Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson Talks w/411 About New Film Paying Mr. McGetty
The B- Movie Interview: Don “The Dragon” Wilson
If you’re an action movie nerd of the late 1980’s/1990’s you know who Don “The Dragon” Wilson is (and if for some reason you don’t, well, I have no idea what you were doing in the 1990’s. Obviously it wasn’t anything worthwhile). A former professional kickboxer who won multiple world kickboxing championships in various weight divisions over the years, he became a star in Hollywood and the independent film world working with the legendary Roger Corman with Bloodfist in 1989. Since then, Wilson has made over 30 movies, most of them low budget but still awesome independent action flicks like Blackbelt, Inferno (aka Operation Cobra), and Night Hunter. He’s still active in the movie business, appearing in movies like The Martial Arts Kid and the soon to be released Paying Mr. McGetty. The incomparable “The Dragon” recently took time out of his very busy schedule being a badass to participate in an interview with this writer where he discussed making Paying Mr. McGetty, the movie business, his movie career, and more.
Bryan Kristopowitz: How did you get involved with Paying Mr. McGetty?
Don “The Dragon” Wilson: My brother and Michael Baumgarten approached me about my interest in playing a “bad guy” in an action comedy. I am always looking for different types of projects and characters and since I knew the quality would be the highest it could be for the budget, I was in!
BK: How did you approach your character Shota Kabu? He is a bit different from the kinds of characters you usually play, isn’t he?
DTDW: I patterned some of his character and mannerisms after the “hit men” in the films The Professional and No Country for Old Men. I liked the more subtle performances of those “bad guys” because Leon was someone who was sympathetic, while at the same time, as deadly as Javier Bardem’s character. I hoped the audience could see that while Shota was a professional killer, he had a “code” or his own moral “ethics” and would not knowingly kill bystanders or anyone who was not guilty of whatever he was suspected of doing to deserve the hit. Shota is completely different than ANY character I have played because I’m always the “good guy” and, no matter how you look at it Shota is still a “bad guy”.
BK: What was the most challenging aspect of making Paying Mr. McGetty?
DTDW: I have always been the “star” of the films in which I work so I’m used to co-producing them and being in control of all the creative aspects of the project. Now, I’m doing what other actors do; I appear on the set and perform my duties as an actor to the best of my abilities. I do give some input when I feel my 30 years of experience may be able to help a problem-conflict, but I did not use my “clout” to adjust any creative elements. It’s still a little uncomfortable to just show up and not be concerned with every detail involved in the production. Also, when you are the “lead” in a film, you’re always aware of “how you look”. Of course, in that case, you want to look your best. As the “bad guy”, a more rugged, careless, look is acceptable. Remembering that Shota’s “look” did not have to be at its best i.e. makeup, hair, wardrobe, lighting, etc. was difficult and required some getting used to.
BK: How much input did you have in your fight scenes?
DTDW: John Kreng was a great choreographer and he prepared and rehearsed all the fighting scenes well in advance of the shooting. I prefer to let them do it on their own so they can be creative and the fight action will not always look the same in all my films. I do, however, adjust individual techniques to fit my “style” of fighting but, in general, I add my input on the set and in the editing room but do not dictate to the choreographer how and what to do in regards to the fight action.
BK: Did you choose Shota’s wardrobe or was the sweatshirt jacket in the script? I think the jacket is awesome.
DTDW: Originally, since the film takes place in one day, I thought of Collateral, the Tom Cruise film, that is similar. He wore one suit and I was thinking of dressing similar. But, once I realized the film was taking place 80% in the day, and it would be in Florida, in a very “laid back” area of St Pete, I opted for the, again, look of Javier’s hitman. It seemed to work for Shota because his MO is to be “in and out” without being noticed. I did choose the wardrobe but EVERYTHING in a film is ultimately the director’s choice not the actor’s.
BK: What are the advantages and disadvantages, if any, of making movies in Florida?
DTDW: The 2 main advantages of filming in Florida are cost and beautiful locations which have not been seen in other films. Of course, it’s easier to film in LA and most films do that without flying the stars, crew, equipment, etc. to locations. They just shoot some exteriors and “fake” like it’s on location. As producers, James and Michael wanted to have the actors in the environment and film as much as possible “on location” despite the added cost. It does make their films unique in the independent film business and will be another reason their product will “stand out” at the various film markets. The “disadvantage” would have been lack of local acting talent and experienced crew members. We did not experience that and, in fact, it was just the opposite! Great local support in every way!
BK: Would you be open to doing a sequel/spin-off of your Paying Mr. McGetty character Shota?
DTDW: I’d LOVE to bring Shota back in a sequel or even a “spinoff” of the film. Hmmmmm…. Imagine the turn around with Shota being captured and in danger and Tyrell coming to the rescue??!!! He argues with Anita that Shota backed him up when he needed it and he just couldn’t let him get “taken out”. During the course of his rescue he learns Shota’s problems were the result of going against “Charlie’s” orders. Just brainstorming, but this is the way ideas for films become reality!
BK: Your character in The Martial Arts Kid is a grilling machine. Are you a grill master in real life or was that something that was in the script?
DTDW: I used to do a LOT of grilling in the backyard but I guess I’m getting lazy because now I do it in the kitchen. Oh yeah, and I ALWAYS clean the grill first!
BK: Is there anything that you haven’t done in the movie business yet that you really, really, really want to do? Any upcoming projects that you can talk about?
DTDW: My DREAM project is to work with Chuck Norris in a “buddy picture” ala Lethal Weapon! I have a script, Blood Raid, an Expendables type of project and a “homage” to Billy Jack that I’d like to get made so I’m hoping to get the projects made in the near future. I am in negotiations for several TV series as a recurring character so I may be filming those before my next film. Again, it is something new and different because I’ve spent my entire 30 year career as an actor in independent film not TV.
BK: Where did the nickname “The Dragon” come from?
DTDW: In 1974 I had my first pro fight as a kickboxer and the ring announcer came into the dressing room and asked me what my “ring or fighting name” was. I didn’t have one but, since I studied the White Dragon style of Kung Fu, I said, “The Dragon”. It’s followed me for over 40 years!
BK: Is the Jake Raye in Bloodfist II the same Jake Raye that you play in the first Bloodfist movie, or is simply coincidental that both guys are named Jake Raye?
DTDW: I have no idea! Roger Corman is still an enigma to me and despite starring in 12 films for him, more than any other actor, I do not have the answer to your question. In fact, since the Bloodfist series is unlike any before or since, I asked him what the title meant, and his answer was, “Bloodfist means Don Wilson is in the movie and there is martial arts action.” My mentor and benefactor Roger Corman, whatever it meant….thanks!