Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Walking The Path: An Interview With Actor, Screenwriter, Fight Choreographer and Stuntman Chyna McCoy

Necessity is the mother of invention.  When you work within a system that doesn’t display the proper mindset to accommodate your ideas and talents, you have to make your own way.  Twelve years ago, Andre “Chyna” McCoy was Laurence Fishburne’s stunt double in The Matrix.  Not satisfied with that being his sole claim to fame, he set out to leave his own unique mark on the action genre as both an actor and screenwriter.  He has quietly built up a respectable resume for himself, taking lead roles in action films while developing his own ideas for the big screen.  Among the more interesting of his upcoming endeavors are R.L. Scott’s web series Touye Pwen and his own original creation Bayne.  Chyna recently took a break from negotiating a budget for his pet project to discuss his vision.  It took a lot of patience on his part to get this through this interview, but in the end I think he’ll agree it was worth it.  I’m sure you will too.  Welcome to the world of Chyna McCoy.

Scott Tre: Chyna, why don’t you give my readers a bit of background on you?

Chyna McCoy: What’s going on, Scott.  How’s everybody doing out there?  Welcome to my world and all the wonderful things that go along with it in Hollywood.  Pretty much the fight choreography thing stemmed a long time ago, of course growing up watching Bruce Lee, his movies were like the ultimate, as far as just action.  You could just see everything and he was getting it in.  As a young man that was very inspirational, so I pretty much found myself fighting all my friends and we’re running around cutting off broom sticks.  You know the routine (laughs). 
So after that I started putting together little drawings of characters fighting and that later lead into comic books which lead into going to the school of arts and so forth and then here today in Hollywood pretty much doing the same thing except I’m the person performing the choreography.  The rest of my life has been pretty interesting afterwards, but the fight choreography aspect of it is a challenge for the mental, because you got to remember all those moves.  So I give all respect to all the fight choreographers out there showing us actors how to do it the right way. 
Scott Tre: Do you think that wearing so many hats and having knowledge in so many areas (actor/screenwriter/fight choreographer/stunt man) gives you a broader perspective on the filmmaking process than someone who specializes in one particular area?

Chyna McCoy in TKO.

Chyna McCoy: The old saying in Hollywood used to be if you could sing, tap dance, and rap all in one show you’re a one man show.  It’s pretty much the same thing and it definitely gives you a broader perspective.  If your just a writer, you’re only focused on writing.  You watch movies, you try to learn the story, you try to give a three act structure, a good through line, and you focus on that.  That’s what you do.  You can write TV shows, novels, that’s just who you are.  But if you’re not challenged in other areas, then when those come you’re just kind of like a person with a house.  You say “Look, I only do woodwork.  I don’t mess with the plumbing.”  But being well rounded with all these hats has not only given me great insight on the industry itself, but it’s allowed me also to understand the business aspect, which is why they call it show business.  You need to learn to wear all those hats to put on a show but also at the same time you also have to learn the business.  So I think I definitely have become a part of the show business.

Scott Tre: Lots of action films emphasize the action to the detriment of the story and the characters.  Do you try to avoid this with the screenplays you write and if so, how do you go about that?

Chyna McCoy: That’s pretty good.  Putting together an action film, I think people kind of diminish the story because they rely heavily on the action, and they feel like maybe you don’t need a story because if you just supply people with the action they should be happy.  But then you have movies that come along, like for me Watchmen.  I didn’t really like that.  There was a lot of action but it wasn’t my cup of tea and neither was the film Sucker Punch.  It was just kind of, where are we in this movie?  Then you have, let’s say, Enter the Dragon.  Nice little story, had a good structure, had a good through line.  Bruce Lee goes in and does his thing.  At the end of the day, thumbs up, saves the day and you grasp the entire concept while enjoying the action. 

Chyna McCoy poised for battle in Red Herring.

I think that nowadays in Hollywood, a lot of action films suffer because people are I guess tired of the overwhelming special effects and everything they use to drown out the story and just try to get your money by bombarding you with these visuals and all this 3D and all this wirework and all this stuff that just gives you a headache.  As an audience we get numb to it and then we want story.  Like “You know, that was cool action but the story sucked.”  You’ll start to hear that more often in this day and age.  People are starting to want to go back to the way it was before, where an action movie had a good story, like Die Hard.  Awesome!  When you go back in those days you had really good stories. 
Scott Tre: You’ve worked with the legendary Yuen Woo Ping on a few occasions.  What is the biggest difference between working with him and working with an American stunt coordinator and fight choreographer?

Chyna McCoy: Culture is one of the biggest things.  You definitely have the Chinese, who have a certain way of filmmaking, and then you have the American culture that has a certain way of filmmaking.  For the Chinese, they’ve learned to visually stimulate you with wide shots.  Quick, push in and then back out.  But they never lose you in the story and they never lose you with the action.  Woo Ping was infamous for that.  He comes from a long line of legendary fight choreographers, especially his father who’s always played the infamous Sam Sneed.  Then you have American stunt coordinators and choreographers who, to me personally, spend a lot of time more on the equipment.  Like we have this twenty thousand dollar wire puller or we have this sixty million dollar gadget.  If you just hit the button it’ll slam you through a wall at 100 miles per hour.  And they don’t really focus on how to make good action. 

Chyna McCoy standing in for Larry Fishburne as Morpheus, who is being held captive by agents in The Matrix.

So nowadays if you pretty much watch action movies, you kind of get lost.  So you can definitely heavily see the difference, especially like Iron Monkey, for instance.  That was a great action movie that Woo Ping directed.  True Legend as well.  You just go down his credits and look at his action and the way things are shot.  You’re like “Wow, this movie is fantastic.”  Then you look at American filmmaking and you’re just like “I didn’t really see that punch” or “I didn’t really understand what was going on.”  So the experience for me, working with him on The Matrix, was a blessing.  It was awesome.  He actually managed to put together the fights, then he himself shot the fights as a storyboard. 
Then he wanted to make sure that he got the best camera angles possible which were mostly wide shotsThen every once in a while he would go in where if somebody put their hand on the gun and snatched the gun out, then he would immediately shoot back out so you could see what was happening in the next scene.  To experience that level as far as action choreography and coordinating in its entirety, it was really hard to look at action movies, especially American, the same way again.  The Matrix definitely became a trendsetter.  For some reason if you watch The Matrix one time you always remember all the fights throughout the whole movie because they touched you.  Each fight told a story within the story, then the movie told the story.  All of it was coherent as one.
Scott Tre: Do you feel that Hollywood learned all of the wrong things from the Success of The Matrix as opposed to the right things?

The cast of The Matrix.  From left: Hugo Weaving, Laurence Fishburne, Chyna McCoy, Carrie-Ann Moss, Marcus Chong, Keanu Reeves

Chyna McCoy: I think as far as it being trend setting and Hollywood learning anything, I personally don’t think Hollywood learned anything from The Matrix.  Especially with a movie that just totally changed the face of filmmaking, you would think that they would go in there and not shoot exactly like The Matrix because after The Matrix a whole lot of copycats came out.  So they didn’t really learn anything, they were just trying to copy something that was great and they failed miserably.  They could never get the action right because they didn’t have the same team…like the Chicago Bulls.  If you have the same team, you got Jordan, you got Pippen, you got everybody.  You got to have that same winning team.  So if they don’t have that winning team and they try to duplicate it, then we’re not going to have anything worthy as far as visuals or even story. I think Hollywood kind of dropped the ball on that one.  Today, The Matrix still stands alone on its own as one of the most trendsetting films to date.

Scott Tre: While you were working on The Matrix did you realize it was going to be this phenomenon, did you know it was going to be something special?

Chyna McCoy: When I was working on The Matrix, I was a baby.  I had no idea.  I pretty much arrived in California in 95, I was on The Matrix in like 96, 97.  I’m in Australia flying around on the bottom of a helicopter and I’m going through bathroom walls and dojo fight scenes.  I’m doing all these incredible things…spending pretty much my entire life there with the Woo Ping family, who took me under their wing.  But the whole time we were shooting I had no idea.  I was like “I’m in Heaven!  Wow, this is great!  I’m on a movie set.”  They’re building all these big freeways and all these elaborate sets, it was just amazing.  So now when I look back on all these fond memories I’m like “Wow, I had no idea I was really on something that life changing. 

Scott Tre: What made you decide to get into stunt work? 
Chyna McCoy: My honest opinion, I think what made me get into stunt work was one, I was a quiet kid. I loved action but I wasn’t fully aware of how to get into action…so doing stunts was the closest I could get to actually fighting…like when I did a movie with Don “The Dragon.”  It was like in this video game world and I was one of the people he had to fight.  That was one of my experiences doing stunts and actually fighting at the same time.  To me that was my feeling or my desire as far as going into this action fighting stuff.  I wasn’t really focused on the stunts, but I knew the stunts were a way of getting in and making my dreams come true.  So I wasn’t really big on stunts. 
Actually, now that you’re on the subject, it’s a funny story.  I’m on the set of The Matrix and I’m hired to be Morpheus’ double.  So I’m hired to actually go in there and pretty much fight against the agents and agent Smith and whatever it was that Morpheus had to do.  For some reason, I have no idea what it was.  Maybe it was the universe, maybe God was in my corner.  They could not get a stunt man to do the stunts.  Now that I look back I think also it could have been more of a business thing where a lot of the stunt men were like we’re stunt men and we don’t do non-union stuff.  Me?  I’m like, hungry.  So I get this knock on the door, and they want to talk to me.  So the talk was basically, “We need a stuntman, Chyna.  Would you mind doing this?”  So being fresh to the game I was kind of like, “Well, what am I doing now?”  He was like “Well, basically you’re doing the fights, but we don’t have anybody to actually do this stunt.”  So I was like “Well you got me.  I’m here, so let’s make it happen (laughs)!”  So I didn’t even know the two were separate, I just thought they were all one at that time.  So to me that’s the time I learned the difference between doing stunts and doing action fighting.

Chyna McCoy gearing up for Morpheus's Bathroom brawl with Agent Smith in The Matrix.

Scott Tre: At what point did you decide to make the transition from fight choreography and stunt work to acting and screenwriting?

Chyna McCoy: I think I decided to make the transition on Matrix Reloaded and pretty much after the first Matrix was over.  I think during that time after doing so much doubling for Morpheus I was thinking like “You know, I love doing this stuff,” but I like  being in front of the camera, I enjoyed the feeling.  I’m enjoying the action and I enjoy being able to express myself.  But this is not self expression for me, this is self expression for somebody else.  I think I was at that moment where I decided you know what?  From now on, I’m just going to go out into the world and try to face the acting world and let them know that not only can I do acting, but I also know how to fight on film.  That’s when I made the transition. 
Now during that transition, a lot of the times people would tell me “Hey man you got a good look but we don’t know what to do with you.  You’re not dark enough, you’re not Asian enough, you’re not this enough.”  This was long before the Vin Deisels came along and the Rocks came along.  And so these are things that I was going through as an actor trying to act in films.  I had already been writing.  At twelve I had written my first comic book.  I wrote my first screenplay out of frustration from them not knowing what to do with me.  So I started writing scripts that were tailored to my personality, tailored to how I fight, the way I want to do it, how I perceive this movie.  I thought: If I was in the audience, how would I want to see this film?  That’s what sent me over the edge as far as writing one script right after another right after another.  Then, the more I started looking at movies, the more I started going “This is horrible.  If I wanted to do a movie like this, this is how I would do it.”  Then I would do another movie and just keep going.  To this day I’m still writing films. 

Chyna McCoy in Project Purgatory.

Scott Tre: Tell me a bit about your project Bayne.  What stage of development is it in?

Chyna McCoy: Bayne is a phenomenal project.  Bayne was born right after Blade and The Matrix.  I liked the first Blade, but I was kind of disappointed because I come from the world of Japanese animation and comic books.  So when I saw Blade, I was like “Oh okay, a Marvel comic.”  I love Marvel.  I grew up on Marvel.  But the character didn’t seem to do enough for me for someone who was half human half vampire.  So once again that side of me kicked where I was like “If I want to do a movie like this, this is how I would do it.”  And then I wrote Vampire Bayne which is actually half werewolf, half vampire.  I didn’t even want him to be human.  So I was already into changing the game before the game came along.  With this I wanted to do certain weapons but I didn’t want to do guns because everybody was using guns.  I wanted to change the color of his outfit because everybody was wearing black.  There’s a whole lot of things I wanted to do with this character.

I started shopping the character and people were loving it.  I met some investors.  You go through this whole process for quite a few many years.  I recently met some good investors that actually green lit the project for ten million. So right now we are actually about to go into the paperwork.  Fighting, bringing in all the lawyers, who will get what writing credits.  So after years of cultivation of Bayne it is actually about to come into fruition, which will actually help me to pursue my dream as an action star.  But this didn’t come because I had a silver spoon in my mouth.  This was years and years.  Like I said, I got here in 95 and it’s 2011.  So you can see how long it took just to get to this point of even getting someone to even acknowledge one of my screenplays, which is a great action high powered vampire/werewolf film. 

Scott Tre: Tell me a bit about your company Dreams R Reel.  Will it focus mainly on action films or will its focus be broader than that? 
Chyna McCoy: My company Dreams R Reel will actually have a broader perspective, but for the moment it definitely is focused on action films because that’s where I was born, so from me will come action films.  But I also have a few comedies.  I have a bull riding movie that I wrote.  It’s actually a love story, pretty much.  I never thought that I’d write something like that, but I guess I was in one of those moods.  I want to pretty much cover the entire spectrum because with a company like Dreams R Reel, is somebody’s dream is other than action then I’m really not living up to my company name.  So we’ll definitely cover a wider perspective and a broader audience on everything: comedies, horror, action, sci-fi, thrillers, dramas, epics, action/adventures, whatever we can touch on with Dreams R Reel, we’ll do.  

Scott Tre: Tell me a bit about the web series you’re working on with director R.L. Scott, Touye Pwen (You can read my article about Touye Pwen here).

Chyna McCoy: Touye Pwen, that’s Portuguese from Brazil.  R.L. is phenomenal.  I’m almost speechless with this one (laughs), got me tripping over my words.  R.L. Scott is an awesome director.  He put together this webisode, it’s fantastic.  I play this character called OX (pronounced Oh Ex), but everybody calls me OX.  And I’m one of the generals who’s running half of L.A.  I’m running the south side and there’s another general running the north side and we’re going to war.  He’s been shooting this for the past couple of months and it’s just phenomenal.  He’s built an entire web site, great fan base, the screenwriting is fantastic.  The dialogue is on point.  He really thought this out before he went into it.  Every time he’d send us episodes, we’d read them and I’m like wow!  He gives you dialogue that I guarantee you if you were to take some of his dialogue and go into an audition with it, you’d land an audition.  As a matter of fact I think one of the actors actually did.  He landed an episode of one of those shows…I don’t know if it was CSI or one of those shows.  But one of the scenes of his webisode got the actor a job on a major network.  So R.L., he’s doing it.

Chyna McCoy as OX in R.L. Scott's upcoming web series Touye Pwen

Scott Tre: That’s about it for my questions.  Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

Chyna McCoy: Hollywood is a tough place, and there are a lot of people out here, they want to come out here and they’re aspiring.  Their dream is to be the next Betty Davis or the next Meagan Fox or the next Wesley Snipes or the next Tom Cruise or whatever you’re trying to be.  This city is tough and it’s supposed to be tough because Hollywood wants to know how long you will endure the pain and the sweat and the blood to make it as an actor or writer or producer or grip or P.A. or whatever.  Whatever you  want to do in Hollywood, you can do it, but it’s just a matter of are you willing to persevere, are you willing to have the tenacity, are you willing to be persistent and consistent everyday to get what you want, which is why you came here in the first place.  So a lot of people, they get jaded by Hollywood.  They get angry.  They want to go back home.  But in the end it’s all about sticking in your plan, putting your time in, paying your dues and I’m telling you, it will pay off in some form or fashion.  It just depends on how long, or if you’re willing to go through with it.  



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