Ray Park and Martial Arts: Part 2
A REGULAR TOAD IN THE HOLE
by Dr. Craig D. Reid
In Part One of my interview with the rhapsodic Ray Park, he talked a bit about his first real speaking role in BALLISTIC: ECKS VS SEVER, how he got involved in martial arts and ended up quitting college in order to train for the martial arts tournament circuit in China, discussed the rude awakening about what the stunt industry is really all about after he landed a role on MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION, and how he landed the Sith Warrior role of Darth Maul in STAR WARS: EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE. In actuality my tape ran out just after I put Park on the spot with the following statement.
"Ray, it was reported in many magazines as well as Siskel and Ebert that they used a cyber stuntman for when you flipped off the motorbike looking vehicle. Is that true?"
"No," he grimaces, "that was me. The actual thing itself was a horseshoe shaped thing, like a Speeder, but I had to improvise as if I was driving it. So I did this thing as I was diving off and doing the movements. Of course it was CGI when I was speeding down the mountain for a bit. For that I had to do the dolly tracking stuff with me on it. I also had to show where I was actually sitting on it on wires and then come off it doing a front somersault with a half twist. Followed by doing it off an air-ram, pretending that I was sitting on it. I did a load of tests on this by running and jumping off a trampoline doing all these double twists and double fronts. They wanted one with a triple, but it was so hard because the cloak was heavy and would weigh down on my legs making it hard to twist quickly. But you know, now that you mention it, that spinning thing off the vehicle did look a little bit," he ponderingly frowns, "....off."
"So let the truth be told. But off course even after the amazing success of STAR WARS and MORTAL KOMBAT, Park would walk down the street and still nobody would recognize him, and in his next film, THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW, the trend continued because once more, he was covered up.
"Becoming a habit, aye?" he jokingly quips, "Had a long break after STAR WARS, didn't want to commit to coaching because that's unfair to the kids because every time I come back to my school, I'd have to leave. So for a long time, I just trained and didn't earn money. I signed with an agent for a pantomime, 7 weeks of work, little pay, but was looking forward to meeting new people, performing on stage and being back in Edinburgh. Then Nick (Gillard) called me, I haggled saying I'm doing a pantomime. I was just looking for a guarantee of work and not just a promise I might be on it, because if that falls through then I've nothing. I went down and rehearsed the fights he wrote for SLEEPY HOLLOW. Had a lot of fun on that film because I got to use swords and axes and he knew I'd put my little bit of flavor into it. It was all night work. The toughest thing with that film was taking the head off. If you've ever seen the "making-of" film, I'm in it rehearsing with everyone and I had to take the head off and it's really just a blue mask. Again, it was fun but I still just want to do something where I get out there and people can see me."
"X-MEN was the first film Park did where we got to see what he looked like playing the near-sighted, far-jumping member of Magneto?s Evil Brotherhood of Mutants, Mortimer Toynbee/Toad. His career was to take yet another leap. He was becoming a regular toad in the hole. For those not informed, that is a very popular English dish, and depending where in England you're from, basically sausage in dough.
"Park smirks, "Right. Well let's backtrack here a bit. There was a lot of publicity out for STAR WARS, and a week before the movie's release, I was in Denver, Colorado, doing STAR WARS talks, and met a lot of fans. Prior to it, my friend and I discussed about how cool it would be if they ever did an X-MEN movie. And so we joked, we could do this technique and that, (mimics fight techniques for Wolverine) then he could run on his claws, flip over. So in Denver, I heard they were making the movie and I told someone I'd love to work on it. So back in my room there's a message from Ross Fanger saying, "Ray, I'm a producer on X-MEN, can you give me a call?" I'm like, "What?" I mean, I'd just spoke on it to someone and he said he knew someone who is working on it and now 5 minutes later I'm on the phone. I phoned him straight away. He said, "Are you going to be in town?" I said, "Yeh, yeh." Of course I wasn't planning to but now I was. (laughs) So I detoured to LA, met up with Bryan Singer, Tom DeSanto and all the producers, and they're, "Wow, STAR WARS, STAR WARS, wow." I'm like, "What's going on here?" I mean I was just a small role. But apparently from the trailer they went ballistic before they'd seen the film."
"It was initially discussed that Park would double Hugh Jackman's Wolverine character and help out with the fights but that was nixed once Hong Kong action director Corey Yuen came along. So the producers asked Park to audition for Pyro. A month later they told him they had cut the character but that they'd like him to play the Toad. Yet even this character went through several transformations. Park details.
"They wanted to him more toady," he shares, "so at first, he had these big, distortion glasses that made my eyes look really big as well as wearing contact lenses. One gag they planned was when Storm blasts me away, my goggles fly off. At that point the audience sees it's not my magnifying glasses that makes my eyes look big, my eyes are big anyway. But it was a pain to do my fights and also my skin was green. But they did a load of tests, stuff with bowler hats, different hair, yellow hair, green hair and I thought they wanted the geeky eye look. I didn't know about Toad but when I found out, it was more like he was a hunchback. They didn't want to portray that from the comics, they wanted him more cool and hard, little bit funny (does some muscle flexing arm motions). So I showed them my goggles and started doing motions like stretching out and (begins doing weird, bobbing, neck strain motions). They really liked that. So they got rid of the goggles, and with the contact lenses and with black eyes I had amphibious looking eyes."
"But what about that 12-foot tongue?
"He laughs, "It was part special effect with an eight foot prosthetic tongue that could stretch. It's like at a dentist when they do a plate for your teeth to get a crown. They made a mold of my teeth, a gag mouthpiece I could bite on, which fit in my bottom jaw. It wasn't part of my tongue but was molded to my mouth. It was comfortable, with a long plastic tongue attached to it. They added gel to make it look slimy. Naturally I was hit with many jokes about the tongue, if you know what I mean."
"As it turns out though, in Park's eyes, the impetus for his Toad character wasn't the comic book but a Sammo Hung film.
"Have you seen EASTERN CONDORS?" he enthusiastically asks, "Remember the character that goes 'Wooo Wooo, Wooo,' and does those strange twitchy moves?"
"He is of course referring to the villain in the film played by Sammo's opera mate Yuen Hua, the one with the moustache and a fan and acted like Charlie Chaplin with Turret's syndrome.
"That's the one," he waves his hand. "I suggested to do that but perhaps to be a bit more cat-like, having these strange neck cringes. But at the beginning, I didn't know how Toad was going to be because they wanted evil but didn't want comic book and they didn't want Darth Maul. So I played around a bit more looking for that reptile thing, doing wushu movements (does straight backed, taut neck movements and strains) to make it more bird-like then translate that into a toad-like creature. They liked that. It's a bit more eyebally. He'd be laughing, serious, but joking (flashes wide-eyed serious, crazy looks), but in the back of his head you know he's calculating. He's being funny but a bit of a nutter (crazy, psychotic)."
"So up until ECKS VS. SEVER, Park is one of those actors who seems to be making a living out of playing villains cloaked in makeup. We're talking about 3 highly successful franchises (MORTAL KOMBAT, STAR WARS, X-MEN) and a one hit wonder (SLEEPY HOLLOW). But rather than belaboring the disappointment of ECKS VS. SEVER, I close our talk posing a few more personal questions, like how has film changed him, what is his philosophy of life and does he have any causes.
"Wow, that's a mouthful but relevant when you consider there's more to life than film. In terms of film changing me as a person? I don't think it has," he thoughtfully ponders, "I just get hungrier. I want to do something where I can do more weapons, show my real martial arts, work with great people and to be the eventual center of attention so I can be in there and just be me, because I'm a performer and that comes from my wushu background. Although in X-MEN I did some staff twirling during a fight, it's sort of like what you saw in STAR WARS. They just wanted me to do that, to get that Darth Maul moment going there for a little bit. Actually the pole is my toughest weapon to compete with, but somehow I always did well with it. I'd watch Jet (Li) doing that stuff and I'd go nuts with it. I used to put weights on my ankles and use heavy poles just to get faster because they (other competitors) were smaller than me."
"Park is quick to compliment the people he works with and to say the usual things about how cool or nice his fellow actors are, but when it comes to words about the martial artistry of people he works with, then his comments are guarded. He has the utmost respect for Hong Kong filmmakers, yet when queried about the abilities of other actors and their abilities, he won't say things like, "Oh, she's really good" unless they?re true.
"Philosophy?" he continues, "I don't know, I just want to do good, and have a good karma. I believe in karma and always want to do good and even be good to people who have been bad to me. I don't now if I really have a philosophy so to speak. I just want to enjoy what I do and take everything to the fullest and be content with myself and sometimes I have to be selfish to say, ?This is what I need to do,? but so long as it doesn't affect anyone close to me. I'm hard on myself. I look back when I was 18, doing all my wushu stuff...that's a big part of my life. The martial arts though, has made me more disciplined and taught me how to focus and to respect myself and have respect for others. In martial arts you learn to respect your seniors.
"I don't know if it's a cause, but I like the idea of being a teacher. Like with STAR WARS, I think I've provided positive output to those who've seen it. So maybe people can learn something from that character. I've often thought if I can teach someone, if someone can learn one thing from me about anything and they can take that away and it can make them a better person and make them achieve something, then I'll be content. So I hope that is what I can do."
"When asked if he had any final comments he grins, "When I do roles, I'm thinking in Scottish before I pronounce things. I naturally have a better Scottish accent, so one day, I really want to play a good Scotsman role...one day."
About Dr. Craig D. Reid:
Craig D. Reid is a writer, martial artist and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, CA.