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Interview de Stuart Smith

Si nous aimons rire d'un certain cinéma déviant, nous sommes très loin de mépriser les hommes et les femmes qui s'y sont impliqués ou compromis. Il nous a ainsi paru enrichissant de faire raconter le nanar et son univers par les gens qui l'ont vécu de l'intérieur. La diversité des intervenants et de leurs réponses nous a rendu encore plus proches du cinéma que nous aimons : vous découvrirez, au fil des entretiens que ces différentes vedettes ont bien voulu nous accorder, des informations précieuses pour le cinéphile et le cinéphage, des anecdotes cocasses et, en esquisse, le portrait attachant de personnages souvent hauts en couleur.
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Stuart Smith

Stuart Smith was one of the most intruiging presence in Godfrey Ho's ninja pictures. Next to nothing was known about this wildly eccentric ninja master, who appeared as totally over-the-top villains, or equally grimacing heroes in such masterpieces as "Ninja : Silent assassin", "Ninja in the killing fields" or the aptly-titled "The Ultimate ninja". Ultimate indeed : we finally managed to track down the elusive Stuart, who was kind enough to tell us everything about the making of a ninja. Our warmest thanks to Mr Stuart Onslow-Smith for his time and generosity.

Interview menée par Nikita

Thank you for being kind enough to accept answering our questions. To start with, could you tell us a bit about you and your life before you went to Asia? Where and when were you born? What did you do for a living?

I was born in Winchester, England but grew up in Sydney, Australia. I was working in the Import/Export business after flunking out of law, and between jobs, when I got involved with a local community group who were setting up a small government-sponsored film/acting school. We made some surf film documentaries focusing on the young local Many surfers and I ended up doing most of the on-camera interviews. Off camera we went though a 12 month drama course, had access to all the cameras and production editing facilities we could ever want. I went out and found an agent, Shay Martin, and began working, initially as an extra on a number of ABC productions , Australian soap operas and a few feature films My agent had a “learn as you go philosophy” to acting and that’s exactly what I did, slowly picking up small speaking roles in larger productions.

When did you move to Hong Kong, and what made you leave your homeland for Asia?

I moved to Hong Kong in March of 1986. My acting agent in Sydney also ran a travel agency and although I loved growing up in Sydney, I wanted to go and live somewhere completely different.. She told me that Hong Kong producers and directors were looking for Western actors to work in Hong Kong so I sold everything I owned in Sydney and got on a plane for Hong Kong.

I went to Hong Kong only to work in films. Nothing else! I slept on a friends couch for three months until I got my first film role and things just went from there.

During the 80’s, it seems there were good opportunities for Westerners to appear in movies in HK. How was it to be a gweilo performer in HK? (the way you were considered by Chinese crews, the money you earned, relations / acquaintances with other gweilos etc.) Some websites reported that you had been a stuntman. Is that correct?

Well “A Better Tomorrow” had just come out, Tai Pan was currently filming and it was Renaissance-time for the film industry in Hong Kong, so it was good place to be at the right time, by chance.

I somehow ended up as the “gweilo” bad guy, so anytime a script called for someone with a white face to be shot, stabbed or thrown off a cliff they’d call me. Dying for a living a think they call it!

I spoke a little Cantonese so I had no problems with the film crews. I’d done a bit of boxing and Tae Kwon Do when I was at school, and was an avid surfer, so I was always happy to work with the stuntmen and fight choreographers, and I think they appreciated that.

I mean I was a young actor working in Hong Kong making kung-fu movies. It was pretty cool!

The money was always a process of negotiation but US$100/day was my standard rate.

Not much money by today’s standards, but a nice living wage in Hong Kong back then.

The Western acting community was pretty tight-knit and everyone knew each other, or knew of each other. We were continually going to castings and auditions for the same roles so it was a little incestuous I guess. My “ partner in crime” was always Louis Roth, a New York actor, and we covered each others backs a lot, such was the nature of the Hong Kong film industry at the time!

As for being a stuntman, I would never claim that. I did stunt work for my characters as much as possible, and some double work for a few well-known actors, but the dangerous stunts I happily left to the experts.

You have made several films with director Godfrey Ho (and producer Joseph Lai). Other Western actors such as Richard Harrison and Bruce Baron, who both did ninja films with Ho and Lai, explained to us they had been tricked. Indeed, the scenes they shot have been edited any which way with some old Asian pictures and, beyond the poor quality of the result, they eventually found themselves appearing in many more movies than their respective contracts did specify. Was it the same for you? Would you have a comment about the content of these two interviews? What memories do you keep of Bruce Baron, Pierre Tremblay, Richard Harrison, Louis Roth, Mike Abbott, Grant Temple, Alphonse Beni, etc.?

Godfrey Ho.

Well it didn’t take me too long to work out that a 10 day-2 week shoot for a film wasn’t going to produce 90 minutes or so of screen time, so something wasn’t quite right. I contracted for so many days on such and such a film for so much a day.. They owned that footage. I have no doubt that what both Richard and Bruce say was correct. The 10 or 15 minutes of screen time shot in Hong Kong was cut into other multiple cheap Asian films, mainly from Thailand and the Philippines. I worked with both Richard and Bruce, both consummate professionals.

Stuart and Louis Roth.

Louis Roth was a dear friend of mine and is sadly missed. I first met him on the set of one of Godfrey’s early films and almost broke his nose in the first scene we filmed. He was a tough New Yorker, ex Vietnam vet and an actors actor. We worked on many films together, including Undeclared War, and his sharp wit and dry sense of humour is still remembered by all who met him. He could be fairly abrasive if you didn’t know him and I know he ruffled a few people’s feathers over the years. He founded the Actors Studio in Hong Kong and some of my best memories are of taking some classes for him when he was away on his numerous film shoots. There’s nothing better than the opportunity to pass on a bit of what you have learned in the business to those just starting out or wanting to learn.

Mike Abbott.

Big Mike Abbott was a gentle giant and had a good word for almost everyone. The ever-eccentric Pierre Tremblay I knew mainly from the voice-over scene in Hong Kong. Similarly Grant Temple. Alphonse was a pretty cool dude from memory and I think was a fairly good martial artist.

We read on a website that Louis Roth was involved in scriptwriting and continuity on some of Godfrey Ho's ninja movies. Is this true?

I think that Louis was involved in rewriting alot of the "scripts" they came up with. To hold him in anyway responsible would however be an error of judgement. Everyone who appeared in their movies was involved in rewriting what they said on camera, because believe it or not, they were even worse before that! Louis did however write the first script for "Undeclared War", and some of the early rewrites before they brought someone in from L.A. to do the final rewrites and bring the script together.

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