Writer, Director, Producer, Actor. Dimitri Logothetis has worn many hats, through his storied career. Ahead of the release of his new film, Kickboxer: Retaliation, Dimitri sat down to talk with us about his work on the film in its multiple roles, what he learnt from Martin Scorsese, authenticity in action & comedy and his thoughts about remaking other 80s classics.
As the director, writer & producer of Kickboxer: Retaliation, is this a passion project for you?
Well it’s an opportunity that arose that I took. I’ve been a martial artist my entire life, I trained with Ed Parker, the man who worked with Bruce Lee & Elvis, and I got my black belt when I was 19 and I’ve always been involved in and interested in the world of it.
It’s because of people like Bruce Lee, who when Enter the Dragon was out me and all of my friends flocked to the cinema to see it and it’s when you see Lee do what he does and you know about his success at the International Karate Championships and you know that everything he’s doing feels more real because he’s actually doing it. I wanted to try and capture that and produce something that could make people go ‘wow, they really did that?’
You’ve worked quite extensively with Alain Moussi (star of Wings of the Dragon & The new Kickboxer Trilogy), would you consider him the De Niro to your Scorsese?
Yeah, I like that comparison [laughs]. Alain was a stunt guy; he’s worked on a lot of big films; but more than that, he’s got that authenticity I mentioned, he’s got a 6th Dan Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitzu and he’s a good looking and a charismatic guy, which helps because he looks like a movie star – but some of the things he can do are incredible. He does things you wouldn’t believe if they were done with CGI, he can leap over people and hit spinning back kicks in the air; he’s just doing things so much beyond what anyone else is doing at the moment and I feel like it’s great working with him now because I really feel like I’m seeing someone just before they’re about to become the next big thing.
Your cast includes seasoned performers like Jean Claude Van Damme, but also more left-field choices like Mike Tyson and Ronaldinho, what was it like working with such a varied cast?
Well what Tyson brings is authenticity, a different type of authenticity but he’s a multiple time world champion, has one of the best right hooks in the world and he acts as something of a second mentor to Kurt [Sloane, Alain Moussi’s character] along with Van Damme and you know, when he throws a punch, people believe that it’s him. He just has that presence and that real-ness to him.
With Ronaldinho, it was great to get to work with him as he was in Thailand while we were filming the prison section and we thought it would be great to get in Ronaldinho as well as Mike Tyson as that attracts the real sports crowd and it opens us up to different markets. But he’s not just a stunt casting, I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people as he’s a lot of fun on-screen and some of the stuff he does, he’s more than just a footballer – I’ll say that.
Between your movie, Creed, MMA, the Mayweather-McGregor fight, is this a good time for combat sports?
Yeah it’s a big time for sports; I mean you see all these kids getting into it and I think that works out for us because I’m not ashamed to admit that something about our film, you look at it and you might think it’s a guilty-pleasure and in a way it is. I’ve had a lot of the real-sports guys come up to me and say that with our films, they watch them to relax and have a good time but you know, they also find a lot of real stunt content. We are trying to entertain but at the same time we want to hit hard and show people something that if they’re coming into our film from the MMA world, that this is something that can appeal to them.
Your biography says you were inspired to go into writing and directing by Martin Scorsese, what important lessons did he teach you?
Well this goes back to when I was starting out. I was an actor and I had some great experiences but one of them was on New York, New York which was a small role but a great experience because here I was on the set of this great film with Liza Minelli and Robert De Niro and it’s this very brave film from a guy who was known for his presence in gangster and crime cinema to be making a musical, it felt very different and it was exciting.
But one day, I was writing, working on my thesis, and Scorsese sees me writing and asks to take a look at it and he tells me I’m pretty good. I’d worked in theatre as well, so I think I’d had a hand on storytelling, and he said I should think about going to film school. So I applied everywhere as far as I could, Marty even wrote me a letter of recommendation that I attached to my applications, and even got back some offers but in those days, well still in these days, but film school isn’t cheap so I ended up going to Loyola Marymount on a scholarship but he was such a visionary and had complete control of his ideas and he just, he lit a flame under me and I guess it still hasn’t been extinguished.
That must have been quite the calling card
Oh it helped for sure [Laughs].
Having been partially responsible for the revival of the Kickboxer franchise and this new film featuring Highlander‘s Christopher Lambert, what other films do you think or would like to see having a revival?
Well back in 2011, I acquired Kings Road entertainment and we’re looking into a lot of projects. With the Kickboxer films, there’s a third one coming out and after that, were going to take a break from those for a while. We’re looking into a TV series based on a brother of a character but we haven’t introduced them yet.
There’s also a pilot in the works, an adaptation of a comic book series I’ve written called Jiu Jitsu that’s a project set in a sci-fi world but with a lot of strong martial arts elements that I think could make for an interesting combination but also there’s a good library of titles we’re looking at working on remakes on that we have the rights to.
One we’re working on at the moment is the Steve Martin classic All of Me which I think, obviously, it’s hard to find anyone to match Steve, but it’s such a good premise and I really think we could do something unique with it. Another one we’re looking at is an old Robin Williams and Jerry Stiller film, Seize The Day, that not many people seem to remember but it’s a wonderful, wonderful film and another one that I think is ripe for re-discovery.
There’s a similarity between martial arts and physical comedy in that innate star-power and ability to do it. You either just have ‘it’ or you don’t.
Yeah, there is a similarity. You know, when you look at cinema history, there’s only a handful of guys who can really do it: Steve for one, Robin, Jonathan Winters, who never really got the credit he deserved, there’s ‘Doctor Strangelove’, Peter Sellers, there was a guy who knew how to do physical comedy and smart comedy and he could combine them. Some of the things he did, I don’t know if anyone will match them. There are probably even fewer names in Martial arts but I think there’s a chance, Alain could be thought of amongst them. As I’ve said, he’s a handsome, charismatic guy and I think he’ll show that he’s also even though he’s not known as an actor, he’s truly got something, like you say, he’s got ‘it’.
And of course, for the longest time, Jean Claude Van Damme wasn’t taken seriously as an actor not really until [2008 film] JCVD.
Well yeah and he’s another one who he’s so good in fight scenes that you can forget how good he is as an actor, in Kickboxer[: Retaliation], he has some big, emotional scenes that I think are going to surprise people, he’s really good.
Also no one seems to give him credit for how funny he is because he really is a very funny guy. I mean, he has his pilot, Jean Claude Van Johnson, the series is out in January I think, and it’s really good but you know, he’s just- he’s hilarious in it.
With your Greek background, if you haven’t already, would you like to make a movie in Greece and if you did, what area of Greek life do you think could be interesting that hasn’t been brought to screen already?
There is a story I’ve been trying to tell for a while about how, during World War II, when the Germans took over Greece, they took a lot of Greeks up to Germany and near the end of the war when the Russians started liberating prisoners, my father, he had to walk home. There’s this lovely story that I just haven’t had the guts to write about this walk and how he encountered strangers and they would clothe and feed him as best they could and he would fix things around their towns because that’s what he did and it’s just this sort of an odyssey of his journey to go from there, back home. It’s a story that involves a very positive outlook on life, it’s not cynical, it’s a very positive spirit and that’s speaks to the Greek outlook, a very ‘glass half-full’ as opposed to half-empty.
Kickboxer: Retaliation is an action movie and a sports movie, so with that in mind, what would you say your favourite sports movie and action movie are?
That’s a tough one. Sports movie, I’d say the Burt Reynolds film, The Longest Yard; I think it’s a lot of fun, very comedic and it involves a lot of really good football. Action movie is a really tough one but I’d say the first Daniel Craig James Bond movie [Casino Royale]. It’s just a really great way to kick off a rebooted franchise and the action is just so well choreographed.
And of course, there was the post-opening credits scene in that film with the originator of Parkour…
Yeah, it has that authenticity and we’re trying to bring that to our film. In fact we have this one fight scene where Alain is fighting 17/18 men on his own and he takes them all out and we do it all in a single take so you know, we don’t hide it behind the cuts, you see exactly how he takes out each of these 18 men and it just lends the action extra-credibility when you can see there aren’t any strings to cover up. Over the two films we have over 6 world champions in their respective fields with guys like Tyson- even Bautista was a multiple world champ; even if some people don’t respect wrestling, it’s just another form of performance and what they do, the level of performance they put in 200-250 days of the year is incredible, I don’t know many people who could do that.
But you know, we have all of these real names in it and we’re getting all this good press, Variety gave us a great write-up for the first film and this one, I genuinely think, it blows the first one out of the water.
Kickboxer: Retaliation is out in cinemas in the US on January 20th 2018
(and hopefully not long after in the UK).