Scott Adkins makes B-movies that show off his abs and his action-film moves. On screen he is poetry in motion, kicking ass in direct-to-VOD films he headlines, such as “Debt Collector” and “Savage Dog” (both on Netflix). But Adkins also appears—usually in supporting roles—in theatrical releases such as “Triple Threat,” which came out earlier this year, and Marvel’s “Doctor Strange,” where he had a fantastic astral fight scene with Benedict Cumberbatch’s title character.
While Adkins has a dedicated fanbase, he is not a household name—yet. But the actor and martial artist is poised for a breakout as his latest film “Avengement” hits theaters and VOD May 24. The film is a real kick in the teeth—literally, as a particularly bloody scene shows why Adkins’ character, Cain Burgess, has metal chompers. Cain, who is scarred, tattooed, and has lost his teeth, looks like someone set fire to his face and put it out with a shovel. Having broken out of prison, Cain enters a bar, the Horse and Jockey, to locate the man who sent him to jail. He is, as the title indicates, out for vengeance. It is served quite cold in this brutal tale.
Adkins is a killing machine in “Avengement,” taking on multiple opponents often in extended fight scenes that showcase his skills in bloodletting of all kinds (from punches to stabbings, to biting). It’s a gruesome film, but it gives Adkins numerous scenes where he gets to exercise shirtless, as well as pages and pages of dialogue as Cain recounts his experiences in and out of prison to a group of men in the pub.
The actor spoke with Salon from Kiev where he was on set for a forthcoming film, about “Avengement” and his action moves, his vulnerabilities, and what pisses this tough guy off.
You play characters that are often cocky, and are avenging a wrong done them, but you’ve also played villains (as in “Triple Threat” out earlier this year). Do prefer playing good guys or bad guys?
I like to mix it up. I do enjoy playing the bad guy because you get to say things normal people wouldn’t say and do [bad] things vicariously. Even when I’m the hero, I want to be the antihero—it’s more fun.
Do you have a contract that dictates the number of fight scenes, who you’ll fight, for how long, any particular stunts, the number of times you get shirtless (I lost count in “Avengement,”) and even the one-liners? What can you say about how you create your action star screen image?
There’s nothing contractually obligated. Maybe I should do that. I’m aware of my fanbase and I don’t want to disappoint them, but I like to stretch myself. “Avengement” is different from what I’ve done before and we’ve figured out how to keep my core base interested. That’s why I’ve worked with [director] Jesse V. Johnson six times now. He’s going to do different things and keep everyone happy.
Your fight style is martial arts, but your character often wields a gun. What observations do you have about the power of fists vs. firearms?
I love action films. I’m a big fan of John Woo’s ‘90s films. I got to meet him before anyone knew who he was. The gun can be an extension of the fist or a kick. Or it can take it to a different level—like “John Wick,” where it becomes another way to do a fight scene. We did a car chase in “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” which was like a car fight. “El Gringo” was my version of “John Wick.”
Why are you a fan of action films?
I don’t know the appeal—I’ve not intellectualized it. I grew up watching Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, etc. They have a beautiful dexterity on screen. I’m still a big kid now, but I’m getting paid for it. As I have grown up, my interests have differed, but I’m 42 and making the films for the 16-year-old in me.
You did an astral fight sequence with Benedict Cumberbatch for “Doctor Strange” which was impressively filmed. Can you talk about that sequence, which was fantastical, and a step removed from your more “realistic” fight scenes?
Yes, I was happy to be in a Marvel movie. And great working with Benedict Cumberbatch. He put a lot of effort into it. He had to do physical fights himself, and he did a great job. We did it with a green screen for two weeks. I was sick of green by the time we finished.
Cain in “Avengement” says he “learned to take pain.” You project a tough image on screen and are often cast as a loose cannon. In what ways are you vulnerable?
You do see a soft side to Cain—there are two moments where he’s with his mother. The progression from a naïve criminal to a nose-biting maniac is credible. He’s in prison and he has no choice but to turn himself into a “rusty nail” as he says. But there is a lot of vulnerability on screen. We made a film about an animalistic character, but he has vulnerable moments.
Cain spends considerable time behind bars. Have you ever done time?
No. I’m too much of a good boy.
Cain tells a long, involved story in a bar. Are you a good storyteller? You strike me as the strong, silent type, or a man who uses his fists rather than words to make a point.
That was what was great about the idea for “Avengement.” Jesse Johnson had this guy turn up in a pub and hold these men hostage. We could film in one location for a long time and I enjoyed the prospect of recalling these tales holding these guys hostage and then finishing it with a big action scene. The film was written by Stu Small. We’ve been best mates since we were 16. He’s brilliant with dialogue, and his language suits me well.
What observations do you have about your diet and fitness regimen?
I’m by no means an encyclopedia on the subject. I train hard. As you get older, you train more carefully. I will eat for 8 hours and rest for 16. It’s autophagy. Your body digests, and it sorts out on a cellular level. So, you eat chocolate cake for 8 hours—kidding—you can have one chocolate cake. I take it easy on my diet. It’s not the best for putting muscle on.
I know Jean-Claude Van Damme was your idol and inspiration. Are you looking to follow his lead, or become the next Jason Statham? Where do you see your career going?
I’m just Scott Adkins. I’m not looking to become the next anything. It’s nice to be inspired by Van Damme. All my influences are there to be seen. I’m doing my thing and people appreciate it—that’s great.
What can you say about working for Hollywood?
I would love to have more opportunities and big Hollywood fare. The opportunities don’t come up partly because I’m doing my own stuff, and they want me to be crappy supporting characters. I’ve not been given a fair shot by Hollywood. I’m not sure why, but I’m still waiting. The truth is that the low-budget films I make are frowned upon by the Hollywood elite. What I can do in three weeks other people can’t do in 3-6 months. To have that level of action and drama and keep that energy up when you are so tired. . . . Those Hollywood folks get snobby.