Scott Adkins Talks His Latest Film One Shot, On-Set Safety, And John Wick – Exclusive Interview
The best action stars aren’t always the ones with whom the world at large is intimately familiar. For every 1980s icon like Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal who makes their way from low to big budget films, there are incredible martial artists turned action stars like Cynthia Rothrock, whose movies don’t necessarily find the same mainstream success but are beloved by action junkies. Another one of those actors working today is Scott Adkins, whose work in movies like “Accident Man” or “Ip Man 4: The Finale” is noteworthy, but isn’t necessarily something you’ve seen.
Adkins has found mainstream success appearing in “Doctor Strange,” and he’ll be in the upcoming fourth “John Wick” movie as well. However, in the here and now, he’s starring in “One Shot,” a film which, true to its title, is shot almost entirely in one fluid shot. Looper sat down with Adkins to find out the challenges of filming an action movie in one shot, what action stars Adkins thinks deserve more attention, and what he can tell us about “John Wick 4.”
One Shot and comparisons with 1917
How did you get lined up to work on “One Shot?”
It’s the third time I’ve worked with the director, James Nunn. On our second movie, at the end, we were talking about what we could do next. We both came up with the idea to do an action film all in one continuous, unbroken take. That was 2015, and it took us six years to figure the script out and to get the financing.
Honestly, when “1917” came out, I was a bit dejected thinking, “Oh, they’ve done it now. People are going to think that we’re just copying them.” But we really weren’t. It was 2015 that we conceptualized it. But now here we are, we shot the movie earlier in the year, and it’s coming out, and I’m really proud of that. I think James did an amazing job, and I’m really proud of the film.
“1917” is a period film. Something that immediately separates this is that it’s a modern film dealing with modern issues which, war is very different now than it was then.
Yeah. You can fire a lot more bullets too.
“1917,” technically, yes, brilliant film. It’s a technical achievement, and the way it’s shot is beautiful and lovely. But our film, we wanted to make it a bit more down and dirty and a bit more handheld camera. It was a different aesthetic that we wanted to do. We always appreciated the unbroken take. We felt like it really pulls you into the screen, and it doesn’t let up on you. Because there’s no cut, you feel like you can’t look away. It feels like it’s pulling you into it.
Why One Shot deals with international terror
What was the stuff that surprised you about filming in this way?
I’ve done enough one-take things in other action films to know what potential problems were, but something which everyone knows about, but became more of a problem than I anticipated, just because I was thinking about so many other things, I suppose, was the weather. If you are hiding a matching edit and it’s cloudy, then the next day, when you have to start going forward from that point, and the sun’s out, you’ve got a big problem. So you’ve got to wait, wait, wait, wait, waiting for the clouds to come in and cover the sun, because you need the clouds to cover the sun, otherwise you’re screwed.
The conversation in America concerning terrorism is more one of domestic terror than international. Why was now the right time to tell this story?
Well, what we wanted to do was do a one-shot movie on a prison island. And we came up with this Guantanamo Bay type of deal, where we’ve got to go in, and we’ve got to get the suspected terrorist and extract him, and all these other terrorists turn up. We feel like in 2021, 20 years since September 11th and Afghanistan and all that, we didn’t want to specifically target a group of people. So you’ll notice that the terrorists are from different parts of the world. And there’s some similarities about this and that, but we weren’t interested in going into the real politics, geopolitics, and all the rest of it. We just wanted to tell our story, and that was a device for us to be able to do that. So we’re not really trying to say anything, I don’t think, other than entertain the audience.
It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of heroes or villains in the story. Everyone has their flaws and their reasons for doing what they do.
Yeah. Look, there’s twists and turns in the plot, not everyone is who they seem. And there’s no mustache-twirling, stereotypical villains. The people, even the bad guys, they have their reasons for doing what they do, and those reasons are true to them, and they don’t consider themselves the bad guys, of course. Every character in there has got depth, and they feel real. There’s no mustache twirling or anything like that.
How One Shot is influenced by video games
Is there an action sequence that jumps out at you as being one that was especially fun to wrangle? I know every single action set piece, every single movie, is kind of a different animal.
We called it The Gauntlet, and that was the most fun and the part that I enjoyed the most, I think, which is towards the end of the film, where we had to create this set where there was lots of twists and turns, because if you’ve got a gun, and someone is down the street, and you’ve got a clear line of sight, you’re just going to shoot them from there, we needed to build it up and have corners where you can’t see behind, and somebody might be behind us, so that we create some inventive, fun choreography, rather than just shooting them across the way. And I think that worked out very well.
We didn’t want to make my character a superhero either, that he takes on 40 guys, and it’s no problem, like “Rambo.” We really wanted to feel like, at any point, he could get a bullet in him, and it’s done. And I think we succeeded with that as well.
There were a couple of moments that shift almost, they do that third person behind the shoulder, it’s almost like a video game, right? Was that kind of intentional?
[It’s] unavoidable. Because the nature of the one shot, and you want to see what I’m looking at, and who I’m shooting at. You just have to naturally fall into that position behind the character. So of course, we had to do that at times, but it wasn’t something we… we did look at video games for inspiration, for some choreography, but I don’t think we really wanted to pay homage to that. It just naturally happened.
Was there any particular video game that you found that was helpful, as far as just finding some of those shots?
There’s that one sequence which is with the knife, right? So you’re looking at a bit of the old “Splinter Cell” and some of those type of games.
Action stars who don't get their due
Renny Harlin said you were the most underrated action star working. Is that a nice feeling to have somebody say that about you? What does that do? Does that have an impact on your career?
Well, I’m happy to hear that he said that, yeah. I didn’t know that. And I completely agree. I completely agree. He’s a smart man, that Renny Harlin.
I would love it if you’d pay it forward. What other action actors and stunt performers that you feel like should be getting more attention than they are?
There’s a guy I’m working with at the moment, called Andy Long, who I think he’s like the new Jackie Chan, could he be given a shot. He’s an incredible martial artist, stunt man, performer. German-Vietnamese background. And yeah. I mean, look, there’s a lot of people out there with a lot of talent, but like you know, it’s a cutthroat business.
Scott Adkins weighs in on on-set safety
As a person that has done so much on-set stunt work, do you have thoughts about the safety of sets, about what’s happening right now with the death on the set of “Rust”, and about how, all of a sudden, everyone’s having this conversation?
If you’re doing dangerous stunts with cars, explosions, and guns, you’ve got to have somebody there who’s in charge of safety. It’s as simple as that. It seems to me like nobody was there in charge of safety for this particular thing. I don’t know all the details, so I shouldn’t go into it.
In general then.
Well, I do a lot of films where there’s a lot of fist fights, so yes. Do I get punched in the face by accident? Yes. Have I had some bad injuries? Yes. But I look at it, and I think, well, that’s all part of it. And if it was easy, everyone would do it. And I’m aware of the dangers of that. And when you start bringing guns and pyrotechnics and dangerous stunts, you can’t cut corners. And if you haven’t got enough money to do that sort of a thing, then you probably shouldn’t do it in that movie. And if you are going to do it, you better make sure it’s a big-budget film, and you’ve got people there that are in charge of safety. And even then, accidents are going to happen. Action movies, there’s always going to be accidents going on, unfortunately, because it is dangerous. But you have to have somebody there accountable for those things, that their specific job is safety.
How was it dealing with the weapons on the set of “One Shot?” Because there’s a lot of guns, a lot of stuff happening there.
We’re doing a one-shot, unbroken take. Obviously there’s magic cuts in there, but we’re doing legitimately very long takes, and we’re talking, we’re acting with other actors at the time. So if we had real blanks, we wouldn’t be able to wear the earplugs because we’ve got to hear each other, we’ve got to talk to one another. So we made the decision very early on that we’re going to have to go with the Airsoft and the Gas and have the CG gun flare. And so that was how we kept it safe. And we knew we had to do that, we didn’t have a choice.
You can do that these days, but I’m not saying that that should be the way it is going forward for every film, no real guns should be fired anymore, because you can’t beat the look and the way that looks with the environment, when a real gunshot goes off. But of course, you’ve got to have all the safety protocols in place.
John Wick 4 and the best action movies
Can you talk about “John Wick 4” at all?
Is that a thing that’s filming presently?
[It’s] still filming. I am done. And I will just say that I consider the “John Wick” franchise to be the current king of action film franchises. I think it’s the best version of a Hollywood action film you could be in. And it was an absolute thrill to be invited by Chad Stahelski to do it.
So you enjoyed it, you would say? In short, it was a good time.
I loved it. I won’t say it’s easy. I don’t know about “enjoy it.” It’s not easy, but I was very happy to be involved.
You’ve said in the past that you’d love to play the Punisher? Are there any other Marvel or DC characters you’d want to play?
No. No, not really. Not really. I’ve got my own sort of comic book hero, “Accident Man,” and I’m currently doing the sequel to that. Shooting it at the moment. So, I’ll just stick with that. But yeah, I grew up reading The Punisher and always felt like I could do a good version of that character, but you know, I don’t really want to say that because Jon Bernthal is so brilliant at The Punisher. He’s great, and I love watching him play that part, but I did always like that character, yeah.
Who are the action stars that you grew up watching that made you want to get into it?
Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Clint Eastwood, Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, all of them. Anyone that threw their hat into the action ring, especially the martial artists. But yeah, I made no secret of it, Van Damme was a huge inspiration when I was in my teenage years.
What, from your teenage years, from the formative getting into action movies and falling in love with them, is the quintessential? What is your favorite one? Jean-Claude Van Damme?
The film or the actor?
Is there’s a film in particular?
Well, yeah. I love “Enter the Dragon.” That’s the ultimate martial arts film, and Bruce Lee is so amazing in that one. But for Van Damme, I always liked “Double Impact,” but also “Kickboxer” more than “Bloodsport.” And “Hard Target” because, at that time, Van Damme was my favorite action star, and John Wu was my favorite director. So when they linked up to do that movie, the anticipation of it was through the roof. And I was 16 or something, at the time, so I was loving it.
“One Shot” is available in theaters and on demand beginning November 5.