In “Fighting”, former NFL player cum actor Brian White plays a bare-knuckle street-fighter who ultimately comes to blows with the film’s central character, a down-on-his-luck New Yorker (Channing Tatum) who’s prepared to take a walloping if it means getting to eat that given night. CLINT MORRIS chats to White about making the transition to acting; sharing scenes with Oscar Nominee Terrence Howard; and his eagerness to wear some bruises all in the name of art.
Looks like you can handle yourself in a fight there, Brian?
Yeah I do alright (Laughs). I’m an athlete, I played football for the NFL, and I do MMA, so I like to think I can handle myself. I’m definitely a better street-fighter now after [Fighting].
You say you played football?
I use to play for the New England Patriots. I then played professional Lacrosse – I know you have Lacrosse there in Australia – and then I ended up on Wall Street for a short stint. Definitely wasn’t feeling that, so that led me to Hollywood in 2000.
I believe I met you at the Hollywood premiere for “Mr 3000” starring the late, great Bernie Mac
Yeah, that was my very first studio film!
That was a good one to start with – getting to work with Bernie.
He was so great. It was great to be able to see someone at the top of their career that was so humble; he showed me that how you find success is by not changing. I was so lucky to have crossed paths professionally with him in this lifetime – he was one-of-a-kind.
How did you get involved in “Fighting”?
Channing Tatum. Channing is a buddy, and his wife [Jenna Dewan] and I have the same manager. I met Channing at the Step Up premiere, and we became buddies. We both have a dance background and an athletics background, so clicked straight away. I came in to do a chemistry reading with him [on Fighting] and we really felt like kindred spirits. We perfectly fit the bill of these two guys that could’ve been brothers in another life but because of the circumstances of their past were mortal enemies.Â Channing really went in to bat for me, and I really owe him a lot of gratitude, and thanks, for helping me land the role.
It seems to be that the movie isn’t just about â€˜fighting’ per say – in a physical sense, but that everyone is fighting to get somewhere, or to be something?
Yeah, it’s a metaphorical thing. Every character has something that they’re fighting for – whether it be respect or just a space in this world to call their own. In a city like New York, where the film is set, that’s what everybody is doing – they’re fighting for their ten square feet to call their own. Some in the movie are fighting for money or self-respect, whereas Channing’s character is trying to fight the haunting memory of his past. Everyone is fighting for something, and I think Dito [Montiel, the director] did a great job using that metaphorically AND literally.
And literally there were some great fights, too. How many stuntmen were used in the making of this movie?
Every single frame, every bump and bruise, is real. Channing and I are the only non-professional fighters in the movie. The first guy you see fighting, Jerry Brown, is now a professional boxer; Cung Le is the current middleweight champaion, and he’s one of the top 5 fighters in the world. Not one frame of the film was a stunt double.
So I take it there were a few trips to the hospital, then?
Channing actually broke his nose. His nose just exploded! There was blood everywhere!
I got a concussion. That last scene where he’s trying to throw me through that glass window to put me down? The window didn’t break! I was asleep in seconds. But they just put some smelling salts up your nose and wake you back up. Once I was focused again, they’d go onto the next take.Â With Channing they just stuck some spoons up his nose, straightened the bone, then put some cotton up there… and he was ready to go for the next take. It was definitely not for the faint hearted. The majority of actors out there don’t do their own stunts on that level – but I’ve worked with Jason Statham before, and I’m a big Jackie Chan fan, and the big dogs like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise do it, so I figured that if I can add value to a movie by taking a couple of shots, and getting a few bumps and bruises, then I’m all for it.
And how much preparation and training did you do before the movie started up?
I did a film in China with Holly Valance – [like you] an Australian – a few years ago called D.O.A, and the director Corey Yuen got me into Tae Kwan-Do and Martial Arts. And I’ve been doing boxing and wrestling for the past four years. But before the movie we had a real boot camp with Mike Gunther – who is the stunt co-ordinator on this movie, and who worked on The Matrix and the Die Hard movies. We spent about six weeks with him just brushing up on martial arts mainly. Then the last week of that was working with Channing. Most of the fight scenes weren’t choreographed – well, they were Â choreographed in terms of knowing how to get from point A to point B, but the rest of it was kinda dirty fighting; boxing and sparring – and they’d just let us go.
Channing looks like he could be the real deal, too?
Channing is, I believe, a black belt in Karate? It might not be a black-belt, it may be a brown belt, but he’s pretty high-up. He’s also a gymnast, an athlete, and obviously a dancer. He’s definitely got the skills for all that kinda stuff. We had to make it look like we were on Cung Le’s level – because guys like him were on a whole other level – and did what we could to get there.
It’s a storyline that we’ve seen a few times before – Van Damme’s “Wrong Bet” comes to mind – but Dito seems intent on cramming as much story, and character, into proceedings as he does biffo.
I think the studio was a bit nervous at first because it’s not the kind of film Dito – who of course made A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints [also with Channing] – is use to making. But he was going to put his touch on it, and they suddenly liked the sound of it.
I guess something had to be in it – I mean, Dito got Terrence Howard onboard; not a shabby actor by any means!
Oh yeah. Dito is one of the best there is. He’s so great at telling New York stories, and telling of very personal relationships – especially between men. I love what he did with the relationship between Terrence and Channing’s characters. And it was just wonderful to be able to shoot on the streets, and be outside, and just take it all in, because New York is just a one-of-a-kind city. Dito is the master at capturing it on celluloid.
Tell me about working with Terrence?
Terrence is a Genius – he’s a mad scientist! He’s one of the hardest and most intense guys I’ve ever met, but he is brilliant at what does. This character was a real departure for him – and I should know, as a huge fan, I’ve seen most of the stuff he’s been in – it’s a mild, soft-spoken, understated character. That’s not what we know Terrence for – this is not Hustle & Flow. Â I think that’s the mark of an Oscar nominee – trying new things, getting outside of your comfort zone, and challenging yourself as an artist. During the process of the filming – which lasted about four months – Terrence didn’t break character; 24-7 he was Harvey during the shooting. I was looking forward to getting to know Terrence – but I never really did. He was Harvey from day one. That’s a real testament to how focused an artist he is.
Are you and Channing talking about doing something else together?
We’re always talking, yeah – and you always want to work with people you like. Channing’s slate is a little full at the moment [Laughs] – he’s busy doing these huge studio tentpole films – but if the opportunity arises, I’d definitely love to work with him again. I actually have a production company, and we’ll definitely be calling him with some of the things I’d love to do with him. He’s a bright shining star, he’s fantastic to work with, and I’d love to work with him again.
And you’ve just finished shooting “Cabin in the Woods”?
Yeah, I’m doing a TV series right now called Men of a Certain Age – it’s myself, Ray Romano, Scott Bakula, Andre Braugher – which premieres December 8th on TNT, and yeah, I just wrapped Cabin in the Woods.
And there’s another Aussie in “Cabin in the Woods”
Yeah, Chris Hemsworth. He’s a big deal now, because of Thor and Red Dawn. He’s fantastic in the film, but it’s essentially anchored by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford – he’s of course from The West Wing, and Jenkins is an Oscar Nominee for his work in last year’s The Visitor. And of course Joss Whedon is behind the film – and we all know Joss from Buffy; he’s a mad scientist!
And is it the same tone as say, Buffy? Funnies and Frights?
He’s created a new take on the Cabin in the Woods formula and it’s incredibly funny, it’s gory, and it’s smart. Any genre fan is going to really, really going to love this. If you’re even remotely a fan of Joss I think you’re going to love it. I hear they just did a screening, and it went down very well- he apparently hit it out of the park.
My next film comes out September 11 – we have a screening tonight; the premiere is next week – and it’s Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Ball By Myself.
You like to â€˜mix it up’ by the sounds?
I do, I really like to try different things. I’ve got a comedy, I’ve got a horror-thriller, and then I’ve got a drama… all in the next two months. And then Fighting was an action-drama. I’m really trying to explore different toles. I want to play some good guys, play some bad guys, play some alpha males, play some beta males…like I said about Terrence, I want to push myself out of my comfort zone, step outside of my box, break new ground and elevate my game. I want bigger and better, and meatier, roles and I want to show them that I have the chops to do so.
You should try and get a superhero movie in there too…
Yeah, that’s next on the radar [actually]. The Green Hornet, The Green Lantern… those are the kinds of movies that I’d love to do. I’d love to do a DC or Marvel movie. I think I have the skill-set. Like Iron Man, you have to be able to handle drama and comedy; you have to have the physique to be able to take off your shirt; you have to have a certain statue – if you’re 5’8 it doesn’t really work so well, unless it’s a small superhero – and you have to have a certain athletic ability. That’s what I’m angling towards. These are $150 million-dollar movies, so I’m trying to pay my dues, and do the work, so that I might get a look-in.
You never know, we might see you as Luke Cage or Black Panther in a couple of years!
I would love to be Luke Cage – I’ve been saying it over-and-over again in the press for years! Those are the roles – Green Lantern, Green Hornet, Luke Cage. There’s some other graphic novels – some horror ones – that I also like, but I really would love to do Luke Cage.
You’re doing great guns Brian, congratulations!
Thankyou very much. Really appreciate it Clint.