|Fist and sword
Monthly series curated by Warrington Hudlin
BLOOD AND BONE
Sunday, June 12, 3:00 p.m.
With star Michael Jai White and director Ben Ramsey in person.
2009, 93 mins. Digital projection.
Directed by Ben Ramsey. Written by Michael Andrews. Produced by Matthew Binns, Michael Mailer and Nick Simunek. Photographed by Roy H. Wagner. Edited by Dean Goodhill. Production design by Paul Luther Jackson. Costume design by Hazel Alonzo. Music by Nicholas Pike,
Principal cast: Michael Jai White (as Isaiah Bone), Julian Sands (Franklin McVeigh), Eamonn Walker (James), Dante Basco (Pinball), Nona Gaye (Tamara), Michelle Belegrin (Angela), and Bob Sapp (Hammerman).
Michael Jai White was born in Brooklyn, on Nov. 10, 1967… He started studying karate at the age of 8 and had already earned a black belt by the time he was 12. He has won 26 martial arts titles, including U.S. Open, the North American Open, and he was the New England Grand Champion. Michael made his screen debut in 1989 in Toxic Avenger II, and followed that up with appearances in action films such as Universal Soldier and Full Contact. His break through role arrived when he landed the title role in Tyson, a bio-pic about boxing great Mike Tyson that ran on HBO in 1994. He subsequently played Spawn in the screen adaptation (1997) based on the popular comic book series of the same name. More recently, White received critical acclaim for his work in The Dark Knight and in Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?.
Ben Ramsey has been working in Hollywood since 1996. Notable writing credits include The Big Hit (1998) starring Mark Wahlberg and Dragonball Evolution (2009). He made his directorial debut with Love and a Bullet (2002), starring rapper Treach from the popular hip hop group Naughty By Nature. Ramsey’s second film, Blood and Bone (2009) features an all-star cast of professional MMA fighters. Most recently he adapted the novel Jimmy Coates Killer for Cartoon Network, and is working on an untitled 3-D Kung Fu movie for MTV films and Paramount.
Excerpt from an interview with Michael Jai White by Kam Williams, The Skanner, October 12, 2009:
Kam Williams: Hi Michael. Thanks a lot for the time.
Michael Jai White: Hey, no problem….
KW: What’s your favorite Blaxploitation Era film?
MJW: It would have to be The Mack. The Mack is on par with any drama. I challenge people to see The Mack, and then watch Hustle & Flow, which is the same type of movie. But The Mack addressed much deeper subject-matter. You have to realize that when that era first began, those movies weren’t exploitative at all. Many were quite well done. The exploitation came later, when Hollywood realized they could throw very little money into the preparation of these movies and still have an audience that would frequent them over and over. … It was the first time that Black people were being shown in such a positive and strong, alpha male image. There aren’t any images around like that anymore today. If you really look, you’ll find very few unapologetically, ass-kicking Black males in existence in the media. But back then, Black stars were based on the same criteria as White ones. The leading male was attractive, smart, got the women, kicked ass, and won in the end. This meant something to me when I was quite young. To be a kid and looking up at images of Jim Brown and Fred Williamson and Billy Dee Williams as representative of Black manhood, how could you do better than that? Where do you see anything like that today? And Max Julien? I’ve chosen to name my child after him. Max Julien was an amazingly charismatic actor with a great mind….
KW: Do you still fight competitively?
MJW: No, but I fight with competitive people. I spar with martial arts champions, even thought it might not sound like it makes a lot of sense. I still do that.
KW: What interested you in making a revenge flick like Blood & Bone?
MJW: I received the script about 5 years ago from the writer [Michael Andrews]. After I read it, I promised him I’d get it made. And eventually, we got it done.
KW: Was your character, Isaiah Bone based on anyone?
MJW: No, this is a fictionalized character in the tradition of the old Charles Bronson films. Two of my favorite films of his are Hard Times and Once Upon a Time in the West. This a kind of a hybrid of those, and a throwback to movies like Clint Eastwood did back in the day, where you didn’t know quite that much about the lead character, and that was part of the whole intrigue.
KW: What was it like fighting against Bob Sapp and some of these other Mixed Martial Arts greats in orchestrated stunt scenes?
MJW: Bob has been a friend of mine for years. I actually used to train Bob, years ago in Japan. Later, I got one of my best friends, Frankie Liles, to take over because I was focusing on films. Now, Frankie is one of the most popular trainers in all of MMA. He’s trained some of the most dominant champions.
KW: How is the fighting we see in the film different from an actual fight?
MJW: A real fight is not as beautiful. Here, you have to keep the camera in mind and try to control the elements while making it feel organic. And clearly, you can’t really hit each other, but you have to make it look like you’re hitting each other.
KW: Have you ever participated in any of the sort of underground streetfighting depicted in the film in real life?
MJW: Yeah, there was a time when I was younger when fighting was my most favorite activity. Whether it would be on the street or in a ring, it was just the thing that I thought about and dreamt of.
KW: In Blood & Bone, there’s a streetfight with a $5 million purse. What’s the biggest prize you ever saw for a real streetfight?
MJW: I don’t quite know. Some clubs will shut down and have almost like a rave party with MMA type of fighting. That’s gone on for years. And usually the fighters are paid a specific fee. I have friends who’ve been offered as much as 10 grand.
KW: What path did you take to Hollywood?
MJW: I bounced around a lot because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I attended U. Conn and ended up teaching school and doing some acting on the side until I realized that I owed it to myself to pursue the acting seriously to see if I could do it.
KW: How do you keep yourself in such great physical shape?
MJW: If I had a religion, taking care of yourself and training would be the cornerstone of it.
KW: What type of diet and exercise regimen are you on?
MJW: It changes constantly. I never liked much junk food. And I like to feel good. So, I pretty much eat healthily. But that’s my preference. If you handed me some cake, I wouldn’t enjoy it. It’s not like it’s a discipline thing, since I happen to like to eat things that are good for you.
KW: How did you meet your wife, Courtenay. She’s a doctor, right?
MJW: Yeah, we’re cut from the same cloth. She works out even more than I do. She’s often in the gym twice a day. She gets up at 4:30 in the morning to work out. In fact, we met in the gym. So, that was something about her life that was very similar to mine. And there are many other ways in which we’re compatible.
KW: I saw that you recently finished shooting the sequel to Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married?. How did it go?
MJW: Yeah, that reunion was a lot of fun. We were all good friends on that set, and I think it shows in the performances.
KW: Is there any question no one has ever asked you, that you wish someone would?
MJW: [Hesitates] Wow! That one snuck up on me? I’ve never thought about that. Yeah, no one’s ever come up to me and asked, is this your $10 million I just found on the ground?
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