Embarking on an emotionally driven adrenaline thrill ride isn’t always a simple task, even for the seemingly toughest fighters in the world. But wrestler-turned-actor, Stu Bennett, is effortlessly proving that battling to obtain revenge for the transgressions committed against the people he cares about is still a necessary process, no matter how difficult it may become. In his new action film, ‘I Am Vengeance,’ the performer’s dark and gritty protagonist is determined to take any means necessary to gain retribution for the crimes committed against his best friend.
‘I Am Vengeance’ follows ex-Special Forces soldier, John Gold (Bennett), who now works as a professional mercenary. When he hears that his best friend, Corporal Dan Mason (Kevin Leslie), and Dan’s parents, Dougie (Keith Allen) and Ettie (Katharina Kubrick), have been murdered, John heads to their small hometown of Devotion, where the police aren’t helpful in pursuing the killers.
Upon looking through the Masons’ belongings, John discovers that Dougie recorded an incriminating tape that details the enemies that he and his family have recently made. After listening to the recording, John discovers that Dan and his father were investigating a Special Forces troop, that’s led by the enigmatic, highly decorated Sergeant Hatcher (Gary Daniels), and went rogue in Afghanistan.
During his search for Hatcher and his team, John heads to one of the local pubs for information. While there, he secures the help of one of the barmaids, Sandra (Anna Shaffer), whose drug connections lead to the sergeant and his crew. John also secures help from one of the patrons in the bar, local café owner Rose (Sapphire Elia), in his effort to take his revenge on the sergeant and his team before they can find and kill him.
Bennett generously took the time recently to talk about starring in ‘I Am Vengeance’ during an exclusive interview in New York City. Among other things, the actor discussed how the action movie’s U.K.-based production company, Evolutionary Films, reached out to him with an offer for him to play John in the drama, as they felt his wrestling background was the right fit for protagonist. Once production on the movie began, he cherished the experiences of creating John’s emotional arc and fight sequences, and how they influenced each other.
The conversation with Bennett began with the English actor explaining why he was interested in playing John in ‘I Am Vengeance.’ “For those people who don’t know, my background is as a professional wrestler. I’ve worked for a number of companies, but mainly for WWE for a long time. While I was with WWE, I actually made a couple of movies with them (including the 2013 crime thriller, ‘Dead Man Down,’ and the 2016 action thriller, ‘Eliminators’); they have a studio called WWE Studios. As part of that, I got the taste for acting,” he divulged.
“Fortunately for me, Evolutionary Films saw my performances in the WWE films that I was in, and liked what they saw. So they gave me a call about ‘I Am Vengeance,’ which they were working on and developing. They felt that I had the perfect size and background, as well as the ability, in terms of my physicality and acting, to fill the role of John Gold,” the performer shared. “So they spoke to me about it, and sent me the script. We talked about it and made some changes. Eventually, I signed on the dotted line, and then went to the U.K. to shoot the movie in 2016.”
Further speaking of the fact that ‘I Am Vengeance’ was filmed in the U.K., Bennett then disclosed what the experience of shooting the movie in his native country was like. “It was a pretty cool experience! I’m from the U.K. originally, but I’ve lived here in the U.S. for about 12 or 13 years now. But I love going back to work in the U.K.”
The actor added that “There’s something gritty about being in a city like London, which is where we shot a lot of scenes for the film. It’s cool to be in that environment, as it helps set the scene. ‘I Am Vengeance’ is a very dark and gritty movie that’s driven by John’s need to get revenge for the death of his best friend by a rogue gang of Special Forces soldiers who are now dealing drugs in his town. John is also trying to clean the town up, in addition to getting vengeance for his friend’s death.”
The experience of creating the action sequences, as well as John’s physicality, was another aspect of making ‘I Am Vengeance’ that the performer really enjoyed. “I really enjoyed that experience. My background has always been very sporty; I was very athletic as a kid, whether I was playing soccer, as you say out here, or rugby,” Bennett shared.
“Then, obviously, through professional wrestling, I learned a lot about fight choreography and getting thrown through tables. So I had great deal of experience with that before I became an actor,” the actor noted. “Then moving into the screen fighting world, I learned that there are certain changes you have to make, as things are a lot more precise. You know exactly where the punches are going to go, what time the kicks are coming and where you have to move and put your feet. But in wrestling, there’s a lot more improv.”
The performer added that “I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have worked with another actor in this genre, Scott Adkins, who’s a very big British Martial Arts star. I worked with him on ‘Eliminators,’ as he was the lead in that film, and I was the lead villain. We had two very extended fight scenes in that movie, so it was a really great experience to work with him on that.
“Scott‘s certainly one of Britain’s, and I’m sure one of the world’s, best actors in this genre. So to be able to work with him so early in my acting career, and see how he puts his fights together, was amazing for me. It helped me step my game up in the fight world,” Bennett admitted.
“I’ve also worked with Gary Daniels on ‘I Am Vengeance,’ and he’s another top British Martial Arts star. He put his own twist on how he puts fights together. So I’ve been very fortunate to work with those guys, and steal their knowledge and build my own skill set, which is a massive benefit to me. I feel like I’ve had the top British screen fighting actors help guide me, since I worked with them early in my acting career,” the actor noted.
The performer added that he’s enjoyed the experience of finally being able to play the hero in his latest project, after portraying only villains throughout his career so far. “Prior to ‘I Am Vengeance,’ I spent my entire wrestling career as the bad guy. I also played the bad guy in the two films I starred in before this one,” Bennett pointed out.
“So ‘I Am Vengeance’ is the first time that I’ve been portrayed as the good guy. So it was a weird step for me, but what made it easier was the fact that John Gold is a very dark, gritty character; he’s not your average smiley, happy-go-lucky kind of guy. In another setting, he perhaps would have been portrayed as the bad guy,” the performer admitted. “But he just so happens to be fighting the good fight in this movie. I did take a lot from my experiences of playing the bad guy, and used it to fuel my portrayal of John…He’s seeking vengeance for his friend’s death, which tells you the kind of mindset I had to be in to play him. He’s in a dark situation, so bringing out those bad guy emotions was pretty easy for me.”
The actor then delved into the experience of collaborating with Boyask, as both the writer and director, on the crime drama. “Ross was the first person who really spoke to me about working on this film. I’ve been very impressed by his work, and am now very good friends with him. He’s a very smart guy, and he put together a smart script,” Bennett gushed.
The performer added that on his previous movies, the writers didn’t go on to then also direct the projects, so the scribes and helmers “were completely separate. The writers worked on the script, but you didn’t see them again after that, because the directors and producers then took control over the project.
“So it was interesting to see that Ross had written this film, and then went on to direct it. What I found to be the most interesting is that writers and directors can be precious about what the words in the script, but Ross was very open to my interpretation of the character of John,” the actor explained. “I would say, ‘Ross, why don’t we try this? I think this character would do this here.’ Sometimes we would go with what I thought, and sometimes he would overrule me. But I was impressed how open he was to listening to my opinions.”
One of the reasons why Bennett feels that the filmmakers wanted him to play John in ‘I Am Vengeance’ was because he did offer his opinions. “I would bring a different perspective to the fight scenes, and offer my true input on them. You can get people who’ve worked exclusively in the film world who have a very standard way of working in creating the fight scenes.
“But since my background is in pro wrestling, and I haven’t had that much of an extensive background in acting, what I think about a fight scene, and how I visualize it, is going to be completely different than anybody else in the acting world,” the performer pointed. “I could look at a fight scene, and ask, ‘Why don’t I pick him up and throw him? There’s no reason why I would do a Spinning Roundhouse Kick here; with my size, I would just pick the guy up and throw him.'”
So t based on the actor’s experiences and background, the fight scenes would often change on the day they were filmed, based in part on the locations where they were set, and who he was starring with, the actor explained. “We had a fight coordinator there, and he would have a rough idea of where he wanted things to go, and how they would end up. But it was really myself and whoever I was acting with who would ultimately create the fight,” Bennett further noted.
“I have six big fight scenes, and there’s a lot of fighting that goes all the way through the movie. A lot of times, I would talk to the other actor I was working with, and ask how he would feel about doing certain things…So we would come up with various ideas. It was very much a fluid process on the day of each fight, so we could figure out the best scene possible with what we had to work with, and whatever restrictions we had, based on the amount of time we had, and the ability of the person I’m fighting with,” the performer added.
“The sizes of the locations where we shot also shaped the fights. Some of the rooms we shot in were absolutely tiny, so we didn’t have much room to swing around. So figuring things out on the day was usually the best process,” the actor emphasized.
Working with his co-stars on ‘I Am Vengeance’ was also an experience that Bennett cherished. “I worked with quite a few people, both in the fighting and acting senses. I had fight scenes with quite a few personalities, and they all brought their own strengths.
“I also really enjoyed the acting side,” the performer admitted. “I acted with an actress named Anna Shaffer, who plays this crazy drug addict. She was a lot of fun to work with on the movie. I also worked with another actress, Sapphire Elia, whose character is a pseudo love interest for John. We tease that relationship a little in the film. She’s a highly experienced actress, and it was great to work with her.”
The actor also revealed that it was interesting to work on his scenes in which he had to show John in either a truly combative or sympathetic matter. “I know the guys who killed my friends, so I sought them out, and we become aggressive with each other. But then I also meet relatives of John’s friend who died, so I had to show his softer and empathetic side. So I felt like this character and film gave me the chance to show a wide range of emotion.”
Bennett also appreciated that Boyask infused humor into the character of John, as well, in addition to his more hostile and serious sides. “I think there are some really hilarious moments. For instance, there’s one scene where Anna’s character becomes involved in this big fight; she jumps into the scene with me and these other big, surly guys, even though she’s petite. There’s another scene in which I’m grilling a drug dealer, and he’s hilarious.
“It was difficult at times to play this contentiously dark character, when there was so much humor going on around me. There were several times that I busted a scene by laughing on screen when I shouldn’t have, because things were so funny,” the performer admitted. “We had a lot of fun on set.”
John’s the type of character who the actor feels does have to evolve throughout the story. The plot starts “with John’s initial discovery that his friend’s not answering the phone, so he has to find out what’s going on. He then discovers that his friend died, so he has to go after the bad guys. All the while, there’s a separate side story about this potential love interest. So there’s definitely an evolution of the character throughout the story,” the actor pointed out. “Hopefully, at the end of the film, John gains some redemption.”
Filming ‘I Am Vengeance’ independently was a process that Bennett appreciated, especially since it influenced the way that the action and stunts could be shot. “To date, this is probably the biggest movie that Evolutionary Films has made. So we had a decent budget, but we aren’t talking one that’s as big as Hollywood blockbusters.
“So there certainly were restrictions, especially when it came to time. So we had to pack a lot of the production into a short amount of time,” the performer shared. “There was also a lot going on with car chases and shootouts, but we had a set schedule. We had locations booked for only certain days. So if we didn’t get the scenes we wanted on the day we were at the location, we would never get them…So there was that constant pressure to get everything on time, or we’d have to amend those scenes, and rewrite the overall film.”
The actor admitted that he enjoys the experience of working with that kind of pressure, since his background in professional wrestling included a lot of live performances. “Those events took place in front of a live audience in big arenas, and they were also broadcast live on TV, so we didn’t get second takes. But I think the experience (of filming a movie independently on a shorter schedule) is different for people who come from a purely acting background, and are used to doing as many takes as they want. But I knew that I would only have three or four takes for each scene for this film, so I would have to make things work by that fourth take. But I quite enjoy that experience,” Bennett shared.
Now that ‘I Am Vengeance’ has been released, the performer is speaking to a few other directors about potential projects that he can star in next. “I have a comedy arc that a director in the U.K. is trying to work on at the moment. If you look at what The Rock and Kevin Hart are doing at the moment, you can get a sense of that arc that’s being created for me. I also have another action movie that I’m going to be shooting in London in October, and I’m going to be the lead in it. We haven’t announced it yet, but it’s my next project,” the actor shared.
“I’m very open-minded to what I can do in the acting world. I love action films, but also love comedy, and putting myself in different situations…I’m very new to the acting world, but so far, so good! I’ve had a lot of fun, and hope that continues,” Bennett gushed.