Q & A: Jackie Chan on The Foreigner
by Fred Topel
Jackie Chan is back like you’ve never seen him, unless you’ve done a deep dive into his Hong Kong filmography. Over the years, Chan did make dramas like Crime Story and Heart of Dragon, but the ones that came over to North America were mostly his comedies.
The Foreigner is very serious, but shows Chan can still kick ass. Chan plays Quan, a man whose daughter dies in an IRA bombing. With no answers from the police, Quan seeks out Irish Deputy Minister Hennessy (Pierce Brosnan) for his connection to the IRA. When Quan fights in The Foreigner, he doesn’t have time to pick up every object in the room like Chan usually does.
Gonzo saw Chan speak in person in Los Angeles about introducing American audiences to his dramatic side. His English is still only about as good as it was in Rush Hour but he gets his message across. The Foreigner is in theaters October 13.
Q: How did it feel to do a dramatic role in The Foreigner?
JC: I’ve been planning for the last 20 years, trying to change my character, trying to change what the audience thought. Everybody thinks Jackie is only an action-comedy star. I know, as an action star, your life is very short. In all of history in the whole world, how many action stars are left? Not many. If you’re a star like Robert De Niro, Clint Eastwood, they act forever. If I continue doing action films and then suddenly one day I cannot jump anymore, cannot fight anymore, I want to change and be an actor. For the last 20 years, you can see from New Police Story and Rob-B-Hood, actually I’ve been planning. When Will Smith hired me for Karate Kid, for me it’s a big challenge. I said, should I do it? He wants me to play an old man, not that old, but a lot of English dialogue, less fighting. I said it’s about time. Less fighting, just do acting. I did it and a lot of fans asked, “Why are you so old and no fighting?” but after the movie comes out, t made big box office and people thought it was good, everybody says, “Oh Jackie, you did a great job.” Especially right now, a lot of American directors said, “Wow, Jackie, he really can act.” Now they can present a script to me.
It used to be every script presented to me was only Hong Kong police, China police, Hong Kong CIA, China CIA. I always said, when I look at American films, I said, “Why not hire me to do La La Land?” Those kind of comedy, drama films I like but nobody [wanted me]. Always action comedy, action comedy. Now directors and writers want to find something for Jackie, so they asked me to do The Foreigner. I hope one day I really do one drama film without one punch, just drama. I hope you’ll still go to see it.
Q: What was the most challenging part of doing drama in The Foreigner?
JC: The challenge for me always is English. Also because I’m in England, I had to speak British English. That’s two. Also, especially Pierce, the Irish accent. On the set I had to ask, “When is my turn?” Honestly, I’ve been acting for 57 years, all the acting, action, stunts, that’s not difficult. I know how far I can jump. If I think I still can do it, I do it. If I cannot do it, I just don’t design it. The challenge for me is English and also the schedule. You make an American film, the schedule, budget and timing is just so nervous.
Of course I love comedy. When you watch The Foreigner, the whole theater [leans forward]. I think it’s a success. If you watch The Foreigner like this [leaning back], the movie is finished. If you watch the theater still and don’t move, it means you’re concentrating. The movie’s a success. In a comedy film, I need the audience like this [relaxed and laughing] because I always sit in the corner of the theater to watch the audience. I never watch the screen. 10,000 times, I always do the research to see the audience, what are they doing. That’s how I study movies.
Q: What did you learn from this film?
JC: I found in this film I learned, a few years later when I’m old, what will happen to me. I have to walk slowly, quiet, like a humble guy. I just remember every day, the first day I had makeup for four or five hours. Then the director said, “Not old enough, more older. Older, older.” I learned a lot of things. The character is so good. He has so much background, nobody knows, he doesn’t want to talk about it, he just keeps it inside, quiet, hide in London, have a restaurant. That’s all. He wants to peacefully have his own life. Then tragedy happens, his daughter’s gone. He just wants somebody to give him an answer, just ask the police and government. It’s so simple. Give me the names. That’s all. The whole movie, just give me the name. Otherwise, this bad guy continues to kill people.
Q: What did finally winning an Oscar mean to you?
JC: When I learned I was getting an Oscar, I just didn’t believe it. Why me? I’m just making cheap action comedy movies. Those kinds of Oscars always go to Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, these kinds of actors can get it. Why me? Then after I asked the chairman of the Oscars why me, he said, “Because you do so many things, not just acting. You do so many things for animals, for charities.
Then I realized all those years I never thought I can get anything. No matter cheap movie, expensive movie, terrible movie, good movie, every movie I make, making a movie is just like gambling, like The Foreigner. I don’t know if the movie’s good or bad or if the audience will like it or not. Some movies you spend a lot of money, boom. Some movies you spend a lot of money, big success. You just don’t know. I just follow my dream, just do the best I can. Every movie I make, I almost risk my life to do the best I can.
When I have time, I do charity, helping people, helping the young generation. Then I started the Jackie Chan Foundation. Then I started the Jackie Chan Training Center to train young talent. I never thought I could win something. Today, the Oscar came to me. In the old days, I tried to come to the Oscars for so many years, then I gave up. Now suddenly the Oscars come to me. This is why I tell my young children, do the best you can. Don’t aim for anything. Later on, a few years later or 10, 20 years later, everything, the money, the fame, the awards come to you.
Q: What’s your philosophy on fight choreography where you always use props in the scene?
JC: I choreograph the whole thing. I just created. On the set, I always create small things, like in Armor of God, the chewing gum. I always train with small things, coins, mostly learning. I learn so many things from other movies. They do a little bit, I just do a lot. I just create things.
Q: What is your favorite Kung Fu movie?
JC: I think Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon.