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If you’ve seen The Raid: Redemption, you already know how strong, and plain tireless, its star Iko Uwais is. In the span of 100 minutes, the Indonesian actor probably fights 100 opponents, and it’s almost as much of an achievement that he’s still standing at the end as it is that he defeats them.
But at the recent Los Angeles press day for its epic sequel, director Gareth Evans’ The Raid 2: Berandal, Uwais inadvertently revealed what may be his only weakness: interviews. After a full day of conversations about all of the ass-kicking he did in both films, he seemed as worn out as if he’s fought those journalists.
Amazingly, however, Uwais rallied in order to chat with Spinoff Online, and as we soon discovered, he was surprisingly rejuvenated by the prospect of facing new questions. With the help of a translator, he delved into aspects of the filming of The Raid 2 he hadn’t discussed before, including what challenges he faced not as a fighter or choreographer, but as an actor, and how teaching actors how to receive a punch is possibly more important than instructing them how to throw one.
Spinoff Online: Gareth said the car chase was the toughest thing for him to pull off in this film. What was a new or especially tough challenge for you in The Raid 2?
Iko Uwais: For me, the prison riot, the mud scene, because it was slippery. There was a lot of mud and it was difficult to walk, much less do the fighting. There were 120 people in the fight scene and it had to be synchronized.
Was there any way to cheat that to make it a little bit easier?
What is at the essence of this character, and what’s most important to you about him that allows you to build the stunts and physicality around?
I would have to consult Gareth from scene to scene, so I got inspiration from him. And every scene is different — [each] had different emotions.
Was there one in particular that you thought was the most important scene for the character?
This is the first question like this asked today. Nobody from like 10,000 fans has asked it, seriously. I really appreciate it – it’s a very good question, the one where I tried to make the audience understand this character. I was a police officer but I had to go into the mafia world and I had to hide my identity as a police [officer]. But there was one scene in the restaurant where I was playing two people at the same time. When I was pressing that guy’s face on the [grill], I was being Yuda, but then I also thought, this is not the real me. After all of the anger and everything, I realized that I was not actually a bad man, I was a police officer, and I tried to play that role and show the audience so they understood. At the same time, I could show the characterization of being a bad guy, and then a good one – and the grey area in between. That was actually very hard for me. And then there was another emotional up and down when I had to call my boss, and then after that I had to call wife at the same time. It was only one shot, so it was very challenging, because I had to switch emotions one right after another.
How much did you rely on Gareth for the emotional content of the fights – that there was something meaningful beneath each sequence?
For the characters, I asked Gareth for his advice, but for the choreography, it was up to me – I was the one who was involved with that. So everything that I created, the moves, were already a part of me, so I was there for the choreography. But for the emotional part, I relied on Gareth to tell me about what emotion needed to be played.
As choreographer and performer, where do you draw the line between doing something that’s realistic, and something that just looks great on camera?
It’s a good question, again (laughs). But I did have to involve what is good in front of the camera, because a short punch is going to look weak, but a long swing, although in reality is weaker, it looks stronger on camera. So I had to think about it and incorporate those moves, much bigger movements, so it could be captured better by the camera. Although in reality, it’s the opposite. But I can read Gareth’s mind now – he knows what I can create, but I also know what he wants. And Gareth already knows what my moves are going to be like so he can create the angles that would capture it – so we can work together very well. And I know that Gareth likes ones that involve a lot of elasticity, so I create those.
Does the film accurately assess the skill of your opponents? If you faced people with these abilities in real life, would they be as tough as they seem on film?
It’s harder in the movie than in reality. In reality, it’s better for us, because even if we fought people at that same level, the possibility of winning is probably better because in the camera, we have to execute the moves in [a certain way].
What advantages and disadvantages are there in training actors to fight as opposed to training fighters to act?
There are a lot of martial-arts teachers and a lot of schools, and people claim that they are very good, but I was questioning whether they were ever in fights before. Because if they just learned but they were never really involved in a fight, they would not have the reflexes or be able to react naturally – so when they’re involved in the movie, they wouldn’t be able to create the moves that are more realistic. If they have been involved in a real fight, then they know how to move, how to duck, from different angles and different ways. And they also know what it feels like to be punched or hit, so they know how to react. And that would create more realistic choreography. Nobody, not even in Indonesia, brought up these questions before – really good.
What does that require from you as choreographer? Do you have to acclimate them to taking a punch or can you just train them how to do the movements?
If they don’t have the right reaction when they get punched or they try to downplay it, then the camera doesn’t capture it [dramatically]. So if I got hit in the stomach, it’s how would I react. Hit in the face, how would I react. How to fall when somebody kicks you, I thought up all of the responses to those hits. It’s really important to know how you fall, so you don’t get hurt.
Ultimately, what is the greatest challenge with these movies? Is it choreographing the fights? Paying attention to your character? What is it that if you get right, everything else falls into place?
The most challenging thing is to create choreography that is different from the first movie and the third. Every movie is different, so it’s tough to make different moves that are not monotonous or repetitive.
How soon can you know what you’ll need to do for the third movie, when you’re in the middle of the one before it?
It depends on the story. If Gareth wants something more aggressive than the second one, then that’s what I’ll create – in line with the story.
The Raid 2: Berandal is playing in select cities.