By the time Mark Dacascos was 4 years old, he'd started to get the hang of kung fu from spending his days at his parents' martial arts studio. It was to become a career and a lifelong passion, but at the time the kid hadn't exactly mastered the discipline that goes with the art.
"I was always running around kicking the other students in the shins," he laughs. "Students were practicing kicks, kicking each other. I must have figured, 'OK, that's what we do here!'"
When he was a teenager, the native Hawaiian moved with his family to Germany. "The first day I walked into school, there were 30 or 40 German kids, and I remember them looking at me" -- Dacascos squints his eyes and tilts his head -- "then one kid goes, 'Ahhh, a Japanese!' They didn't know what I was! I was the only foreigner (in the school)."
At 19, he was teaching martial arts and aerobics in San Francisco, where film director Wayne Wang gave Dacascos his first film role in "Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart" after an assistant spotted him in Chinatown. "My first experience ever on a movie set," the actor laughs, "(was) making out with the lovely, beautiful, talented Joan Chen! I didn't know what the heck I was doing!"
His scenes were edited out of that film, but he'd caught the acting bug, and after 18 years, the lean, handsome, enthusiastic and forever smiling Dacascos had made a name for himself in the martial arts genre, occasionally branching out into dramas, and even landing the lead in the short-lived TV adaptation of gothic comic book and feature film "The Crow."
Currently he can be seen on the big screen in his most unusual role to date as -- get this -- an earthy Native American martial arts expert helping to hunt down a demonic giant wolf in 18th Century France.
"It's just your typical French period piece with monsters and martial arts," Dacascos laughs, as he settles into a conference room chair at San Francisco's Ritz Carlton hotel to talk about the movie, "Brotherhood of the Wolf."
Not to be taken entirely seriously, it's a glossy B-movie horror-fantasy about a remote village besieged by a beast that may not be as wild and untamed as it seems. Dacascos plays Mani, a silent, deadly, noble Iroquois who has accompanied a Louisiana Purchase adventurer, naturalist and handsome libertine (Samuel Le Bihan) back from the New World to help find and destroy the beast.
|Q: So how do you get an American Indian martial arts fighter into a French period movie?|
A: Even stranger than that, Christophe (Gans, the director) comes from the South of France and I come from Hawaii, so how did we ever hook up? Well, I had worked on a movie called "Only the Strong," with Samuel Hadida, and Samuel Hadida produced "Brotherhood of the Wolf." (But first) he produced "True Romance" and a film called "Crying Freeman," which is based on a Japanese comic book...
|Q: ...and which was Gans' first film.|
A: Exactly. So Samuel introduced me to Christophe, Christophe hired me for a job (in "Crying Freeman"), and also hired my wife (actress Julie Condra), who I met on the airplane going up to Vancouver (for the shoot)! For this movie, Sammy and Christophe pitched me the story, told me about the character and I said yes before reading the script. On Christophe's second movie (my wife and I) made our baby! And we're doing a third movie with him next year, so I'm a little nervous now! I don't know what's gonna happen!
|Q: So Gans was working on the script with you in mind.|
A: From what I understand, yes he was. Actually, when he got the script, the character of the Native American wasn't even in there. He wanted a character that kind of showed a different perspective of what was going on, and also a character that could express some of Christophe's own personal thoughts and feelings about life and culture and so forth.
|Q: I think that character alone made the movie better because it was such an interesting perspective -- not the so much the stranger in a strange land thing, but the whole connection with nature and with the animal you're hunting. It turned it into a different kind of movie. Without him it would have been more like a great white hunter thing.|
A: Good! Good. Thank you. That was one of the ideas. And he's so different because he's so simple and so honest. That's what makes him strange, you know?
|Q: Did you do much research into his culture?|
A: Absolutely. I worked with a young lady by the name of Alex Rice. She comes from a Canadian Mohawk tribe. I'd never met anybody who actually spoke the Mohawk language -- I think of it like Latin -- but she speaks the language fluently. She taught me some basic words. She explained to me about their spiritual and philosophical beliefs, just so I could have an idea of what their culture was about. It's so exotic, so different.
|Q: What did she think of the martial arts angle?|
A: The interesting thing is, she didn't know about that part until she saw the movie! I was a little nervous. But (since) the words I used in the movie were actual Mohawk words, first I wanted to make sure my pronunciation was right. Then I wanted to see if everything else was cool with her -- and she actually really enjoyed the movie.
|Q: I'll bet she got a kick out of it.|
A: No pun intended, right? Haaa-yah! [Laughs loudly.])
|Q: When you're working with a fight coordinator, is it more of a collaborative effort -- are you planning fights together? Or how do you work together?|
A: A good choreographer is one that's going to collaborate, teach, guide -- everything. The wonderful thing on "Brotherhood of the Wolf" was that we had Philip Kwok -- he choreographed John Woo's "Hard Boiled," and in the '70s he was a martial arts actor, stunt man, fighter, choreographer in Hong Kong. This guy is amazing, and at 50 years old now, he can still do all the acrobatics, all the martial arts. So on the set anything we couldn't do, or I didn't know how to do, he would show me -- and I would have to work hard to do it as well as Philip! Everything we did on screen in the movie, he could do as well or better. And he's incredibly creative. He gives you a whole lot of stuff to work with.
|Q: So do you think of yourself as a martial artist actor or an actor who does martial arts?|
A: I don't know. I mean, both.
|Q: Well, would you rather do, say, a romantic comedy or...|
A: If I got to kick her! Haaa-yah! [Laughs even louder.] I'm joking! I consider myself a martial artist and an actor. They can work together, or individually. I love to do action. I love having a good role in which I can act and fight. That's double happiness. I try to stay away from stuff that's just action, action, action, action, action, and you kind of fast-forward through the dialogue scenes. I'm not interested in doing that. Give me a reason to fight, and I'll go there. But don't just make it, "You touched my pen! Haaa-yah!" I've done that before. I've grown up and I want my roles to grow up as well. On the other hand, if there was a role that didn't require any action whatsoever but it touched me in the heart or gut, I'd want to do that as well. That's a challenge because I've done so much action, when (directors) think of me -- if they think of me -- it's usually very strong on the action or both. They don't think of just acting -- although I feel I'm capable of doing it. But that's my challenge. I have to prove it.
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