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Interviews > Michael Dawson (Extra)
How did you end up being
a stunt man, fight coordinator and martial art/fight trainer etc?
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 T.V. 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 T.V. show, which was shot in Canada. That was my start.
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.
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 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 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 film. I was working
with Kurt Russell 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, Simon
Rhee, Stuart Quan, Leo Lee, 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
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 on the set. That was pretty unforgettable. Rushing
the chopper with 100s of guns was quite a thrill. Getting to watch the
finale fight between Kurt and Georges (Corraface) (Cuervo Jones) 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 you know, 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
Do you have any favorite memories of working, training or
hanging out with Liang Kam Yuen, David Carradine & Al Leong you'd like to share
Hmm. 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 - and
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 café, 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, or 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
Hmm. 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
Thank you for your time, Michael
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