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martes, 21 de junio de 2011

Shooting around Kowloon Tong 4: Corner 48-6 Fa Po Street / Tat Chee Avenue

Here we go again: I know Frankie Chan's masterpiece Outlaw Brothers has nothing to do with IFD or Filmark productions. Or maybe it has...We can find an All Star Cast gweilohs in this film & all of them were the main starts on Joseph Lai's & Tomas Tang's productions. Even many of them, like Jonathan Isgar, Steve Tartalia, Bruce Fontaine, Mark Houghton & Ken Goodman have more important roles in Outlaw Brothers than in other productions. Even Donald Kong Do, action director & director at Filmark has role in Outlaw Brothers, that why this post is needed to be in this site dedicated to IFD & Filmark.

Some time I go while I was re-watching Outlaw Brothers I recogniced, as it happened in Die Hard, many of the stunts, shots were filmed in Kowloon Tong, a quiet residential place in Hong Kong full of Love Hotels ( no brothels), Schools & even Bruce Lee's former home. Kowloon was a prefect place to shoot inside the city without the noisy & craziness of TST or HK island.

Well, as I said while I was re-watching Outlaw Brothers I noticed a street label in the snapshot below: FA PO STREET a very looooong street surrounded by many other streets with flower names.

Checking the pic we see the Yukari's Car is stopped in a corner that connect Fa Po Street with other road, Tat Chee Avenue. But there are two corners that connect both roads & this part of Kowloon Tong /Yau Yat Chuen, unlike many parts of Kowloon Tong, has changed a lot since 1989 & I needed to find some small details to find out the real location.

And here we are, thanks to Google Earth & Street View tool I have been able to find a similar shot. We don't have Yukari in a red Ferrari but we have a black family van in the same position, & the surroundings has become into tall buildings that don't allow us to enjoy the mountains at the back.

Fa Po street signal that witnessed the shooting of Ourlaw Brothers is still there. The government just added some numbers to it.


jueves, 16 de junio de 2011

Shooting around Kowloon Tong part 3: WELLCOME in Selkirk Road /Oxford Road corner

Kowloon Tong was and still is a great quiet place to shoot movies. Its quiet streets & countless alleys allow the crews to shoot with not many public disturbances. As we have checked watching IFD & Filmark movies Ninjas could walk & fight calmly aorund Kowloong without problems or too many witnesses.
Marko Ritchie & Nina Pachy are ninjas who prefer Wellcome rather than Park 'n Shop. When Rage of the ninja was shot Selkirk road Wellcome supermarket was painted on yellow.

While I was re-watching Rage of a Ninja, the second & last movie Mike Abbott starred along Marko Ritchie, I recogniced Selkirk Road, located in the heart of Kowloon Tong but alongside the the area of Cumberland Road where most love hotels, Bruce Lee's home & some Catholic schools are located.
Selkirk Road runs perpendicular between Cambridge Road & Oxford Road. And we can find a WELL COME Supermarket at the corner of Oxford/ Selkirk road where Godfrey Ho put his camera & John Cheung Ng-Long choreographed the ninja fight between Marko Ritchie & Mike Abb0tt's henchmen.

Today, almost 25 years later Selkirk road remains unchanged, only the wall paint has changed from yellow to white!

It is an interesting shot, since we see the hero coming out from that Wellcome supermarket followed by a girl who is also a bad ninja. That branch of Wellcome Supermarket still on bussiness today.
A ninja supermarket in Kowloon Tong!


jueves, 9 de junio de 2011

Steve Tartalia Interview by Arnaud Lanuque

2 Days ago Steve Tartalia's Birthday was celebrated, so I thought I should honor him in this humble site.

Here, you all can read ( well, re-read) this wonderful interview Arnaud Lanuque, a friend from did to Mr Tartalia in 2005. As always, I beg you to check it at his original site since my work is just like a cut & paste work a la IFD & all the credits must be received by Annaud & his magnificent work.


The period between the late 1980s and the early 1990s was euphoric for the Hongkong movie industry. Films were chain-produced and supported by an enthusiastic audience. Within this specific context,a small number of actors/stuntmen/ martial artists from the West (gweilos) tried to develop their own career and be a part of this cinematic extravaganza. Their expectations were probably too high. Victims of the mid-1990s film industry crisis and of the lack of support from the industry and the audience, most of them left HK or even the cinema field. But they left behind a bunch of movies as proof of their competence. Steve Tartalia is one of them. Fighting his way in brilliant movies such as Once Upon A Time In China or Operation Condor, he's become a respected stuntman in Hollywood.

Background and coming in HK

HKCinemagic : We have contradictory information on your background, for some you've grown up in Los Angeles and for the others you come from New York . Can you clear it up for us, as well as this information that your grand father created “the Hollywood Reporter”.

Steve Tartalia : a) I swung from a lot of tree vines in the jungle swamps of Orlando Florida as an enfant terrible with some time in the Carolinas but for the most part I grew up in L.A. Later on out of school, I moved to New York for a good number of years where I worked in the music biz in many capacities co-running the ‘Kiss army fan club' for one and studied (as a hobby) acting with the Stella Adler conservatory, and as a line chef in a ‘nouvelle California' style restaurant.

b) Billy Wilkerson was the creator of the Hollywood reporter. Thomas Seward (my grandfather) was ‘co-publisher/general manager' and as such had a part ownership in the Hollywood reporter' as well as Wilkerson's partner & manager in a few famous restaurant/club ‘hotspots' i.e.; Tracadero's, Ciro's, and ‘The Flamingo' in Vegas (before Bugsy Siegel and his mafia forced them out).

HKCinemagic : You were very fond of sports. Did you study martial arts as well in the US ? Did this sport background help you to practice your own stunts (I noticed you are less doubled than the usual westerners when coming to falls in HK movies)?

S T : Yes, Tremendously. ‘Northern Shaolin Eagle Claw' with Shum Leung in Nyc for six years intensively and Larry Tans ‘Strange Dazzling Hands' which is an obscure vagabond art from Taiwan loosely based around Fukien version of 5 animal style. Before knowing master Tan, I would spy on his rooftop training/teaching in the next high rise building over from mine, and try surreptitiously to copy his moves undetected… Of course he caught me and we became friends and eventually, his student. This was real life imitating kung fu movies. Also the key for me was a background in gymnastics and ‘high dive' as a kid growing up. Air sense, and ability to hit the ground hard over and over come from those endeavours. In Hollywood Stunt lingo, I am what is called an ‘acrobatic ground-pounder'.

HKCinemagic : What lead you to HK and how did you find yourself involved in the local film industry?

S T : After a year of modelling in France , Italy , and Spain -(1988)- I ended up doing club security in LA wondering -‘what the hell am I doing?' when I get a call from NY… ‘How would you like to star in a Kung Fu Movie?'… The next day I was on a plane to Chaing Mai Thailand, to work on a Robert Tai film, ‘Death Cage' with Robin Shou, Joe Lewis, and master Sken. Among many others was ‘Kung Fu John' (Ladalski) who after filming was completed, and months of island hopping in the south Thai seas healing a broken hand said; ‘come to Hong Kong'- you will do well!'… I did go, found John, he gave me his flat for a month, a list of companies, advices… and I worked for the next three years. Thanks again kung fu John!!!
Being a "gweilo" in hk industry

HKCinemagic : In town and in movies, you often worked with several westerners, people like Mark Houghton, Jonathan Isgar, Bruce Fontaine, … How was it between all of you? Did you feel a real solidarity or, on the contrary, everyone was trying to compete with each other?

S T : It's like how I imagine the French Foreign Legion would be… a bunch of talented mercenary soldiers with healthy egos all vying for a few ‘plum' jobs. On set we may work well together but not go out for drinks later. When ‘kungfu John' first introduced me to Bruce he was like… ‘oh merde, another gweillo here to suck up my work' but then we became fast friends. My modus operandi was… If I get in something and see another opening, then I'll hook you up best that I can. In exchange, you might do the same for me…. Some were happy to get your tips/help and never return favour. You learn who your friends are. Jonathan, John L, Bruce, Ken Goodman, Mark King, Mark Houghton…we all were to varying degrees good friends. Though to be friends with Mark Houghton' over time, one had to get into a good ‘punch up' or two over something stupid (my kung fu is better than yours, and/or girls). Later he would go out of his way to look after you for picking a fight, out of remorse. ‘heh heh heh'… crazy guy/big heart!

HKCinemagic : Was there any plan of taking more responsibility in the industry or were all of you just happy to be martial artists/actors?

S T : At the time it seemed enough to be just…'living the dream'. Also the realities at the time seemed to limit me to just that, i.e.: tourist visa status… I do regret not having paid closer attention to rigging and hk directorial technique as I had a lot to brush up on and relearn later in the usa .

HKCinemagic : Jeff Falcon said “For a Chinese producer, a westerner is a prop you must feed”. Did you feel like that too?

S T : Yes! Not always though. I'll never forget that on my first HK job as a henchman in Casino Raiders, the second assistant director shouted at me for using a tea cup from the ‘Chinese tea cup area'. She then screamed and pointed to a beat up chewed on Styrofoam cup and informed me that was for all of us ‘foreign devils' to share…

HKCinemagic : Were there differences in the way you were treated by the local stuntmen, local actors or technical crew?

S T : I found early on with Robert Tai in Thailand that to do your job well, don't waste film stock on lazy mistakes and you'll be treated well. The stuntmen would in general ignore you until you did something that earned their respect. The actors like anywhere, often think they're ‘gods gift' knowing a bit of their work and background flatters them and then they're nice. On ‘Princess Madam' Sharon Yeung Pan Pan would stop the camera rolling until she wiped the sweat away from my eyes. Maybe because I paid respects to her and a few well timed flirty compliments... Loved her.

HKCinemagic : Was it difficult to adapt to the speed of HK choreography?

S T : Thanks to kung fu training, not difficult. Eagle claw's vocabulary and rhythm in two man-training forms made me feel very familiar right away. The challenge for me was performing long takes with multiple back and forth reactions and to keep the appropriate rhythm and pace. In doing so, was the fun of it and pure Zen for me! Even though most choreographies for gweilos was not supposed to be like the ‘superior' kung of the hero, it almost always had a sort of ‘long fist' rhythm.

Middle man

HKCinemagic : You have a few fights with Cynthia Khan in this movie. Did her physical specificities (small, a woman) make those fights scenes more difficult to shoot?

S T : She had a dance background and was quick with rehearsals, brave, tough and spirited. In principal, I go easy on' hard blocking' during fights with women. It's terrible when an actress holds her arms in pain between takes. You know where you're going and when you're being blocked, so you just come in hard and fast but sort of ‘put on the brakes' when you're going in with fists or feet… trying to be soft at the power point without looking soft. Acting ya know!

Incidentally, in Middle Man, after fighting with Cynthia on a rooftop the jump from one building to the next with me, Gin Sun, and Cynthia was probably the most dangerous stunt I've ever done. 3 steps to jump 8 or 9 feet across a windy 400-feet canyon to the other side of a 40-storey building. Not to difficult but very very risky.

HKCinemagic : Did you find it frustrating to be killed just before the big final started?

S T : On the first day of that fight where they all came in for the final I was double booked for work I started much earlier, and had to make a painful choice; my end battle with Cynthia Khan on ‘The Middle Man', or day one of the finale of ‘Outlaw bros'. I told Frankie Chan my problem and went with my 1 st and earliest commitment. When I came back to Frankie's ‘Outlaw Brothers' he made like ‘No problem/it's cool/never mind and then…they put me out in front of the warehouse in a scene where I'm on lookout. When I get mugged from behind while putting my gun away, I accidentally shoot and kill myself. I remember at the screening all my friends laughed so hard. That's what happens if you inconvenience the boss in hk… revenge kill on film!

HKCinemagic : Frankie Chan was criticized by John Ladalski who said he hit the stuntmen for real in order to look better on screen. What is your own opinion of him?

S T : I always liked him. I believe he liked me too. I never complained. But then again, he never hit me. Outlaw Bros. was harsh on some of the players, and a few Chinese stunt players went to the hospital. But anyone who signs up for work on one of these thinking it'll be like a Disney production with a little kung fu dancing, is deluded. Once in the office Frankie showed me dailies of a nasty car slide/hits man/man goes flying. He says ‘no-one will do this, will you?'

I go ‘whats wrong with this, it looks great?'…‘Oh he's in the hospital and I'd like it done a bit differently'. I said ‘I wondered how I could do it as well without going to the hospital afterwards… He looked at me funny and laughed, I didn't. It never happened…

Crazy Yes! Stupid No… is my Motto.

HKCinemagic : Do you remember how the action scenes were designed between the several action directors of the movie?

S T : All I remember was a car team and a different fight team. A funny thing happened at the docks when Frankie stole Dragon Lady ‘Mitsuko's' Porsche and the gweilo gang gives chase. I was standing around talking to a kid watching US films who had a nice little Suzuki rsv250. He insisted I give it a ride. So I take off and come back at a good speed (top of 3 rd gear) and hit an unseen nasty little dark marble wall ‘ head on' at 60mph. Well me and that kids bike both took off and flew a good 12 meters. I know I did a double flip and managed to tuck and roll out… unharmed! The bike of course was completely wrecked. Now, imagine, every single person on the set including the action director saw this happen. 3 days later during the chase where Frankie throws the briefcase of money out of his car to slow his pursuers. A moto-cop hits the back of a stopped car sending him flying over it? … I KNOW my misfortune inspired that stunt. But that player did go to the hospital unconscious after Frankie ran in with the camera for a close up of him knocked out at front of the car. Nice guy in person but anything goes while filming.

Angel terminators

HKCinemagic : You do a very dangerous stunt here, jumping on a public light from a parking, a stunt Conan Lee failed before. Was it a big pressure for you? What are your memories of that stunt?

S T : Honestly, it was a little creepy. I think Conan was still in the hospital too. I said yes but wasn't exited to rehearse…Then I saw Pan Pan go off after one stunt guy for rehearsal. WELL of course if she's doing it, I'll do it all day. When an actress is more brave than a hard-ass stunt guy well… Sheesh! On film it doesn't look like a big deal because of the coverage. But, I had to run and jump up to a car hood, railing, and ‘jump' with pam pam very close up my ass … No safety below, just some Armco railing at the curb 10 meters down. But the way they edited doesn't look scary to me… I'm all for an ‘all in one' dangerous shot, but show it that way don't cut it up please? Later on at the gravel pit fight with some good ‘TVB' fighter (forgot his name) I was on break when I witnessed Pam Pam's fight on the catwalks. The stunt guys fall over the rail, - head/shoulder into a crane platform then onto the top (not slope) of the gravel pit is to this day one of the best stunt/wrecks I ever witnessed! I was very surprised that he was ok. I must add that fighting Sharon Yeung Pan Pan was a high for me...What Power! Speed! ... Love that woman.

Operation condor

HKCinemagic : How did you find yourself hired for this movie?

S T : Big casting call went out. Competition was fierce. Many European travellers stuck in town teaching English or something showed up. I remember seeing many guys lined up and given little punch/block/take a hit/fall down tests. I was happy to see Ah Gee & Ah Gunn doing the eliminations, as they were the core stunt team under Chris Lee of ‘The Middle Man' shortly before. Having gotten down and dirty with them on that, of course, they waived me off to a video screen test with dialogue. I found out I was in one month later while working in Malaysia on ‘Dadah Connection'. (Dir. Toby Russell and Alexander Lo Rei) - After calling back to HK to check my status, I found out some unnamed stuntman who wanted my job told Golden Harvest that I was in a all broken up in a deep coma in the USA. I informed them otherwise of my health, and flew back to start work. (Jan. 1990)

HKCinemagic : It was a very big production by HK standard; did it affect your working conditions compared to the other productions you had worked for? And did you feel a big difference in Jackie Chan's way of working?

S T : a) Judging by the food? Well... we all still had to fight for a good rice box lunch/dinner. You see, at mealtime a minivan opens up a back door revealing a big pyramid of takeaway food marked in Chinese. Small or big productions are the same in this. I got stuck many times on Operation Condorat the end of a food line were only chicken claws over rice were left. But in Morocco , the catered food was fine but working conditions in the Sahara dessert were pretty harsh, even for Jackie. I remember being on standby/hold near the desserts edge with no shade to hide from the sun (125degrees f) and the stunt-team would all be under the camera truck or curled up under some baby palm tree leaves. Quite funny. Then back to the hotel for swimming pool volleyball after 1 pm , - to hot to film beyond then as film stock melts at 125f.

b) It's peculiar when a director can show you how to do something better than any stuntman can. In the dessert, Jackie was directing an American stuntman to fall to his back from getting shot who was falling too ‘comfortably'. Jackie stepped in and jumped 5 feet up, legs above head and landed on his back without using his hands to break-fall!. He had a way of making it seem that ‘If I can do it, so can you'! Everyone's game would go up.

Also memorable to me was the fight on a water tower in the underground military base. I'm on the ground after falling off an air duct and Ken & Bruce were fighting Jackie right on the very edge 30 feet up. Jackie, Ah gunn, and Ah Gee worked up a 30-move sequence in 10 minutes or so at a medium to quick pace!... 1...1,2...123...123456.... and so on up to 30. Mad Genius! I thought I guess you could say the difference is feeling humbled yet inspired even more than ever before! I have never seen anyone then or now work so fast and expertly as I did then.

Once upon a time in china

HKCinemagic : It's certainly your most known work in HK. How did you get the part of Tiger? Were there any instructions from Tsui Hark on how you were supposed to play the character?

S T : Lau Kar Wing, was the original action director. He auditioned me for an hour on the grass in front of ‘Film Workshop' – combinations and reactions, a little acro…that kind of thing. I remember thinking, I better look familiar with southern style as he and his family are famous for their ‘Hung Gar' so I ‘Tigerized' an Eagle set at the beginning of my audition, I guess he got me in. Tsui Hark never really directed me in person so much. He seemed very occupied with ‘the big picture' I wish he had.

HKCinemagic : Was there any attempt from the action directors (the Yuen Clan) to design the action according to your character, and thus using more English boxing rather than kickboxing?

S T : I knew going into the first fight in the French restaurant that I was to throw out the kung fu and prepare for ‘Old English style'. Although I'm not versed in queen's English boxing by any means I felt ok that I would give it a good go. But I tried all week before filming to try on and fit the boots and clothes, and rehearse a bit in advance, but to no avail. When I got to work on the day, I was gutted to find that the boots I had to wear were way to small at size 7 (American) to my size 10 inches... I was told that ‘no matter what' I'm wearing them. When I got in them finally, I could barely walk let alone fight and was in a very bad mood. When It came time for my work with Jet Li, They danced it out, then I rehearsed maybe twice quickly with (I think) DeeDee and Hung Yan Yan and then we shot it twice and they moved on to the rest of the whole day restaurant fight. I wasn't happy at all. Later when I saw it for the first time, I was mortified! I believe if the Yuens were on this from the beginning they would have spent a little time on lesser characters …like mine.

HKCinemagic : You were supposed to fight Jet Li at the end. How were you told about the final change (fighting shortly Yuen Biao) and how did you feel about it?

S T : Philosophical. I was cooked with immigration at that moment as the authorities knew I was working illegally in films and Film Workshop didn't see fit to sponsor me… Time to get well hung and die! I left Hong Kong very shortly afterwards.

HKCinemagic : What are your own memories of the shooting of the film and what do you think of the final result?

S T : Best of times: Watching in awe as Jet threw a 720 revolution butterfly spin during rehearsal (see picture) for waterfront opera fight. Many moments like that throughout my time on set.

Worst of times: Great moments of working on a big epic punctuated by long stretches of not working (nor being allowed to work elsewhere by contract). A sense in the air of impending doom with the upcoming China takeover, film companies shutting down all around. No more work for gweilos.

Honestly, I had no idea at the time that O.U.T.I.C. would be the Classic that it instantly became upon release and will be for all time along with most of the series. It was a big gamble by Tsui to go against the entire modern gangster/hate/revenge/comedy genre's and take a fresh approach to a ‘republic period' hero story. Yen Shi Kwan reluctant relationship to Yuen Biao's character was very emotional. Many subtly nuanced relationships, fast and hard Kung fu with some nice floaty wirework made it a great film. Love it. Wish my work in it were better though…

Move to the US and nowadays career

HKCinemagic : What motivated you to leave HK and go back to the USA ?

S T : My funds were running low and an escort to the airport by HK immigration sort of sped up my departure...Hah!... it was time to leave anyways as there was no more film work period.

HKCinemagic : Did you find what you learned in HK useful for your career of stuntman and action director there?

S T : Yes. After coming back and taking a break for awhile I hooked up with a film grip/rigger/kungfu guy named Roberto Lopez and we formed our own group working many cool small projects in New York City fighting, flying and yanking people around - including ourselves. This led to a NYC shot film with Godfrey Ho (Manhattan Chase) then another with Robert Tai in Vietnam called ‘Trinity Goes East' (based on the old Terrence hill & Bud Spenser Trinity Series) Then a trip to LA had me bumping into an old colleague/friend from HK -Sophia Crawford on the set of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer' that led to a 5-year run on that series and ‘Angel' as Spikes stunt double, Michael Vartan's action double on ‘Alias' roles/stunts in many features and TV shows. From 1999 to now I've been working my ass off in Hollywood .

As a result, I am a regular visitor to my local Chiropractor.

HKCinemagic : What do you think of the trend of incorporating HK action style in recent US blockbusters or TV series?

S T : I love it in the Matrix series, Transporter 1&2 etc... But hate it in Scoobee-Doo or Charlie's Angels. If the story doesn't motivate it and the actors can't sell it believably without being doubled to hell, then I won't like it. If well choreographed and action isn't shot right, it looks like shit, (or almost as bad)...nothing special. On Buffy, We would work up very cool stuff but run out of time to shoot it well and have to cut the cool stuff out and simplify so the actors could do it while talking their scene. I believe though that we did some cool work as loyal as re-runs can attest. As much as this genre has done for me, sometimes I just like some good raw Macbeth/Rashoman Style... No Wires and Acrobatics. But, everything has its place. If Hollywood employs HK inspired action without the emotional content and all the attendant elements a good Chinese director will employ, it'll be off. No matter HK style meshed with Hollywood traditions to become nearly inseparable at this point. I heard that many influential HK directors in the sixties were watching ‘ Hawaii Five-O' and being influenced by their 20-22 frame per second fight and action scenes. What Goes around Comes around...right back at you! Right?

So long and thanks for all your hard work on this great site! ... Salute!

Steve Tartalia
HKCinemagic : Thank you .

Steve Tartalia interview in 2007 by Whedonopolis

Surfing by internet, looking for information about Steve Tartalia, one of the most appreciated gweilohs from Hong Kong cinema, along Jonathan Isgar & Mike Abbot, I got to find this wonderful interview here:

I Have enjoyed this interview so much that I can't do anything else but "cut & paste" it here. Anyway I beg all of you, dear visitors & friends, to check it at its original site at


Whedonopolis: Where were you born and how did you get started in all of this?

Steve Tartalia: Born in Rhode Island, raised for a few years in L.A., then off to Florida. The first inkling of anything having to do with the future of being a stuntman was probably swinging on vines on my way to school.

We had a little Southern Florida jungle between my house and my school for the first grade. So my friend Dewey and I had a little route to school through the jungle, so we could swing from vine to vine like Tarzan all the way to school. So that, and building the little tree houses, and playing Batman and Spiderman and jumping around and jumping off of things, that’s my humble beginning, I reckon.

W: Did you have any acting experience before going to Hong Kong?

ST: Yes, I was living in New York for many, many, many years out of high school, and I was doing a whole variety of things there in the music business. I also studied with Stella Adler. I was in the merchandising business and I came up with a toy “E.T.” finger that we got approved by Steven Spielberg, and we got it licensed and made a lot of money in one year. So, all I did was go to martial arts, and gymnastics, and I took acting classes and studied with Stella Adler when she was alive, quite a number of years ago. (chuckles) I learned just enough to know how to work, to act, but I didn’t study enough to become a really good actor. Unfortunately, it was all obliterated when I went to Hong Kong. The kind of acting they want you to do is all cartoonish and one-dimensional. You play an FBI or a CIA agent, or a hit man, and there’s no depth to the character; they want you to overact, so whatever I learned, I pretty much unlearned there… And it took a while to come out of that!

W: How did you find yourself in Hong Kong working in movies?

ST: It was a dream of mine, watching the old Jackie Chan movies, before the “Rush Hour” series and all that. (You know, when he wore his kung fu pants, and he’s doing animal-style kung fu, with the old teacher, and he’s living in a cave, and he’s poor? That kind of movies.) And then studying kung fu... anybody studying kung fu or martial arts, it’s a dream to jump into the screen and dance with your heroes, with Jackie Chan or Chuck Norris or whoever it is. I got a call one day, inviting me to go over and work, and it turned into three years and 30 films or so in Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, all of Southeast Asia, but primarily—The first job was in Thailand, with Robin Shou of “Mortal Kombat.” He was the lead good guy, and I was the lead bad guy. It was called ”Death Cage”.

W: Were you always the bad guy?

ST: One time, the co-director of that, who’s the son of a famous director, Ken Russell –his name is Toby Russell- he was sort of co-directing, co-producing “Death Cage”, and later on, when he did his own film, he hired me as the good guy, undercover, and that was fantastic. That was sort of a Chinese “Scarface” type of story. I was the good cop trying to get the bad guy who’d killed my partner, the usual plotline like that. To be a good guy means that you have to fight really hard, but you also get to win, which is nice for a change.

W: Are there many Caucasian actors in Hong Kong? Were you one of the main ones?

Nobody’s big if you’re Caucasian over there, unless you’re Hollywood-big, but if you’re a journeyman actor- stunt person or action actor over there… the only one who got really “her name on the marquee” big was Cynthia Rothrock. She’s not doing too much these days; she’s raising a family and whatnot, but she’s done about 40 films or so over there, maybe more, I don’t know. She was the only girl at the time, the first one, and she hit it big, became a bit of a name, and went on to have her name on starring credits and onto the marquee with top billing. Right after that period, there’s a rush of films for three years, from the late ‘80s to early ‘90s, where they all wanted to have one or two or three Westerners in each film, and there was a nucleus of six or eight of us who just mobbed up all the bad guy work, all of it. If we weren’t working on something with a decent budget, we were working on something extremely low budget just for fun, just to stay in shape, and often those’d be very fun. Put it this way: Working for $7 an hour. (laughs)

W: Oh, Lord!

There was a company—If you weren’t working for a week, instead of going to the gym every day, you’d stay tuned up and get a job with one of these guys, put on some hokey ninja outfit and go off in a pine forest somewhere and just have a good time, just chop-socking it up. That was for $7 an hour, and then they’d raise you $0.50 per film, and you’d top out at $10/hour. And what that company would do was, they’d put two films together; they’d take footage from an old film that’d never been seen, that’d never been sold, and they’d look at it with an eye towards making something new. So they’d write a new storyline, including about a week’s worth of new shooting, and combine the two, so inevitably there comes a time when you have to do a scene with somebody in another movie, maybe from another country… (laughs all around) So they developed this style that became quite popular with the producers, maybe not the people; the people would watch it, but… So, you would do a scene with someone sitting at a table, and they would sort of match it to an extent, they’d look at the person from the other movie and then they’d shoot a reverse of you accepting the mission to go retrieve the Golden Buddha, or avenge somebody’s master, and then you’d take off and go do it. So, they put two and two together… I did like 10 of those; I know the name of only one or two. They were so bad; they’re funny! The dubbing would be hideous!

W: What’s the company’s name?

It was IFD… One of them was “Ninja Thundercats”. If you can find it, please let me know. And Sophia Crawford, who was one of Buffy’s stunt doubles in the early days, she and I knew each other from Hong Kong, and she did one or two IFD films in the early days. We were in something horrible together for IFD, where she was some sort of an evil goddess. The storyline might have been something right out of “Buffy,” but the budget was something far, far, far less. And yet, they shoot in 35 mm., you know? They do a reasonable job, but the corners that they cut…

W: How and when did you transition back to the States? Why did you come back?

Well, with China about to take over in a few years’ time, the kind of work that I was doing was petering out. My friends and I were wondering what we were going to do; different people started different businesses, like making handbags or sweatshop pants and selling them, and I had to leave. It was just time to go, so I left. Also, I had some immigration troubles…

W: Let’s not go there…

(chuckles) No, the thing with all of us was—the four or five Americans had to leave the country and come back every month, to get another tourist visa for another month. So, if I was working on a movie, I had to tell them, “I can’t work until 10AM on this day, because I have to fly away for my visa and come back.” Nobody’s giving you a work permit there. So, for three years, in and out, in and out, in and out, and they ask you, “What are you doing here?” For one, two, three years, and everybody had a different story. Mine was that I was practicing Tai Chi in the park with a master. Somebody else was a food critic and carried articles with him. Sometimes they’d ask me to demonstrate it –“We don’t believe you”- and I’d have to do a few moves… (shows off some arm movements) “Okay, okay!” (mimes stamping the passport) But then, over time, they’re like, “We’ve seen you in a movie. You’re working here in movies!” (I was in a movie with Jet Li called ”Once Upon a Time in China”and something else called “The Middleman”) “We saw you; we don’t believe you! You’re working! Go talk to immigration headquarters.” So, if they catch you working, they want you out.

W: So what year was this?

(sighs) Oh, God! 1992? Late ’91?

W: How did you get involved with “Buffy”? Were you always James’ stunt double?

What happened was, I was visiting L.A.—and no, I wasn’t. Somebody pointed a stuntman in L.A. that I was visiting, and he asked me if I knew Sophia. I said, “Of course, from Hong Kong!” He said, “Well, she’s Buffy’s stunt double, you oughta go say hi to her,” and I thought that was a swell idea, because I hadn’t seen her in many years, since Hong Kong, and I’d heard she was doing really well, first with “Power Rangers” and then with “Buffy”, on TV, so I went to say hi and her fiancé at the time gave me a job. And the way that came about was, James at the time was appearing occasionally? He’d done three or four episodes…

W: He was recurring, and then he was made regular.

Right! So, before that, it was explained to me that they’d tried a few fellas out, and nobody was quite right, and the day I stepped in was—

We were doing the interview in a public place, and at this point, we got interrupted by a rather rambunctious homeless man in a heated argument with… probably Marcie (from Buffy’s “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”), I guess, because we couldn’t see anybody else.

ST: It’s always so colorful around here! (laughs all around) Some of these guys are fine, but I’ve had to bounce a couple of them outta here…

W: Wait, you bounce people? That’s cool!

Yeah, in the coffee shop. If they get too rowdy? Yeah… No, one guy just went insane in the hair salon over there, and I had to put him in a headlock…

W: That totally rocks!

I got a free haircut out of it! (laughs all around) I still get a good discount… Where was I?

W: You were talking about coming in on “Buffy”…

Yeah, what’s the episode where James has a ring on him?

W: “The Harsh Light of Day.”

That was my first work on there. On the first day, we shot the entire fight outside in one day, pretty much… Can I tell you a story?

W: Sure!

On “Harsh Light of Day” it was the first time I really got to see Sophia, and we had a lot of catching up to do. So, first things first, we rehearsed the whole fight, and the boss said, “Okay, I’m gonna leave, you guys rehearse” and walked away, but we didn’t feel we needed to, we already had it in our heads. So, we were just sitting down on the grass there, and the stunt coordinator and some of the producers and people came to look at the rehearsal, and the boss freaked out. “Why aren’t you guys rehearsing? What’s up? They need to see the fight!” “Relax, we have it.” And so we stood up and did the fight. “Okay… that’s cool.” Cos it was long and… anyway, they were impressed with the rehearsal, so I heard right on the spot, “If you want this job, would you like to have it? The producers like you, and if you’ll dye your hair, they want to keep you.”

W: So, you had to go through the whole bleaching of the hair with the Sweet-N-Low and all that?

No, the Sweet-N-Low is something special for James only, his special superstition. (laughs heartily) That’s special for the star! (more laughs)

W: You just had to suffer the burn! So I have a couple of James’ quotes – back in April, at Sci-Fi Grand Slam, a fan asked him about the jump that Spike does on the coffin in the musical episode, whether it was actually him, as she had heard, and James said: “Yeah, that was all Steve Tartalia, yeah. Basically, if my feet were on the ground, it’s probably me. But, if my feet were off the ground, whether it’s because I’m flying through the air about to hurt myself, or because I’m doing triple leg combinations and getting really fancy? If one foot’s on the ground, it’s maybe me. But if both feet are off the ground going (makes swooshing noises), that’s Steve.” He also added he was there for the entire shooting of that coffin scene, and then was asked about an incident with flatulence on your part at that scene? First he said, “You guys listen to that crap a lot!” And then the fan said she “knows one of the men involved in moving the coffin, and that it had been actually his fault (not yours, the guy raising the coffin). “I was standing on the side, man. I don’t know; I didn’t smell anything!” Then he sings your praises as follows: “Steve Tartalia was a godsend. He came to us straight out of Hong Kong; he was the premiere Caucasian actor in Hong Kong, where they don’t know the meaning of the word ‘safety.’ He was so good, he made me wanna throw up.”


W: And I have one more, from Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors, during his Sunday panel. James said he’s lived his life like “a disposable Q-tip” (Steve laughs) because he’s had knee surgery, he’s broken a foot, he’s got his back messed up, and so he worries about “how many more years of pretending to be youthful I have, because I’ve done a lot of damage. If I exercise, I’m good; if I don’t, I get creaky. On “Angel”, I did a lot of my own stunts, and I could barely walk. I was crawling to the chiropractor across the street, and people almost run me over!” He said he’s now better and can jump –and he started jumping on stage, actually- “and I’m also smarter too, because I’d let the stuntman do his job. There’s no need for it; let Steve Tartalia make me look good.” Care to reply? (laughs all around)


W: He wants to kill James! (laughs all around)

No, no, you gotta love him; he’s really kind, and a lot of what he says is true, but he’s also… what a brother!

W: He also said on the featurette about the stunts of “Buffy” that you are as much Spike as he is.

That’s beautiful; that’s really nice. Two things- from the very beginning on “The Harsh Light of Day,” when they started shooting the fight with me and Sophia, and James is watching the fight to see where he’s gonna pluck in, he saw how much they were shooting with Sophia and me and went, “Why didn’t anybody come get me? Help me, help me.” I told him, ‘James, I’m just doing what I’m told right now, but, yes…” So from that point on, we developed a relationship where he was asked by the boss, or if he wasn’t, or if there wasn’t enough time, I’d go out of my way and he’d go out of his way to learn as much as he could, because the reality is that he would do 9/10ths of the fight, or even more. He’s being very kind right now. Overall, as time went on, he’d do a huge amount, and there were moments where there’d be nothing for me to do, and he’d be doing a pretty complex fight. And his reactions were spot-on too! He’d get in a mood, and he’d whip his head and go flying and hit the deck and go slide up and pound up on a wall like that. And then, what a good boy! He goes and gives me credit for stuff like that, you know? He takes air; he takes flight. He knows how to fly! But, sometimes, if his neck was hurting or something like that, he had no problem with giving it up, and I had no problem with doing it then, too.

Now, about the musical episode, at the moment that Stunt Spike lands on the coffin, and the pallbearers lift it, one of them, I think Pallbearer #6, passed gas. I learned it’d been him later, but everybody thought it’d been me. So, I went up to Pallbearer #6 and asked him to please step up and say it’d been him, and he said, “Absolutely not! You’re on your own!” (laughs all around) Because everybody had heard it clearly as they were rolling sound at that time. You can’t hear it too clearly, but I had the dailies from that time, and it’s clear; you can see everybody laughing. It was very hard not to laugh at that incident; I had to wait until the cut, and then I laughed so hard, I fell off. I couldn’t live that down for a while. The boss, John Medlen, was a prankster. I think it was only one week later, we were shooting in the back of the “Buffy” lot, in the street where all the little stores were. Joss was still directing, the whole team from the musical was there –I think they were finishing that episode- and off to the side there was a 1K light that was shining very brightly. John called me to the side, he stopped me in the light, and says, “Come here, I want to talk to you.” And it was very close to where Joss was directing, and then he passed gas as loudly as he could, and took off running, leaving me in the light. (laughs) And everybody turned and they saw me standing there…

W: That’s evil!

(laughing) On, my God! But what can you do?

W: I understand you and John got hurt shooting “Smashed”?

Oh, yes! John Medlen was horribly, horribly, horribly hurt. I did get hurt, but in a separate incident. Was it really during “Smashed”? (thinks) Yeah, we had a whole day shooting that episode, where we’re bringing down the house and Buffy and Spike are fighting and kissing and fighting and kissing… In another part of that scene, Spike has to hang from the chandelier, and instead of letting me demonstrate it for the camera crew and the director, John insisted on doing it himself. He liked to get in there; John Medlen is a very good stuntman himself, and if you’re running the show and you’re the boss, you get frustrated after a while. You want to get out there and shake a leg, you know? You wanna move yourself, and so he said, “Let me do this, Steve,” and he grabbed the chandelier and he swung… And it broke and it fell on top of him, on his face!

W: Oof!

Yeah, he fell a good 7 ft., because he’s swinging and the legs come up, and the thing broke, and it pancaked on top of his face. It was a very close call; it was horrible. Could have been worse, he broke his nose. Thank God it wasn’t worse. He went straight to the hospital and that was that.

W: And you got injured too how?

On “Smashed,” at the end, they go through the ceiling and they hit the deck. They cut and the next episode is obvious there was some activity between the two episodes. On that fall, our legs got tangled in the breakaway ceiling, and it caused us to tilt at an angle so that my head would be the first thing to hit the ground. And it did, and it knocked me out. Basically, I came to with some flashlights and smelling salts or something, and then they just redid the ceiling and I went again. (laughs) The funny thing is, it might as well have been two sacks of potatoes, because you can’t see us. You just see something falling with a bunch of debris, so… Sometimes it works like that; you think it’s a big stunt and then you don’t see something, you don’t see it’s you or the character.

W: I have one quick question about the fight Spike has with Glory at the hospital, in Season 5, where he hits the X-ray thingy with his back, then lands on the table full of instruments and falls off. Was that difficult to do?

Even though it looks complicated, it was more of a precision thing. I was just putting together a stunt reel the other day, and I have some behind the scene footage of that, but I couldn’t use it because it’s really too small. Often in a small space like that, we don’t have enough room for a catapult, but we have enough room for a mini trampoline. If you don’t have enough space to run and hit the trampoline, you have to stand on it and jump up, bounce and hit the thing and put yourself exactly in one place. I think the only trouble with that was… I needed to roll off, not land and hit hard. I think I had to do it twice because the first time I hit it and then rolled, and they wanted to see me sliding off. So that was two takes.

W: Were you happy to move on to “Angel” once “Buffy” was over?

Oh, yes!

W: Tell us about working on “Angel”, a show that’d been on the air for some time, and here you come, the new kids on the block…

Well, it’s like this: Most producers and writers like to keep their fans in suspense, and so the talk that Spike was gonna go on to “Angel” was just talk, and certainly there was a big rumor mill going, but there was no certainty in my mind, nor in James’ mind, or so I understand. And then it happened, but he was a ghost. That’s great for James, he’s got a lot of ghost acting, but in my head, I just sank. I thought, “My God, if you’re a ghost, you can’t do any action! There’s nothing to do! You’re just gonna be a ghost, going through walls and talking to people.” And then they had the big ghost fight, so I was really happy with that bit. That was a nice, fun run too that was cut short, as you know. And the beautiful little campaign to “Save Angel” was really beautiful too; I still have like five or six of the candy bars. I think I actually had one for a midnight snack a few months ago. It’s a pity that, despite you guys getting on the news and all that with the campaign, it didn’t work.

W: Yes, that is part of the reason, I think, why Joss doesn’t want to do any more TV, what happened with “Angel” and “Firefly”. However, you’ll be happy to know that as of this Fall, “Angel” is coming back in comic book form, co-written by Joss and Brian Lynch, from IDW, who’s written great Spike comics (“Spike: Asylum” and “Spike: Shadow Puppets”)

Oh, great, I didn’t know that! Any chance of the comic books becoming a live action Spike movie?

W: We don’t know, but according to what James said in the panel he did on Friday at Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors, when Joss tried to take the project of a Spike movie to other studios, like Paramount, there was no interest.


W: If there were a chance of James becoming Spike again, would you jump at the chance of being the daredevil part of Spike too?

I wouldn’t say I’d jump at the chance; I’d rise to the occasion, if offered.

W: Cool! What are you working on right now? What have you been up to?

ST: I had a little Internet business for the last couple of years that I’m slowly getting out of, but let’s see… Right after “Angel”, I went on to most of the second to last season of Alias doing stunts for Michael Vartan’s character, Vaughn. Then I did The Legend of Zorro, down in Mexico, playing a bad guy with Nick Chinlund. He was the guy with the wooden teeth, and I was one of his henchmen. That was some fun! I hurt my knee on that job, so I had to take it easy for a while… And last fall into Christmas, I had a good run on “Pirates of the Caribbean 3.” Boy, memory is kind with anything painful and hard! It was a really difficult shoot for everybody, with 100 mph winds and rain--- the boat battle at the end of the movie, where there’s a whirlpool? There were two boats on hydraulic lifts to make ‘em tip and turn, with giant rainmakers and windmakers and 40 or 50 people on each boat, just hacking away, lighting cannons and flying and all that stuff… It was great fun.

W: Are you working on anything right now?

I’m starting to train and prepare for “Indiana Jones IV.”

W: Mike Massa is working on “Indiana Jones IV.”

Oh, good! Good, good, good… I’ve no idea what I’m gonna be doing; I’m just in line for it. The boss is Gary Powell, who was the stunt coordinator for “Zorro.”

W: Tell us about working with Mike on “Angel”, specifically in the fight between Spike and Angel in “Destiny.”

(pleased sigh) Oh! Well, Mike wasn’t in “Destiny”, sorry to disappoint you, but at the time he was working on another film, “Iron Fist” or something like that. The guy doubling Angel then was JJ Perry, another great stuntman. That episode was… well, it was a three-day fight. How was it? It was bliss! (laughs) Just to look at the script, and see the fight was 15 pages long! It makes a stunt double’s heart just sing! You just get a really big, warm, fuzzy feeling, and you feel such happiness and camaraderie and joy with the writers and the people who did it. Stephen S. DeKnight wrote it, and Skip Schoolnick directed it, and I was going out of my way, going around the corner whenever there was a little break, or hiring someone to keep Skip in ice-blended “Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf” beverages, that were very popular. We kept finding people to go get cases with added double shots of espresso to keep us going. If you see that scene again, and it looks very kinetic, it’s largely fueled by a lot of caffeine from Coffee Bean.

W: Yeah, James mentioned that David (Boreanaz) had had knee surgery, and they had him doing triple spin kicks and stuff, and he grew to respect David a lot that day, because he was almost limping and they had him doing all that complicated stuff.

When we were doing the rebar fight part with the stunt double, we worked that up and we shot our version of it. When it came time for Angel doing his, he didn’t learn the whole fight, we just needed some plug-in pieces for him, and so… (cracks up) I can’t even say it! Oh, my God!

W: Go ahead, whatever it is, we can take it.

I figured, because his knee was bad, we did something called a loop, a combination of techniques, say, high, low, high, medium, low, like this. And I figured, “Well, he’s gonna go at a modest clip because his knee is hurting.” He pressed me so hard and fast; he came at me… I remember the whole loop choreography going to hell, and him just coming at me full-tilt boogie with his stick, and I had to really defend myself for real, which is good when you have a good stuntman to work with, but I always worry with actors. I remember leaving with some really sore, bruised up fingers that day. But I was super impressed that he had the energy to press me hard enough to give me a run for my money… And all the air jumps Spike did on the wire, when he’s coming down and is trying to skewer Angel from high to low and from low to high? That’s all James.

W: Really?!

Yes, and he did it beautifully! Couldn’t have been better.

W: You sound like a proud papa.

Oh, no, when he nailed something big that should be kind of, “Come on, James, relax! Let the stuntman do it”? When he does it? Oh, yeah, pride!

W: So, was James a good student of yours? Did you guys become friends?

(ponders) I couldn’t call him a student by any stretch, because James has enough background in stage combat and movement, and as an actor interpreting all this stuff, he really could be a stuntman if he wanted to. If he weren’t acting and he’d applied himself, and he couldn’t say a few words naturally as well as he can, he could easily be a stuntman. Teaching him the moves is just showing him the choreography; it’s hardly at all having to teach him something. It never felt like that, honestly, because he’s so bright and capable, even something complex that would have me having to practice it, it’s the same for him. If anybody has to get on a wire-- in the last episode of “Buffy”, “Chosen”, there were a couple of great Spike moments that never made it that we were rehearsing for. Spike had to get up on a wire and--- he was fighting with three people, and he had to be on the wire and have some tension, then punch or kick or something, and then jump up in the air, spin 1.5 revolutions, kick guys #3 and #1 over there, and then land like Jet Li, in a “Crouching Tiger” sort of a move. And I would have had to practice it in the same way, and he got it in two or three pulls. He got it pretty good! This is not super-easy stuff; this is stuff that any good stunt guy would struggle for and rehearse, and he’d just take the same amount of time as just about anyone, you know? So… he’s like a colleague, really. That’s the way I look at it.

W: We got to the final part of the interview, and that means it’s times for the questions from “Inside the Actor’s Studio.”

I love “Inside the Actor’s Studio” interviews! How many times have you watched them and wept towards the end? There’s very few things that make me cry, but something happens when the music comes on at the end that gets me weepy-eyed. Right?

W: Yeah… I actually cried this morning, because TNT showed “Not Fade Away”, the last episode of “Angel”, and I cry without fail when Wes is dying and Illyria asks him, “Would you like me to lie to you now?” and he says, “Yes, thank you, yes.”, and she turns into Fred… I just lose it every time.

Aww! Tell me, of all of “Buffy” and “Angel,” who made you cry the most?

W: Spike, of course!

I rest my case. What was that scene? In season 5 or season 6, Spike is sitting on a step with Buffy, and I think her mother had just died?

W: No, she just found out her mother is sicker than they thought. It’s the scene at the end of “Fool for Love”.

Right! And she doesn’t want to talk to him, so he sits with her and he’s about to pat her on the back, but he doesn’t do it. (Actually, he does pat her back, repeatedly.- Editor's Note) I was watching them film that, and I was like… (dries tears pretending he’s fixing his hair) You know? Even live, not even with music on the show, even on set! I got weepy; I had to go and hide. You know how guys do it, when you pretend you’re fixing your hair, and you’re just… (moves hand over eye first, and then on to the back of the head)

”Answering Pivot’s Questionnaire is hard!”
W: Okay, the key to Pivot’s Questionnaire is not to overthink it, because then you get frustrated. So, Steve, what's your favorite word?

ST: “Lollygagging.”

W: What's your least favorite word?

ST: “Cancelled.”

W: What's your favorite sound?

ST: Honestly, it’s my motorcycle when it’s running right. It’s a Kawasaki H2750 Widowmaker.

W: What's your least favorite sound?

ST: My neighbors, when they’re doing it.

W: Okay! On that note…

ST: I’m sorry!

W: No, it’s fine! What turns you on?

ST: Enthusiasm.

W: What turns you off?

ST: Impatience.

W: What's your favorite curse word?

ST: I like ‘em all; I don’t have a favorite… (thinks) *censormode*tard.

W: Nice! What profession other than yours would you ever like to attempt?

ST: Kung fu master. Tai-Chi master.

W: What profession other than yours would you never like to attempt?

ST: Any of the jobs that you see on “Dirty Jobs,” particularly the guy that puts the rubber bands around the lobster claws. Up in Maine, in the winter, there’s someone who has to take the lobster and put a rubber band on their claws. Imagine having to do that for 12 hours a day!

W: And finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

ST: “He’s paid his dues. Let him in.”

W: Thank you so much for talking to us.