Talks & Interviews — October 5, 2009 at 5:56 am

Richard Norton: My fight scene in “City Hunter” with Jackie Chan took over 6 weeks to film

richard nortonRichard Norton is one of the few Australian actors who have been working steadily in Hollywood for a long time. Norton started out as an athlete, a martial artist, and back in his homeland became the country’s champion. He was considered the best master of Godzu-Ryu style.

Later on, Norton started working as a bouncer in night clubs, and bars, and bodyguard work came after that. Names like Rolling Stones, ABBA, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, were all protected behind Norton’s shoulders.

Then came the movie world, and the person who helped out Norton was none other than Chuck Norris, who at that time, became Norton’s close friend. Norris was preparing to star in “Octagon”, and invited Norton for a small role. So, thats how it all started.

Norton accompanied Norris in such films as “Forced Vengeance”, “Eye for an Eye”, “Walker – Texas Ranger”. Norton also did a few movies in Philippines, and worked with Jackie Chan. As of now, he lives in Australia, teaches martial arts, attends seminars, and was working on a bio book when this interview was being made.

 

INTERVIEW

Mr. Norton, in the late 80’s you began appearing in cheesy Philipino action and martial arts movies, which eventually had their fans (including me). From what I know, many actors used to work there at that time. Please tell about your experience of working there.

My memories of working in the Philippines are of a terrific environment where we did what we did without any of the trappings of a high budget movie. We used to call it the ‘guerrilla school of film making’. I learned so much from those days as I never had a stunt double and basically had to make up the action scenes as we went along and just jump in there and do it all on the run.

With no budget to speak of, you had very little time with action or drama scenes, so again, everything was done in the fastest way possible. I tell you though, we had so much fun. I mean when you think about it, we were like big kids with grown up toys. We got to fire all kind’s of weapons and run around and beat bad guys up. What a great way to make a living. I also remember the Filipino people as being so friendly and great to work with. Yes, you are right when you say so many great actors of later years had their start in low budget movies shot in countries like the Philippines.

Thinking back about the stunts I sometimes laugh to myself as I don’t know how I lived through some of the scenes involving massive explosions as we had no real safety precautions. I remember running the ‘gauntlet’ so many times over multiple explosions that were just sacks of petrol that were ignited as I leapt over them. One stunt remember well in a movie called ‘Mission Terminate is when I had to jump off a moving truck and run towards a hut whilst a whole row of huts were blown up in the background.

All went well except when I jumped off the truck I fell over on my face. Next minute the huts are exploding with huge fireballs as the special effects guy didn’t see that I had fallen over. I remember just getting up and sprinting towards camera with these huge fireballs and heat from massive amounts of petrol igniting and blasting me forwards and nearly off my feet. The Director also thought the truck had run over my legs as when I initially fell I almost ended up under the rear wheels of the truck. All good though as we survived to film another day.

You worked as a bodyguard to some of the world’s most famous music artists – Rod Steward, David Bowie, ABBA, Rolling Stones. You eve used to train and practice martial arts with Mick Jagger! How good was Jagger at martial arts?

Actually I used to train a lot of the Rock and Roll artists I used to tour with in those days. James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt were very keen to learn Martial Arts and were quite good. The Abba girls would get me to give them fitness work outs on a daily basis. That was a tough gig as often they would be dressed only in their bikinis. Hard job but somebody had to do it. Hah!

As far as Mick Jagger and Martial Arts, he was just a bit intrigued by it all and I would train him in the basics, sometimes at 2 o’clock in the morning after a concert. Mick was actually always in good shape, which anyone who watched him on stage would realize as he never stops moving for the whole concert. Very energetic. He never got further than the basic’s though. It was just a bit of fun for him at the time.

Did you ever have fight on the street, for real?

Yes, I have had to fight on the street at times, but only because of the work I did. Before I started personal bodyguard work I worked as a bouncer or ‘doorman’ at various clubs around Melbourne, Australia. They were pretty rough times and it was inevitable that you would get into fights, often on a nightly basis. Of course there were times when getting physical was unavoidable on tours with some of the rock bands as concerts were invariably filled with the normal quota of drunk or drug crazed fans.

I don’t think I have ever gotten into fights on the street other than when I was working as a doorman or personal bodyguard as I really make an effort to totally avoid confrontations that would result in violence when I have a choice. Meaning that when you work as a bodyguard you are often in a position of having to stand your ground and deal with violence as you are getting paid to be the ‘front’ person and protect someone without the choice of ‘running’ away.

The press used to say that Bolo Yeung didn’t really like working with Van Damme on Bloodsport, and didn’t really like Brandon Lee either, stating he was too lazy. What was your experience like, working with Yeung?

My personal experience of working with Bolo Yeung was all good. I do not know of any details of him commenting on Jean Claude or Brandon Lee , so I can’t really comment on that. Again, I always found Bolo to be a complete gentleman and very easy to work with. We are still friends to this day.

I know that not many of martial artists can keep up with such guys as Jackie Chan and Sammo Hong. Also the style of directing and staging fights differs from American action movies. Since you worked in Hong Kong, what is the most difficult thing when it comes to working there, and filming action?

The most difficult thing about the old days of working in Hong Kong with people like Jackie and Sammo was the unbelievable hours you would have to spend on set each day. I remember my first movie with them, which was called ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars, involved being on set, 18 hours a day, 7 days a week for three and a half weeks straight.

It was absolutely exhausting as they would do at least 30 takes for each bit of action and a fight could sometimes take as long as 6 weeks to film. In fact my fight scene in ‘City Hunter’ with Jackie took over six weeks to film. Man, that would be a whole movie if shot in a Western country.

The other thing was the excessive contact in the fights. We really went at it, with almost full contact with kicks and punches to the body and sometimes to the head. Quite brutal, but you know what, I actually enjoyed it as I was always in peak physical condition and I felt it made the fight scenes very real, of course in a comical way as was typical of the types of movies Jackie and Sammo did back then.

The last difference in shooting a movie there was there was hardly ever a finished script and what there was was in Mandarin or Cantonese. So I often had no idea what the scenes were about and basically had to make up my own lines and copy facial expressions that the Director would want at the time as the end result was that my voice was dubbed into Chinese anyway, so I guess it didn’t matter.

Mr Norton, you and Cynthia Rothrock appeared in lots of movies together, and I must say, you two had great chemistry on screen. How did you first meet with Cynthia, and how was it like working with her?

I first met Cynthia in Hong Kong. I was working on a movie with Jackie and someone told me about an American girl that was doing very well making Hong Kong action movies. So eventually we met and got to work together in over 8 different movies. Cynthia is still a dear friend I we hope to be doing another movie together sometime soon if all goes to plan. Cynthia is such a good Martial Artist and I feel very happy to have had the pleasure of working with her on so many movies. One English magazine once referred to us as ‘the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers of Martial Arts movies’. Pretty cool I think.

You worked with the best, and fought against the best. Chuck Norris, Don The Dragon Wilson, Bolo Yeung, Benny Urquidez, Cynthia Rothrock, Jackie Chan – the list goes on and on. Who was the easiest to work with, and who was the toughest opponent on screen?

All the people you mention have been great to work with and I have many fond memories of those times. Probably the toughest person I have had to fight onscreen was Sammo Hung. Man, he is so good and he can really fight. He is still for me the most gifted Action Director and fight person I have ever worked with. Tough as nails and his choreography is second to none.

That guy can put a fight scene together involving any prop and any style you can think of. The other notable for me is of course Chuck Norris. You could not meet a nicer person and he has been so incredibly helpful to me in starting my career in movies and being such a great friend for over 30 years.

I look back and feel I have indeed been blessed to have had the chance to work and become friends with some of the absolute legends of the action film business. Times have changed now but the memories I have of those days will be with me forever. Hey, don’t get me wrong, I am still making movies and hope to do so for many more years to come as I can think of no better way to make a living than to be doing what I am absolutely passionate about, and that is sharing my Martial Arts with the world through movies.

You’ve been in so many countries, due to your work. Have you ever been in our region of South Caucasus?

I have to say I have never had the pleasure of visiting your country, Azerbaijan. I do know it is bordered by Russia, Georgia and Turkey and I also am aware of such an incredible and old and rich history in the area. I often feel jealous of the History of countries like yours as my country of Australia is so young in regards to the first settlements of only a couple of hundred years ago. i also believe that Azerbaijan was the first successful attempt to establish a democratic and secular republic in the Muslim world. I also was pleased to read that your Parliament was one of the first countries to grant equal rights to Muslim women than that of men.

The closest I have been to Azerbaijan is visiting Kazakhstan where I worked on a movie for around 4 months. I also visited Russia some years ago with Chuck Norris. Maybe one day I will get to visit and get a chance to experience the History of a country that dates back to the Stone Age. It would indeed be fascinating.



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2 Comments

  1. HI!!! Did you see Richard in “Eye for an Eye”?

  2. Hello, I remember seeing the film for sure. If I am not mistaken, Richard has a brief role in the film, where he confronts Chuck Norris in a “massage parlor”, I think, and Norris “beats him” with a few words… I clearly remember this scene, however not sure if this is from “Eye for an Eye”.

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