Fight club: Oscar-nominee Djimon Hounsou kicks things up with martial arts flick
Constance Droganes, entertainment writer
Published Friday, March 14, 2008 5:31PM EDT
Coming of age movies are nothing new to Hollywood. But in "Never Back Down," a film about a rebellious teen who beefs up his bod, brain and spirit through mixed martial arts, a story emerged with a different punch for two-time Oscar nominee Djimon Hounsou.
"The love of the sport drew me at first to this project," says Hounsou, 44, who was ready for something more lighthearted after his gruelling work in 2006's "Blood Diamond" - the acclaimed film that scored him his second Best Supporting Actor nomination.
Instead of seeing "Never Back Down" as an all-out fighting movie, the star from Cotonou, Benin in Africa viewed the emotional values in this teen's search for self-empowerment as the real focus.
Might for right
"I saw this movie as a motivational tool," says Hounsou, who stars as mixed martial arts veteran Jean Roqua. "As we see today so many young women and men are troubled in schools. I want people to see that the training, the mental discipline and the physicality are all great tools. When you practice the sport you gain a greater spirituality. That's true of any sport."
Yet even Hounsou, an actor who shook the screen with his strong physical presence in 2000's "Gladiator," had to train extensively to make this flick's action sequences believable.
"Martial arts is a tough sport to portray authentically," says Hounsou, who spent three weeks with stunt coordinators learning moves derived from jiu-jitsu, karate, muay-thai and other disciplines. "You're never physically prepared for something like this. I had a great number of guys who helped me understand the sport and some of its great moves."
Like his character Roqua, Hounsou also understood that mixed martial arts - a sport that isn't always looked upon favourably - can be potentially lethal. As Hounsou says, "There's a responsibility that goes along with playing this game."
For Sean Faris, the up-and-comer who portrays teen hero Jake Tyler, the chance to do "The Karate Kid" for the Internet age was hugely appealing. But film's core idea of taking responsibility for one's actions was more important.
"This is not a movie about encouraging fighting," says Faris, 26. Hoping that fans won't be distracted by "the eye candy of the fight scenes and the girls running around," Faris views "Never Back Down's" message is a simple one. "Have discipline, self-control and only fight as a last resort to defend yourself and those you love."