Tony Jaa star of The Protector

By Daniel Robert Epstein
Sep 4, 2006
suicidegirls.com

Tony Jaa’s first major film, Ong-Bak, took America completely by surprise last year. Now Jaa is back in The Protector, in which he takes his signature martial art--Muay Thai--to a whole new level. Jaa achieves seemingly impossible stunts like flipping off of the foreheads of elephants and kicking the crap out of dozens of people using vicious elbow and knee hits. He also inspires great emotion for the elephants that his character is trying to rescue. With the help of a translator, Jaa and I were able to speak when he hit New York City for The Protector promotional tour.

Check out the official website for The Protector

Daniel Robert Epstein: What did you want to do with this movie that you weren’t able to with Ong-Bak?
Tony Jaa: The Protector is obviously a bigger production with a bigger budget. We are trying to gain more international exposure with an international cast as well as filming in Australia. We tried to improve the action by introducing new and interesting movements from Muay Thai. One of the interesting scenes was the one with four sets of stairs which we did all in one shot. That was filmed with a Steadicam and had to be done within four minutes, so it was very challenging to get everything right. Also again I did not use any stuntmen or wires.
DRE : I understand that you’ve been doing martial arts around elephants for a long time. How did that start?
Jaa: I’ve been exposed to elephants since childhood. I grew up raising elephants and I actually have two elephants, one is named Leaf and Flower. In order to film with the elephants in the movie I took one week to acclimate myself with the elephants so that they would know my scene and my voice so they would be familiar with me and not be scared while filming.
DRE : Are elephants as nice as they are in the movie?
Jaa: A lot of the older elephants actually have experience in Thai movies. With the smaller younger elephants, it was a little hard getting them on the set so I would actually take a banana and lure them onto the film set.
DRE : Was that Jackie Chan in the airport or not?
Jaa: It was not Jackie Chan. That was an intentional look-alike.
DRE : Have you ever met Jackie?
Jaa: I did have a chance to meet Jackie when Jackie came to Thailand to make a movie but that was before preproduction on Ong-Bak.
DRE : How was it dealing with the different fighting styles in the movie?
Jaa: I wanted to offer a different type of martial arts to the audience incorporating capoeira, wrestling, all these various forms of martial arts. The martial artists that you see are specialists in their field. They were carefully selected and they all have experience with filming. They were very easy to work with.
DRE : There’re a lot more bone breaking scenes in this movie than there was in the last one. Why was that important?
Jaa: I wanted to show the extremes of Muay Thai and it also showcases Muay Thai elephant, which is a very old style of Muay Thai.
DRE : I read that there’s a video game for The Protector.
Jaa: It’s a PC video game which you can buy it in Thailand. I’m not sure if it’s available here. I haven’t played it.
DRE : I’m 6 foot 3 inches. If I was to lunge at you, what would be the first thing you do?
Jaa: Run away. I’m too fast for you.
DRE : I read that Brett Ratner wanted to put you in Rush Hour 3.
Jaa: Brett did not speak to me directly. He spoke to my manager. I happened to have a project in Thailand in the works so the timing didn’t work out but it’s definitely something that I’m interested in.
DRE : Would you like to be in American movies?
Jaa: I’d like to do some type of co-production between Thailand and the United States. If it’s a good script and a good team, I’d definitely be interested.
DRE : What is Ong-Bak and The Protector director Prachya Pinkaew like?
Jaa: I have a great relationship with the director. I feel Prachya has a better understanding of the martial arts now. He basically saw the opportunity to market Muay Thai to both the Thai community and the international community with movies.
DRE : Did you hurt yourself doing The Protector?
Jaa: During the whole production, there were no deaths or broken bones. The worst injury that I suffered is that I tore a muscle when I did a jumping scene. We had to stop production for two days. I basically compare it to any injury that you may receive when playing sports.
DRE : How’d you like shooting in Australia?
Jaa: Going abroad was a great experience for me. It had its positive side with international exposure as well as more things that we had to work with in terms of complying with laws. The Australians are stricter with sticking to production schedule. It was just a good experience overall.
DRE : What is your next movie, Sword, about?
Jaa:That has been changed to Ong-Bak 2 and it’s currently in preproduction.
DRE : What’s the plot of Ong-Bak 2?
Jaa: Ong-Bak 2 is a period piece. I’m actually going to direct as well as star in the film. It’s my first time as a director and it will feature a new type of Muay Thai using traditional weapons and new action scenes and moves. Wait and see.
DRE : What made you decide to direct?
Jaa: I have an image in my head of the action of various styles and martial arts. I actually wanted to project that to the viewer so being a director was the most manageable step to make.
DRE : I understand that you’re going to be doing something at the Muay Thai School tomorrow. Is Muay Thai done properly at these schools?
Jaa: Muay Thai in Thailand and here come from the same foundation. The difference might be the environment in which they’re practicing and the equipment that can be used. Old Muay Thai really concentrates on the meditation aspect so the spiritual awareness and will-power and inner strength is a big part of it. Muay Thai for films is quite different on its own. Ong-Bak was really the first film that accurately documented the use of Muay Thai, so it’s evolving.

by Daniel Robert Epstein

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