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Robert Maillet

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Being a professional wrestler – performing live in front of thousands of people at a time – prepared Robert Maillet for his career as a film and television actor. Even on his first project, the big screen, big-budget adaptation of the graphic novel “300,” the man once called Kurrgan in the squared circle was now perfectly comfortable taking direction from Zack Snyder and having all eyes on set fixated on him. Compared to the audience at an event like WrestleMania, the cast and crew of a film, even one as ambitious as “300,” couldn’t match the headcount of what he was used to working in front of while at the WWE.

We recently sat down with Maillet to discuss his latest project “Polar,” fighting an invisible enemy at his audition, and how his successful Oddities run at the WWE stemmed from dancing at an after-party.

TrunkSpace: Looking back over your career thus far, would 12-year-old Robert be surprised by how it has played out?
Maillet: Yeah, I think my 12-year-old self would be surprised because at the time, to be an actor, work as an actor – and also work as a professional wrestler – it was far away from my mind at 12 years old. And though I used a lot of my imagination at the time – I was a daydreamer and I loved movies and stuff – never would I imagine I would be in films.

It’s also not surprising, though. What I was doing at the time, when I was 12, I used to draw a lot… tell stories. Caricatures and stuff. I was into Conan, all the animated stuff – cartoons. Anything that inspired me, I would draw and tell stories, so I was kind of a storyteller, much like being a wrestler and an actor kind of have similarities.

TrunkSpace: And with your new movie “Polar,” which is based on a graphic novel, it has sort of come full comic-book-circle.
Maillet: That’s true. Funny though, a lot of the stuff I worked on, most of it is always based on comic books… graphic novels and comic books. “300,” my first big feature film I did is a true story, based on the true event of Frank Miller’s graphic novel. So, that’s fascinating when you think about it. That’s true.

TrunkSpace: A movie like “300,” or “Pacific Rim,” which you also starred in, and now “Polar” as well… they all have a visual element to them that make them feel like a live action comic book.
Maillet: That’s right, and it’s great to see that medium, that form of storytelling – comic book form – that’s so popular to translate into TV or films. Imagination can go anywhere – there’s no boundaries – so you can get some really great original stuff out of it. It’s really cool to see.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned being a storyteller even at an early age. Do you view the path of your career as one career, or was professional wrestling something separate than your on-screen acting? Because from an outside perspective it seems that professional wrestling could be a really great boot camp for on-camera acting because there is so much character work involved.
Maillet: For sure. And you’re right, I see my career as kind of the same path – the similarities between acting and wrestling. And wrestling has prepared me for being an actor, because when I was with the WWE for a couple years – my big break, of course – it’s very much is like show biz. The way the whole machine was run, the marketing machine and especially for TV stuff – when they were doing the live events and Pay-per-views and WrestleMania – it was very much show biz. You’re in character, you gotta somewhat have a script as well, you gotta know the finish and all that stuff. A lot of it is rehearsals and it’s all about storytelling – making sure the audience gets sucked into your story, gets connected with your character and what’s going on in the ring. That’s the basis for acting. It wasn’t a shock for me the first time I went on a TV set or a movie set. It was very familiar. And to me, because I was in front of a live crowd, in front of thousands of people every night, I was very comfortable being on set… being in front of the lights and in front of 50 people behind the camera.

I remember my first day on “300.” I was in makeup – five hours of makeup – and we did rehearsals for like a month prior to it. And then finally the day comes to shoot my first day… a big Hollywood feature film. It was a big deal so there’s, like I said, 50 people behind the camera just looking at you. Lights and camera are on you and you think, “I should be nervous.” It’s the one time I would have been I guess, but wrestling prepared me.

TrunkSpace: Was the success and interest of “Polar” a surprise at all? Even on IMDb it peaked at the top MOVIEmeter spot, which is not an easy feat with everything else out these days.
Maillet: It was. I remember reading the script and I remember doing the audition – it was over a year ago now, just before Christmas of 2017 – and I had no lines. I had no lines for the sides. And they wanted me to reenact a big fight with Duncan (played by Mads Mikkelsen) that would never happen in the film. They wanted me to reenact it, basically by myself, so I had to pretend I was fighting somebody else who was invisible. (Laughter) The whole scene was described basically as I stab him or shoot him and then I punch him and I fall into a barn and eventually he gets swept into the barn and kills me. So I had to reenact the whole thing.

Maillet with Heather Doerksen in “Pacific Rim”

So I used my wrestling background, my acting background, to use my imagination and I hadn’t heard from them for over a month. And then a month later, January of last year, they offered me a role because they loved my performance. And when I read the script, it was in your face, I mean, they weren’t pulling punches in that film. And I knew it was gonna work because I loved those kind of films. That’s my genre, as a fan. It’s so different and unique and I like it when they’re not afraid to show the audience. It’s a great way to shock. I love that stuff.

TrunkSpace: For the viewer, the end result is always the most memorable part of a film or TV show, but for you, we would imagine it’s the process. What will you take with you through the rest of your life – the thing that will stay with you – from shooting the film?
Maillet: Well, I think it’s the friends… the people you work with. I got close to the group, to the A-team. We got really close in filming. I had a great time with the people. We really got along very well, and I think it shows on film. It was so fun to work with all of the actors and the crew, especially with Jonas Åkerlund, the director, he was so nice and so open to our ideas. He’s easy to work with.

It’s funny with Mads – great guy, he’s a cool guy – I met him prior to that, maybe four years ago now, for a HorrorHound convention in Indianapolis four years ago. We were represented by the same convention agent, so after the event we would all go out, a group of us, to eat supper, including Mads, and so we got along very well that weekend. We started taking selfies together. (Laughter) Unbeknownst to me, four years later, I’m chasing him around the woods. It was kind of cool.

TrunkSpace: We talked earlier about how you were always a storyteller. You’ve been involved in some pretty wild storytelling in film, but are those the wildest storylines you’ve been involved with, or did your days in professional wrestling lead to more crazy things happening with you from a narrative standpoint?
Maillet: I think professional wrestling. At the time when I was there, it called the Attitude Era. They were pretty risky with the stuff they were trying to do. They had a wrestler who had a porn actor gimmick, behaving like one of those you see on www.hdpornvideo.xxx.

Maillet as Kurrgan in the WWE

TrunkSpace: Val Venis, right?
Maillet: Val Venis! But see, he worked that gimmick so well and he was this natural, great talent and he made it work. Not a lot of guys would have made it work.

At the time, it was very risky and I was afraid they were going to do something with me… something that wouldn’t be comfortable, which, in a way, they did. They put me in as this drooling monster, the evil Kurrgan who destroys everything, and then they pitched me the idea to do this fun-loving… The Oddities. I remember I was at home and I got a call from Vince Russo… not Vince McMahon… the head writer. And he never called. He never called my home before and I was like, “What the hell is going on?” (Laughter) I was kind of in limbo at the time. They weren’t sure what they were doing with me, with the whole Kurrgan thing, and then he pitched me the idea of this fun loving group, dancing and having fun while dressed up in tie-dyed goofy clothes. The whole thing was to introduce ourselves singing Miss America dressed up in tuxedos.

So, he didn’t see my face – my initial reaction while he was pitching me that – but I was basically saying no to myself. But I said yes of course. It was probably the only opportunity I would have to be with them. They would have let me go, probably, if I said no. So yes, it was very uncomfortable at first, doing that thing, because it was out of my norm, but it worked because it got over. The guys got into it. They got some great music from ICP and it got over. We got busy… really busy for a year. We did Pay-Per-Views, magazine covers and video games. So it worked, but it was not my thing to do, dancing in front of a crowd.

TrunkSpace: Unexpected lightning in a bottle.
Maillet: What happened was – this is a true story – there was a WrestleMania after-party in Boston back in ‘98. We could bring our wives with us, so I brought my wife. My wife, she loves to dance, so of course she wanted me to dance with her on the dance floor at the party. I should have known because there’s a lot of male wrestlers not dancing and they’re looking at me, staring at me. They couldn’t believe this dancing giant. So then Vince McMahon was there and saw me dancing and he couldn’t get the idea of me dancing out of his mind, so the whole Oddities thing came about.

Polar” is available now on Netflix.

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Wingman Wednesday

Lily Ji

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Photo By: Luky Chen

A talented newcomer who could also whoop your butt, Lily Ji is about to make her presence known as she is set to go toe-to-talon with building-sized monsters in “Pacific Rim: Uprising.” As one of the newly-minted cadets tasked with saving humanity by way of giant robots called Jaegers, the Beijing-based actress hopes that the size and scope of the movie (never mind the CGI creatures) will lead to more on-screen opportunities both here in the States and abroad.

We recently sat down with Ji to discuss her excitement for the film, the need to tap into her imagination while shooting against green screens, and how her background in various forms of martial arts helps her career in multiple ways.

TrunkSpace: “Pacific Rum: Uprising” is a big movie with mass international appeal. Is it difficult to not feel overwhelmed as you gear up towards the release?
Ji: I’ve been just feeling so excited since day one until now. So very excited, that’s for sure.

TrunkSpace: Does the idea that the film is expected to do so well in so many different markets increase that excitement?
Ji: Yeah, absolutely. I remember the first one did really well in China and then I was like, “Wow!” And I got to work on the second one and it’s like, “Great!” It’s so funny, I remember a few months ago I actually ran into the triplets from the first one in Beijing. They were the cadets and now I’m the new generation. It’s like, “Wow, what a connection.”

TrunkSpace: Nowadays it seems that everything getting made is based on something else, but it’s kind of nice that “Pacific Rim” is marching to the beat of its own world/universe.
Ji: Oh yeah, absolutely. Which is really fun and exciting to work on, because as Marvel and all that, it’s already existing and been made so many times, but this one is a brand new world and it’s so much to explore. And then especially when we’re creating our own characters and we get to really put in a lot of personal stuff and personal understanding, which is really cool to do, on the creative side.

TrunkSpace: Obviously there’s a lot of green screen work in a film like this. As an actor does that require you to put more faith in your director because they’re not only taking you through the scene but, again, they’re helping to paint a picture of that world for you, right?
Ji: Yeah, absolutely. It’s just really practicing your concentration and definitely imagination, for sure. And luckily Steven (DeKnight) was always like, “Okay, just imagine over there, a Kaiju, and here’s how tall it would be, roughly,” and then you just have to use your imagination the whole time. There’s this one scene, four cadets – four of us – and half of the set actually was green screen and I was like, “Oh my God, it’s so hard to imagine.” But then, the other half was ready, so you kind of just copy that set into the other one and it’s like, “Okay, the whole thing is the same,” which is really fun to do. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Does that concentration also come into play when you’re trying to remain in the scene and work with those green scenes, because it must be difficult to not fall out of the moment at times?
Ji: Absolutely, especially when we’re adding action and stuff. That’s actually extra little work, and you have to remember your lines of course, and then the movements, and then when to do this and then when to punch that, and then also remember, don’t block your light and the position, this spot and that spot. It’s like, “Oh my god, what’s going on?” (Laughter)

Lily Ji as Cadet Meilin in “Pacific Rim: Uprising”

TrunkSpace: A film like “Pacific Rim: Uprising” takes so long to make, especially in post-production when all of the effects are added. Is it odd for you to sort of be back into it now and talking about the film again after being away from it for so long?
Ji: No, actually, I think all the memories and experiences still feel like… they’re recently new for me. I guess just because it’s such a great project and it’s probably the first very big project for me, personally, I feel like, wow, it’s just so amazing. And we took like half a year to shoot, and we basically spent that half year, every day together. We train together – the cadets – we eat together, we do whatever, all together, kind of like we were doing military life together for half a year. And then the past year for post-production we still chat occasionally. We still follow each other’s stories and everything. I just feel like we never really have been apart, so part of that big family and the memory is still there.

TrunkSpace: Because it’s such a big movie, do you feel like it’s a career game changer?
Ji: Yeah, for sure, because my profile was generally in China before. Even though I was in some Hollywood productions before, the characters… the size of it… it’s just not very helpful, of course, until this one. And finally, with all the publicity… there’s only two Chinese cadets in the whole group and it’s really good for us to get seen and also to showcase our talent, our skills – like bilingual skills – and for me, an action side as well. I’ve been training for martial arts, MMA, all those, and definitely, action is one of the jobs I’ll keep doing.

It’s definitely a great opportunity to be seen by the industry here and internationally too. It will be a big step.

TrunkSpace: Having a background in martial arts must be a great asset to have as an actor because it opens doors for you that wouldn’t be available otherwise. You get to step into the action roles that just might not work for people who don’t have that skill set.
Ji: Yeah, for sure. I think age-wise, this age group, we’re already like new blood. MMA, boxing, martial arts, tai chi – all those kinds of stuff will definitely help me for sure. And I think, even if it’s sci-fi, where there are big productions – the superhero stuff – they also require action stuff. And actors or actresses still need to train. No matter what genre, definitely, something always will help. And also, it helps me to stay in shape. (Laughter)

Pacific Rim: Uprising” opens today.

Featured image by: Luky Chen

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Wingman Wednesday

Nick E. Tarabay

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Photo By: Amanda Ramón/ Grooming By: Crystal Tran/ Styling By: Brandon Nicholas

From ancient Rome to the far reaches of space, Nick E. Tarabay has built a career on visiting fictional worlds that would make imaginative 10-year olds salivate. Hell, our inner kid is jumping up and down in excitement over his latest project, “Pacific Rim: Uprising,” because that’s what happens when you tell grown men that they get to watch giant monsters fight giant robots. Add the actor who plays Captain Boomerang into the mix and you pretty much just ransacked our childhood and brought one of our action packed action figure play sessions to life. Bravo to you!

We recently sat down with Tarabay to discuss how “Pacific Rim: Uprising” exceeded his own expectations, the feeling you’ll get when you leave the theater, and what fans of “The Expanse” can expect headed into Season 3.

 

TrunkSpace: This has got to be an exciting week for you. You just had the “Pacific Rim: Uprising” premiere the other night. How did that go?
Tarabay: Dude, it was fucking awesome is what it was.

TrunkSpace: When you’re shooting a movie like that, you must have your own idea of how the visuals will look in your mind. Did they live up to what you were expecting?
Tarabay: To be honest with you, and then some. Look, I’m old-school. I grew up watching movies before all the special effects and all the stuff, so when I see it now, it’s mind-blowing. It’s like, “How did they do that?” You see these robots, all CGI, but they’re characters. It’s amazing. I can’t even describe it. It’s amazing. So good. I was blown away.

TrunkSpace: And with this franchise in particular, what they did with the effects… the colors just pop right off of the screen.
Tarabay: Yeah, they were crazy. I was looking like, “Holy shit!”

TrunkSpace: “Pacific Rim” has such wide-reaching, international appeal. Does promoting it feel different because of that worldwide reach?
Tarabay: Absolutely, man. It’s great, because you don’t even have to speak English to like it. It’s such a beautiful, entertaining movie, and it’s got a lot of punchlines, and it’s got a lot of comedy as well in it. The action is just badass. You’re gonna love it. I mean, anybody will see it and be like, “Wow, that was fun.” As much as I love Oscar-winning movies and drama and all this stuff, I also love a good, entertaining movie. There’s nothing wrong with that. You go there and you just have fun, and your imagination gets to play, and you feel like a kid again. It’s beautiful. Just beautiful.

TrunkSpace: And in a day and age where, as a society, we’re so divided, it’s kind of nice to go see a movie where humanity is having to come together for the better good.
Tarabay: Absolutely! And also, it’s a diverse cast as well, which I’m for, through and through. I’m loving that Hollywood is on board with it now. It just shows you that, why not? What was the fear before from having a diverse cast? Me especially, coming from a different background, I appreciate it even more, because I think there’s a lot of talent out there, and a lot of gems out there, that just need an opportunity, just like me. Just give me the opportunity, and I will raise up to it and then some.

TrunkSpace: And the beauty in that is, a kid somewhere who doesn’t feel represented will see something of himself in the diverse cast and maybe feel inspired to chase his own dreams.
Tarabay: Absolutely. You hit it on the nail. I mean, look, I grew up in a culture, unfortunately, especially in my time, where nobody takes it seriously. It’s like, “Alright, get a real job, and then do the acting on the side as a hobby.” But who’s anybody to tell anyone else that this is not good enough? And to me, that hits on an artistic and a personal level. We were created in a way that we’re all artistic in one way or another, so for us not to fully realize that or acknowledge it, and by God have the support, it’s such a sad thing. And when I see that, when I see that onscreen, I’ll tell you, I’m lucky and I’m very old-school, because to me, that’s what I love about art. When it’s good, you don’t see diversity, you don’t see color, you don’t see culture. You just see something that brings everybody together.

TrunkSpace: And everyone might see or find something different in it, and yet they’re still bonded together collectively by that piece of art.
Tarabay: 100 percent! It has all these elements and then some, and it’s just… it’s good old fun. Just good old fun.

TrunkSpace: As an actor, do you have a different relationship with the work when there’s a very good chance that the audience is coming out to see the monsters and robots? Does your perspective of what goes into it, and what you take from it, from your side of things change?
Tarabay: Oh, not at all, dude. I loved it. I saw the first movie, and I was a fan. I think it’s just fun. I loved it. Doesn’t bother me at all. It’s not like I was, “Oh, I wish there was more of me or more of him or more of her than there is,” because let’s face it, I think the number one actor, the number one cast in this are the jaegers and the monsters. That’s the number one actor in the show, and then we come afterward. (Laughter) That’s my opinion. Some people might disagree with me, but I think that’s what it is. People wanna see those big monsters fight, and obviously the drama is gonna feed into it and that makes it even more delicious, but let’s face it, I wanna see those monsters kick ass and see what they do, so it’s all good, man.

TrunkSpace: In terms of your character Sonny, can you give us a sense of what his journey is without giving too much away?
Tarabay: Sonny is an edgy guy who wants what he wants. He’s a rough dude, and he tussles a little bit with John Boyega. It’s just fun, dude. I watched myself onscreen and, you know, in acting we tend to always look when we see ourselves on the screen like, “Oh, I could have done this better, could have done this better,” or whatever. I looked at it and I was like, “That was perfect.” I loved it. I loved me in it. (Laughter) And I think the audience will, too.

And hopefully in the third movie, you’ll see more of him.

Photo By: Amanda Ramón/ Grooming By: Crystal Tran/ Styling By: Brandon Nicholas

TrunkSpace: Is it difficult promoting a project in this spoiler alert age and worrying about what you can and cannot say leading up to a launch date?
Tarabay: Yes and no, I guess. It all depends. I have a couple of other projects that I’m working on that I cannot say anything about, and I’m dying to tell. When people ask, I’m like, “Yeah, I’m working on something, I just can’t tell you what it is!” And I mean, I get it. Look, as artistic as it is, it’s also a business, and I can see why the studios and the production houses are saying, “Let’s keep it so the audience will be enticed more and they wanna see it more and spend more money,” and all this stuff. It’s also advertisements. We love what we can’t have. We want it all, what we cannot and what we don’t know. So it’s all part of the advertising. If I tell you, “Hey, there’s a big movie coming up, it’s gonna be spectacular, and I’m in it,” now you’re really curious. If I tell you what the movie’s all about, now you might be like, “Yeah, I’m not sure if this is my genre,” or, “I’m not sure if this is it,” or, “I’m not sure if I like this,” and right away you’re out. But if I leave you in the dark a little bit, now you wanna know, and now you wanna go see it, and now you investigate more. So it makes sense.

TrunkSpace: The breadcrumbs that lead us into the theater!
Tarabay: Absolutely, man! But in this case, you’re not gonna regret it. You’re gonna go there, you’re gonna watch a movie, you’re gonna leave feeling good.

TrunkSpace: You’re no stranger to characters and worlds that have big, passionate fan bases, from “The Expanse” to Captain Boomerang in “Arrow,” and even “Longmire.” Was that by design or has it been luck that you’ve landed in these projects that have such passionate fandoms?
Tarabay: You know, it’s a little bit of both. I think luck has a lot to do with it, obviously, but also hard work and having the right people around. Look, if you work, if you keep that dream of yours alive every day… which is probably one of the hardest things to do – just keeping it alive through the ups and the downs that we go through, especially as an actor  ’cause most actors, we have more down than up, and more down time than the times that we’re working. For example, for me I always go back and do theater, just to keep that instrument sharp, to keep that dream alive, to have that faith going to stay positive. I think that plays a big part into bringing these elements into your path. And also, obviously having the right people around you – from agent, manager, publicist – that help you realize that dream, also plays a part of it. But I think luck has something to do with it as well. And then obviously you have to deliver once you get it, so I’ve been lucky enough that a lot of the jobs that I’ve been getting have been through relationships that I’ve made, like Captain Boomerang was a straight offer because the showrunner, Marc Guggenheim, such a wonderful man, I’ve auditioned for him a couple times a year, and he liked my work, so he gave me the role. And there’s a show that I’m doing, “Taken,” now, which came out of nowhere, and it was the showrunner from “Person of Interest” that offered me the role, just straightaway. So, good people like that are all around, and good work, I think, it is appreciated. I’ve been lucky. Even “Spartacus,” I did with Steven DeKnight, and now Steven DeKnight is directing this, so if you’re having these kinds of relationships, delivering, and having the right people, it all plays a big part of it.

I think the hardest part is this: trying to stay positive throughout the whole journey. That’s the hardest part of it all, trying to stay positive, trying to stay sharp, trying to stay focused.

TrunkSpace: We know that the latest season of “The Expanse” kicks off in a few weeks. What are you most excited for in terms of your character’s journey in Season 3?
Tarabay: Oh, dude! I don’t know what happened in Season 3, they just… it’s way bigger! It’s just way bigger! The first episode is so grand, it’s gonna feel like a finale. It’s so big, and there’s so many things going on, and you’re like, “Wow, what just happened?”

Pacific Rim: Uprising” opens today.

Season 3 of “The Expanse” kicks off April 11 on SyFy.

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