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Sniper: Ultimate Kill

Wingman Wednesday

Chad Michael Collins

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Photo By: Matt Clayton

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!

Collins as Brandon Beckett in Sniper: Legacy

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 F
äh, 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.

Collins in Howlers

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

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Wingman Wednesday

Danay Garcia

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Photo by: Louis Rodiger

Fans of “Fear the Walking Dead” know Danay Garcia as Luciana, one of the few survivors of the zombie apocalypse. Eagle-eyed SPN Family members may also recognize her from season 8 of “Supernatural” where she guested in a memorable episode called “Trial and Error.” Now the Cuban-born actress is adding another fandom notch to her belt as she’s set to star in the latest installment of the Sniper franchise, “Sniper: Ultimate Kill,” available today on digital, Blu-ray, and DVD.

Garcia, who says she grew up surrounded by pink and trained as a ballet dancer throughout her early years, found it both humorous and exhilarating that she was running around in military fatigues with gun in hand, hunting down bad guys. And while the exciting action scenes were one of the elements that initially drew her to the role of Kate Estrada, a DEA agent tasked with bringing down a Columbian drug trafficker, it was the strength she discovered in the character that she bonded to most.

We recently sat down with Garcia to discuss honoring strong women on screen, how she likes to add her slice to the overall performance pie, and why she didn’t have time to consider the enormity of her “Fear the Walking Dead” role when first cast.

TrunkSpace: Outside of the action, what drew you to Kate from a performance standpoint?
Garcia: I really loved working and developing her as a woman that is in charge and in control of herself mentally and physically. She’s a woman who uses her physical strength and her mind strength to survive. She’s very in control of her emotions, but she’s not afraid to let go either. She knows herself – physically and mentally, because she’s a leader and she’s a fighter too. I really had a great time discovering that balance in her. She can grab a gun and shoot, order around the place, and then the next day we can see her crying in an elevator.

I’m very grateful to have one of the best directors that I’ve worked with in Claudio Fäh. He just gave me so much with the role, and not just to perform, but to create ahead of time with him. We would Skype and go down page-by-page, beat-by-beat, and it really helped me so much to have the freedom to let myself go and be confident.

TrunkSpace: And she is a character that could have easily gone in a more predictable direction.
Garcia: It could be this predictable character – a kind of cartoonish character, which we avoided at all times. It could have been like, “Oh this is Wonder Woman and she doesn’t feel anything.” I just think this is a very specific time in history, in life, for women, every time we portray a character, we have to be very honest about it and honor that, because whatever is out there will be out there forever. The flaws. The good and the bad. And the things that are great about a woman in power – a woman in charge.

Garcia with Chad Michael Collins in Sniper: Ultimate Kill

TrunkSpace: Sniper is an established franchise and you came into the universe after many of the actors had already solidified themselves within the world. What were your thoughts about coming into an established film franchise that had already built up a fan base?
Garcia: You know, it came out of surprise. I remembered “Sniper” and when I was little, like a teenager, I remember watching them. We all love action movies. They’re going to live forever. You need them. They’re entertaining. When I auditioned, I just really loved the character. I never focus on the potential of the entire monster because I just feel like we’re a team. I focus on adding a little piece of the pie. This one is my piece and I just want to give you the best piece of the entire pie. If it tastes bad, it will not be my piece. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You also star in “Fear the Walking Dead,” which is known for its body count. The Sniper films also have their share of on-screen deaths. Does “Sniper: Ultimate Kill” live up to the body count of “Fear the Walking Dead?”
Garcia: I mean, they’re different, but the one thing that they have in common is the action and the surprise and the mystery of it all. You can’t really compare the two, but the ride is a similar ride. It’s like, “Oh my God, what’s gonna happen?” You just feel that inside of you.

TrunkSpace: With “Sniper: Ultimate Kill” you know where your character Kate is going start to finish. In something like “Fear the Walking Dead,” you not only don’t know where her story will end, but you don’t know when it will end either. From a performance standpoint, do you make different choices for a character when you can see their arc laid out in front of you?
Garcia: That’s a good question. When it comes to specifically “Fear the Walking Dead,” I think the only difference between one and the other in terms of the journey is that in Fear, you’re never relaxed. You’re constantly in an apocalypse. You’re constantly in danger. Anybody can kill you at any time. So, I always feel like there’s this speed in the way I talk and the way I walk. I’m always aware of my surroundings. I’m very focused, ready for a fight or ready for anything. You would never see Luciana or any character smelling the roses. It’s impossible. It’s not right.

But in the movie, I feel like there’s a space for the character within the storyline to really have a second to think and then to act. There’s a time to think, readjust, and attack. I feel like that art is more defined in a movie than in a television show. Obviously when it comes to Fear, it’s more in your face because we’re talking about an apocalypse. You can’t afford to relax.

Photo by Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC – © 2017 AMC Film Holdings LLC. All Rights Reserved.

TrunkSpace: We talked about coming into the Sniper franchise after it was already up and running, but what was that experience like when you came into “Fear the Walking Dead,” a franchise that is easily the biggest television has seen in over a decade?
Garcia: When I started there I didn’t think about, “Oh my God, this has a huge following.” First of all, I never had time to think about that. I auditioned on a Wednesday, I knew I got the job on a Friday – meaning I was traveling to Mexico on a Friday – and on Monday I was on set. I couldn’t think of anything. (Laughter)

I was just more focused on this character and this situation and how I could understand her more because I had no information, at all, whatsoever, other than that she knows how to kill zombies and she has this guy. Other than that, I had no idea. And I was pretty focused the entire season to do my absolute best job to create this woman and give her lot of layers of life and to make her real to that specific time in an apocalyptic world.

So that was my goal. I couldn’t think of about it being a franchise or about Comicon or, you know, action figures. I was more like, “How can I get my day done well to the best of my abilities.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Obviously “Fear the Walking Dead” has a huge following. The Sniper franchise continues to build its fan base. And then if we look a little further back in your career we’ll find a show that you guested on that really has a massive fan following in “Supernatural.” It has become a show where so many young actors have gotten their start, and from what we’ve been told by others, it is a set that welcomes newcomers with open arms.
Garcia: Yeah. It’s a show that, the moment you get to set – literally the moment you get to set – the one thing you do is you meet Jensen and Jared. And the moment you meet those two guys together, you understand why the show has been on for so many years, and why the show has been so successful for so many years. You understand it because those two, they are like brothers. They really are. They’re both Texans, they both started together in “Supernatural,” and they both get it. And they’re so humble. It’s this beautiful connection of brotherhood and friendship and, it just makes you want to stay, you know? It’s weird. It makes you want to stay. It makes you support them. It makes you give your best to the show.

Sniper: Ultimate Kill” is available today on digital, Blu-ray, and DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

“Fear the Walking Dead” airs Sundays on AMC.

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