We spoke to Steven Seagal and ended up in a “very provocative area”.
Hi Steven, how are you?
I’m… hanging in there. You?
Good. We were told the line would be bad because you’re on a yacht.
Yeah, I’m doing a big tour here [Bulgaria] and I’m more than half way through it.
Right, we’ll crack on, then. There’s a whole season of your films currently airing on TCM. Where do you think you sit in the pantheon of great Hollywood action heroes?
I’m not sure exactly how to take that question but I’m not really someone who does things to fit in with fashion. I’m just somebody who has been doing action a long time and who is a real action person in the sense that I’ve really done – and really do – many of the things that other people pretend to do in their movies.
You’ve been a reserve deputy sheriff for 20 years or so, right?
I still work on the [Arizona] border. I put on the bulletproof vest and a machine gun and chase the bad guys. I’m chasing high-risk people, dealing with murder, rape, armed robbery. That’s what I do. So I look at myself as a real guy. We have a situation now where if film financiers have the money, they can make anybody into an amazing action person. They don’t have to know anything about action, because they have money and special effects. In Iron Man they have girls that look like, you know, [they could] beat the sh*t out of anybody. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you know about action or fighting – it’s about money now.
Do you think the violence got in the way of the moral message in films such as On Deadly Ground?
No. I think films should reflect real life… and, you know, I don’t have to be doing this interview, I don’t care about doing this interview. I really don’t. So, if the questions are going to be like that, I probably won’t continue because they’re not giving me the impression that this is going the way I want it to go…
How would you like it to go?
Well, it’s not my interview, it’s your interview! I’m telling you, I don’t really love the tone so far.
OK, well, shall we try some other questions?
Hopefully they’re intelligent.
When was the last time that you watched one of your own films?
What was your life like around the height of your fame?
I’m one of the few folks – and some may take this the wrong way – that didn’t get involved in drugs and alcohol. Fortunately I was raised in Japan, so I had a little bit of discipline and I was raised in the martial arts and in Zen [Buddhism]. I did have bad influences in my life at that time but, er… I’m human.
What do you think about the rising importance of a ripped physique in today’s action films?
Believe it or not, I had a body like that – minus the steroids. There’s a large portion of actors that are taking, shall we say, ‘special supplements’. I’ve never done that. I’m older now and I have to do what I do without trying to look like an 18-year-old.
Do you watch modern TV shows? Are you a Game Of Thrones fan?
I’ve seen pieces of ‘Gang Of’… er, ‘Game…’ [sighs] What is it? Eva Green, is she in it? I’m trying to remember all the different male and female stars but I think it’s a wonderful depiction – even though it’s a fantasy – of 400 years ago and I’m very impressed.
What’s the worst injury you’ve had as a martial artist?
I was dropped on a wire by what I considered to be pretty negligent wire folks.
Why haven’t you appeared in The Expendables yet?
I’m open to anything and we’ll see. Sly has called me a couple of times and talked about it, so let’s see what happens. You never know.
Your films are formulaic, but it’s a formula men love – why is that?
They were formulaic. But you have to keep in mind that we’re hired actors and we show up, and there were some folks in the studio who were choosing the scripts and telling me what kind of movies to do. But that’s the lot of hired actors. Why people kept coming back? Very good question… because there was nothing else out there.
Do you feel like an outsider?
Yes, I’ve always felt like an outsider.
Which of your films are you most proud of?
Pride is sort of like a poison to us in Buddhism. I don’t like to use the word ‘pride’, but there were some films that were fairly representative of some things that really matter in this world. I’m the only actor that I know of that’s made two major environmental motion pictures, and I’m proud of both of those. In a way. That’s Fire Down Below and On Deadly Ground.
Did any director ever ask you to cut your ponytail off?
How do you feel about the stories online about you being friends with Vladimir Putin?
I don’t know what you’re talking about because I don’t read online.
Apparently you bonded over a love of martial arts. Is that fair?
I would say that’s fair.
Do you regret making any of those straight-to-video movies?
Again, you’re leading back into a very provocative area, but movies should be about love and war. I don’t have any regrets about the movies I made… well, only the bad ones.
TCM’s ‘Season Of Seagal’ concludes with On Deadly Ground on 30 July at 9pm
(Images: PA, All Star)