Greetings valued Dan's Movie Report & Action-Flix.com readers, today I unleash an interview five years in the making! Martial Artist, Actor, and Dojo owner Lee Charles stops by to give a detailed chat. Lee has been featured on my site before in a video, we talk all the time and keep banging around the idea of a feature length interview. Fast forward to 2020, during this time of shelter in place Lee has many projects to discuss, and bit of time to conduct this chat. Get ready as Lee Charles drops knowledge harder than his kicks, and sets a standard of honesty rarely matched in the world of film.
Chat about how you became interested in martial arts.
For me it all started when I was around 5 years old, the old cliche of watching a Bruce Lee movie. But that is exactly how it happened. My grandparents had bought a VHS player, and were the first in the family to get one, so everyone and I mean everyone in the family gathered one afternoon and the 2 movies of choice were The Big Boss & Monty Pythons The Holy Grail haha. Well Bruce was up first and my parents told me I was bouncing around the room copying all his movements, kick and punches going everywhere and all was going well until one particular scene come on. Where he returns back and everyone has been slaughtered and there is blood all over the floor, well that was my cue to be sick and ruin everyone's entertainment.
Even though this happened it didn’t stop me getting completely obsessed with Bruce Lee and I mean obsessed. Books, magazines, posters, movies, t-shirts, kung fu suit, I even had a set of foam nunchucks that I kept tucked away inside my Kung fu outfit haha. So eventually my dad took me to our local Karate club, back in the 80s it was difficult to find a Chinese Martial Arts school and the majority of places where either Judo or Karate, I chose Karate, I mean I got be throwing them kicks right haha. From there my journey began.
Karate, Jujitsu, Taekwondo, Wushu, Muaythai, Boxing, Kungfu, Kickboxing, Wrestling I mean if it was a fighting art, chances are at some point I studied it and this has been the process for my whole life. I love the traditional arts even though I am known mainly for my Kickboxing success winning 6 World Kickboxing Titles. Bruce Lee said: “.ake what’s useful and discard the rest.” and I have adapted this quote to all I do in life. I mean life is all about winning, about succeeding, about doing what makes you happy and Martial Arts has provided this in abundance. Practicing martial arts gives me a variety of skills I use and adapt for everything I do in life.
Speaking of consistently learning and growing, I know you own and operate your own school, Black Dragon Martial Arts, how did the business come about, what made you want to become a Dojo owner?
Since I was little all I wanted to do was get good enough to teach Martial Arts. It was around 1999 and I was with my Instructor Master Brian McKinney, and he had one of his Instructors over from China Master Xu Hao. I had been discussing setting up my own school with Master mcKinney and we all went for breakfast one morning, we got talking and Master Xu Hao gave my school the name Black Dragon. I think anyone who embarks on a journey within the arts at some point will end up passing on their skills and knowledge, I think it’s all part of the process.
For me, as soon as I began to teach I came to understand the arts a little better, it help me grow and understand that everyone processes instruction different. And you personally learn a completely new set of skills, teaching itself is an art form, it’s also great to give back and help people achieve their own personal goals.
What is your secret to managing the business at the same time as being in films? How do you allocate your time?
For myself it is having the support of good people around me. The Instructors I have at the club are brilliant, the role they play in ensuring the business runs smoothly whilst I am away is incredible (to be fair some do a better job than me haha). I think it is important that the students also understand, that even though its my club and I’m the chief instructor the staff are all trained to the highest standards by myself. I have traditional values at my school whilst still having modern concepts towards development and skills, and all my students know I demand the utmost respect from each and everyone of them (obviously they have a little fun too haha).
Very busy for you! Wow, over the last few years you have been quite active in the action film genre, chat about what project that you worked on that seemed to propel you to obtain other work.
As you know, I broke into the movie industry under the guidance of my Sensei, Benny the Jet Urquidez. Around 15 years ago I made a trip that would change my life forever, Hollywood bound I would never of expected what was to follow. So here I was going on vacation and thought I would really love to train at The Jets Gym in Hollywood whilst I was there. I had been speaking via email and once my plane landed I checked into the hotel the first thing I did was call the gym. Next day I arrived and was greeted with open arms by Cody who was working on reception, I started training and then Sara Urquidez came up and started speaking to me, asking me about myself and my visit (an incredible woman). So went away only to return a few minutes later saying that Sensei Benny was on his way back and would like to meet me. Well you can imagine how excited I was, I got showered changed and waited in reception for his arrival. Sensei walks in through the door and opens his arms hugging me and welcoming me to his gym, I then sat and talked for what felt like hours, I was so intrigued by his knowledge and wisdom. After that he spoke again with Cody and I was handed an address and told to be there the next day for 9am, I didn’t even ask what it was for, if Benny the jet says be there you just go right! I arrived at Santa Monica & Fairfax for it only to be The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute and so my journey began. Upon returning to the UK I received a call from Sensei Benny the Jet and was told I would be helping him out on a movie down in London, I did a few movies with Sensei one that included a very special trip to Bulgaria.
I had a few years out of the industry due to a few personal issues, then I received a message from a friend of mine Joey Ansah (Bourne Ultimatum, Mission Impossible - Fallout) and they where doing a movie with Scott Adkins called 'Green Street 3' and would I be interested in being apart of it. Of course I accepted and this was my first time working with Scott. The film was shot in London in December, and the actual scene with Scott was filmed on my Birthday so it was a nice little gift. The scene was shot in slow motion and there was a particular move where he throws a kick, but due to how the scene was being shot it just wasn’t selling, so me being me I suggested to Joey and Scott that the kick just be thrown for real, a little look from Scott followed by “you sure?” to which he received a “let’s do it”. The scene was done in 2 takes and looked awesome. There was a producer on the movie who then cast me in his next film, from there the work started to come in and the opportunities for me to perform and show my skills to other people in the industry. So a big thank you goes to Joey for pulling me back into the industry and giving me that chance again.
Above: Cast of 'Avengement' on the red carpet at the U.K. screening premiere! Image taken with Lee Charles Cell phone, used with permission not monetized.
Above: Cast of 'Avengement' on the red carpet at the U.K. screening premiere! Image taken with Lee Charles Cell phone, used with permission not monetized.
Focusing in on 'Avengement', chat about working with Jesse and Scott Adkins, do you feel like you need to push yourself further when you work with them? Maybe share a story from the set of 'Avengement'.
Completely, I mean both of these gentlemen are incredible at what they do. And I had already worked with them both before 'Avengement' anyway, Scott several times and Jesse on 'Accident Man'. So I knew the high standards that both men give to the production. Me personally though I mean whatever production I'm on I expect nothing but the best from myself. You don’t win 6 world titles but being OK, and I take this mentality with me onto the movie set, in fact I take this mentality to everything I do.
There was a funny moment when we where filming the bar fight and Scott hits me in the face with a cosh and I just lay there taking it, after we got up Scott said “did I hit you in the face then?” I replied yes… Scott “how come you didn’t move” my reply “just love it don’t I haha!”
When working with Scott Adkins and Jesse on action do you guys chat about the way fights will play out, with Jesse giving you ques?
I mean all the fights are always broken down before we shoot, and whilst rehearsing before the take you are always given direction. I think this is the same for everyone, having worked with them both before though, it is sometimes good to just sit back and watch them work their magic.
Shifting gears, although they were lower budget films i really enjoyed 'Cannibals and Carpet Fitters' and 'Transit 17', chat about working on those films, maybe focusing in on some of the work you did with the action sequences.
Cannibals was great fun, I was filming it the same time I was doing 'Final Score'. I actually remember one morning after finishing a night shoot I drove from London to Nottingham to do a day shoot on Cannibals, now that was a tough day haha. Getting to work with James Bushe & Richard Lee O’Donnell was great too, to see the passion they had for this project was so inspiring and I think they did a truly fantastic job. The fight scene was fun to do, getting to work with Zara Phythian again is always a pleasure and in this case we put together a nice little fight between both our characters. Zara and myself go back years and I’ve been on the brunt of her foot many times haha.
Above: Lee and Dave in Final Score!
Thank you for your honesty, I had no idea that you filmed 'Final Score' and Cannibals at the same time! I really enjoyed 'Final Score', a very high quality film from director Scott Mann. Chat about your amazing elevator fight with Dave Bautista.
'Final Score' is up there with one of my personal favorites. I am fan of Wrestling and have been since a child, I have fond memories of staying up late watching Wrestlmania with my dad. So when the opportunity came along to work on 'Final Score' and in particular take on Dave Bautista I jumped at the chance. I remember auditioning and thinking to myself, right you’ve played a Russian countless times before you can’t screw this up, luckily for me I didn’t. When I arrived for first day of rehearsals and met with Jude Poyer & Chris Webb we all run through the scene together with Dave’s stunt double Rob DeGroot, I recall doing the choreography and thinking to myself ‘I wonder how big Dave is?” Mainly cos his double Rob is a man mountain himself, an outstanding performer who is in phenomenal shape. So I obviously asked the question, the reply I got was “Big” haha..
When Dave arrived the guy was big,big, but what a complete gentleman. We walked through the choreography and as I suspected in one particular sequence I’m meant to wrap my arms around him, one under his arm and round the back of his head and the other across his chest where both hands would meet and clinch together, as you can probably guess my hands didn’t clinch in fact they didn’t even come close, I laughed to myself and grabbed his top instead, like I said big, BIG!
That fight will always hold special memories for myself as it was a defining moment in my career, and a very special fight. I mean I got to fight Drax, and to my son that’s cool.
Pushing on to 2020, and 'Gangs of London', chat about how you were cast in the project. The sets and scenery looked really elaborate, chat about working on this bigger budget production compared to smaller budget projects.
I got the call to audition for a role in the show and had already been briefed as to who was involved so I was pretty nervous. I mean 'The Raid' for me is up there with the best of them, when I was little my dad and myself used to always watch movies together but we hadn’t done so for years. One afternoon I was visiting my parents and my mum was going shopping and I had just purchased 'The Raid' so I said to my dad if he wanted to watch it whilst my mum was out, we sat down and watched the movie, I don’t think either of us spoke whilst it was on then as soon as it finished it was deep breathes and then boom, I don’t think I had felt this excited for a movie since watching 'Enter the Dragon' as a child with my father.. so getting the chance to audition for a show that was being done by Gareth Evans was truly to me a massive opportunity to shine.
The audition was just as much physical as it was performance, meeting Gareth Evans for the first time was a nervous experience but I was calmed by the fact my friends were there to assist with the audition. I ran through a bit of choreography with Stunt Coordinator Jude Poyer and Chris Webb, then paired up with Craig Miller before Gareth came over to see me perform. Just before I was about to start Gareth asked if he would mind if I did it in my underpants and boots, luckily for me I had been pre-warned about the role so it wasn’t that much of a strange request. Craig and myself ran through the bit of choreography several times literally giving it everything I had. At this time I was in really good physical condition and I remember at the end Gareth asked that if I got Cast for the role would I be ok putting on a bit of weight for the role as they had a particular image they wanted for the Character, of course this was never a problem and as you know when I got the role the 2 stone in weight followed.
Having the opportunity to work with Gareth Evans and Matt Flannery for me truly was one of them bucket list moments, as well as working again with the outstanding Jude Poyer and the team.
Above: Lee with Chris Webb, Jude Poyer and Gareth Evans
How long was your filming portion of 'Gangs of London'?
I was involved for several weeks as we had some filming on the campsite etc... as well, all the locations on the series were incredible and the result was sensational. Without going into too much detail or giving to much away MY scene was probably around 6 to 8 days with pick ups, I can’t remember exactly as I was completely zone in to my character and performance but it was hard and fun to do and the team were outstanding.
Above Pic Credit: Sope Dirisu
Chat about your character, did you have freedom to explore, or was the script very specific in mannerisms?
I was given a character breakdown by the Director Gareth and his vision, and during rehearsals I got a better understanding of Lenn and who he was. Then between rehearsals and filming I read a lot about psychopaths and did a lot of research of movies and how different actors played different types of characters, then from all this I developed the character you all got to see on screen. I had so much fun playing him and hold Lenn close to my heart ha.. he’s definitely my favorite character so far, just a little misunderstood ha.
I have to discuss 'The Courier', I really enjoyed the action and Olga Kurylenko, chat about training her for the action and what she brought to her character.
I got brought onto The Courier' to be Assistant Fight Coordinator and also play a Character in the movie Fripp. Film preparation started weeks before production just to ensure that the lead actor Olga Kurylenko was prepared correctly for the role. I got to train and work closely with her and can say she truly is an outstanding professional who is dedicated to her work. Every day she was there giving a 100% and nailing down the fight choreography. John Sharpe and myself would be there consistently drilling her and making her as comfortable with the techniques as possible, during rehearsals she would go above and beyond and was always willing to try anything that was put before her.
I saw she posted that the training was nearly two months chat about some things you were able to teach her and how quickly she picked them up.
Like I say Olga is an outstanding professional and would work so hard to make sure she had the choreography down tight, she was always wanting to do more and more. In between rehearsals she would work on certain pad drills and technique, and her back ground in dance help when it come to her movements and ability to remember long sequences. She would pick up the movements quickly but constantly wanted to perfect what she had learned, making sure her energy and timing was right for when we come to shoot the scenes on camera.
When you work so closely with an actor on a film do you feel pressure to make sure they look great on screen? In 'The Courier' it seems like Olga did a lot of the action herself.
Of course, if the audience doesn’t believe that the character could do what they are showing on screen you have already lost. But that’s where good team work comes into play and when the team consists of seasoned professionals like John Sharpe, Freddie Mason, Pablo Casillas and Gordon Alexander you know you’re onto winning ways. Olga’s stunt double Rachael Evelyn was great, taking some heavy hits from some big guys. Olga did as much as she could do but credit to Rachael for the work she did on the movie also, like I said she took some seriously heavy hits including some from myself.
Respect to Rachael! Yes she deserves the recognition. I recently had the opportunity to check out the trailer for 'I am Vengeance: Retaliation', perhaps you can share a story working on the set of the Ross Boyask film, also chat about who your character of Maynard is. Obviously no spoilers, just general observations.
Yeah big up to Ross, Diane, John and Mohammed the trailer looks great and the Cast they assembled is fantastic, I have some good friends in key roles including two outstanding female performers in Phoebe Robinson-Galvin and Katrina Durden, now these ladies can seriously kick ass and I’m super excited to see what they bring to the movie. Can’t say to much about my role unfortunately as I was just a cameo but it was a honor to working alongside Vinnie Jones and Stu Bennet (my second time working with Stu, first being 'Eliminators'). The trailer landed full of action and I’m excited to see Ross Boyask's vision.
Finally, chat about balancing work and family life with your young son, yes I know it is quarantine time, but I mean in general with a heavy workload. I noticed you guys have like very regular sessions in which you devote time to him without distractions, chat about living the balanced life, maybe some advise for others who are dual focused.
Anyone that knows me knows that my son Malachi is my whole world. I am quite lucky to have such a special relationship with my son, one that sees us share common interests as he loves Martial Arts too (lucky hey ha). He’s only 5 years old, and he’s outstanding, my goal in life is to ensure he has the best possible up bringing so that he gets the start in life he deserves. When I’m with him I make sure the time spent is quality time. We are always going on adventures and creating memories.
It is difficult at times having a business to run and my career in film, so the time I have with him is his time, our time.. I try and have as little distractions as possible. As much as I like to keep busy and work hard, its also important not to neglect the ones we love.
Absolutely, family comes first! Thanks so much Lee for this outstanding detailed interview. I must say, your interview is probably the most informative action related chat I have done on my site in the past five years!
Thanks Danny, and thank you to all the film fans out there.. much love x
For further information on Lee Charles, please connect to him via these sites:
Official Facebook Page for Acting: https://www.facebook.com/leecharlesactor/
Official Facebook Page for Black Dragon Martial Arts: https://www.facebook.com/BDMAW/
Official Instagram Page: https://www.instagram.com/mrleeacharles/?hl=en
Official IMDB page: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3124775/
Lee Charles 2020 Reel: