The masked man speaks, and in advance of the Blu-Ray Combo Pack release of “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”, I got the chance to speak with the Joes silent ninja and the man behind the Snake Eyes mask, Ray Park. I asked him about how he got started, how key physicality is in playing a role where you have no lines and who he’d love to have kick him through a window on screen.
Dave Voigt: Now, I’m pretty curious because the stuntman who acts is becoming a lot more common place these days and I was wondering about your background and how you ultimately got started in show business?
Ray Park: You know it’s funny you should say that, because I was thinking how I am actually beginning to see a lot more of my martial arts friends pop up more on camera. However for me really it all begins with Jackie Chan, being the guy who did all of his own stunts in all of his own movies was wild to me. I didn’t know anything about stunt guys, special effects and wire work but when I watched martial arts movies that just did it for me. So I trained in a way that I just fell down and did flips and stuff like that until I was about 14, I saw an article about Jackie Chan and the guys who worked with him and that’s what I wanted to do and geared my training towards that, so I could be one of those guys. I did that until I was about 21 and that was when I got my first introduction into the world of films when I got called to do and audition for “Mortal Kombat: Annihilation” because they were looking for guys who could do a bunch of different martial arts styles, and I got it. However in the UK, you have to be a qualified stuntman capable of doing six different disciplines on set, have your equity card and do four years of probation and all that stuff until you actually started to work. I was just there as a gymnast/martial artist so I wasn’t allowed to do any stunts so I was just there for fight scenes and just sort of help out with the choreography of it all. But when we were on location, the stunt coordinator pulled me aside and showed me a few things and gave me a chance showing me wirework and other things, and as we spent three months in Thailand I got to double some of the lead actors and that’s when I realized that I wanted to be the guy in front of the camera as well if only because I had to hide my face on that film quite a bit.
I had a real apprenticeship on how to be a stunt person on that film, so when I landed the part of Darth Maul in “Phantom Menace” I thankfully already had some experience in stunt work as well as martial arts. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew if I kept working at my martial arts I’d get a chance to fulfill my dream and be that guy with Jackie Chan, not only doing the stunts and the martial arts but acting as well. I picked up so much while working on “Mortal Kombat” it was such a learning experience and helped so much when I was on “Phantom Menace”.
DV: You played some characters that have had little to no lines, how much input do you get with crafting your character in order to let the different styles of martial arts that you have trained in come through and define the role that you are playing?
RP: Yeah, definitely because when I was playing Darth Maul, George was asking me to not necessarily have the martial arts show, so for that character I had to create some unique and different kinds of kicks and movements, and in the martial arts that I practice we go through a lot of animal styles and combined with my initial background of rhythmic gymnastics where I was always surrounded by a variety of circus people it was really a combination of watching and pay attention to seeing what has been done in other films, then crafting something unique and my own. A lot of times I tend to find my character through the movement and motions that he goes through playing around with a variety of ideas, and with Snake Eyes it is very much the same. It’s nice to play that character because it was a bit of a childhood dream for me to by the mysterious ninja and I remember when I was a kid watching cartoons thinking of certain things I could do and then even as an adult watching films just thinking about all these different types of movement that I could have done and I remember these notes that I make to myself when I am playing with the character, because sometimes what is inside my head is a little different from the outside so it always helps when I get feedback from the director and the stunt coordinator as well.
DV: How much does the physicality of it all play into the development of your character as well, considering again that Snake Eyes doesn’t speak.
RP: Yeah, I mean on the first G.I. Joe film what I did was channel back to my years as a kid playing with all the toys and when I first got the part of Snake Eyes, I went out and bought a ton of comic books and watched the old cartoons and put myself back as a kid again playing in the back yard, and with the martial arts side of it all, it was all about practicing with my weapons and it really helps that the wushu I practice is a very showy and explosive looking kind of martial arts and it plays into the character as it comes across on the screen. I mean every single character that I have ever played has always been very physical anyway, so it helps that my mind set of training and preparation is already there. For example with a role like Toad from “X-Men” I would do things differently now than I did back then, just making notes and adjustments for the character because especially then I was still young and learning it all, not just on the physical side but how I would perform it as well. Snake Eyes is interesting, because I like to know what everyone else is doing in the scene then I can figure out how to fit myself in almost to the point where they have forgotten that I am there, being sleek and deadly like a ninja, like Snake Eyes.
DV: With the actor/stuntman becoming more of a common place thing, is there any role on your wish list that you’d love to be able to tackle?
RP: I’m a big Batman fan to be honest, to be a part of any superhero movie would really fulfill all of my childhood fantasies. If I could get beaten up by Batman, and just be part of the franchise, even getting kicked through a window would be great! Snake Eyes is really my personal Batman, and if I ever had the chance to work with Stallone who is really my Hollywood idol that would be pretty special.
“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” is available tomorrow for rent or purchase on all major formats from all major retailers.
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