“It’s kind of like two musicians vibing.” – Michael Jai White
Skin Trade matches Tony Jaa up with two titans of action. Dolph Lundgren is an Expendable and we have an interview with him coming this week too. And Michael Jai White has shown off his prowess in sequels like Undisputed II and Never Back Down 2, and originals Black Dynamite and Blood and Bone.
In Skin Trade, White and Lundgren play American agents who team up with a Thai agent (Jaa) to bust a human trafficking operation. Of course cultures clash and there are twists and turns. They make sure to give us the fights we were waiting for, Jaa vs. Lundgren and Jaa vs. White. I got to speak with White by phone about Skin Trade and his developing film franchises. Skin Trade opens in theaters May 8, and is available on VOD now.
Nuke the Fridge: Was Tony Jaa someone you’d always wanted to work with?
Michael Jai White: Oh yeah. Absolutely. Ever since I first saw Ong Bak I have thought that he was one of the best martial artists on screen that I’d seen .
Nuke: It looks like the film devoted a lot of time to the two fights between Tony and Dolph and you and Tony. Was there?
MJW: No, it wasn’t a lot of time. We pretty much, being that we’ve done it for so long, I think we kind of packed quite a bit into a short amount of time. Tony and I, I think our fight scene was done in one day.
Nuke: By comparison, how long would you have for a fight in Blood and Bone or Undisputed II?
MJW: Some of those, I’d shoot two or three fights in one day, because that’s a much lower budgeted movie than Skin Trade.
Nuke: With one day to shoot, did you also have rehearsal time so you could choreograph the fight?
MJW: Well, the majority of what Tony and I did, we created a lot on the day. Sometimes it’s more realistic and it’s more organic when you’re in the moment. So Tony and I put our heads together and I think pretty much one of the most exciting parts of the fight is the stuff we created 10 minutes before shooting. There was a whole area where I’m fighting him inside this building where we have a long tracking shot. And that was just created by us on the fly. It’s kind of like two musicians vibing. I think that made it very special. We saw that there was this long room with all kinds of debris in it and we just thought wow, this would be really cool to fight through. And set the camera on the outside and just track us. So we just did it and I think that’s what made it special.
Nuke: How many takes of that did you do?
Nuke: So you could do multiple takes and reset.
MJW: We did three takes of it and we didn’t have much time. We were fighting the daylight so we went at it. I think Tony and I would kind of create it, try to remember it and then told the cameras when we were ready and it just followed us. That’s the only direction at the time.
Nuke: Are your and Tony’s styles compatible?
MJW: Absolutely. We had to create two different styles. Of course me being much bugger than Tony, we had to create a scene where he had to think on his feet because I was imminently threatening him by the size and power. I think the best thing to do is when you create things that are kind of logical to reality.
Nuke: Do you and Dolph have similar styles?
MJW: We do share one style together called Kyokushin. He’s been in Kyokushin for something like 30 years and so have I.
Nuke: You’ve had such an interesting career that you’re able to do action movies and Tyler Perry dramas. Has that always been the plan to have that diversity?
MJW: Diversity’s always been the plan and I’ve always done comedy and drama when I was first in theater. My first professional jobs were on the New York stage. I think I’ve consistently kept a variety of things. I knew I was going to have a kind of eclectic career but the real part is that I’ve had to make a living as an actor and I also had to make a living as a martial artist in different times in my life. I’m really having a good time with the variety of stuff I’m getting to do.
Nuke: When are we going to see more Black Dynamite?
MJW: Hopefully there’ll be another rendition this year.
Nuke: Season two of the show or a live-action movie sequel?
MJW: I’m planning doing a live-action movie, but in the Black Dynamite fashion. I also have Black Dynamite the sequel has been completed as far as the script is concerned. It looks like I may be doing this type of western Black Dynamite style. I think that’s what people will probably call it.
Nuke: Would the sequel still take place in the ‘70s or would you take Black Dynamite somewhere else?
MJW: No, it’ll still be taking place in the ‘70s.
Nuke: Have you found that Blood and Bone has grown in popularity as people find it on Netflix?
MJW: Yeah, it’s been weird and my friends at Sony explain it’s been a very unusual thing that it’s been a movie that constantly lives since the time it came out. It’s got a cult following and the martial arts audience is just really pleased with it, and they continue to be. It’s just one of the things where that is the most requested movie that anyone speaks about. Most of the time if someone talks to me about a movie, it’s that movie.
Nuke: Might we see Bone again in a sequel?
MJW: Yeah, I’m fairly certain of that. That script is also completed and I believe it’s much better than the original.
Nuke: Since Blood and Bone is so much about the fights, have you indicated in the script how different the fights will be so they go to the next level?
MJW: Well, in the script you’re really finding out who the Bone character is. In the original Blood and Bone, there’s no real glimpse of who he is so this one will explain where and how he got those skills, and why he has those skills.
Nuke: When it comes to the fights, does it depend on who you cast as the fighters?
MJW: Yes, but I believe it will be far better because the character’s no longer undercover. In Blood and Bone he was undercover. You didn’t quite know what his plan was and it was kind of a mystery until it unfolded. I believe the action will be far better in the sequel.
Nuke: You got a chance to direct Never Back Down 2. Are you planning to direct again?
MJW: Yes, I’m actually going to be directing Never Back Down 3. I think I leave for Thailand in about three weeks. By the end of the second movie, you see that my character has gotten an invitation to get back into the ring and to compete for the MMA crown. So this is that character embarking on that challenge.
Nuke: Are there any new Thai fighters you’re looking at to give them a showcase in Never Back Down 3?
MJW: Oh yeah, we’ve got some of the top ones but the ink’s not dry yet. Tony Jaa’s going to make an appearance and also Jeeja [Yanin] is going to be in it. Also I’ll be joined by Josh Barnett who is the most celebrated heavyweight MMA champion ever. There’ll be some fights between Josh and I.