Jackie Chan on ambitions, street fights and bowling with Bruce Lee
Your latest film Chinese Zodiac has seen you awarded a Guinness World Record for ‘Most Stunts Performed By A Living Actor’. Were there any close calls with the action scenes?
I hurt my back, almost broke it. I was really, really hurt. I’ve broken it many times before, of course, but this time, I’m thinking, “Wow, Jackie, you’re lucky.” I don’t want to sit in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
You’re 60 now – these stunts must get tougher to pull off as you get older…
Yes. Getting slow. Your mind thinks you can do it, but your body tells you you’re not as fast before. So, after that day, I thought [Chinese Zodiac] should be my last action movie. I love action, but physical action – jumping through cars, out of windows, somersaults… I can’t do these things any more. Non-physical action, though – hand-movement, machine guns – I’m great, very fast.
Is doing your own stunts important to you?
You have a responsibility to the fans, the studio. You can’t just take the money and say, “Use a double.” I could use a double, but if I’d used a double all these years, you wouldn’t be sitting here talking to me [ie he wouldn’t be so famous]. So, now, I watch my old movies on TV and think, “Jackie Chan!” I’m so proud of myself!
Would you like to try other, non-action-based roles?
Yes. I want to try to act as so many [different] characters, to prove myself. I want to be an Asian Robert De Niro, an Asian Dustin Hoffman, an Asian Al Pacino.
You got your break working as a stuntman in Bruce Lee’s films. What was Lee like?
I remember, on Enter The Dragon, there’s a scene where he has to fight 15 stunt guys, and I was the last one. In rehearsal, everything’s fine, but in shooting, he hits me with his stick, just above the eye – POW! I black out, fall down, the director yells, “Cut!” and I hear Bruce swearing. He says, “Oh my God!” and runs over. It hurts, but it isn’t bad. But because Bruce Lee is grabbing me, I pretend to be much more hurt [laughs]. For the rest of the day, whenever Bruce sees me, he’s like [smiles, salutes], and I’m like [holds his head, feigning pain].
Did he offer you any advice?
No. But I remember, some days later, I was going to get the bus to the bowling alley, when suddenly I saw Bruce Lee walk in front of me. “Hi Jackie, where you going?” I said, “Bowling.” He said, “Can I go with you?” I was like, “Yes!” I forgot the bus, now I had Bruce Lee with me, I got a taxi. As soon as we walked into the alley, everybody went crazy. I became like his bodyguard.
Did you beat him at bowling?
He didn’t play. He just sat, watching me. The eyes were open, but empty. I said, “Do you want a drink? Are you bored?” I stopped people taking photos of him. He had a shirt with a big collar, and brown shoes with big heels. That was the style. Then afterwards, everyone in the alley said, “You know Bruce Lee?” I said, “Yeah, he’s my buddy!”
Do fans ask you to fight them?
No. Not once in all these years. I’m not a superhero. Everyone can beat me. A girl can slap me. If there are more than two people, I turn and run [laughs]. Sometimes, I wince by accident if someone just [mimes throwing a punch].
You must have used your skills in real life at some point, surely?
Yes, yes. When I was 17, my friends and I passed some motorcycle guys. My friend pointed at the bike, and said, “I want to get that,” and the motorcycle guy said, “What the f– you looking at?” Then my friend just – BOOM! – one kick, he knocked all seven motorcycles over! The guys ran at us.
It lasted one minute, fighting. I remember punching, then we ran. My friend was kicking one of the guys on the floor, I said, “Stop, you’re killing people!” My shoes were full of blood, there was a big hole in my jeans. We couldn’t go to the hospital, because we were scared, so we turned into the Hyatt Hotel, watched the ambulances arrive. I was shaking, really scared. I had this white thing in my hand, I thought it was my bone, but two days later, I scratched it… it was somebody’s tooth! From when I punched him.
Have you turned down any roles that you’ve later regretted?
I turn down many things. If I’m not comfortable, I turn it down. I turned down The Interpreter [with Nicole Kidman, 2005] because there was so much dialogue. When I saw Nicole in Macau, I was like, “I almost worked with you!” But still, today, I would refuse. So much dialogue.
You also turned down The Expendables 3, right?
I wanted to do it. Stallone said: “Whatever you want, it’s OK. You wanna change the script, you want more days…” But I was filming, so I didn’t have time.
Stallone recently said he wants you for The Expendables 4, too…
Yes, it’s good timing now, because he knows what I want. I want more of a role. The five-minute fight, then you’re gone – like Jet Li – I don’t want that.
Final question: could you take Sly in a fight?
I could not take Sly. But I can run faster than him [laughs].
Chinese Zodiac is out now on Blu-ray and DVD, from Universal Pictures (UK)