It was an absolute thrill to sit and chat with Cheryl Wheeler, legendary stunt woman, stunt double, and stunt driver of the movie industry. She has been the stunt double for Rene Russo, Kathleen Turner, and Goldie Hawn.
Cheryl began studying Yoshukai Karate at 15 – coming from a family of mostly boys; she was forced to learn to hold her own. She started kickboxing when her instructor commenced training an amateur team. She has also studied Judo, Aikido, and grappling and trained for a while with kickboxer and actor Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, and is a three-time WKA World Kickboxing Champion
Beginning work in the film industry in 1987, Cheryl’s extensive filmography of stunt work in such films asBack to the Future Part II, Bird on a Wire, Die Hard 2, Lethal Weapon III & IV, Demolition Man, The Thomas Crown Affair and Charlie’s Angels. She was inducted into Black Belt Magazine’s Hall of Fame as 1996 Woman of the Year. She appeared on the cover and in a feature article in Black Belt Magazine in July 1997, and also received a Stunt Award for “Best Stunt Sequence” in the 2000 film of Charlie’s Angels.
I could honestly have spoken to Cheryl for hours – slowly traversing and delighting in the stories from all of the films she has participated in. We also chat about her involvement in The Martial Arts Kid 2 which she comes to as a producer with her long-time friends Don Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock.
It was a true pleasure, and I trust you will enjoy this fascinating interview with an awesome Hollywood veteran. Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Cheryl Wheeler.
Dominik Starck is a cool guy who loves and makes movies. That’s a man I’m down for spending some time with – so I did. His new movie, The Hitman Agency, is a complex nest of intrigue, danger, action and redemption. Throw those altogether and you have a great blend that tastes a little like something we’ve had before – yet it’s flavored by Mr. Starck’s unashamed passion for his many cinematic influences as well as the sheer joy he has being a filmmaker.
Most of us, at one time or another, who make fatal decision to go off and pursue a career as an artist, are met with the inevitable speech for our parents which carries the immortal lines like, “You’ll never make any money,” or “Why don’t you get a real job.”
Now Dominik tried that – he tried to deny the fire inside, the voice telling him he wasn’t doing what he was meant to be doing. He wasn’t, as the Bard would say, to thy own self being true. So he started doing what he had to do, and, for my money, what he does well – he started making movies.
“Making an indie film is close to being a hitman; choose your goal, aim and go after it no matter the obstacles. And like assassinations, it’s a hit and miss with movies. I consider our movie the latter but it’s up to the target audience to decide if that’s the truth or not,” says Starck, the writer/director. While the German independent production by Starck Entertainment and R.J. Nier Films is represented by distributor Generation X Group GmbH at the film market in Cannes (May 8th to 17th) for international sales, the US audience is the first to be able to watch THE HITMAN AGENCY on Amazon.com where it’s available for rent and buy.
This movie is the directorial debut of writer/producer Dominik Starck who previously worked on the award winning mercenary action film ATOMIC EDEN, starring Blaxploitation legend Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson and Lorenzo Lamas (RENEGADE). While being a deliberately different type of movie, THE HITMAN AGENCY features a special appearance by 11 time kickboxing champion Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson from BLOODFIST-fame. Starring American-born Erik Hansen (THE COUNTESS) and LA-based Everett Ray Aponte (ATOMIC EDEN) as competing hitmen from different ends of their assassin-careers, THE HITMAN AGENCY is a character-driven conspiracy-thriller with twists and turns, spiced with some martial arts outbreaks and assassinations. Shot on locations in Germany in English with more blood, sweat, and tears than a real budget, this underdog movie is proof to the phrase that nothing can stop you from making a movie when you really want it. Not even in Germany where there’s no platform for genre films at all.
Like I said at the top, Dominik is a cool guy and a cool filmmaker. He was worried about his English before we spoke but I tell you now as I told him then – “his English is as beautiful as his film-making.” Seek out THE HITMAN AGENCY… (follow the link below)
It’s funny how the fates play their hand. Not long before I hand completed the interviews for this piece, I found I had been gifted the opportunity to interview Phillip Noyce, who happens to have directed BLIND FURY – a film that was both the inspiration behind and the film that came to mind when I first heard about Blindsided: The Game. And what a film! Walter is a seemingly unassuming guy who likes his peace and serenity – and his warm apple pie. His daily life, to the voyeur, would appear idyllic – that is until he decides to visit his local convenience store at the wrong time. A gang of stand-over men are looking for payment on a debt owed by the proprietor, and Walter’s friend. You know something is rotten in Denmark, and Walter looks as though he is the kinda guy to let sleeping dogs lie. No way! Like Josey Wales before him, Walter is the man, the hero who’ll always double back for a friend. That’s when the ACTION begins….
You might find yourself, as I did, waiting for something to happen. When Walter reveals his secret however, you’ll marvel and the grace, fluidity and devastating ability that the film’s hero has been keeping under his hat. The ensuing war which Walter wages with the movie’s antagonists is fierce – with a satisfying resolution.
I think the only thing I wasn’t happy about after watching Blindsided is that it ended – ’cause I, for one, wanted more. So it was an honor and a privilege to sit down with the filmmakers behind this veritable dynamo – this indie action gem waiting in the wings.
Blindsided: The Game pays homage to classic action films like Zatoichi and Blind Fury not only in its protagonist Walter, a blind swordsman, but also in that the film places heavy emphasis on storytelling combined with great action. This is no surprise with Clayton J. Barber in the director’s seat, who comes with over 20 years of experience as a stunt coordinator in Hollywood. Leading man Eric Jacobus plays Walter, a lovable cook who’s an expert gambler and swordsman. The character is the amalgamation of Jacobus’s 18-year career as a comedic action performer in the indie film arena. Director Clayton J. Barber is pushing the boundaries of modern action entertainment by bridging Hollywood with the indie action film world.
Barber notes that, “Eric Jacobus came from the indie action film realm. He was like a punk rocker of the action genre using raw film-making. We’re bridging these worlds together to create a totally new kind of action experience.” Jacobus echoes Barber’s sentiments: “Indie action guys have all the tools they need to showcase their skills, but the element of storytelling still has to be there. Clayton’s that storyteller who knows action. This is our Le Samurai.”
Barber and Jacobus aren’t the only stuntmen involved in Blindsided: The Game. The film features an ensemble of action stars and stunt performers both behind and in front of the camera. Roger Yuan, a veteran action star featured in action films such as Shanghai Noon and this year’s Accident Man, who plays the shopkeeper Gordon, also choreographed one of the film’s major fight scenes. Producer David William No (Altered Carbon from Netflix, and Matrix Reloaded) acts as a knife-wielding card shark and goes toe to toe with Jacobus in the climax. Veteran stunt performer Joe Bucaro (xXx, Iron Man) plays the ruthless gang leader Sal, Nicholas Verdi (Close Range, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) plays Nico and acted as director of photography, and Sal’s enforcer is played by Luke LaFontaine (Savage Dog, Master and Commander) who also served as the sword fight coordinator.
Production company, JB Productions, is dedicated to delivering strong storytelling and first-rate action, created by people who truly understand action. Barber says, “This is a new approach to action film-making. Blindsided: The Game is the perfect collaboration for us, and we hired great stunt performers to play the lead roles and even work behind the camera with us because we wanted to work with folks who knew action. That’s the brand people are buying into, and we’re always looking to build that brand by collaborating with talent both in America and overseas.” Jacobus and Barber previously collaborated on the hit short films Rope A Dope and Rope A Dope 2: Revenge of the Martial Arts Mafia. Blindsided: The Game is an expansion of the 2017 short film Blindsided, which was the first title under the Jacobus / Barber (JB) Productions banner. Blindsided was released to much acclaim, with fans craving a conclusion to the story. Blindsided: The Game replays the entirety of the original Blindsided and carries the story to completion, capping the film off at the length of a TV pilot.
Jacobus and Barber are confident that Blindsided: The Game will fulfil fans’ desires for a complete film. Blindsided: The Game will be free to stream on YouTube NOW!
As I remarked to its gentleman director – Barry Hunt – I found myself thinking to the influences which drove his artistic choices and compositions. I found traces of Herzog, Annaud, Jodorowsky – even Samuel Beckett.
For you see, this ain’t your typical day in the wake of the devastation of the world as we know it. Mr. Hunt has crafted here a sublime and visual feast that is as deep as it is vast. I found myself recalling films like Quest for Fire, Aguirre and Holy Mountain – even the lost children scenes from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome.
One of the founders of the Sowelu Theatre in Portland , Oregon, Hunt has taken this intriguing, theatrical source material and constructed a film which is at once engaging and thought-provoking. And you can’t tell me there are too many films about which offer these sensations anymore. From the opening scene, to the world after the fall, Anse and Bhule also brought back to me the emotions evoked by McCarthy’s The Road. Both are absorbing journeys in which the characters we follow must shed, if you will, their emotional and even physical ties to all they have known. Then and only then can they truly become creatures of the new age, thrust upon them.
I urge you to seek this film out, and prepare yourself for a profound cinematic experience. The burgeoning cinema of Barry Hunt I eagerly anticipate. He has a new film in the spawning, and I have a feeling it will, just as Anse and Bhule did, exceed my expectations while completely stripping them away.
I was mid-way through my interview with C. Courtney Joyner when Tim Thomerson’s name came up. Joyner of course, had directed Tim in Trancers 3, and cooler still, he had just had him round for breakfast earlier that day. You might call it an imposition, but I mentioned that if there was even a remote possibility that he could put me in touch with Tim, I would be forever grateful. Courtney told me he was seeing Tim again on the weekend and would put forward my proposition. Soon after, I received a message with a phone number.
Now, I’m usually in the habit of arranging an appropriate time and day to call, but Courtney had left it open. I remember for the first time, in a long time, being nervous to make the call. After all this was Tim Thomerson who was going to be picking up the phone; a guy, a legend that I had watched for years. So I summoned my moxy and dialled the number. The familiar international ring-cycle began and then . . . “Thomerson,” the voice on the other end of the line said.
I’m going to come off as an idiot here, but I.D.G.A.R.A. “Damn,” I remember thinking. “He sounds exactly like he does in the movies.” Stupid, I’m well aware. But the moment was profound, and I was instantly transported to that time when I sat in the theatre watching Metalstorm, and that glorious afternoon I first sat down to watch Future Cop (aka Trancers). Here was Jack Deth now, on the end of the line and talking to me like we had been buddies since forever.
I did kinda wish we could have jumped into our chat right there. Tim was at once disarming, candid and as cool as i had expected him to be. He was off to his retreat in the desert to do “old man shit” as he put it, and, while I realize he is an aged gentleman now, that voice, the larger than life character that he is still packed all of the vitality, swagger and youthful exuberance that very much belies his years.
I didn’t have to wait long before we would talk again, and when we did, the conversation picked up right where it left off. I would take a significant amount of time to go through the length and breadth of his career, so I restricted myself to personal favourites among his credits. We talked about his beginnings, his great friendships, his bumping into Mel Gibson at the doctor’s office, him working with his idols, Australian Cinema and his meeting with the legend that was Sam Peckinpah.
For those of you who regularly check out my stuff here on the site (God bless you), I fear I might be starting to sound like a cracked record. A number of times in the past I have found myself gushing about the opportunities I have enjoyed whilst writing for PTS, and how humbled and indeed awe-struck I have been as a result of these encounters with the folks who make the movies. Sadly I’m now going to do it again. Tim Thomerson is a hero of mine and it was at once spellbinding and an indescribable treasure to have had the chance to shoot the breeze with an actor I have long held in high regard . . .
. . . and an equal pleasure it is, to now share it with you.
It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that the Australian film industry was launched onto the world stage by a band of rebellious genre filmmakers, that would take international cinema screens by storm. Regrettably that age, to the naked eye, may have come and gone like the VHS tape. But not all hope is lost…
Enter Travis Bain. The boy from New South Wales who, after encountering George’s galaxy far, far away, decided to run off and join the circus so to speak. In short – become a filmmaker. But unlike Spielberg and Abrams, he was not to the 8mm camera born. Young Travis would craft his fantastic adventures on audio tapes, creating a cinema of sound.
From there he thought he might be able to launch something in a literary manner, writing work that would later become the bread and butter of Aussie action author Matthew Reilly. But, he learned all to quickly that the road to the Everest of publishing was just, if not more arduous, than path toward the Mount Olympus of movie-making.
Down but not discouraged, he took to learning the fundamentals of the cinematic arts and in time would make a debut feature. He would come north to the Sunshine State (Queensland) and find, and you’ll pardon me, his place in the sun.
His latest film is Landfall, starring the iconic Australian acting legend, Vernon Wells (my chat with him here: https://podcastingthemsoftly.com/2016/09/30/zero-defects-remembering-innerspace-with-vernon-wells-by-kent-hill/ ). Travis has ambitious plans for the future. As I listened to him speak passionately about his journey, his current projects, his hopes for the strengthening of the local industry – let’s just say I’m a believer. We need artists of his ilk now more than ever; to bring the spark back to our slumbering screens. And, you can quote me if you like, Travis Bain might just be the man to lead Aussie genre filmmaking in a bold, new direction.
Cynthia Ann Christine Rothrock, is an American martial artist and actress who I first encountered in a little movie called Raging Thunder or No Retreat, No Surrender 2 (part of my beloved Seasonal Films Library). From there I followed her through the China O’Brian and Martial Law movies. It is fortuitous that she shares this triple martial arts action extravaganza with Don “The Dragon” Wilson; the pair having shared the screen in a number of Cynthia credits, including The Martial Arts Kid and its forthcoming sequel.
Rothrock holds black belt rankings in seven styles of martial arts and was a high level competitor in martial arts before becoming an actress.
It was in her hometown in Northern California in 1983 where she was on the Ernie Reyes’ West Coast Martial Arts Demonstration Team. A Leading Asian Film production company, Golden Harvest, was searching, at this time, in Los Angeles for the next Bruce Lee. Rothrock’s forms and manoeuvres were observed at a demonstration by Golden Harvest and they signed a contract with Cynthia there and then. It was two years (1985) later that she made her first martial arts movie, Yes, Madam (or Police Assassins / In the Line of Duty Part 2) which also starred Michelle Yeoh. Proving to be a box office hit, Cynthia ended up staying in Hong Kong until 1988 doing seven films there.
Rothrock would go on to be one of a handful of western performers who achieved stardom in the Hong Kong film industry, before even achieving success in their own country. Producer Pierre David initiated Rothrock’s move to back to America, offering her a co-starring role with Chad McQueen in Martial Law, Rothrock’s first U.S. production. A ten year successful career in B-grade action movies would follow in movies such as: China O’Brien and China O’Brien 2, Guardian Angel, Honour & Glory, No Retreat, No Surrender 2 and Prince of the Sun amongst a roster of thirty films
Rothrock appeared in the television film The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion. She was also the inspiration for the video game character Sonya Blade from the game Mortal Kombat, though was given neither credit nor compensation. After the film Sci-Fighter, she retired from acting to teach martial arts at her studio in California. She made her comeback in 2012 with a role in the family film Santa’s Summer House, and in 2014, she starred in the action movie Mercenaries, (the all-female Expendables) alongside Kristanna Loken, Brigitte Nielsen, Vivica A. Fox and Zoë Bell directed by Chris Olen Ray.
Like her contemporaries of the genre, Cynthia is still going strong, busy with slate of movies either in the works or beginning production. She is dynamic, fearsome and as I’m sure Cynthia will tell you herself . . . she isn’t too old to quit kicking ass yet.