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Interview: Scott Adkins and Robert Knepper Talk Hard Target 2 (Exclusive)

Embarking on self-destructive behavior during the most harrowing points of their lives is often a natural inclination people have when they feel as though they don’t deserves redemption. But when they realize that they can use their skills to improve the situation they find themselves in, not only for themselves but also for society’s greater good, their intuition leads them to strive to capitalize on that chance. That powerful atonement process is highlighted in the protagonist’s predicament in the new action film, ‘Hard Target 2.’

The thriller, which was directed by Roel Reiné, serves as a sequel to the 1993 movie, ‘Hard Target.’ The original action film starred Jean-Claude Van Damme and Lance Henriksen, and was helmed by Hong Kong filmmaker John Woo in his American debut.

The sequel is now available on Blu-ray combo pack, DVD and Digital HD from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. The home release of the Universal 1440 Entertainment original production includes a Director’s Commentary, as well as over 20 minutes of exclusive bonus features that take the audience behind the scenes of the ultimate manhunt.

‘Hard Target 2’ follows a retired mixed martial artist, Wes “The Jailor” Baylor (Scott Adkins), who’s struggling to find redemption after his last match ended in disaster and caused him public and personal shame. In his quest to find a new sense of purpose and meaning in his life, Wes decides to accept a million-dollar payday from Aldrich (Robert Knepper), who works as the leader of a seemingly legitimate MMA fight in the Myanmar jungle.

But when the once celebrated fighter arrives in Asia, he soon realizes that Aldrich has lied to him about the nature of the match. Wes has been tricked into becoming the latest target of a human hunt, and the last person standing will receive the money and glory. The MMA fighter must outsmart the heavily armed group that has paid to kill him, which includes Sofia (Rhona Mitra). As Wes fights for his life in the treacherous jungle terrain, the hunters soon become the hunted, and everyone must reevaluate their life choices and actions.

Adkins and Knepper generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘Hard Target 2’ during separate exclusive phone interviews. Among other things, the actors discussed that they were both immediately interested in playing their respective characters, as they intrigued by chronicling their distinct arcs throughout the action-packed and emotional film. The performers also praised the dedication Reiné, the stunt team and the rest of the crew and cast put into making the independent action film on location in Thailand.

Initially speaking about how he became attached to portray the retired mixed martial artist in ‘Hard Target 2,’ Adkins revealed that he was offered the role. He previously starred in ‘Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning,’ which served as as a sequel to Jean-Claude Van Damme’s 1992 action thriller, ‘Universal Soldier.’ The two actors have also appeared in several other projects together, including the 2011 action film, ‘Assassination Games.’

“At first, I was worried about being too much in Van Damme’s shadow,” Adkins revealed. “But then I thought about it, and realized this film was tailor-made for me. I thought, if I don’t do accept the role, I don’t know who they’re going to get, as there’s a lot of martial arts in the movie.”

The actor further explained that he gets offered a lot of film roles that are similar to Van Damme’s work because “I’m also a martial arts action star, and there are a lot of other parallels between us. But I’m a huge fan of the original movie, as well as Van Damme and John Woo. So I’m honored to be involved in this film.”

While Adkins appreciates Van Damme and Woo’s work in the original movie, he also felt it was important to bring the uniqueness of his character of Wes to the screen. He valued the original way the protagonist was presented in the script by the sequel’s writers, Matt Harvey, Dominic Morgan and George Huang. ‘Hard Target 2’ “isn’t a direct sequel to the original; it’s almost more like a reboot, in a way,” Adkins pointed out.

While Adkins didn’t specifically work to differentiate his character from Van Damme’s role of Chance Boudreaux in the first film, “I know Roel did try to pay homage to John Woo. Some of the camera work in our film is similar to the shots in John’s film, and I think that’s great. I think that’s what we should have done, because John’s one of the most phenomenal directors who’s ever graced the planet,” the actor admitted. “This was Roel’s way of showing his respect to John as a director.”

When the performer signed on to portray Wes in the action thriller, he recognized that his character “was putting himself through penance, because he’s dealing with the guilt of what he did. But when he’s then put into this crazy situation, he realizes that he has a lot more to live for than what he thought. In some ways, he feels that he can now make amends for the tragedy that happens at the start of the film.”

Knepper also began his conversation by explaining what attracted him to his role of Aldrich, and how he became involved in playing the leader of the human hunt that targets Wes. “The cool part about not having to audition for roles, and just being offered the parts, is that there are nice little surprises” that come up in the story as the project proceeds. “I read the script and had fun coming up with the character. I also had a nice talk with Roel,” the actor explained.

“I had also never shot a film in Thailand before. So it was an amazing experience for my wife (Nadine Kary) and I to explore a country with amazing culture. They have a whole different mindset of living,” Knepper also noted while further discussing what drew him to star in ‘Hard Target 2.’ “There’s a humility and sense of spirituality there. It’s unlike any place I have ever been to before. When I got there, I had a lot of fun.”

The thriller’s supporting actor added that “I can’t talk enough about the crew in Thailand. They were always smiling, and no one was ever asking for water or to take a break.

“There’s an unwritten rule that I experience in Thailand-you don’t complain. Even though I was wearing this awful material as part of my costume, and was constantly sweating, I learned to adjust to it,” Knepper revealed.

The performer further spoke about his collaboration with Adkins and the rest of the cast and crew by stating, “The sign to me of a great collaboration is the idea that less is more, and that includes talking about things. I like to rehearse on film, while the camera’s rolling.” He added that “Roel works in the same kind of way. He also hires people who are really great for their parts. So there was a lot of unspoken things between Scott and me. This film was one of those experiences where I walked away and thought, that was a good time.”

The supporting actor also noted that he has become friends with Reiné, and appreciates the director’s work ethic. “He thinks like a true artist, and knows how to shoot things in a fast amount of time,” Knepper revealed. “I can’t say enough good thinks about Roel; he’s quiet, unassuming, well-organized and thorough.” He added that he appreciates that the filmmaker “also lets his actors play, and only steps in when we fall.”

Knepper also praised Reiné’s acclaimed action biopic, ‘Admiral.’ The drama, which was released in theaters and on VOD and iTunes earlier this year, “is about a very famous and iconic historical Navy commander in Holland. I was so inspired by the whole film, particularly about the actor who played the lead, Frank Lammers.”

The ‘Hard Target 2’ performer then noted that while he was preparing to play his antagonistic character in the thriller, he needed inspiration in relating to Aldrich. The performer noted that he doesn’t understand the motivations of the people who revel in the immoral actions that the leader of the hunt thrived on.

“I called Roel and asked him, ‘Can you connect me with Frank?’ He said sure, and I later went to Frank’s house,” Knepper revealed. “My wife, Nadine, and I had dinner with Frank and his wife and family. That kind of camaraderie, which is linked by a director, is one of the great perks in this business.”

Adkins also spoke of his experience collaborating with Reiné, and noted that he discussed the arc of his character with the director. “I was very impressed with Roel; he was very prepared and organized as a director,” the actor revealed, before also praising the work ethic of the thriller’s crew in Thailand. “They were on the set for many hours, and worked very hard for us. It was a tough shoot for everyone, but Roel was so great.”

The fact that Reiné also works as his own cinematographer also impressed Adkins. “He operates the cameras, so he’s right there with you,” the performer explained. “He also controlled all of the drones, as well as the zip-line cameras.The way he shoots his films is brilliant.”

When it was time to film the action sequences for ‘Hard Target 2,’ Reiné “let me take the lead, to make sure we got some good fights in. It can be difficult to plan out those sequences when you’re working with people you have never worked with before. But I have done a lot of those fight sequences, so he was happy to listen. So we all worked together to make it the best that we could make it,” Adkins revealed.

The actor also noted that the thriller’s cast and crew also collaborated with Seng Stunt Team, a Thailand-based group of stuntmen, while filming. The team’s “stunt coordinator and team are phenomenal, and they’re very well-known and respected” in the country. “Seng (Kawee) himself was the fight choreographer, along with his team. We all worked together to come up with the fights.”

Adkins admitted that the Thai way of fighting “can be a little bit more fantastical and outlandish than what I personally like. So I tried to rein it in sometimes, without affecting anyone. I wanted it to be a bit more real than it was sometimes.

“But overall, it was a great great process to work with the same crew that you’ve worked with before, because you can just hit the ground running. When you work with people you’ve never collaborated with before, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. You also want to find out what everyone’s tastes are overall,” the performer noted.

But as an actor, Adkins enjoyed working with the thriller’s crew, who he described as being “fantastic and so hard-working. There weren’t any complaints from the stuntmen.”

Knepper also discussed approaching the overall physicality and action sequences in the thriller. “One of the greatest feelings of acting in a project like this is that the top martial artists are working on them,” Knepper divulged. “Scott and I worked on our sequences together the day we filmed. I was fine with that, because most of my fighting was with words. I did film most of my own stunts that I did have. These sequences are made to look like they hurt, but they don’t.”

Also chiming in on the experience of working with Knepper and the rest of their co-stars, Adkins noted that they had a read-through of the script together during the beginning of the shoot. “That way, we were able to get a sense of the movie and how everyone was going to play their roles,” the actor revealed. He added that he also rehearsed some scenes with actress Ann Truong, who played Tha, a local woman who helped Wes evade the group hat was hunting him.

“But once we started filming, there wasn’t time to rehearse. So we just had to turn up prepared on the day of shooting, and just do it,” Adkins further explained about collaborating with his fellow cast members.

Knepper also expressed how he enjoys talking with his co-stars and the crew about his projects when they’re released. “We say, ‘That was a really good memory.’ On this film, I also learned a lot about how to suffer through a lot of intense heat, and how to keep your wits about you in that type of situation,” he added with a laugh.

Adkins noted that one of the experiences he appreciates the most while making ‘Hard Target 2’ was being able to travel to Thailand. “One of the best aspects of this job is that you get to go to places you wouldn’t otherwise get to go to. I was happy to go to Thailand, because it’s such a beautiful country. The people there are great; they always have a smile, and are so hard-working.”

The actor also pointed to the fact that while shooting on location, “you can spend several months in another country, and get a deeper understanding of what the people there are like. That’s definitely the best part of this business.” He added that he also feels that “It’s much better to be on location than on a sound stage, as they can drain, especially if you’re working with a green screen.”

Knepper also noted that he has traveled throughout North America, Europe and Asia for his current films and television shows, including ‘Homeland’ and ‘iZombie.’ But while he expressed his appreciation for shooting on location, and being able to explore different parts of the world, he does also enjoy filming at home in Los Angeles.

“Luckily, ‘Twin Peaks’ shot close to my home from January through March. I love being at home, so that I can be close to my son. L.A. is getting better, as far as having projects shot here. But generally, my projects are being filmed elsewhere, and take me away from my son,” Knepper also noted. “But as actors, we can’t always say no to projects that shot on location. You have to go where the jobs are, and sometimes you get to go to exotic places like Thailand.”

The actor added that he also appeared on the current third season of El Rey Network’s horror drama show, ‘From Dusk till Dawn: The Series,’ “this past spring in New Mexico. I love New Mexico, so to be able to introduce Nadine to the area was great. She’s Canadian, so it’s fun to show her things here in America.”

Knepper also noted that as a film and television actor, “I’m used to shooting fast, and I really appreciate that. I like filming a scene and moving on. That being said, I love performing in theater. I was with the National Theatre in London during the mid-1990s, and the play I was in ran for almost a year. It was great to try something a little different every night.”

Adkins also discussed the process of shooting the sequel independently on a shorter shooting schedule, noting that when the cast and crew made a decision, they had to stick to it. “You really don’t have any time to decide that you should try something another way, because you don’t have the time to change what you’re doing. You have to knock out your shots, and hopefully you’ll come out of it with a movie you’re happy with,” the performer said with a laugh. “But filmmaking is compromised constantly, especially these low-budget and independent movies.”

While making bigger budget studio films, “sometimes you can be shooting the same scene for days on end,” Adkins also explained. “That can be frustrating, because it can get to be a little bit boring. So there are pros and cons to both types of filmmaking.”

Knepper also stated that he feels one of the benefits he finds in independent filmmaking is how quickly he can complete shooting his scenes. Whenever he’s asked what his favorite part is, “I always say, ‘The next one.’ I’m in this for the long haul, and long forward to talking about my next six or seven parts in a year from now.”

Knepper noted that he can currently be seen on ‘From Dusk till Dawn: The Series,’ and he’ll also be appearing in the new ‘Jack Reacher’ sequel, ‘Never Go Back,’ with Tom Cruise. In addition to also starring in the upcoming seasons of ‘Homeland,’ ‘iZombie,’ ‘Twin Peaks’ and ‘Prison Break,’ “I’m also writing. So we’ll see if any of that work materializes into a film or television series,” the actor added with a laugh.

Now that ‘Hard Target 2’ has been released, Adkins will also be seen in the title role of the upcoming action film, ‘Boyka: Undisputed.’ He called the role one he’s very proud of, as it’s the one that he’s most known for as an actor. “There are a lot of people who are eagerly awaiting that film, so I can’t wait for people to see it,” the performer divulged. “I also have a WWE film called ‘Eliminators,’ which is coming out in December. It also stars Stu Bennett from the WWE. The director, James Nunn, is someone I’ve worked with before. The film also has some great fights and action in it, so I’m very happy with it.”

Watch the trailer for ‘Hard Target 2’ below.

Written by: Karen Benardello

Karen Benardello :As a life-long fan of entertainment, particularly films, television and music, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic. While still attending college, Karen began writing for Shockya during the summer of 2007, when she began writing horror movie reviews. Since she began writing for Shockya, Karen has been promoted to the position of Senior Movies & Television Editor. Some of her duties in the position include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, producing posts on celebrity news and contributing reviews on albums and concerts. Some of her highlights include attending such festivals and conventions as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, SXSW, Toronto After Dark, the Boston Film Festival and New York Comic-Con.