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411 Talks w/Brahim Achabbakhe about His New Film Boyka: Undisputed 4

August 30, 2017 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Boyka: Undisputed 4

The 411 Interview: Brahim Achabbakhe

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Brahim Achabbakhe is a French actor and stunt coordinator/performer who has been working in the movie business since 2007. He’s worked all over the world on productions big and small and has worked with such action stars as Jackie Chan, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Keanu Reeves, and Jason Statham, among others. Achabbakhe currently appears as a major villain in the Scott Adkins action sequel Boyka: Undisputed 4, now available on Bu-ray. In this interview, Achabbakhe talks with this writer about Boyka: Undisputed 4, the movie stunt business, his goals, and more.

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Bryan Kristopowitz: How did you get involved with Boyka: Undisputed 4?

Brahim Achabbakhe: I was working on Never Back Down: No Surrender in Thailand at the time when Boyka: Undisputed 4 was getting prepared in Sofia, Bulgaria. Tim Man, who was the fight coordinator on Boyka: Undisputed 4 and also a lot of other Scott Adkins films, has been always supportive towards my career and always believed in me. I worked with him on another Isaac Florentine film previously called Ninja: Shadow of a Tear where I stunt doubled Scott because he had hurt his back during one of the action sequences. When Ninja: Shadow of a Tear was wrapped , the director Isaac Florentine expressed his gratitude and told me these exact words, “If I have anything in front of the camera for my next movie, I will sure think about you.” They were looking for someone who was physical enough to look good onscreen and could portray a bad guy character. When they were looking at options, Tim Man put my name forward since they really needed someone who could just come already in shape and deliver the work. After Isaac and Scott gave their approval, I was told by Tim Man I had the part of Igor Kazmir.

BK: How would you describe your Boyka character Igor Kazmir?

BA: Igor was a really fun character to create for me. He is an underground mixed martial artist who at the same time works for Zourab (Alon Moni Aboutboul) doing illegal activities. You can notice in some of the scenes I am wearing a suit which kind of breaks the profile of other characters in the Undisputed series where they always wear fighter clothes or convict outfits. This gave a nice background to the Igor character making him look like a mafia right hand man outside of the ring. In the ring he is very arrogant and uses a lot of illegal moves to win. He is undefeated and when Boyka shows up, it really is his final test to prove he is the undisputed king of the ring like he claims. The ego, though, is his downfall at the end because he underestimated Boyka by toying with him when he could finish him. I wish I can play this character again one day in another Undisputed film because I am sure Igor will learn and grow a lot from his defeat.

BK: What was the hardest part of making Boyka: Undisputed 4? The easiest? How was Boyka: Undisputed 4 different from your previous acting roles?

BA: I think the hardest part for me was to make sure I create a character that the audience would remember. I did not want to look or sound like anyone else who already was in the franchise before so I made sure to revisit all the previous films. The easiest was to perform the fight scenes in the film. I really enjoyed doing them. I love how Isaac Florentine films his action sequences and it really suits with my style. Tim Man also made it easier on me by allowing me to put in jump kicks I was comfortable performing. The difference with my previous acting roles is this was my biggest role to date and I had more dialogue than any other roles I did where I mostly just fight.

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BK: How long did it take to choreograph your fight with Adkins in Boyka: Undisputed 4? Did the idea for your fight with Adkins change at all during the process of making Boyka: Undisputed 4 or is it pretty much the way it was originally proposed?

BA: Tim Man the fight coordinator already had choreographed the action of the film long before I arrived in Bulgaria. I would walk through the fights with one of the stunt team members during a few rehearsals then rehearse as well with Scott probably 2 times if I remember. We shot the fight with Scott but Isaac felt it was a bit too short so we extended it with a few bits when there was time.

BK: How did you get involved in the stunt business? Did you always hope/plan to work in the movie business or is it something you came to later on?

BA: I got involved in the stunt business by travelling to Thailand back in 2007. I came with 200 euros in my pockets and a suitcase full of dreams. But it ended up being a bit more difficult than I expected so it took me a bit of time before getting work regularly. I was always hoping as a teenager to work on films as a stuntman and actor but never realized how hard it would be to make a living out of it.

BK: According to imdb you’ve worked as a stunt coordinator and a fight choreographer on several movies. How is the job of stunt coordinator/choreographer different from being just a stunt performer?

BA: Being the stunt performer is easier because you do not need to plan anything. You just come and perform what you are told to do. You come on set, do your job, get wrapped and head home. You do need, though, to keep in shape and stay up to date with your physical skills. Now, being a stunt-coordinator and fight choreographer is a completely different game. There are a lot of meetings, planning and the whole stunt department is your responsibility which means if something goes wrong it’s on you. I have a tendency to over-look everything I do when I coordinate or choreograph a fight scene because I know it will be on me if somebody gets hurt. I see a lot of stunt performers nowadays getting seriously injured and this makes you think about how you should always have the right person with the proper skills to perform the stunts. I always like to use the right person for the job because as a fight coordinator it makes your life easier and the whole production will go faster. So, yes, planning is key when you are a stunt coordinator/fight choreographer and maintaining your skills is your top priority as a stunt performer.

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BK: How did you get involved with Jackie Chan’s stunt team? What’s it like working with Jackie Chan?

BA: I first got involved working with Jackie Chan’s stunt team back in 2014 when they were shooting the movie Dragon Blade in the Gobi Desert. I got an email from one of the action directors of the Jackie Chan stunt team saying they would like to invite me to work and play a Roman captain role. I worked on that film 3 weeks fighting the son of Sammo Hung, Samy Hung, in a fight scene and also helped the Jackie Chan stunt team doing stunt work. Later on they brought me again for 3 other films (Viy2, The Foreigner, and Bleeding Steel). Working with Jackie Chan was an amazing experience, he treats the whole team very nicely and always brings us with him to some very fancy restaurants. He treats his team like his own family. I have never been part of his stunt team and just worked on and off but when they need a foreigner who can fight they always remember me and I am grateful for that.

BK: What’s the most important part of working as a stunt double for actors like Scott Adkins, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Kevin Bacon?

BA: I think definitely be the best at what you do. I always had the reputation of being in good physical condition. I think this is what got me most of my work when I started. I was always working out and training. When you start my advice is to say yes to pretty much everything you are offered because you need to build a resume. You need to be on set the whole time they are to show them any action they would perform and make it safe for them. Jean-Claude Van Damme, I remember on the film I did with him in China, Pound of Flesh, would always ask me for advice because I spoke French with him which made him comfortable.

BK: What’s the biggest misconception about movie stunts and movie stunt work?

BA: That you need to be a daredevil. I hate people thinking that. Stunts is all about planning and giving the illusion of reality. In the old days they did not have the luxury of having CGI but today we actually can make everything much safer. I remember I did this TV commercial once doing free running and this real free runner did not want any mattress on the ground when he performed flips. He wanted to do them on the concrete even though the camera was not shooting the floor. When you do any film work, you will always end up doing a lot of takes and I was observing him from the side doing take after take landing harder and harder on concrete until he said “I can’t do it anymore.” This is once again where experience comes in and stunts is not about pride or being a daredevil. It’s about being safe and longevity, living to be able to do the next job. If there is a mattress you can squeeze in go for it, nobody is gonna judge you. We are not in the 70’s in HK anymore.

BK: What’s the most dangerous stunt you’ve ever had to perform for a movie?

BA: I did a couple of explosion stunts in the early days of my career for two Korean films. I also climbed down a 19 floor building for a Bollywood film back in 2008. Backflip fall off the stairs, jumping off a moving train, a very nasty wire pull stunt on the upcoming Bleeding Steel with Jackie Chan, breaking a wall. Riding a motocross through explosions on Hard Target 2. Falling down the top deck of a boat, I pretty much did a lot of those things in the early stage of my career. I like to stick to fighting nowadays.

BK: After Boyka: Undisputed 4 do you want to focus more on acting as opposed to stunt work or do you want to continue to do both, if possible?

BA: I definitely want to be more active in the acting world and get more parts. I really enjoy the acting side more than doing just the stunt work or being a coordinator. I love to perform for the camera and I am looking forward for the next opportunity to get another great role like on Boyka: Undisputed 4.

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BK: Do you enjoy playing villains, or does it matter?

BA: You got it, man. Playing the villain is what I have always loved to do. It’s always the best.

BK: Who are your moviemaking heroes?

BA: Bruce Lee, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Jackie Chan for the action actors. On the directing side I love Isaac Florentine, Gareth Evans, and Sammo Hung.

BK: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

BA: I just wrapped a Netflix TV show called The Legend of Monkey where I choreographed fights for season 1. We shot that in New Zealand and it will air early next year.

BK: In Boyka: Undisputed 4 was that ring you fought Adkins in as disgusting as it looked onscreen or was that just movie magic? The stains on that mat are disturbing.

BA: Definitely a great art department team behind that nasty ring. The ring looked disgusting, yes, in a good way. I mean, look at all what happened on that crazy ring, I would expect even some broken teeth in there.

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I want to thank Brahim Achabbakhe for agreeing to participate in this interview and david j.moore for setting it up.

Check out Brahim Achabbakhe’s Facebook page here.

Check out the Boyka: Undisputed 4 Facebook page here.

Purchase Boyka: Undisputed 4 here.

Boyka: Undisputed 4 DVD cover from Amazon. All other images courtesy of Brahim Achabbakhe.