Interview with Actor Alain Moussi on Kickboxer: Vengeance

From breaking into the business as a stunt double for some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, to starring in the remake of Kickboxer with his childhood hero, Jean-Claude Van Damme. We catch up with one of action movies’ freshest stars, Alain Moussi, to find out more.

Read the review of Kickboxer: Vengeance

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I watched Kickboxer: Vengeance this morning, and it’s a real throwback to the classic 80s martial arts movies. And your first lead role, how did it feel being the star this time around, as opposed to working as a stunt performer?

Oh man, it feels great. You know what, that’s what I always wanted to do, so you know every step of this process has been nothing less than a dream, it has been really cool getting involved, the pre-production and everything and then to get to shoot the movie and to actually take on this role. Not only the action but to be doing everything, all the acting as well and to be doing the character. It’s putting everything together to me and I really really enjoyed it, it was so much fun.

I guess if you are waiting for it your whole life it is an opportunity you have to grasp I suppose.

Absolutely. I had been doing the stunt doubling or whatever it used to be, and I have been watching these guys whether it was Henry Cavill or Hugh Jackman or whoever doing their thing and I’ve always admired that and that’s exactly where I wanted to be.

As a stunt performer, you have had the pleasure of working with such acting talents as, Jason Clarke, Aaron Eckhart and Hugh Jackman. What were the biggest things you took away from working with these guys, and did you try to apply anything your learned from them, while working on Kickboxer?

When you are a stunt performer on set you are an observer, right, so every time I have doubled somebody I just try to pick up all their mannerisms and the little things they do, in order to put that into performance when I am doing the actual stunt. Obviously, the closer you are to who they are, the better you do. So I have always been very observant in watching the way they act, when they are on screen and how they are able to be so natural. You know, sometimes it’s hard to be very specific, it’s not like I have deep phone conversations about exactly what their process is, I just observed it a lot. Every time I have worked on set whether it was these guys or with people like Jared Leto, I just try to pick up what they do, I look at the screens and the monitors and really try to see how they are doing their things. So I don’t know whether it is anything very specific but sometimes, let’s say I have a scene, I can imagine a similar scene that I observed another actor doing. Well then, I just reflect on what state they were in in that scene, then try to use a bit of that in what I am doing, almost like as a reference. I have a frame of reference sometimes and in conjunction with the discussions I have with the producer and the director it kind of puts it all together. I learn as I go. (laughs)

The fight scenes in Kickboxer really felt like a gladiatorial battle, the punches seemed to hit, and every kick had an impact, there was a real point to the choreography. How were the fighting scenes planned, and did you have much of a say in the direction, due to your stunt and martial arts background?

I did. Based on just the style we did, I had a lot of input in that because I am a Kickboxer, so for me it had to be dominate striking as opposed to what the trend is right now, which is to make it MMA. And as much as I can enjoy that, I mean that’s not our movie. Our movie is striking, it’s Kickboxing, it’s Karate based, its Muay Thai. That’s what it needed to be, so that’s number one. Number two, I was looking for more hard impact as opposed to acrobatic prowess. Again, it’s not the character, it’s not what we are doing. The idea is these guys are about hurting each other, not showing off in front of the other guy you know. I felt that in this world that’s what it needed to be, I needed to feel every hit, and we need to see the falls and see those hits hit, you know, actually make impact. So that was a huge part of our discussion before they got started designing the fights.

I read that Kickboxer was one of your favorite films growing up. Obviously you wanted to create your own version of Kurt in the remake rather than solely imitate what Van Damme did. Did you make a conscious decision to try to approach the character differently at all?

I totally did. I don’t remember the last time I saw the original, it was a while ago but I definitely did not watch it again. I didn’t want to see it, I didn’t want to watch. I really wanted to put a lot of myself into this character. I felt talking to my coach, talking to the producer, it would be the only way to make it as authentic and as natural as possible for me, being a rookie. I mean I will admit, I am a rookie actor, I’m not a seasoned theatre actor or anything, I am a rookie, and I am learning and working hard at it. But talking especially to our producer Dimitri Logothetis, he’s got tons of experience and he was like, “I need you to be you, I need you to be as natural as possible.” And the only way to do that for me is to put as much of myself into this character as I can. Does that make sense? So that was my approach to the character and I did not want to be like, okay, well, in this scene, this is how Van Damme acted, this is how he looked, maybe I should put some of that. It was totally the opposite, our references for this character were totally different than that, it was something else. You know, Steve McQueen was one of my references, I went totally another direction in the leading man reference. Because the martial arts part of it was there and to be honest, if you look at martial arts films today, it is way beyond what they were doing in the 80s, as far as choreography and the style, the elements, the moves, everything is very different, it is modernized. And the part that I really enjoyed in the 80s films is the fact that there is a lot of emphasis put on impact. And not necessarily doing these long drawn out sequences but instead really showcasing the moments. I thought that was a huge strength of those films, so my idea was to blend both of those into the martial arts game. So then you have to look at the leading man part and what are the right references for me to have, in order to put as much of myself and give this character a better twist than the original. That’s the only way to be unique and that’s my goal.

Kurt and Eric Sloane are both trained by Master Durand. What do you think it was that Kurt had that allowed him to succeed where his brother failed?

I feel that Kurt was an underdog. Kurt was a guy, that, if you think of the story of these two guys, they both grew up in the martial arts world; except one of them was a superstar, a natural talent and the other one maybe was not. In my mind one was pushed because he was an automatic superstar. And Kurt is the guy who didn’t mind being the shadow, didn’t mind being the sparing partner. Because he didn’t need the limelight as much, whereas Eric was that guy, he was the guy who was the star, he was in front. So they both took their positions naturally, one was the brother helping to be the backbone of the whole strategy, the coach, and the other one became the superstar and the front man. Now what made Kurt be who he needed to be in the end was the kind of motivation he had. I think he had way more to offer than anybody ever gave him credit for. So to be put in this position now, it allowed him to really start reaching his whole potential. I think that’s what he needed; I think he needed a way to be pushed to reach his full potential and to dig deep. He never had that before because he never had to, he had somebody in front. So now he is forced to pick that position and to really see what he is made of. I think that’s what he discovered, what he is really made of.

That’s interesting because in a way, that almost mirrors where you came from, as a stunt double. Slightly behind the limelight and being thrust to the center stage.

Wow, nobody has ever said that before, that is really interesting, thank you. It’s really cool, it is though, you know, you’re the guy behind and all of a sudden you’re the guy in front. You have to be pushed and there you are. You’ve got to do or die.

The movie is filled with cross over stars, Dave Bautista was in the WWE, Gina Carano well known for MMA, Georges St-Pierre from UFC, you yourself are trained in Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and mixed martial arts. Have you ever been tempted by the UFC yourself?

Well you know, at some point, I kind of had a decision to make. I was training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA in the 90s, in the late 90s. And at some point as the UFC was really growing, it was the draw. I was good at it, I was really good at every part of it. The striking game, the grappling game, I was really talented at both. Now to establish what you really want? You know a lot of people were pushing me towards the MMA game. They said you should start training for this; you could be really good at this. I’m like okay, but is it what I really want? And what I really wanted to do was to work in film. So I felt that, the only way to be successful, in the fight game, is to dedicate your whole life to it. You can’t be half way in, half way out. You have to be all the way in, to be really successful and to be one of the best. And to me, every time I push towards something, it was to become the best at it. And I was either going to be fully focused on fighting professionally or fully focused on becoming, whether it was an action star, or a stunt man, to be in film, to work in the film industry. And I chose film and you know what? I am really happy I did. I can’t say I wasn’t interested; I trained with Georges St-Pierre before he became a champ. That’s where I met him first before he became champion and you know what, it was definitely something I was interested in. But I am happy I picked what I picked.

Your body will thank you in the long run.

Oh god yeah, it is a different type of pain, my face will thank me a lot too.

You are set to star in at least two other Kickboxer movies. Given what happens to the character of Kurt in the sequel in the original series, will we be following a completely different story from here on out? And did you enjoy a greater sense of freedom in Kickboxer: Retaliation because of that?

Absolutely I did, that was one of my favorite things about shooting Retaliation. The fact that now we are following Kurt Sloane on this brand new continued journey, which we never saw before. So now we are in fresh territory, fresh content, and we got to explore all kinds of stuff. For me one of the interesting parts, as an actor is the fact I get to follow this character on this journey and grow. Kurt Sloane changes in Retaliation and he will change again in the next film as well. To me that’s really interesting because this guy evolves, he is evolving constantly and that’s a challenge. I love that challenge as an actor, to really bring him forward into something new, so I thought was really cool. And the fact that you have a fresh story now that it disconnects from the original. It was great to do the remake but now it’s also great to be doing some really fresh content and to explore this brand new story. I’m thrilled about Retaliation, I can’t wait to see a rough cut of it which will be kind of soon actually. We did some really cool stuff in Retaliation and you know what, it is rare that you get sequels that surpass the first film. In our case, in Retaliation, I’m sure in Retaliation, if fans enjoyed Vengeance, they will go crazy for Retaliation. We pushed the envelope in every way and it was so much fun.

I look forward to the sequel then, I believe Ronaldinho and Mike Tyson are in the new one?

Oh yeah, it was really cool, we had new fighters in there, we had Babalu (Renato Sobral) we had Shogun (Maurico Rua), Roy Nelson. Mike Tyson was such a pleasure to work with, amazing, amazing dude, I have been following his career so that was fun. Obviously Van Damme is back so that’s awesome and we had a brand new bad guy and this bad guy, like talk about being, it doesn’t get any bigger than “The Mountain”. The Mountain (Hafþór Björnsson) yeah you know, he’s 6 foot 10, 397 pounds. So this battle between David and Goliath in the end, is insane.

As someone who is new to acting, do you think being attached to a franchise like Kickboxer, in a genre you are comfortable with, is a good place to hone your craft, or are you anxious to experiment in other genres?

I think it is a great place to hone my craft. Honestly, it is a comfort zone for me, it is a place I understand. I think it is because I am so comfortable in that environment; I get a lot of room to grow. There is a lot of things I don’t have to worry about so I think it allows me to focus on very specific things in order to improve my acting game and that’s what I am working towards. I also believe that I think you need to get an audience and being in action, that’s what I am good at. I believe that doing multiple films in this genre will build this fan base for the genre, for me, for everything that we are doing in this genre. So I really believe that’s where I need to be first for multiple films before I venture out into other things. Not that I am not interested by the way, I would love to do comedy, I would love to do that, or other things. But I love doing action and I am good at it, so why not keep on going. There is a thing we are doing next year actually, I mean other than doing Kickboxer 3 and it is great to be doing a martial arts genre film. But I have different things in development right now that are really going right into the action genre. Not necessarily the fight action but really expanding into other action roles so I am really looking forward to that.

What directors would you like to work with, if you had the opportunity in the future?

There are so many great ones, I mentioned different people before. You know who would be really fun if we are looking at martial arts action, Gareth Evans. He is a really good storyteller too. That’s the thing, he is great at action but he’s really great at story, I think I would really enjoy working with him. That is somebody who is on the list. I mean, I would love to do a movie with Gareth Evans. And right now, honestly if I was to say other people, I would go with David Leitch and Chad Stahelski who did John Wick. David actually is about to do Deadpool 2, which is really cool, and they all come from a stunt background. That’s what I find incredible, because they were stuntmen and now they are some of the hottest action directors that are out there right now. So I would love to work with them.

You starred in the remake of one of your favorite movies, with one of your favorite childhood actors, Jean-Claude Van Damme. What is your next set of goals that you would like to accomplish over the next few years?

Well, right now I really want to get through this Kickboxer Franchise and keep on doing movies and action films. But honestly if you look at the next few years, I would love to be doing some studio films. That would be ideal to be doing some major studio films would be amazing. Whether it is major acting films or whether it is a superhero movie or whatever it is. I love the independent game as well, it’s awesome, we are having a great time making films. But obviously the scope of the studio films just opens up greatly. So I would love to see what we could do with that kind of a budget.

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Originally published on Dec 2, 2016 for Flavourmag.

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