Falcon Rising: Michael Jai White interview
Falcon Rising, a true passion project from action star and filmmaker Michael Jai White, is finally arriving on UK DVD. In the film, John "Falcon" Chapman (MJW) is an ex-marine anti-hero plagued with guilt and trauma after returning home from conflict. On a self-destructive edge, he learns his sister has been brutally beaten in the favelas of Brazil and travels there to hunt down her attackers, waging war on all criminals and corrupt cops he encounters during his new, self-proclaimed mission.
Michael Jai White visited the UK to promote the film's release and had a busy schedule of interviews, events and TV appearances. I sat down with him to discuss the film, what he's developing next and gain some insight from someone who, at this point in his career, has over 26 years' experience in the film business. As a long time fan of Michael and his work, including Tyson, Spawn, Universal Soldier: The Return, Undisputed II, Blood and Bone and Black Dynamite, to name just a few, it was a real honour and I'm grateful for his time.
How did you come to be involved in Falcon Rising?
I was first approached by Shahar Stroh from Strohberry Films about the project. I really liked the script. It just spoke to me. Then we got together with Ernie Barbarash who was directing and we started developing news ideas on how best to translate it for the screen.
What appealed to you about the story and character of John “Falcon” Chapman?
For me, it felt rooted in reality in terms of what a real American hero could be. This was a character who I found a lot more down to earth. There are combat veterans who come home with severe PTSD and actually my brother-in-law has suffered from this, so it’s something close to my heart. I felt the story had strengths in every aspect. My criteria for movies is that you should be able to take out the action and fight scenes and still have a good movie by itself, and this definitely fit that bill.
You collaborated again with fight choreographer, Larnell Stovall, who you’ve worked with a number of times. What was the approach for the choreography on this one?
I believe the first thing to remember is to fight as that character. I feel the fighting should be a result of that story and reality. Some choreographers come up with cool ideas but it doesn’t necessarily fit the character, which is the most important thing. So we tried to create action which was impressive, but which worked within John’s world and the story as it unfolded.
How long did you have to work on the fights?
It didn’t take very long because, fortunately, when you’re working with a good stunt team it’s just like working with professional dancers. You’re really just hitting your marks at that stage, so once we knew the routine it all came together pretty quick.
Were there any challenges you had to overcome while making the film?
We were shooting in Puerto Rico and you can find that, working in a different country, there are things they do differently and little day to day challenges we had to solve, but overall nothing too difficult. We had some rain issues during filming, it actually rained a lot while we were there, but fortunately no big hurdles which affected the film.
What are your fondest memories from Falcon Rising?
We laughed a lot every single day and had a good time making the film, so it was a good experience. A big part of filmmaking is problem solving and it can be like a big puzzle, figuring out the different pieces. But one thing I really enjoy are the happy accidents you sometimes stumble upon which can change something beyond what you had originally thought, so it’s more organic and in the moment.
What’s next for you?
I’m getting ready to direct Never Back Down 3, having made the second film, and I'm doing most of my training now because I won’t get a chance once cameras start rolling on set. My normal process before filming is to drop weight, whereas a lot of people think I bulk up. I’d say its very much like a fighter in training and I just need to get myself conditioned and prepared for my fighting weight. So this is my priority now ahead of the next film.
You mentioned Never Back Down 3 and you actually directed for the first time on Never Back Down 2. How did you find that experience as a new endeavour?
It wasn’t as challenging as I thought it would be. Sometimes it’s exhausting when you’re the lead actor, but you see certain things the director can’t because you’ve been doing it for such a long time. I tend to equate myself with all the particulars anyway, which makes me worry less as a director, because that’s the job. So it seems more daunting in terms of time but, for me, it’s as natural as playing a role.
Skin Trade hasn’t come out in the UK yet (VOD release is scheduled), but it’s been generating a strong response around the world. How did you find that experience?
It was a great deal of fun and I really enjoyed working in Thailand. I’m used to wearing so many hats on a production that it feels like a vacation when I’m playing a supporting role and it can be hard to switch off. I actually found myself on set, even when I wasn’t filming, just because I enjoy the process, watching and learning and seeing how they managed certain things. Tony Jaa and I are good friends too so it was nice to work together.
Will there be a return for Black Dynamite?
I’ve actually written Black Dynamite 2 already, which is a bigger movie and a nice crossover, but I’m just trying to figure out how best to make it. But I can say there will be a return for sure.
Looking back through your career, do you have any favourite films which stand out?
I don’t think I’ve done what I set out to do just yet. I have some action comedies in the works which I’m excited about doing and I’m happy about a lot of my past work but I’m looking forward to what’s coming up next.
As a modern action actor and filmmaker, what processes do you go through getting your new work off the ground and what challenges do you face?
The industry has changed quite a bit. There’s a level of fear in making films and it means some people want to make the same film over and over, which isn’t something I want to do. You have to take a risk when you introduce something new and exciting to the fan base. I really like that I can communicate directly with my fans, now more than ever, and it excites me to bring things to the screen which the fans will hopefully enjoy. I have a new production company now called Gigantic and I have exciting new projects I’m developing.
Finally, what advice do you give to aspiring actors and filmmakers?
I always encourage people to learn the business part. A lot of people make the mistake of only approaching it as an actor, writer or director. Try to learn and understand the business from each perspective and I think your career will have more longevity. I always say it’s called “showbusiness” for a reason, because it’s the business part that runs it. There are things for the artist, of course, but I’d encourage people to put that aside for a moment because, in order for you to do your art, you have to be able to sell, so you need to find that hybrid.
Thanks to Louise Rivers from Maven Publicity.
Falcon Rising is out now on DVD and digital download.