Steven Seagal had things on his mind when he spoke to Empire nearly 15 years ago: here’s what we learned from one particular interview.
Once upon a time, I ran an article at an outlet I was working from a terrific writer (hi Matt!), who’d worked his way through that year’s Steven Seagal-headlined movies. The article noted that Seagal even appeared to have a stunt double – allegedly – for moments when he had to walk along a corridor. Subsequently, I got a note under the cover of anonymity from somebody who’d – allegedly – worked with the man, who suggested this report was on the generous side.
But it’s easy to overlook that in the early 1990s, Steven Seagal was action cinema’s fast-rising star. He came to fruition in the late 80s off the back of primarily video hits such as Nico, and burst through as a big screen star with 1992’s Under Siege. He was poised to take on the likes of Schwarzenegger and Stallone as cinema’s biggest action star, but, well, didn’t.
Instead, his immediate focus was on his planned directorial debut – that I wrote about here – but the hard truth is that over the course of the decade, the hits dried up. If you want to see a new Steven Seagal movie now, the cinema is the last place you’d look.
But still, when he gives an interview about this period, it does tend to be quite a memorable one. And I stumbled across a terrific interview done by Nick de Semlyen in Empire magazine, back in its March 2007 issue. With his permission, I want to go through some of the things I’ve learned from it. I should note that Seagal, in the piece, voices his environmental concerns and how he wants to improve the world. But now I’ve noted that, I want to look at the things that dominated the bulk of the conversation.
He does some of his own stunts
Well, this is interesting for a start. “I do everything that’s doable by a normal human being”, he argues. “I don’t generally jump through windows or off roofs”. Notwithstanding that he now – allegedly – seems reluctant to walk around a bit on film, I’d just question what the bar for a normal human being is. If it’s me, for instance, let me assure you that Seagal would have done a very small proportion of his Under Siege stuntwork.
His favourite Steven Seagal film is Fire Down Below.
Or at least it was at the time of the interview. This is a 1997 movie, when his star was falling a little, that had an environmental tinge to it (in line with his interests at the time).
Some film experiences don’t impress him
“I had a bad director on Hard To Kill”, he tells us (Bruce Malmuth, no need to look him up: he made Nighthawks and was the ring announcer in The Karate Kid). “And Exit Wounds” – ironically, his last cinema hit – “wasn’t a very professional place to be”. Exit Wounds was regarded as a hit less for Seagal’s star power, but for the wattage of his co-star in it, the late DMX.
He apparently rewrote lots of Under Siege himself.
Well, here’s news. J F Lawton was a busy screenwriter in the 1990s, with credits including Pretty Woman and the Keanu Reeves-headlined Chain Reaction. He’s the sole credited writer on Under Siege, and wouldn’t return for its sequel.
But according to this interview, Seagal got his pen particularly dirty too. “I did a lot of rewriting on that”, he said of the movie. Specifically, “I completely redid the Tommy Lee Jones character, who was a flat, boring guy in the beginning”.
This, then, is a fork in cinema history. It was Tommy Lee Jones’ work in Under Siege – directed by Andrew Davies – that led to his casting in said helmer’s next film, The Fugitive. Jones would win an Oscar for The Fugitive, and who knows, without Seagal’s extensive rewrite work, that may not have happened.
Here’s Tommy Lee Jones’s Oscar acceptance speech, but I note he fails to mention Seagal even once. Tsk.
He has no regrets about Executive Decision.
Spoilers, chums. In the really rather fun 1995 action movie Executive Decision, Seagal gets second billing and, well, learns about gravity. There were stories that he wasn’t best pleased with his time on the movie, nor the fate of the character. But according to the man himself, he was very happy with it all. No problem at all (dig out a book by John Leguizamo for, er, ‘a counter-point’).
“I don’t regret my death in Executive Decision”, he insisted to de Semylen. “I kind of wanted to do it to shock people. They gave me a lot of money – like, a million dollars a day – so I just thought (‘why not’ -Ed), let’s try”.
Turns out he was quite good at it.
He is scathing about action stars who don’t put in a shift.
“I will say that most of the so-called action stars these days don’t do anything for real”, he thundered.
His favourite film of the 90s was Regarding Henry.
Er, remember this one? I always had a soft spot for Mike Nichols’ 1991 movie, a reunion with Harrison Ford after they’d made Working Girl together. Regarding Henry was the one where Harrison Ford starts off as a shithead, gets shot, then isn’t a shithead anymore. A gentle movie whose plot – and the movie was penned by a young JJ Abrams, no less (although we called him Jeffrey then) – doesn’t stretch much further than that. The film, incidentally, has only ever received a bare bones DVD and Blu-ray release, and that must really piss Steven Seagal off. So much so that he must consider getting his stunt double to stand up and make a scene about it.
Finally, remember that Orange advert? It unlocked a wish to do comedy.
“There’s an epic I want to make about Will Adams”, Seagal signed off, when asked what ambitions he had left, explaining that Adams was “a British lord who was asked by the Queen in the 15th century to find gold”. He never did.
Other possible films? “I want to make a movie about Genghis Khan”. He never did.
“I want to make some comedy, like the commercial I did with Orange”. He never did. At least, not deliberately.
Still, that advert seems like a good place to leave this. Sayonara, Seagal…
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