Never Back Down 2: The BeatdownAn Exclusive Interview with Michael Jai White
By Wilson Morales
September 13, 2011
Out on home video (Blu-ray, DVD) is Michael Jai White’s directorial debut, ‘Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown,’ the sequel to the 2008 mixed martial arts film.
Ex-boxer Zack (Alex Meraz), talented MMA fighter Tim (Todd Duffee), bullied record store clerk Justin (Scott Epstein), and wrestler Mike (Dean Geyer) come from various backgrounds, but they all share one thing in common….. a passion for the “savage science” and quickly become loyal to their unorthodox trainer, Case (Michael Jai White), a brilliant ex-UFC Champion down on his own luck.
Teaching them about much more than fighting, Case prepares the young men for a competition called the Beatdown, run by local college kid and fight impresario Max (Evan Peters). When their mentor gets set-up by some bad cops, the young men band together to root out a traitor in their midst.
For White, who is an accomplished martial artist with seven black belts and also known for his roles in ‘Spawn,’ the Tyler Perry films ‘Why Did I Get Married? and its sequel, and the comedy ‘Black Dynamite,’ this gives him an opportunity to showcase more than just his acting skills.
In speaking with Blackfilm.com exclusively, White spoke about making this film, his upcoming TV series with Tasha Smith, and finding time to be with his family amongst his busy schedule.
What’s a good reason to pick up ‘Never Back Down 2?’
Michael Jai White: Because there’s nothing like it. It will be the best mixed martial arts film you’ve seen. I don’t say this out of ego, but it’s a fact. If there was another movie that dealt with subject matter the way we do it, I would admit that. I believe ‘Warrior’ is more a story about two brothers and a family drama, which I hear is excellent. The sport is a hot topic. We have some of the best people from the sport in our film. It’s worth seeing.
Having completed your first film, what are the joys and challenges of directing?
MJW: To be honest with you, I can’t think of any lows. One, you don’t get much sleep. Directing is such a rewarding experience. For me, I really got to use a lot of my faculties. I’ve always approach moviemaking, even when I’m acting, from the standpoint of a producer/ director. It’s just the way I’ve always thought. I’ve always looked at every layer of filmmaking, so directing felt natural to me.
How was working with the cast?
MJW: Aside from (mixed martial artist) Todd Duffee, who did a great job on his first film, most of the cast had worked on other films before. I got my dream cast on this film. Even though Todd had not acted before, he was so much the character organically, that it was almost like the role was written for him. With everyone else, Dean Geyer has been making a living acting and so has Scott Epstein and Alex Meraz. Every one of these actors can be a lead in their own martial arts or action film.
With this film coming out on home video and ‘Warrior’ in theaters now, do you think the mixed martial arts genre is getting a bigger profile now in the film world?
MJW: Absolutely! I feel that mixed martial arts are being presented in a more realistic light.
With directing this film, voicing the ‘Black Dynamite’ animated series, and getting ready to do a TV series with ‘For Better or Worse,’ how do you find time to be with your family?
MJW: I feel like I have sufficient time to have a regular life. Even if I compare myself to the average 9 to 5 employee, many of them don’t have the time that I have. I bring the kids to school. Many people can’t do that, but I get chunks of time to spend with family that a lot of people don’t. I try to look at the positive sides of those things becase when you break it down to hours and family time, I tend to have more of the latter than the average person. A lot of people come home and have less time to spend with their children because they have to go to sleep or do their homework. Being an actor or director is a fun job and it’s hard work, but I try to balance it with my family life. On a typical day, like today, I’ll be done with work by 4 p.m and have time to be with them.
In November, we’ll get to see you reprising your role as Marcus opposite Tasha Smith in the TV series ‘For Better or Worse,’ which is produced by Tyler Perry. How is it working with the two of them again?
MJW: It feels like I’m paid to have fun. I’m working with some of my good friends and we get a chance to really touch upon issues that you seldom see on television or you haven’t seen in a long time. We get to explore social issues and make mistakes and on top of that make folks laugh.
As opposed to working on films, are you ready for the grind of doing a TV series?
MJW: I don’t see it as a grind. I put everything in perspective. I used to make the white line on a freeway when I was doing construction. I used to be a school teacher. Now that was a grind. Now when you’re playing make-believe and pretending to be someone else, that’s fun. There are people who would give their right arm to be in the same position I’m in. I don’t see it as a grind. I see it as a challenge. If it can be done, then you can accomplish it.
Is Tyler giving you an opportunity to flesh out the character or will it all be left to the writers?
MJW: The way Tyler does it is that he trusts me more than himself. That’s just the way it goes. You can create a character and that actor’s job is to do justice to that character as much as possible. Tyler trust me implicity as I trust him. I don’t think he’s ever gone against what Tasha and I felt. If we felt something is not right, they would hear us out. We’re not coming from a place of ego. We’re trying to do the best job we can. Since everyone is on the same page, there’s a symbiosis that it’s always been there and that’s what makes it pleasant to work with. Everyone understands the job the other has to do.
What’s your next big project? Any possibility we’ll see you in Stallone’s ‘Expendables 2?’
MJW: I have no interest in that. I look at it and I ask myself how would I fit in? If there was a role that fits, then maybe. I’m going to be a fan and sit there and watch the movie. I have not read the script and if there was something for me, I think I would probably know that. From what I understand, there are looking to place a lot of story centered on Stallone, Bruce Willis, Nicolas Cage and Arnold Schwarzenegger. They have to service those giants. I can’t speculate on a script I don’t know anything about. I don’t want to do a film if I don’t have anything to offer.
Are there any talks for a sequel to ‘Black Dynamite?’
MJW: Absolutely. That’s always been our intention since the first one. We just want to make sure that we top ‘Black Dynamite.’