Press > Escape From L.A. > Exclusive Interviews > Michael Dawson (Extra)

How did you end up being a stunt man, fight coordinator and martial art/fight trainer etcetera?

I had been involved with Chinese martial arts for many years. I really credit my primary teacher with giving me the skills to work in stunts and David Carradine for giving me my start in the business. My primary teacher Grandmaster Liang Kam Yuen was also the kung-fu technical advisor for the old 70s Kung Fu TV series. He also taught and worked with David for years beginning with his involvement on that show. Through my teacher I worked on a couple of David's kung-fu and tai chi workout videos back in the mid-1980s as a martial arts trainer. Sometime later in 1993 David himself hired me to be his stunt double on the Kung Fu: The Legend Continues TV show which was shot in Canada. That was my start.

How did you get cast as a Gang Member in Escape From L.A.?

It was over a pool game. I was still working on the Kung Fu: The Legend Continues show with Al Leong (Stunts/Uncredited Hershe Gang Member) when he got word he'd be working on Escape From L.A. I have always been a major fan of John Carpenter and Escape From New York was one of my favorite movies. I just had to work on that show. You could say that working with John Carpenter was something on my "bucket list". Anyway, Al and I were on the tail end of Kung Fu and I lobbied him pretty hard to try and get me on Escape. After pestering poor Al for a few weeks he finally broke down and said he could talk to Escape stunt coordinator Jeff Imada to get me on. But I had to win him in a game of pool. One of our favorite pastimes was playing pool at this diner in Toronto which was co-owned by a good mutual friend and stunt guy we worked with. We would often play for money and I would usually lose. Among Al's myriad of talents he was also a pool shark. This time around to my surprise I ended up winning. A week or so after we got back from Toronto I went to work on Escape. Al had later told me that he was going to get me on that show in any case but he was clearly bemused by the idea of a pool game over it.

Which scenes are you in and how was the experience filming your scenes?

I worked towards the end of the movie in the Happy Kingdom melee. I started out as a skinhead during the scene where Cuervo Jones (George Corraface) is assembling all the gangs. A little later I was re-dressed as a sort of non-descript gang member during the big battle sequence. I was one of so very many. There were a lot of people on that set and a lot of guns!

How long did you work on the movie?

I worked about two or three weeks I think.

How was the experience working with the cast and crew and what went on behind the scenes? Did you hang out with kung-fu master and veteran stunt performer/coordinator Al Leong (Stunts/Uncredited Hershe Gang Member) who you spent two decades training with for instance? Also, is it true that each group that was similarly dressed started to hang out together and really got into their characters?

I had one of the best times I've ever had on a film set. I was getting to work on a John Carpenter (Director/Co-Writer) film. I was working with Kurt Russell (Snake Plissken/Producer/Co-Writer) as Snake Plissken. I couldn't really ask for a better gig. Al and I hung out quite a bit when either of us weren't working. He let me crash in his trailer which is where all of the other Saigon Shadows' dressing rooms were located. I more or less hung out with them. Jeff Imada, James Lew (Stunts), Simon Rhee (Stunts), Stuart Quan (Stunts), Leo Lee (Stunts) and the rest. We passed the time either standing by on set and watching or hanging back at the trailers and chatting. On long breaks some took naps in their respective trailers (these were all night shoots!) Yeah, it is true. Most of the gangs all stuck together. Their dressing rooms were generally cloistered together too so that was certainly a factor. I think everyone got into their characters but everyone got along exceptionally off-camera. Everyone was excited to be there on an Escape movie. The energy was always high and everyone wanted to do a good job.

What's your favorite memory or memories of working on the movie?

I have a lot of great memories from that set. I had an opportunity to chat with John Carpenter a little bit. That was pretty unforgettable. Rushing the chopper with hundreds of guns was quite a thrill. Getting to watch the finale fight between Kurt and George get set up, rehearsed and then watching it being shot. That was nice. Meeting Kurt was also special. He's a great guy. Nice to everyone. From the top to the bottom. The whole shoot was just fun. The Happy Kingdom stuff was all shot on the Universal Studios backlot and for me it's always great to be working on a backlot particularly Universal's. There are less shows done on backlots these days. Although I had worked three years already as a professional stunt performer it was under ACTRA (The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists) contracts up in Canada. Working on Escape From L.A. allowed me to get my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card so that's a great memory for me as well.

What do you think of the movie personally?

I'm a fan of all John Carpenter's movies and anything with Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken is always going to get a thumbs up by me. For me personally Escape From L.A. wasn't quite as good as the first one but it's pretty tough for any sequel to top the original. There's plenty of good stuff in this movie for me so I'll always be a fan of it. And really, you have to love the ending.

Do you have any favorite memories of working, training or hanging out with Liang Kam Yuen, David Carradine and Al Leong you'd like to share with us?

I have so many great memories really. No single memory stands out among them. My Sifu, Liang Kam Yuen was like a second father to me in many ways. I learned a great deal from him and he gave me something I cannot measure or ever repay. Kung-fu has been a major and positive part of my life. It's led to many great adventures as well as getting me through a multitude of tough times. It's given me a career that I love and keeps me forever grounded. My teacher gave me all of that and more. My fondest recollections of him are always of those instances when he made me feel that anything is possible with a positive attitude and the desire to achieve more. He could always make me feel that no task was ever too difficult. While his mastery of Chinese martial arts is renowned he could just about talk water right out of the ocean.

David was always great company and fun to hang around. He was always pulling pranks and joking with me on set. He took his role seriously but rarely himself. Conversation was always fresh. We often talked about martial arts, movies, music and comic books and he knew what he was talking about.
He was well-versed on just about any subject you could come up with. If he didn't happen to know about something he'd just get quiet and listen real close absorbing whatever it was being discussed. He was a marvelous storyteller and I sat and listened to many of his stories. We worked out together on the set or on weekends when time permitted and that was always a good time. He had some favorite traditional forms we'd run through and he was a natural with tai chi. It's fairly well known that the Carradines are a musically gifted family and one great memory I have is being at David's house one night around Christmas time and having a sort of impromptu jam session in his living room along with him and his brother Robert. David was very difficult to not get along with. He had a lot of his character Kwai Chang Caine in him. It was part of him. Then he'd have all of these other parts in him as well. He was complex and simple at the same time. He was definitely one of the most interesting human beings that I've ever personally had the pleasure of knowing.

Al Leong has been a good friend to me for years. We pretty much hit it off the first day we met. He's been very influential on me personally, professionally and from a martial arts perspective as well. To say that I learned a lot from him would be an understatement. Although he's made a living playing (mostly) bad guys he's one of the most approachable people I know on or off the set. Al is about as real or genuine as they come. We share a lot of the same views about martial arts but it's really just one component of our friendship which has grown over the years. Maybe it's that I'm getting older and catching up to him in age now! When we're hanging out we do all kinds of things. Go for walks or hikes, go out to eat, get a couple of ice-blended mochas at a local cafĂ©, catch a movie, talk movies. The usual things friends do. A few years a back we had made a ritual of off-roading in Al's Rhino UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle) every other weekend. That was fun! I've always liked working with Al. Not just because he's tremendously talented and extremely easy-going. I can understand his "language" or easily figure out where he's "coming from" if that makes any sense. It's also because he knows the absolute quickest way to lunch or craft service! Seriously, I look forward to working with him again soon. With Al it's always fun and always an adventure to remember.

Which stunts in your career are you the most proud of so far?

Well, it would have to the work I did stunt doubling David Carradine. Not that the work or the stunts were more difficult or complicated than anything else I've done but I was essentially getting to be a part of a childhood hero. About as close as one could get. Pretty unforgettable and something I'm most proud of.

What are you currently doing and what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I'm still involved in stunt work and try to keep busy with that these days. I've lived down in New Orleans since 2009 and I teach traditional kung-fu and tai chi. It might be a little premature to talk about it but I can at least say that there are plans in the works for collaborating with Al Leong on a feature film project in the near future. Aside from making movies I love watching them as well. I was a film buff long before I got into the business. I like being outdoors as often as I can, reading and listening to music. I also really enjoy teaching martial arts and I'm currently writing a few books on the subject.

Thank you for your time, Michael

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Photo Provided By Michael Dawson