Men with a Darc side

After taking a few years off to work in other genres, martial arts movie producer Julius Nasso (largely known for his work with Steven Seagal on such films as Under Siege and Marked for Death) has returned to the genre for Darc. The film will put former world heavyweight karate champion, captain of the USA’s world-beating team and private security sector operative Tony Schiena on centre stage as the action genre’s ‘next big thing’. The pair chatted to Blitz before the film’s release.

Producer Julius Nasso (right) with long-time collaborator Steven Seagal.

Q&A: Julius Nasso

Julius, I have to ask about your days working with Sergio Leone (Nasso was the famed filmmaker’s assistant). What are your memories of that time?

I was privileged to be able to work with Sergio Leone. Being in his presence was an experience of a lifetime that I still have not yet been able to reproduce over the past 35 years of my filmmaking career. He was such a fine teacher and a master of filmmaking; every additional element that I learned from him I had utilised in my Steven Seagal franchise and, as a result, my Steven Seagal films can be watched over and over and over again.

Clearly you’ve always been a fan of action movies — when did your love of the genre begin?

I was turned on to the action genre films by Charles Bronson — Death Wish — and [Chuck Norris’] Delta Force. The important thing I learned is to get the audience’s adrenaline pumping and rushing; once I experienced those films, I became obsessed with the ‘rush’ feeling these movies can create.

Why do you think that movies starring the likes of Seagal and Van Damme are absolutely huge internationally but in the States they don’t perform as well?

I don’t think this is necessarily true. There are action films for two demographics: the first is for your standard viewers that enjoy going to see an action film that has Ben Affleck, Tom Cruise or Nicolas Cage performing in non-martial arts [action]. When those demographics are combined with the martial arts/wrestling/cage-fighting viewers, the combination of those demographics make martial arts films very successful. It in turn attracts martial artists, wrestlers, cage-fighters, street-fighters and those that watch films to learn the moves, challenge the actor…and as a result they become very successful as the demographics are much larger.

Would you like to see Seagal return to the big screen one day? Maybe for a new Under Siege?

Sure, if he could perform the way he used to perform in the ’80s, absolutely!

Why did you decide to return to fight films with Darc?

Over the past 10 years, there has been a huge void in martial arts films. When I was working with Seagal, there was tremendous competition: I had Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and many others. Today, there are no young, real martial arts actors that can perform and act in a martial arts film. Once I saw this void, I thought it would be time to try and bring in the next action franchise with a real guy with real credentials that can easily be verified on Google.

How did you discover Tony Schiena?

In 1999, when I left Steven Seagal, I needed some private security done in Europe. I came across Tony Schiena and when I saw his capabilities, I knew there was a potential there for making him my next martial arts action star.

Have you seen him fight yet? How does his style translate to screen?

Anyone that is familiar with my 10 Steven Seagal films will be very satisfied, impressed and shocked when they see the fight scenes that we captured in our movie Darc.

Q&A: Tony Schiena

When and how did Julius approach you for Darc?

Julius and I have been friends for 15 years. He first approached me on a serious security issue he was having. I was in London and flew to NYC to meet with him and then to Paris to deal with the issue. Two years ago, Julius called me and said, “Are you ready? Let’s show them what we can do in Hollywood.”

Do you recall how he pitched it to you?

Actually, it was the reverse! I pitched Darc to Julius. I developed it for many years and always wanted to make it. Julius enabled a dream to come true by supporting me on it.

What kind of martial arts do you do?

I did Shotokan karate my entire childhood — in South Africa that’s what everyone did. Growing up in Apartheid-era South Africa with world sanctions against us, we only had karate — no jujitsu, aikido, kung fu, etc. Anyone who was anyone did karate, from the bouncers and cops to the attorneys and politicians. I must stress, though, we did karate in the budo way; there would inevitably be blood flowing on the dojo floor every night.

When did you begin doing it?

I started at the age of six. I was born into a karate family, much like UFC’s Machida. My father, brother and sister did it. My siblings were my elder by a decade, so they were Black-belts when I was only starting. Machida ended up in the cage and I ended up in Iraq.

Have you trained with anyone in particular?

I’ve had various instructors around the planet. When I was 25 I won the World Traditional Kumite Championships and was awarded the title by Shihan Keigo Abe, head of the JSKA. The very next year, I suffered two broken ankles in a bad accident. My karate morphed into the escape and evasion and defensive tactics I’ve taught to special forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict areas.

Any action movie stars you especially like right now?

I grew up on the action stars who emerged out of the ’80s and ’90s. Since then, there’s [been] a void that’s yet to be filled.

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