Ask a martial arts film fan to list their five favourite movies and chances are Kickboxer will feature.
Coming hot on the heels of Bloodsport and Cyborg, the film was a definitive moment in the career of Jean-Claude Van Damme, setting the benchmark for much of what would follow.
Now some 27 years later, Kickboxer and Van Damme have reunited for a reboot with a difference.
This time round, the Muscles from Brussels has turned mentor to the next Kurt Sloane in stuntman-turned-actor Alain Moussi.
Moussi is no stranger to putting his body on the line in the name of entertainment with Kickboxer Vengeance pitting him against Guardians of the Galaxy star Dave Bautista in the role of Tong Po.
Ahead of the film’s release, loaded spoke to Moussi about stepping into JCVD’s shoes, preparing for the role of a lifetime and kickabouts with Ronaldinho.
loaded: How did you get involved in Kickboxer: Vengeance?
Moussi: The producer, Dimitri Logothetis, approached me when I was doing stunt work a few years back and invited me to audition for a film he was working on at the time.
I had done some acting classes and workshops and that was what I wanted to do but I wasn’t really expecting it to happen or at least not then. So I go to the audition and he ended up offering me a part.
A couple of years go by and then I get the call – would I like to audition for the lead role in Kickboxer? This was one of the films that got me started into martial arts to begin with so the answer was always going to be yes, no matter what.
loaded: How did you prepare for the role of Kurt Sloane?
Moussi: I train non-stop, whether I’m prepping for a film or not. When it came to Kickboxer, I just ramped up my martial arts training and training in the gym.
I focused less on bodybuilding and more on athletic training. A mix of cross-fit and some other functional training with a bit of powerlifting. It was the kind of training a UFC fighter or boxer would do and complemented the martial arts training.
I also did choreography training which I do non-stop as well just to stay sharp and make sure my timing is still there.
loaded: That sounds quite a demanding schedule?
Moussi: I would train every day, twice a day, six days a week.
loaded: Was that not exhausting?
Moussi: Well, I also hired a nutrition expert, who worked with a lot of high level athletes because I wanted to lean out.
The problem with leaning out is that when a lot of bodybuilders do it they go low carb but they aren’t necessarily training as hard. I have to maintain this training and unless you eat the right things you don’t have enough energy; you are at risk of injury.
It was about finding the right level of nutrition so you can train and lean out for the film.
loaded: Were you nervous about filling Van Damme’s shoes?
Moussi: Of course, I was really nervous. You get excited for an opportunity like this when it comes up because it’s what I always wanted to do. But then once it starts, it’s like ‘oh crap!’ because I have to do this well because a lot of people are counting on me.
loaded: Did you feel any pressure?
Moussi: The original Kickboxer has a real cult following, so you have to come to terms with the idea that some people are going to hate it and hate you no matter what you do but that’s okay.
For some people you are ruining their childhood fantasy and I get that, but at the same time I felt like it was a great challenge that I wanted to take on.
loaded: What was it like meeting Van Damme?
Moussi: I’d actually met him on a Go Daddy commercial before where I was his rehearsal double. We hit it off then, so when he signed on for the film – we were already shooting in New Orleans at that point – he called me and offered me some advice.
loaded: What did he say?
Moussi: He told me to focus on the acting because the action was there. That was interesting to me because I usually hear “no we have to ramp up the action, it’s all about the action and the fights”.
The way he saw it was that so many people can do the action but if you can nail the acting, then you have got something a lot of those guys don’t have.
He was always very happy on set. Whenever we finished scenes together he would tell me it was great. To hear that coming from my childhood hero was amazing.
loaded: What was Dave Bautista like to work with?
Moussi: Dave is iconic. He’s larger than life. When you meet him, you realise how big he is. The camera doesn’t always pick it up but this guy is big, he’s thick and I used to watch him as a kid on wrestling.
That era when he was in it, with people like The Rock and Steve Austin, that was my era so I couldn’t wait to meet him.
As soon as he steps on set he’s just got this aura about him. Dave is really cool and he’s also really collaborative to work with. He’s somebody who likes to discuss things we are going to do and see how we can make them better as a team, which comes from his wrestling days.
loaded: Was that useful during the fight scenes?
Moussi: Well, I have more screen fighting experience so Dave was keen to learn more from me. We just had a rhythm and connection and would be getting stuff done in one or two takes.
He would often not hit me enough though, so I would be constantly pushing him to hit me harder and harder because I have trained for it and it looks great on camera.
loaded: You’ve already filmed a follow-up, Kickboxer: Retaliation with a cameo from Ronaldinho – can you tell us a bit about that?
Moussi: In the film, Ronaldinho is one of the guys that is on my side and helps me out training. One of the producers, Rob Hickman, managed to get him and a lot of the UFC guys involved.
We were keen for him to do something really cool and different that showcased his particular skillset and the reason so many people love him.
Ronaldinho is very charismatic and also has this incredible control of the ball – he can put it anywhere at any time.
So we decided to use him in this training sequence involving soccer balls – I can’t tell you too much about it because you really have to see it but I will saw that he ends up kicking soccer balls at my face.
loaded: Ronaldinho kicked balls in your face?
Moussi: Yes and it was all done for real, there was no faking, Ronaldinho was kicking soccer balls at my head. Everybody was a little afraid at the time but it went really well and it looks great on screen.
loaded: Mike Tyson also makes an appearance, is that right?
Moussi: Mike ends up being my mentor but we do have some differences at the beginning which results in a quite expensive fight scene that was just amazing to shoot. I am a fan and he is such an iconic character so I had Tyson throwing punches at my head and body.
Not full out obviously, otherwise I would not be here today, but there was enough contact for one stunt coordinator to check how I was doing. I think we captured a side of Tyson no one has seen on screen before.
I watched a lot of Tyson highlight reels. I wanted to make sure we put a lot of things that happened in his fights for real and I think we got that.