesting visual flair. So in May 2005 the production of Highlander: The Source was announced at the Cannes Film Festival and we progressed from there.

RB: You have now taken the role of executive producer as well as leading man, what kind of additional responsibilities does this bring you and how do you weigh up your duties in both roles?

AP: Producing gives me an additional level of control, and I think my main contribution as producer on new Highlander film was in the casting and what actually appeared in the film, as in making decisions on certain items on set. I had less control on some areas such as the script, as there were numerous people involved in the scripting process. I was involved in the rehearsals, which we held a week or so before we began production and I found that the actors involved gave great performances and brought great ideas to their characters. I was also involved with the clothing choices and other props used. Wearing two hats as lead actor and producer can be tough, especially as quite a bit of the time I was the only Executive on set, and so I saw quite a lot of things going on that I may not normally have seen.

RB: Good or bad?

AP: A bit of both!

RB: How did Brett Leonard become involved with the project?

AP: Originally the Highlander franchise was owned by Miramax, and they attached Brett as the director. They wanted him involved due to his track record of effects movies, as well as to make this a darker and more modern chapter.

RB: Tell us about the story of Highlander: The Source. What kind of journey does your character Duncan Macleod go through?

AP: Duncan starts in a dark place. He’s been told that he is “the one”, but the world has turned to shit. All of his friends are dead and he has no hope left. He does not believe in the journey he has been told he has to take. But of course this evolves throughout the film and eventually he makes it to a more hopeful place. 

RB: Tell us about how the action scenes were produced, and the inevitable final duel?

AP: We started choreographing the action a month or two before the shoot, and various weapons were incorporated including the Katana, pole and two short swords, but due to various factors we became quite strapped for time in the rehearsals.

With regard to the final showdown we had one week to design, present and shoot this sequence. We became very limited on time due to our location changing on numerous occasions, which of course affects the shape of the fight. I also brought my Sifu in to choreograph the scene.

RB: Any accidents or injuries on-set?

AP: There are always bumps and scrapes when you film a fight scene, and sometimes the insurance guys would give me difficulty. I think they would prefer it if I did not get involved in the action at all, but I want to give the fans the action they want to see.

RB: Notable moments/memories during production?

AP: This was such a tough production. Due to various production factors we lost shooting days, and had to add more shooting days as a result. It was due to odd things like the day we had to have a BMW for a scene, as well as a double for the car, and the double brought in was a different colour! Or the day when we needed a tree brought to a location by train and nobody seemed to realise that they were using the train to bring the tree to us! It was a hectic production to say the least.

RB: Brett Leonard has a history of special effects movies (Lawnmower Man, Virtuosity, Feed), what did he bring to the film?

AP: As you can tell by his track record, Brett has a good vision of the effects he wanted in the film, although this actually affected the action somewhat, as the fight sequences were reliant on special effects that we as performers were not sure would work. By that I mean we did not know what the final result would look like, so we had to put our faith in Brett’s vision.

RB: Do you feel that telling the story of Highlander in sporadically released films has more constraints on you, than in a regular series? If so, how do you combat these?

AP: It is indeed more difficult to do this due to the time restrictions you have in a film, compared to a season of a television show, so we needed to decide how much information needed to be in there for new viewers, and whether we would be too repetitive for longstanding members of our audience. 

RB: Looking at the series, it touched on a great number of societal and political issues, from racism and religion to the class system, and was never afraid to shy away from sexuality. Do you feel that the diversity of these themes has been lost in the transition to feature films? 

AP: No, unfortunately the films do not touch on these themes as much as the show did, and it is a shame as I feel that it was exactly this element that attracted our audience on the show. They connected with our stories as they dealt with a vast range of personal issues, as well as story points. I really believe that genre movies need to touch more on these issues as I think it would help them draw a wider audience.

RB: What can fans of the series look forward to from the latest instalment of Highlander?

AP: Two of the main characters from the show, Joe Dawson (played by Jim Byrnes) and Methos (Peter Wingfield) are featured. Long-time fans may be a little dismayed to find out that there are no flashbacks in the film due to a production issue. This is a shame and I miss them. There’s also some stand-out action scenes for them to enjoy.

RB: Why should viewers unfamiliar with Highlander watch the latest film?

AP: I would say that the action element is going to be an attraction, as well as the special effects of course. Also I think the characters work really well and will engage the audience, and there is always the love story as well! 

RB:  Do you feel you have become typecast? If so, how do you feel about that?

AP: Yeah I think I was typecast for a period of time. That’s starting to go away now due to my more recent work. I have four new films out this year alone! I think people are starting to look at me differently.

RB:  What’s next for Adrian Paul?

AP: I’m filming Captain Drake for the Sci-Fi Channel. It’s going to be a lot of fun because although he’s a famous British hero, he was known at the time for being a bit of a bastard. I’m enjoying playing the character and I’ve been able to inject some humour into him. I think the audience will really enjoy the film. My next film is called Nine Miles Down, which is a psychological thriller and I get to play a very different kind of character.

RB: Many thanks for your time Adrian, best of luck with your new projects.

For more information on Adrian Paul, check out his official Twitter here: @adrianpaul1 

Highlander: The Source is now available to buy from all leading retailers.



Combat Magazine ran until 2012. For over 30 years it was the leading UK magazine for martial artists. From 2008-2012 Phil Hobden was the film and TV editor and chief media writer for the magazine.

The Combat series brings back some of the best and most interesting interviews, articles and content from those marvellous years from a host of great writers!

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