Alexander Nevsky, the Russian bodybuilder and proud member of the Hollywood Foreign Press, assembles another set of expendables for Showdown in Manila.
Alexander Nevsky grew up in Moscow idolizing the action movie icons of the 1980s. He fell in love with macho badasses like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Jean- Claude Van Damme. Heck, most of us geeks in our 30s experienced that exact same infatuation. Arnie said, “I’ll be back” and we’ve never stopped waiting for that next blockbusting blood bath. But for Nevsky, he didn’t just stick to the matinee mainstays. He also obsessed over the B-Movie kings and queens of action like Don “The Dragon Wilson (Ring of Fire), Cynthia Rothrock (China O’Brien), Olivier Gruner (Nemesis), Casper Vn Dien (Starship Troopers) and Matthias Hues (I Come In Peace). He went deep into the genre and discovered an army of asskickers to fixate on. He studied their films, he analyzed their path to fame, and he sought to imitate their success for his own.
Now, Nevsky has brought his idols together for his own stab at The Expendables. Based on his own story, and acting as producer, Nevsky brought on Mark Dacascos (Double Dragon) to direct this B-Movie super group. Watching Showdown in Manila, it’s joyfully obvious that Nevsky eats and breathes action movies. He has surrounded himself with his heroes, and never allows his ego to steal the show from them. During our conversation, we fall over each other in our shared enthusiasm for not-quite-Hollywood heroism, but we also discuss his role in the Hollywood Foreign Press, the most recent Golden Globes, and just how much he desperately wants to punch Harvey Weinstein in the face.
Showdown in Manila will be in theaters on January 19th, and it will become available on VOD and Digital HD on January 23rd.
Thanks for taking time out to chat with me today.
Thank you. Did you see the film? How did you like the film?
I just finished watching it about two hours ago.
Ah. So what do you think? Tell me honestly.
I enjoyed it. I thought it was very much in the spirit of ’80s action films that I grew up on, in particular the Schwarzenegger brand. You’re obviously in love with the same films I am. So, as the story originator and the producer of the film, what elements are essential to making a quality movie within this genre?
I’ll explain to you. First of all, thank you for watching it, thank you for supporting it, and I’m really glad you like it, because, to be honest with you, that film … It was like dream come true for me because I’m a huge fan. I’m a huge fan of action genre. I was a body builder in Soviet Union many, many years ago, and I just … I mean I just dream about being in Hollywood, and I’ve watched all that films with Arnold, and Jean Claude Van Damme, and Dragon Wilson, and Stallone. I watched them on pirated video because Hollywood studios never released them in Russia in ’80s or ’90s, right?
Oh yeah. Sure.
So I started bodybuilding. Martial arts first, bodybuilding second, I become successful in my country. And when I started to produce movies, I mean, it was a no-brainer. I wanted to make these types of movies. And, you know, all these guys … you saw them. They still around, and they look great, they move great. It’s just unfortunate that the studios don’t make that type of movie anymore.
And independent studios, there’s not much of them around, you know? The movie studios like before, like Orion Pictures, or Cannon Films, or, like, something like Roger Corman.
The true shepherds of our youth!
I mean, they don’t produce that type of movies anymore. That was the idea. Idea was to get all the action heroes from martial arts world together, you know, and just have fun. And actually, to get together everyone who didn’t make it into The Expendables franchise. Casper Van Dien didn’t make it. Cary Tagawa didn’t make it. We just did it all ourselves. And as a writer … I mean, Craig Hamann wrote the script, and he did it perfectly. But I was involved in the story, and Mark Dacascos was involved in the story, and it was his directorial debut, you know? So, Mark, he’s great martial arts icon himself.
I’m glad you like it, and I just hope that American audience will love it, because we released it theatrically in Russia and Eastern Europe. It was wide theatrical release over there. We’ve sold pretty much all the international territories already, and America and Canada is last market, and it will be out in limited theaters and on VOD and iTunes on January 19th, and I think months later it will be on DVD. And after that it will be on Netflix. So, I just hope American audience will watch it and like it, too.
Watching the movie, I knew you were a fanboy. It solidifies with this cast. I mean, you have Cynthia Rothrock on here, you have Don “The Dragon” Wilson, you have Cary Tagawa. Mark Dacascos is directing the film and appearing in the movie. I mean, these are … Like you said, it’s kind of The Expendables, but these are deep cut actors, and for fans of the genre, it really excites people to see these actors on screen again. How do you even go about assembling this team?
It was very easy because, for example, Don “Dragon” Wilson, Matthias Hues, Cynthia Rothrock … they’re all my personal friends, and they actually went to Russia to support my charity over there and to do, like, charity seminars. Free seminars for kids with me in Moscow and around Moscow. And I … basically, I promoted natural body building and they promoted martial arts for kids for free. So I knew them. I knew them for many years personally, and also, again, I knew them because of the movies. And by the way, Olivier Gruner, I don’t know if you remember Nemesis movie but it was-
… I mean, it was unbelievable movie. It was theatrical film in ’90s and he did a great job.
Yeah, he’s great. Nemesis is so great!
So, that was the idea. To get them all together as a team for Showdown in Manila. It’s an entertainment. It’s an action film. But we have a very strong idea in the movie that Russian, and American, and French, and German … I mean, those together should fight against terrorist. They shouldn’t fight each other, they should fight together. And actually, that was an idea when we basically assembled the team and did that in the film.
And also, you mention Casper Van Dien. Casper is an icon of action genre. I’m sure you, as well as me, you love Starship Troopers and, I mean, it’s unbelievable film he made.
Of course, yeah. “You want to live forever!?”
But he’s also great actor. He’s great actor and because of him we have a great comedy in the movie, and, I mean, we have all this buddy … buddy type of movie in Showdown in Manila because of him. So, to work with them … I mean to work with Casper, to work with Tagawa, to work with The Dragon … I mean Dragon Wilson is my personal idol because I did kickboxing before I started body building, and he’s one of the greatest kick boxers of all time.
So, for me, it was pure fun. It was hard movie to shoot because we shot completely in Philippines. We shot it in the streets, we shot it in the jungle. I mean it was … Everything is real over there. But it was complete fun and enjoyable for me because of that. Because they are all my idols, you know. And the team we got, I mean, it’s just a dream team, in my opinion.
When you’re conceiving the story, is there a particular action film from the past that you’re aspiring towards or that you’re influenced by?
Of course. And, I mean, it’s really easy to see, I’m sure, for you as an action fan that Expendables was my inspiration. Huge inspiration. And it’s just that … What Sly did, especially with the first one … Because in first Expendables, yes, Stallone had Arnold and Bruce for a little bit, and Jet Li and Dolph Lundgren, but he also had Eric Roberts, Gary Daniels, you know, Steve Austin.
So, for Sly it didn’t matter if a guy was in huge movies before or smaller movies before. It was a film made for action fans. And in Showdown in Manila we actually got together with team of great action stars who didn’t make it to Expendables for some reason. And yes, that was the inspiration.
And again, for me … for me, I can mention other favorite movies, like Magnificent Seven or Seven Samurai. I like more serious movies, but our film, it’s more for entertainment, again, as I said. It’s kinda … I don’t call it action comedy, but we have a lot of comedy moments in the movie because of Van Dien. But Expendables was the real inspiration for that one, I think.
You talked about your buddy cop relationship with Casper Van Dien, and it certainly reaches for that 80s aesthetic. Where did that chemistry come from?
Actually, it was very easy for two reasons. First reason, we’re friends. For several years, and we knew each other before we started Showdown. We were introduced to each other by Mark Dacascos, by the way. So, as soon as we met … as soon as we met, we liked each other. And I watched Casper’s directorial debut, and he watched my directorial debut, Black Rose, which on Netflix now. And, I mean, I am a big fan of his. So that’s the first reason. We were friends and it was easy for us to work together.
The second reason is, again, he’s great action star, but also he’s a great actor. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to surround myself with great actors, not just action stars. It was like that in Moscow Heat when I was acting with Michael York. It was like that in Treasure Raiders when I was acting with great, late David Carradine. In Black Rose, Kristanna Loken was with me on set, and Robert Davi. In Magic Man, I was with Billy Zane and Armand Assante. And in the … They all great actors. It was the same in Showdown in Manila. And Casper, actually … I mean, you should thank him for all the great, I mean, buddy type of things we had in Showdown in Manila because he’s a great actor. It was very easy to act with him. And he was very supportive, by the way, because he knew that I was producing, Mark was also directing, and Casper supported us a lot. He’s a great guy. And a friend, a personal friend.
And Mark Dacascos coming on to direct … How did he get involved?
You know, that’s the same answer. Mark is one of my idols and a personal friend. I know him for many years. We were supposed to do a movie in the begining of the 2000s also. Andrzej Bartkowiak executive produced Showdown in Manila, and he directed Mark in Cradle 2 the Grave. Great film, if you remember, Cradle 2 the Grave.
Oh yeah, sure, X gonna give it to you.
So, for me to work with Dacascos, I mean, it was a huge honor. And it was a huge honor to support his directorial debut. Because, again, I understood all the pressure because right before Showdown in Manila I made my directorial debut, Black Rose. And I wrote it, I produced it, I directed it, and it was huge … I was in the movie … it was huge pressure.
So, Mark … I knew Mark wanted to direct for a long time, and it was, I mean, it was easy decision for me. I wanted to work with him, and Showdown in Manila actually was the right project for that. And he did a great job, because we had a lot of challenges in Manila, a lot of challenges … and him, especially because, again, it was his first film. But he was also very smart because he surrounded himself with great professionals. Even his father, Al Dacascos, who is a legendary martial artist. He was a close friend of Bruce Lee. Al Dacascos and Bruce Lee played together in all this martial arts stuff in the States, in the ’70s. So, Al Dacascos went to Manila with Mark and helped with all the choreography.
And also, Mark was trying to make, not just an action movie for entertainment, he was trying to give sense of that idea you just mentioned. Like, great ’80s feeling, you know, all type of action movies feeling. And also, we had so many characters, so he had to give everyone, not just the screen time, but also time to fight, because-
Right. Everybody in the film gets their moment, which I really appreciated.
Yes, in the end, when we choreographed that long scene, we can see Olivier Gruner fight, you can see Cynthia Rothrock fight, you can see Dragon Wilson, you can see everyone. Mark did a great job, and I’m very happy that, you know, I produced his directorial debut. It was honor, and it was fun to work, for sure.
So, I know you’re also a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press, and we just had the Golden Globes this past week. And it was a pretty epic Golden Globes, as far as these awards ceremonies are concerned. How did you feel about that experience?
To be honest with you, I’m very proud to represent Russia at the Hollywood Foreign Press for 15 years already. Other thing is I am independent filmmaker myself, so I think it’s my duty also to support independent filmmaking. And Golden Globes is the perfect thing for that, you know, because you know how a Globe can affect the fate of the film-
… especially independent film. And one of my favorites this year was In the Fade. A German movie.
Yep. Haven’t had a chance to see that one yet.
Check it out.
Yes, I will.
Great movie. Diane Kruger. Great. She’s playing in German, and it’s a great, great movie. And there’s a lot like that. So, for me, I mean, it was pretty interesting experience, as always, but it was also very socially important, because … Actually, I did an interview with Hollywood Reporter last week, and I told them everything what I thought about Harvey Weinstein and all that, and then all this stuff-
Ok, yes, I want to talk to you about that specifically? I read that interview. You know, you said you wanted to physically punish-
Exactly! See, and I said I’d punch him last week. And some guy yesterday punched him, if you saw the news. Some … I mean, I saw it on TMZ. Some guy found him yesterday in Arizona and slapped him in the face. Not that hard, unfortunately. Yes, it’s just … to be honest with you … to be honest with you, Brad, I think it’s very important right now to talk about that. And of course me and my girlfriend, we were wearing black at the Golden Globes, and we supported the Time’s Up initiative.
And it’s so important to talk about that now and, I mean, to prevent … because there’s a lot of morons still around like him, you know? And hopefully they stop raping people, you know, because they will be afraid to do that now. It’s super important and, really, I’m proud that, because of the Golden Globes and because of my membership at HFPA, now I really can still support independent film, and that important initiative like Time’s Up. It’s a huge honor. A very important thing.
Do you feel like the culture is changing? Are attitudes actually changing in Hollywood?
Definitely. Definitely. I feel that … Definitely. And actually, it’s interesting for me to feel because, again, I’m from Soviet Union and I remember very that time when country change, you know, and when we got that Perestroika, and Gorbachev become our leader and change the country. What’s going on here, you know, I can compare because Hollywood’s really changing. And all these brave women who came forward, they really changed Hollywood, you know? And I love it. And I support it with all my heart. Really.
Well, thank you Alexander. I really appreciate you taking the time with me today. I feel like you’re one of my fellow geeks. You know, I grew up on all of this stuff and it’s really great to see that ‘80s action spirit is still alive in your filmmaking.
Exactly. Thank you very much for this work. Thank you for your support and for your interest. And you’re absolutely right, I am a geek. I am a fan of ’80s. And I am doing it myself. So, for all your readers, you know, for all of them, don’t wait for a good movie. Do it yourself, you know. Make your dream possible. Make it come true and everything. It’s all possible, really. So, to all the geeks … please say hello to all the geeks, and all my best wishes to them.