Chad Michael Collins did not set out to be action star. In fact, he did not even set out to be an actor. Life often zigs when you expect it to zag, and for Collins, an Albany native, his particular life-zig has brought him full circle, thrusting his childhood into his professional adult life. Instead of playing with G.I. Joes, he is now portraying an on-screen version of one, the elite soldier Brandon Beckett in the Sniper franchise. The latest installment, “Sniper: Ultimate Kill” is set for release on October 3.
We recently sat down with Collins to discuss the worldwide popularity of the franchise, waging war with action figures, and how he transitioned from a public relations assistant to a working actor.
TrunkSpace: You have now played Sgt. Brandon Beckett across four films within the Sniper universe. Is playing a character in a film franchise similar to playing a character in a television series where you’re continuing to learn about who he is as you move forward and receive additional scripts?
Collins: Yes, there are a lot of similarities. I’ve played Brandon four times over the span of seven years, and there is definitely an evolution to the character that is touched on in each and every script. He started as an infantry Marine, then became a novice sniper. Soon he graduated to an elite sniper, then to working outside of the Marine Corps as a hired gun on a global scale. He’s also racked up an impressive body count, for better or worse, and we start to see what psychological effects that has on him as that number grows in “Sniper: Ultimate Kill.” So you get about a 90-page script for a “Sniper” film and breathe life into it, and I’ve been lucky to do that four times now. But if you compare that to, say, my “Extinct” sci-fi series, we did 10 episodes for season 1, each script coming in at about 60 pages. So I think in television, you see moment-to-moment character progression in much more detail, whereas for a film franchise, sometimes years pass before you see the character on screen again.
TrunkSpace: Some very large and successful brands haven’t had the same level of cinematic longevity as the Sniper franchise. What is it about the series that has enabled it to have such staying power?
Collins: Yes, we’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do four films in the rebooted version of this franchise, and I think its longevity is due to a couple of factors. Unlike a hugely-budgeted studio movie, we’re not trying to make something big and broad and “wow” everyone with tons of special effects; the “Sniper” films are very specific, budget-wise, genre-wise, tone-wise. It’s a military action film on a smaller scale, and it really takes a deep look into the minds of these elite soldiers, how and why they fight, and what that does to them mentally. We have great success on an international level, where the movies play in dozens and dozens of territories, and those international fans seem to love them! We also get a great response from current and former military, as well as diehard action film fans. So hopefully the response to “Sniper: Ultimate Kill” is even bigger and better so that we can keep throwing Brandon and Co. into the fire!
TrunkSpace: Action movies always seem to do well overseas. Does the Sniper franchise have a bigger (or as big of a) following in other parts of the world as it does here in the States?
Collins: Yes, as I touched on above, the “Sniper” franchise does very well overseas. From what I’ve gathered, there is a nice fanbase and following of our franchise domestically as well, but I love seeing how well-received these films are internationally. Maybe it’s the action, maybe it’s the mystique and nostalgia surrounding the brave servicemen and women that have always made up our American military. For better or worse – and I’d like to think for better – I get the sense that when you think “America,” you think of its history and how its military has always played a huge part in forming our identity. I think there’s a mystique and a pride about that that is recognized around the world.
TrunkSpace: We read that you grew up playing with G.I. Joe action figures. Is being able to act in the “Sniper” franchise a bit like getting to play G.I. Joe as an adult? Is 8-year-old Chad Michael Collins high fiving current Chad Michael Collins?
Collins: Not only is 8-year-old Chad throwing serious high fives to present-day me, but so is the 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12-year-old versions! Growing up I definitely loved my Joes – the figures, the comic books, the cartoon – and have always had a fascination with these specialized elite soldiers. It continued into my formative years and beyond, with being a big fan of HBO’s “Band of Brothers” and the film “Saving Private Ryan.” So many family members also served in our armed forces, so I’ve always had an interest in general. Fast forward to my career as an actor, and I’m one of those lucky ones to absolutely love their type or brand – I’ve been able to play some iteration of an all-American soldier in so many of my roles. So yes, it is definitely playing pretend in a whole new way, but in the way I used to play it as a kid. Fortunately, I’m much more durable than those old Hasbro toys. The Joes figures were notorious for falling apart, with the way I waged war with them, at least!
TrunkSpace: “Sniper: Ultimate Kill” shot in Bogota, Columbia. The country has a bit of a reputation for being a dangerous place so we’re curious what that was like in terms of both a shooting location and a life experience?
Collins: “Sniper: Ultimate Kill” was definitely a new experience for me in that the whole film is centered more around urban warfare, specifically in Colombia. As with any big city in any country, you are certainly going to have your more dodgy areas, and we filmed in a few of them for this movie. On one hand, it really gives the film a more dirty, gritty feel as we navigate the mean streets. On the other, they’re called “mean streets” for a reason! Luckily, we had a great Colombian production company working with us – they also produce shows like “Narcos” – so we never ran into too much trouble, despite a few choice words and profanities in Spanish directed at me from some of the local toughs. The entire production was great about taking precautions, but as with any foreigner traveling to a foreign place, the safest thing you can do is use good judgment!
TrunkSpace: The Sniper films have modest budgets compared to some of the other action franchises of the day. How does the production team take those modest budgets and turn those dollar into the biggest bang for the action buck? Is it more about taking a creative approach to filmmaking as opposed to cutting corners?
Collins: Yes, the budgets are modest to the point of being an understatement, given what we aim to achieve and accomplish with so much action and excitement. But it also affords great opportunities in creativity, and I’ve been lucky to have some talented directors – “Ultimate Kill” director Claudio Fäh, in particular – who bring a really specific creative vision that allows us to achieve something unique and special despite having less resources. The schedules and setups for these movies are insane, really; my old “Sniper” director friend Don Michael Paul used to tell a story about a conversation he had with his pal Michael Bay, basically saying that a low-budget film director can do a big blockbuster – where you can spend a week on just one scene – all day long, but a big-budget film director can’t come and shoot a good action film like ours with a fraction of the time, money, and manpower. The pace is furious, and there is always so much to do with very little time, but that necessity always breeds invention, and in my experience shooting these films, everyone rises to the occasion and makes magic! They all pull a page from the Robert Rodriguez indie film handbook, so to speak.
TrunkSpace: Chicken or the egg question. Obviously you’re in great shape, which is certainly in character for Sgt. Brandon Beckett, but did you get in shape to play the character or has putting in time at the gym always been a personal focus of yours?
Collins: Personally, I try to always stay in great physical condition. My philosophy is, if you stay in great shape, you never have to “get” in great shape. Just build it to where you want it to be, and maintain. As an actor, I live a lifestyle where I’m ready to start working on a project literally on the same day an offer comes in, whether that means getting on a plane, or stepping into an action film and a more physical role – I’m ready. I’m never more than a day or two away from being in my ideal version of “on-camera” shape, and I find that that approach has always served me well. In Hollywood, despite it being a “creative” industry, sometimes there is little and less imagination coming from the gatekeepers and decision-makers. We don’t all get the pass to get out of shape and then get hired to play a superhero anyway and have a studio pay for six months of personal training and nutritionists! So while Channing Tatum can have his cake and eat it too in between gigs, most of the time actors have to give them what they want in advance, looks and body-wise. So I stay ready, while applauding dudes like Channing who are willing to have fun and hit the buffet but then double-down and transform themselves into total studs when the film calls for it!
TrunkSpace: You’ve been working regularly in the industry for over a decade now. Do you feel like you’re still learning and growing as an actor even with your current career experience?
Collins: Absolutely – you never stop learning and growing as an actor, and I love that since I’m an eternally curious person who invests a lot of time and energy in my own personal growth and development as a human being. I thought I was a pretty decent actor and then I went and did 10 episodes on my new sci-fi series “Extinct,” and discovered that I had made quantum leaps in terms of understanding, improvement, and experience. There is so much to constantly learn about technique, there are so many technical aspects of being a TV and film actor that there is always room for improvement. And don’t get me started on audition technique, which is a whole different animal in terms of ability and skill set that is arguably ten-times harder than any on-set scenario. So yes, acting as a craft and a profession has an unlimited ceiling, and I’ve loved every inch of my slow and steady ascent.
TrunkSpace: When you were dreaming of a career as an actor, did you ever envision an action hero side to that scenario? Has your career trajectory been a surprise?
Collins: The funny thing is, I didn’t spend much time as a kid dreaming of being an actor. I was too busy playing sports, working blue collar jobs on local farms, and trying to get good grades. Acting as a profession never occurred to me until a few years into my LA experience working as a publicist’s assistant. But when I was prodded and convinced to take an acting class by people in the industry, I’ll never forget my initial thought: I was deeply invested in watching “Band of Brothers” for about the third time, as my first acting class loomed later that night and I said to myself, “You know, if I could just play one of those GI grunts crawling through the mud, running through the forests, and taking out bad guys… I think that would be pretty fun!” Fast forward ten years, and that’s predominantly what I’ve been able to do, on TV and in film, with all different shades and extensions of that same through line – physical shoots, action sequences, playing a real life Joe. It’s really been an amazing ride in that way.
TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as an actor?
Collins: I’ve long since gotten over it, but I definitely had a bit of a worthiness issue when I first started out with acting. I was very wishy-washy about it for years, even though I was fortunate enough to book some pretty great stuff out of the gates. I was undecided about acting as a legitimate career choice, and I would go back and forth in my mind about not being good enough or as deserving as those actors who had the fancy MFA and high-level training, who were ultimately decided that this was their jam. So I got in my own way about that for a while, but I decided that before I would continue the journey as an actor, I was going to square up my mindset, eliminate all the doubt and fear to the best of my ability, and just go for it from a place of having fun. Once I did that, it just got bigger and better, and it’s often the single best piece of advice I give to actors trying to carve out their path in this industry: take care of your mindset and work inside-out, not outside-in. Because there will be way more people saying “no” than “yes,” but when you do get a “yes” you want to be ready for anything. A great attitude, a positive mindset, and unshakable belief and confidence in yourself will always serve you well in this industry, and in all facets of life.
TrunkSpace: You have a movie due up later this year called “Howlers” that involves a “bloodthirsty werewolf motorcycle gang.” BEST… LOGLINE… EVER. Are you playing hero or bloodthirsty wolf in the film and what else can you tell us about it?
Collins: “Howlers” also involves “a wild-west gunslinging werewolf slayer that drives a badass old hot rod as he hunts those flea-bitten savages!” And that gunslinger is me, playing “Colt” in this really fun action-horror film written and directed by Josh Ridgway that’s got a great 80s John Carpenter film feel to it. I think it’ll release in early 2018, and it’s truly a blast of a film. It’s the most action I’ve ever done, from endless shootouts to tons of hand-to-hand fight sequences put together by renowned martial artist and stunt coordinator Freddie Poole. I’ve actually never done so much action in a film, start to finish. And the best part is the humor – it doesn’t take itself too seriously at all, and it co-stars the great Sean Patrick Flanery who is just priceless in this movie.
TrunkSpace: When you look at your career moving forward, what would you like to accomplish? Do you have bucket list items that you want to check off in your career?
Collins: I grew up and still maintain a healthy balance of sports and athletics and honoring my inner nerd – I’d come home from football practice and dive into comic books or a Super Nintendo RPG or a round of Magic: The Gathering. I still do all the above to this day. So the ultimate goal for me is to work on projects that merge these two great loves of mine, and that’s shooting a comic book or fantasy movie or TV series. I watch these things all day long, I love them, and there’s so many great iterations of my childhood heroes brought to life on the big screen and small: Batman, The Punisher, X-Men, Arrow, Spiderman, The Flash, Wonder Woman…even the deeper cuts with The Walking Dead and Preacher (which is my all-time favorite comic book series). It’s just a matter of time until I throw on a cape for Marvel or DC, and I can’t wait for that day!
Feature Image By: Matt Clayton