Alain Moussi On ‘Kickboxer: Vengeance,’ Jean-Claude Van Damme, Hugh Jackman [VIDEO EXCLUSIVE]
Pro stuntman Alain Moussi is filling the very big shoes of Jean-Claude Van Damme in Kickboxer: Vengeance. Directed by John Stockwell, it is a reboot of the original series, and was released in September of 2016. The film follows the lives of brothers Eric and Kurt Sloane, descendants of a well-known family of martial artists. When Eric travels to Thailand to challenge martial arts champion Tong Po, Eric fails miserably, with unbearable consequences. This then sets Kurt (Moussi) on a path to avenge his brother.
Moussi has worked on acclaimed films such as X-Men: Days of Future Past and Brick Mansions, among others.
In an exclusive interview with uInterview, Moussi gives us an inside look on what it’s like to be both a stuntman and an actor.
Moussi believes that nerves are not only a normal part of the stuntman experience, but a useful and critical component.
“Nerves are important because it makes you aware of what’s happening, and makes you aware of the risk factor that’s there… If you’re not nervous, you’re not as aware, and that’s when there’s a risk of injury and when things go wrong,” he told uInterview. “You need those extra nerves to keep you on edge.”
No doubt that Moussi had some nerves during his first stuntman job, where he doubled for Henry Cavill in the film Immortals. Moussi described an integral lesson he learned on the set of his first job.
“When you double somebody, you have to create this chemistry where the actor knows that you’re there to support him,” Moussi said. “If you’re doubling the hero, you’re like, ‘Oh I’m going to be a hero!’ But you’re not. You’re there to support the dude playing the hero.”
In X-Men: Apocalypse, Moussi doubled for Hugh Jackman.
“I was approached by the stunt coordinator and Fox, who asked me to double Hugh [for Wolverine] … For me it was like, ‘oh my god, I get to put on claws? That’s it, you got me, I don’t need to know anything else,'” said Moussi, half-jokingly.
For Moussi, being a lead actor in Kickboxer: Vengeance was understandably a wildly different experience than being a stunt double.
“Usually I step in and do whatever’s physical…and that’s it,” he said. “This is different. The camera’s on you no matter what, whether you’re doing the action piece or the acting. I’m used to imitating another actor. In this case, I get to be like me, which is awesome, but at the same time, I gotta make sure I’m not just focused on the action itself, but I gotta make sure I focus on what’s going on with the character at the same time.”
Of course, starring in a reboot of a cult classic is not without its pressures. It is the sixth film in the series, the first of which was first released in 1989.
“You want to do it justice. And you want to make sure that people like it, because you know that you’re going to be compared, no matter what. Whether they like it or not, you’re going to be compared,” explained Moussi. “I was nervous about it, but at the same time, I saw it as an amazing challenge, and just an incredible way to start my career as an actor.”
I've been nervous, I think nerves is important because it makes you aware of what's happening, and makes you aware of the risk factor that's there. I think if you're not nervous, you're not as aware, and that's when there's a risk of injury and when things go wrong. You need those extra nerves to keep you on edge -- once you're on edge you're like watching everything, making sure everything's okay.
So I do get, especially on Whitehouse Down (?), it was a 25-foot fall, and we had rehearsed it. It was really intense. I remember being set up for that, I was like "ooh crap things could go wrong. If things go wrong, we could get hurt."
But it's ok, you gotta brace yourself, you rehearsed it, everything's good, the whole team's there, the safety's there, every precaution has been taken to do it. So we went at it, did it once, four cameras on, and that was the take. We did one take and that was it. But I'm always like that. Every time we do something that's dangerous, I'm always, I pump myself up, I keep the adrenaline going, I keep the nerves, because I feel like it keeps me aware of everything that's going on, and it keeps me safe.
Henry was great, and it was fun because it was my first job ever, on film. I was learning the ropes as I was on set, so I got a chance to do a lot of prep work with the team. I had a chance to teach Henry, so we met, we trained together, I was teaching him a lot of his scenes, and we just built this chemistry and you know, it was on set, he was doing his thing, as long as he could do it, as soon as it became dangerous or something that he couldn't do, it was like tag, 'your turn, go on, do it.' It was fun, we had a great relationship going on, we became friends. I think that's what it is, when you double somebody, you have to create this chemistry where the actor knows that you're there to support him. And that's important. In stunts that you get into it, you feel like you're going to be on camera, and if you're doubling the hero, you're like 'oh I'm going to be a hero!' But you're not. You're there to support the dude playing the hero. And as soon as you understand that, everything you do, your job is to make sure that this guy is 100% comfortable doing everything he needs to do. And at the time that you need to step in, you're reading to go, you do what you need to do, you step out and he's the hero. And I got that pretty quickly, and because of that, you build a nice chemistry. There was one scene specifically, where once we got rolling, it was so hectic, that he didn't have as much of a chance to come in and start rehearsing with us. So there was this scene that I had set up, it was a huge line of attack in the tunnel, we had to go through and hit and kill like ten guys or something like that, and it's one consecutive, the camera tracks all the way while he's doing this line. So he had done the first part of the line, and then this next part, he hadn't even rehearsed, because he just didn't have time, so we did the first part during lunch, he came over with me, and I started showing him the whole thing, and then we shot it. I remember him behind the monitors, and the first one was okay, the second one was better, and the third one--and this is tiring, he's got five. After five, you get tired. So he's got one, two three, and three it's like, ok this one's good. Four, he kills it, he totally annihilates it, everybody's up like, 'it's so great.' Then he went for a fifth one, but it wasn't as good as the fourth one. The fifth one was when it started to go down. And as soon as he's within the fifth, everybody called and was like 'the fifth is for the safety, we're keeping the one before.' And they're like "alright Alain, step in, do the back part.' So at that point, I come in, they put the camera behind me, and I start doing the next part of the line. So Henry was a great guy to work with.
Hugh Jackman's great, I was approached by the stunt coordinator and Fox, who asked me to double Hugh and I'm a huge fan of Hugh Jackman's and I'm a huge fan of Wolverine. So for me it was like, "oh my god I get to put on the claws? That's it, you got me, I don't need to know anything else." I was really looking forward to meeting Hugh Jackman. I had seen him on 'Days of Future Past,' because I had worked on that as well. But I was just visiting the set, visiting the stunt coordinator. So I didn't go ahead and say, "Hey I'm a huge fan of yours." And I regretted it. And here I was having the chance to double him. It was a fun shoot, we did three days of heavy duty action. Hugh was there for two, I was there for one extra day. As soon as I met him, he was the coolest guy. He was happy I was there. The stunt coordinator said that as soon as Jackson knew that I was doubling him, apparently he had seen a video, and he was super happy, and I was like "ok well that makes me feel good." Working with him was great, and he's a phenomenal actor, he's a physical specimen, he will jump into anything, and he's a happy-go-lucky guy, just happy to be on the set. So it's a pleasure to be around him.
Well usually I step in and do whatever's physical, whether that's from the back, from the side, or like a very wideshot, and that's it, you have that action scene and that's cut in. This is different. The camera's on you no matter what, whether you're doing the action piece or the acting, it's always on you. Everything sits on your shoulders. So it's different. I'm used to imitating another actor. I look at them, analyze what he does, and I try to just be like him. In this case, I get to be like me, which is awesome, but at the same time, I gotta make sure I'm not just focused on the action itself, but I gotta make sure I focus on what's going on with the character at the same time. So it's intermixed. So it is challenging, and it's not super easy, and it's definitely a different feeling than just doing the acting.
Nerve-wracking, for sure. It's an amazing opportunity and an amazing challenge, and I saw it that way, but you know, because Kickboxer is a cult film and it's got such a following, so you want to do it justice. And you want to make sure that people like it, because you know that you're going to be compared, no matter what. Whether they like it or not, you're going to be compared.
So definitely, I was nervous about it, but at the same time, I saw it as an amazing challenge, and just an incredible way to start my career as an actor. So I took those nerves and tried to turn it into excitement, and it was fun, it was awesome.
Jean-Claude actually called as soon as he got into the project. And we were shooting in New Orleans at the time, and he called just to say hi and see what I was doing, what scenes we were shooting, and just having a feel of what's going on on the set. We chatted a lot about the character and the movie and the script, and later we met in Thailand and it just jived, and the chemistry was great, and it was fun because he just wanted to go out there and do a cool movie and he was just happy to be a part of this remake, which was really fun be he just started the original, so it's very cool.
As a kid it was what was closest to home. It was classical jiu jitsu. It was a school that was right there, and I enjoyed it, and one of the reasons I really enjoyed it is because of the variety. In the training, we were doing striking, we were doing throwing, we're doing self-defense, we're doing joint locks, we're working on the ground, so I thought it was such a cool way to train because you're not just doing one thing all the time. You get to perfect different parts of the art, like you're fighting different worlds. So I connected with jiu jitsu because of that. I was really into striking, especially kicking, so I kind of took to that, and I really wanted to become a perfect kicker. I got really obsessed with kicking -- kicking, stretching, flips, all that kind of stuff. Then when I was 18, I got into kickboxing and Brazilian jiu jitsu. And as soon as I got into Brazilian jiu jitsu, it was a joint locks, and the idea that you're controlling an opponent on the ground, that might be bigger, that might be stronger, but because of your using leverage and positioning, you're able to master and control this person. Within the first year, I was doing a grappling match, and this guy was 6'6", 240 pounds. And I'm 6 feet, but at the time, and this was years ago, I was maybe at 180, so much smaller than the other guy, and I ended up choking him from behind. And everyone's like 'what?' And for me that was huge, I'm with this bigger, stronger, older dude, and I'm able to totally dominate. And I loved it. So I kept on going with Brazilian jiu jitsu. And now, I just trained Brazilian jiu jitsu, kickboxing, tricking, I mix it all up. And I love the idea of blending martial arts together. It's amazing.
Well it depends on who you're fighting. You have to understand, once you start training, you have to find your strengths. And for me, I have specific things that I like to do to that work really well for my body type. So I start with that, and once I get a feel of the opponent, how he moves, is he somebody who takes his time and positions and works on grip, or is he someone who pushes the pace? And based on that, I develop strategy. Am I faster than he is, am I going to be able to push the pace more, or do I slow him down to force him to relax? I take the first 30 seconds to a minute to analyze who I'm fighting. And once I know who I'm fighting, I adapt, and change my game to expose my opponent's weaknesses, and use my strengths against him.