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 HKCinemagic 2

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Interview with Brandon Rhea (with additional comments by Mike Leeder)
Fearless 1/1 - Page 3
Author(s) : Arnaud Lanuque
Date : 11/3/2007
Type(s) : Interview
 Intext Links  
People :
Chin Kar Lok
Chung Fat
Anthony De Longis
Jean Claude Leuyer
Jet Li
Poon Hang Sang
Steve Tartalia
Michelle Yeoh
Ronny Yu Yan Tai
Yuen Shun Yee
Yuen Woo Ping
Movies :
Once Upon A Time In China
Yes Madam
< Previous
Page 2 : Big productions: Star Runner, Infernal Affairs 2 and…almost Ultraviolet
Interview conducted by Arnaud Lanuque in Hong Kong, March 11, 2007.

Additional questions by Nicolas Tavantzis.

Special thanks to Brandon Rhea and Mike Leeder for their time.

HKCinemagic : And we arrive to your most famous work to this day, your participation in Jet Li's Fearless. I guess you got the part through Mike Leeder?
Brandon Rhea : Actually, I heard about the casting and entered in. I only later realised Mike was involved. But I had already sent my stuff, my reels because I heard a casting call for traditional western fight styling. And I have a fencing background and experience with the Wulan Lance. What many people don't know is that it was a very traditional weapon used in Europe, over centuries. Mike doesn't like this story, he finds it too long but I will tell anyway because I like it (laughs). The expression ghost rider is not from the Marvel comic but comes from the 1 st World War. When the German army had fighters using those lances. So what happened is that they gazed the front and then, out of the poisonous mist, came one single guy on a horse, the horse and the rider both wearing a mask, going into enemy's lines, stabbing one or two guys to death and disappearing. That's where this term actually come from. So, I heard of that and was like: “sure, let's give it a try.” And then I was invited to casting and Mike was there.

The 3 western champions waiting to fight Fok Yuen Gap

HKCinemagic : The fight scenes involving the 3 western warriors are all shown in a row. Were they shot the same way?
Mike Leeder : Originally, it was supposed to be very different. There was meant to be 12 fighters and each of them were supposed to have a specific introduction, like Brandon would arrive on a big horse right through the crowd, Anthony would be with Spanish dancers. A big big set up. But there was schedule change and they reworked the idea.
HKCinemagic : Very video game style! So, they didn't shoot any of that?
Mike Leeder : Sadly not.
Brandon Rhea : But you didn't find a big horse anyway.
Mike Leeder : No, not big enough for you (laughs).
HKCinemagic : Did you shoot more than what ended up in the film?
Brandon Rhea : I shot my action scenes in 2 and a half day. They kept most of it. The only thing I regret they didn't include is this long introduction shot where the camera is on the drummers and then swing down to me. But they cut it there.

Advantage to the German (or Belgian?) fighter

HKCinemagic : Was it Yuen Woo Ping himself who was choreographing your scenes or his brother Sunny Yuen?
Mike Leeder : Sunny, who is now called Eagle by the way, was there to help alongside Didi.
Brandon Rhea : But most of my scenes were done by Yuen Woo Ping himself. Oh, I just love the guy! There are guys if you work with them, looks are enough, you don't need to talk. And there is a language barrier between him and me. But to really watch it in action, you see how his mind goes and how he pictures the shot before doing it. He knows exactly what he is doing. I hope I will be like him when I reach his age!
Mike Leeder : I think you should talk about the casting session you got with Yuen Woo Ping.
Brandon Rhea : We did it in Great Grand Master Professor Leung Ting's gym actually. I was supposed to show some fencing stuff. He came in and said hello and was like: “can you show us something.” “Sure,” I said. And he started talking to Leung Ting. And I was like, “hum, ok, I'm ready” and him: “Oh yeah, yeah ok” (laughs).
Mike Leeder : Originally, Brandon 's character was supposed to be a German soldier. Anthony De Longis was supposed to fight with a sword then a whip. Brandon was supposed to use the sword, saber, but it was changed something like 4 weeks before the shoot.
Brandon Rhea : When I heard about the change, I was really preparing myself. For example, the moustache I have in the film is real. I had it grown for 8 months! My girlfriend was giving me shit every day (laughs). I met my former fencing master in Germany to brush up again.
HKCinemagic : You must have been very disappointed not to be able to use all those skills.
Brandon Rhea : A bit, of course, but on the other hand I was also used to the lance and I thought it may be even more spectacular, because those German lance are very long. The only thing I didn't expect was that the lance I was given was slightly different from the one I was training with. Very heavy, very unbalanced. I don't want to complain but it was just difficult. And the costume I had was really really heavy too. By the way, I didn't faint as the imdb says! (Laughs) (see http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0446059/trivia)

Great looks… But payed with a lot of physical expense during the shooting!

Mike Leeder : Originally, Brandon was supposed to remove the jacket and all the ornamental stuff. But Yuen Woo Ping said: “No, no, keep it, that costume looks cool!” (Laughs). It was a ceremony costume so very heavy. But Brandon did some major research; the helmet he is wearing is his own helmet.
HKCinemagic : At least the costume fit you? Because, on Once Upon a Time in China, Steve Tartalia had to deal with a costume not even of his size!
Brandon Rhea : The costume was great.
Mike Leeder : Ronny Yu was very specific when it came to the casting, the costuming, the weapons, everything. At the first casting meeting he made it very clear he didn't just want to have a bunch of martial artists, he wanted people with a fighting style that would have been accurate for that time period. Back then there weren't really many western martial artists; it wouldn't make sense for all the westerners to be throwing kicks etc. We did talk about using “Savate” (French boxing) and having one character be a “Savate” fighter, I actually found a really good guy in LA who had exceptional skills, and a great look but then they changed the script and the idea for the number of fighters was cut down, so we lost him. But Ronny was very specific about the perception of the era, about the look of the costumes, all this historical background.
Brandon Rhea : I did research, some of the stuff I already knew it, then I did research. My character is really based on a genuine historical figure. There was a German military attaché based in China …
HKCinemagic : But in the movie, you're supposed to be Belgian!
Brandon Rhea : I know! I don't know why they changed that! Why Belgian? I have no idea.
Mike Leeder : Especially after they did so much to get the character right…Anthony De Longis's character was based on his fencing teacher… I was “why did they change that??”.
Brandon Rhea : The uniform is fairly accurate to Prussian military.

Brandon and Jet, a working relation much better than what appears on the screen

HKCinemagic : How did you find working with Jet?
Brandon Rhea : He's a true martial artist by heart, I can tell you that. We were all living in the same hotel during the shooting and when I saw it I was “oh, oh, there he is”. We shook hands and said “Welcome, good to see you.” It was great! He had no attitude at all. He's so professional. If something didn't work well the first time, he's ready to retry, he's not: “woey, are you stupid? Can you not do it?”
HKCinemagic : Quite a few fans complain about the frequent use of double he makes.
Brandon Rhea : I've been there and saw what he did himself. So I say, anybody who thinks that, come and tell me in person. Because, honestly, if you haven't been there, you can not judge it. I've been there, he's such a nice guy, such a professional and he's got the moves. I can tell you, he got the moves, got the abilities, he's skilful .[It's mostly because of the overuse of wires he did in some movies]
Mike Leeder : Yeah, but take the example of Michelle Yeoh on Yes Madam. She fights against Chung Fat. And Chung Fat is one of the greatest stuntguys in Hong Kong ! And for some reason, Michelle and him didn't work well on the pacing. So, they brought Chin Kar Lok for one shot. Because they did like 20 takes and could not get it right. It doesn't mean Chung Fat sucks! It just means sometimes, for one technique, for any reason, it may work better with someone else. Jet has been hurt so many times, like on Once Upon a Time in China, you can not shut the production for 6 months like that. What I mean is that there is a reason why he's doubled sometimes.

One of the shot where Brandon is doubled

HKCinemagic : Talking about doubles, you are doubled in a couple of shots of the fight. Was it because you were unable to perform some of the moves requested?
Brandon Rhea : There is a big misconception about stunts and doubling. People think: “oh, you're doubled because you can't perform.” Most of the time, this is what I realised in Hong Kong and China, when they double you, as a foreigner, it's actually an honour in a way because they are scared something may happen to you and may lose you for the rest of the shoot. So some of the scenes, it's kind of obvious [I'm doubled] if you look at it. They said: “look, we will have this guy to do that, to protect you and keep you in shape.”
Mike Leeder : There are matters of rhythm, reactions also in the process. While it would be great if time and money were never an issue, and then everybody could do every single movement great. But sometimes you get doubled for time, for safety, for a pick up shot. It's not a slur against you.
Brandon Rhea : If you do an action scene under those conditions we have been, I was actually glad there was a couple of scenes I could sit and watch. I don't mind. And so what? Name one actor in this world who has never ever been doubled. When I realised there was a guy to replace me sometimes, I was actually like: “Oh, my goodness! That's great, I have a double!” (Laughs). Because in Silverhawk, I had to do everything by myself and I got seriously hit sometimes. It's where you realise if you get injured or something happen, it's not a big deal; I was thug number 2. But in Fearless, there was a kind of character to play, they needed my face.
Mike Leeder : What's funny is that, in Fearless, I'm even doubled for sitting down at one point! (Laughs). That's how mad it can be! It was this bizarre thing: “Oh Mike, we need you for one scene but it's not big so we'll double you.” I was: “Oh, ok, cool!” And Yuen Woo Ping called and said: “you need to come back now, your double is no good.” My double, they died his hair in red! To make him look more like a foreigner. And I came back and asked: “so, who is doubling me?” “This guy there.” “This guy has red hair…” “Oh…yeah…we needed him to look more like a foreigner.” Sometimes, you need to double just for small shots like that. And especially, when we were shooting the action, they also needed to pick up some other shots. So they would double Brandon for this movement and pick up at the same time Brandon 's reaction shot.

When East meets West…Under the watchful eye of Mike Leeder

HKCinemagic : In the movie, there is this opposition between the westerners and the local Chinese. Did it feel like that while you were shooting?
Brandon Rhea : No, between Anthony, Jean Claude Leuyer and me, it was great. We were like buddies and had so much fun. I was surprised how Jean can eat so much (laughs).
Mike Leeder : The thing with Jean is that he used to train everyday. So we had to tone down his physique, but he has a very fast metabolism, he needs to eat a lot. And sometimes it would be funny because we'd be eating, and he'd have as much food as all of us together.
Brandon Rhea : We had great time with each others and it includes the Chinese crew and the stunt guys. We were a family, a team. Surprisingly, some of the foreign extras behaved very badly. “I'm a foreigner, I'm so much better.” It was embarrassing for me because I consider myself being a guest in this country. I'm happy to be here, I respect Chinese culture, I love Chinese culture. And those wankers, some of them really behaved like shit, disturbing shots you know.
Mike Leeder : The thing is that, in Hong Kong , everybody works but there are always a lot of foreigners available. If you are a dick, I can get rid of you and bring someone else instantly. In China , there are much less foreigners who don't work. And some of them felt like: “oh! If you want to work with me, it means you need me.” Some were: “Oh, you want to do a close up of me, I want to be paid more!” This kind of disrespect. Or we are doing shots and they would take pictures using flash you know.
Brandon Rhea : I remember this guy, he was a very minor extra in the background somewhere. And he was starting to give shit to the make up girl for making his hair not in the way as he liked it.
Mike Leeder : It's in the scene with the balcony. And the guy started to complain. I was: “dude, you knew this make up would be made, we have photographs of how the character meant to be!” And him: “yeah, but I don't like it…” Then don't ever work! It was frustrating because of those few guys. And you had people like John Ben who was so happy to be there and so willing to participate! And the Chinese extras were paid this [Mike shows a small quantity with his hands], the westerners were paid this [Mike shows a quantity twice as big as the previous one], don't be showing off under their faces. It's so disrespectful. At least, they should arrive on time. Every one on the set, Ronny, Jet Li, Yuen Woo Ping, Ah Poon (the cinematographer), everyone, was doing something like 16 hours a day… The last days it was 23 hours! It's “ok, if you don't want to work like that, don't work on movies, just don't be an extra.” Total lack of professionalism and lack of respect for the work being done.

John Ben on the left, one of the good extras of Fearless

Brandon Rhea : The all crew on Fearless was brilliant. From the single smallest guy, carrying tables, to the make up crew, the costume designer, they did an awesome job! And then, you have one or two of those guys…
Mike Leeder : The make up people had to deal with 3-5000 extras each days on that set. They don't have time to argue with extras. It was one of the annoying parts of this shoot.
HKCinemagic : And how was it working with Ronny Yu?
Brandon Rhea : Oh, Ronny is cool! In Germany, I did some minor TV stuff and the director was like “Ohhh, what are you doing to me???” Like a crazy freak, thinking they are the centre of the world! You don't find that in Asia . Neither Jingle, nor Ronny, they were there doing their job as good as they can. And they love to do this! I saw Ronny at the premiere in Hong Kong and he immediately came to see me. He's a nice, down to earth, man and he has a good eye. He even got hurt around the end of the shooting but stayed there to continue shooting. Having worked with him, Jet and Yuen Woo Ping is like the biggest thing ever for me. I'm so grateful for that.

Fearless, an ambitious production perfectly lead by an inspired Ronny Yu

HKCinemagic : Have you been working on some recent projects following Fearless?
Brandon Rhea : No. Number one reason is that I have a son. He's born in late October 2005. And for me, the acting thing is something I do on the side, for fun. Of course, I want to do more of it and build something up on it. But when I went to China at the beginning of 2005, I set up my own company which is growing and going very well.
HKCinemagic : You didn't get more feedback after participating in Fearless?
Brandon Rhea : I did actually. I did an intel commercial for example. But I'm very happy about how my agent deals with me, he's not trying to exploit you, to put you in any production as an extra because you've been in Fearless. Being in Fearless give me the possibility to be a bit more picky about my parts. There are talks for the future; I'm on the edge of financing a little independent production and working also with Mike on another production. And I must mention, thanks to Fearless, I became an official game tester for a magazine in Germany !
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Page 2 : Big productions: Star Runner, Infernal Affairs 2 and…almost Ultraviolet

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