For actor Dean Jagger, sports have long played a role in his life and he has been able to use lessons learned from sports in his acting career.
From his time as a professional skater who competed in the X-Games, to his time training in combat sports like boxing and MMA, Jagger has used his physical training to its utmost on projects like “Game of Thrones” to the new Cinemax series “Warrior,” based on the writings of martial arts legend Bruce Lee.
Speaking to MMAWeekly.com shortly after the confirmation of a renewal for a second season of “Warrior,” Jagger discussed his sports background, what drew him to acting, and his work on “Warrior” and why there’s nothing else like it on television.
MMAWeekly.com: Firstly, Dean, tell us how you got involved in sports, specifically combat sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts.
Dean Jagger: I grew up in a small town, Wakefield, in North England. It’s an old mining town. I grew up around boxers, so basically I started boxing from around the age of 14 years old. From there I found myself more into the contact sports than anything else. I really loved the idea of competitive contact sports. Me and my brother were really into that. It always fascinated me.
It really has given me an element of focus, as well. It’s kind of helped with the acting now that I think about it. You need focus in any kind of sports, especially contact sports. It’s been quite helpful.
MMAWeekly.com: Having been an athlete at a professional level, what got you away from that and drew you to the world of acting?
Dean Jagger: I joined theater from where I was a very young age. Coming out of school at 16, I joined the theater. Being British as well, we are classically trained. I guess it was like an outlet. As far back as I can imagine, I was doing something that was… I guess I loved the attention. I was very boy-ish growing up too. I was from a small town so there wasn’t a lot to do, so I leaned towards things that were a little more creative.
MMAWeekly.com: How did you end up working on the “Warrior” series? What is it like working on a period piece that’s also heavily action oriented and developed from the ideas of Bruce Lee?
Dean Jagger: I can tell you the day, it was a Thursday morning, and I was in L.A. and I was due to fly back to England to see my family and I had an email from my British agent. I saw the breakdown for (my character) Dylan Leary. I fell in love with it. He’s an Irish patriot that served his people, an ex-bare knuckle brawler, heavily Irish mafia, and was a unionist, so I thought wow what a controversial character this is and how great this could be.
I was due to fly back the day after on a Friday, and I got seen on the Wednesday afterwards. I was taken aback by everything. I read the pilot and I thought it was a great piece of history, and not only that, but the characters are wonderful. I thought where could this go? Not to mention the action. You’ve never seen action like it. It was something I was quite interested in.
I was quite anxious as well, because to be honest, I wanted to do it that bad. I’ve never had something that came across my desk that I felt so right for. As an actor, you don’t get that all the time. To be involved with Shannon and the Lee legacy, it’s profound. I don’t know any kid who didn’t imitate Bruce Lee when they were young. I’m really proud of that. I’m really proud to be part of this project.
MMAWeekly.com: Series creator and writer Jonathon Tropper told us that from the start there was an emphasis on showcasing many styles of fighting on “Warrior.” Having seen the final product, what do you think of fighting on the series?
Dean Jagger: When you’re working on “Warrior,” you spend a lot of time in that stunt tent, because there’s so much action, and it’s unbelievable. I can’t tell you the amount of martial arts that I’ve seen firsthand now and tried to get involved in. The people, the philosophy, is amazing. It’s mind-blowing. Its position in the show I think is fantastic. You’ve got Kung Fu, you’ve got bare-knuckle brawling, you’ve got all these styles, and I don’t think you’ve gotten to experience that on television yet.
MMAWeekly.com: Having previously worked on HBO’s “Game of Thrones” as Smalljon Umber, what was it like to have both that and “Warrior” going at the same time, and do you more enjoy swinging a sword on “Game of Thrones” or throwing punches in “Warrior”?
Dean Jagger: I’m really proud. I’m super-proud. I hope that “Warrior” will become as successful (as “Game of Thrones”). “Game of Thrones” was a great crowd, but let me say this, “Warrior” has become a family. I’ve never met more respectful people, passionate people, hard-working people in my life working in this industry.
It really matters. It really, really, does matter. It’s an ambitious shoot. “Warrior” is a super-ambitions shoot. It’s really big. I’m glad that everybody has been so great. From Shannon (Lee) to the producers to everyone all the way down to the crew and everybody, it’s been overwhelming in the best way.
The thing is, I like the challenge of growth. I like to learn new things and whatnot. I’m actually a boxer, so I like to throw down and look to swing, but on “Game of Thrones,” Smalljon was a swordsman. I found it quite hard of planting my feet when swinging a sword because I’m so used to being on my toes. To answer your question; I learned how to fight with a sword (on “Game of Thrones”), but I’m going to tell you there’s nothing like swinging your fists. That’s my wheelhouse.
MMAWeekly.com: Thanks for taking time out for us Dean. Is there anything the readers can keep an eye out for from you in the future, and what can they come to expect when checking out “Warrior”?
Dean Jagger: I’m actually developing a few things with my brother, Ben. We’ve got a movie we’re going to be starting towards the end of the year. We’re both developing something that could potentially lead to a television show. I can’t really talk too much about it at the minute, but it’s heading in the right direction for sure.
I think what you can expect (from “Warrior”) is great characters, a great story, a piece of history, and ultimately an amazing world that’s definitely going to get smaller with these characters. That’s what happens when you have characters like this, the world will get smaller, and when it gets smaller it gets exciting. I’ll just tell people to get ready for some really great entertainment.