From Mirko Cro Cop to Wanderlei Silva, it seems that many of the top MMA fighters are appearing in movies lately. For athletes the processes involved between sports and acting can just as equally taxing as they are rewarding. As MMA Weekly learned from a veteran of MMA and cinema, “El Guapo” himself, Bas Rutten, there’s more to making the transition than people may think.
When it comes to similarities, Rutten says that the basic foundations between fight preparation and being on the set can be very identical. “You always fight in front of an audience and when you’re making movies you have an audience there too. It’s very much the same thing, you have to control your nerves and be natural, if you do that everything will be good.”
According to Bas the main thing is to remain natural, because if you appear to be forcing it, it can ruin the whole shoot. “That’s the most difficult thing, that’s what it’s all about. As soon as you can act without people knowing you are acting that would be the best performance. Preparation is very important; I rehearse my lines differently to get ready. Then I do the takes I do the lines they way they ask for, because then I’m completely prepared for anything and it looks natural.”
Differences in acting and fighting can be a double-edged sword that can help the performer and hurt them just the same. “Sometimes they are a completely different animal,” exclaimed Rutten. “A fighter would never prepare only to have their fight postponed while they were in the arena waiting for their fight. Sometimes when you are waiting to do your scene you can wait 6-8 hours just sitting there and then somebody can come by and tell you that there is no time so you have to come back tomorrow to shoot.”
Bas further commented, “In movies you can rehearse so it’s less stressful when it comes time to perform. You can work with the other actors and do a scene and then move on to another scene without having problems because you know what is going to happen and how it should turn out.”
Of course the mainstay of a fighter’s acting career is going to be recreating fights on the silver screen. However as most people know, what looks good in a real fight doesn’t necessarily look good on film. As Rutten commented, no matter how real you want it to look, the people in charge will always seek to embellish for the maximum effect.
“It’s difficult to make things look realistic and good,” said Bas. “I have to do moves that I don’t want to do when I act. Like I didn’t want to do triple kicks in movies and the people working on the movies know it, but they dare me to do those things and it makes it hard for me to not prove I can do them.”
Rutten continued, “I truly believe I’m going to suck if I have to do triple kicks or wires because it’s so unnatural to me. I know a lot of fans of movies appreciate those things because it’s becoming very popular, but I think MMA fans won’t like it because they want it to be realistic. I want to try to do things as realistic as possible.”
In order to maintain realism in fighting Rutten has come to understand that he has to be more involved in the movie making process beyond just choreographing on set action. “I’m trying to distance myself from the over the top stuff. From now on I want to be in the editing room when they are putting it all together. In the editing room is where it all happens, especially in fight scenes. The way we shot it may look completely different depending on how they cut it together. Especially if I’m choreographing things I want it in my contract that I get to be in the editing room from now on.”
Unlike his MMA contemporaries who are mainly relegated to secondary roles and stunt work in action films, Rutten has played front and center in his projects and has even dabbled in comedy. For Rutten the transition from action to comedy comes naturally for one of the most charismatic figures in MMA.
“It’s both natural to me, action and comedy,” said Rutten. “For the comedy it’s like my personality only performing bigger. Before movies I had done comedy on TV in Holland. I started with little shows then big events to Dutch TV and finally European TV, so I had done a lot of comedy stuff in front of everybody.”
Rutten most recently finished a comedic short 30-minute independent film called The Kingdom of Ultimate Power, which according to Bas, was written for him, even if the screenwriter didn’t know it.
“The funny thing about this movie was that the writer didn’t know anything about who I was when he wrote the script,” commented Bas. “He wrote a story about a bald European cage fighter who came to America to act and when he showed it to his friends they said they knew who it should be in the movie. They got online and showed him a picture of me and he said that I was perfect. I happened to be in New York at the time of the auditions, so I went in and got the part right away.”
According to Rutten, the filmmakers have aspirations to make the short into a longer full-length feature should a studio pick it up after film festival appearances. “I’m not sure when it’s going to come out. It’s going to play at some festivals and we are hoping that the short will be on a channel like HBO or Showtime and that we can make a feature out of it. Already we have many more new ideas to add to the film.”
Rutten closed out the conversation by talking about his current and immediate future projects. “I’m finishing a part for a movie (Backlash) in about a week, then I’m doing another film in about three weeks with the director of The Karate Kid. It’s called Honor, what a surprise huh, and hopefully it will turn out to be a decent movie. I feel I get better each time out and like I’ve said a hundred times, it’s like fighting, you keep practicing but you’ll never reach the top because there is always something to learn.”
Fans interested in checking out information on Bas’ The Kingdom of Ultimate Power release can do so by going to www.pilotlightpictures.com. On the site you will find filmmakers’ bios, a synopsis of the plot, and a trailer available in both Quicktime and Windows Media formats.