Joey Ansah is more than just an action actor. He is a serious actor, filmmaker and action choreographer. Growing up he specialised in Ninjutsu, Capoeira, and Acrobatics, leading him to become a stuntman on Batman Begins. From this experience he realised he didn’t just want to be a stuntman, he wanted to be recognised as an actor who can also do stunts. His breakout role was playing a Blackbriar super assassin in The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007, where he gained a MTV movie Award for Best Fight in 2008. His recent roles include I, Anna, Snow White and the Hunstman, The Number Station with John Cusack and U.F.O with Jean Claude Van Damme. Being an all rounder, Joey has also recently put out a promo short of a six part series of Streetfighter, amassing over 6 million views to date.
Growing up what led you to take an interest in stage performance?
From my dad’s side a lot of them are in the arts, I didn’t know it at the time, but every male is a musician or an actor and my dads in fashion. It seems to run in the family to do something artistic. At early stages you do a whole load of stuff and try things out you enjoy. What interested me in getting into movies, is that marshal arts have always been my passion and that took over as an obsession from a young age.
How did your passion for martial arts develop to becoming an actor?
It got to the stage when I was back in the UK when I was 16, and thought maybe its not a crazy idea me working in movies using my skills. I was still too ignorant of the industry to know the difference between a stunt man and an action actor or a man who does his stunts or whatever, you kind of think maybe there one of the same. Fast forward a few years and I’m doing stunts on ‘Batman Begins’ and watching Christian Bale and Liam Neeson. I suddenly realised, stunts is actually quite boring, you spend most of your time making the actors look good. You could be the most amazing physical performer, but the audience will think the actor probably did the stunt anyway. I then realised ok, I’ve got it wrong, I want to be an actor who can do his own stunts, rather than just a stunt guy.
How did you become stuntman for your first time in ‘Batman Begins’?
I gravitated towards a group of rather very talented action individuals who were all training and trying to get into the film business. One of them knew the fight choreographer for Batman Begins and he was looking for people who had this acrobatic/marshal arts ability. 4 of us trained together and we went down for an audition and all got hired because they knew they would need a whole load of ninja’s for this training sequence. It was really eye opening. To be on an extra on a Nolan movie jeez, filmmakers like Chris Nolan don’t come around often. Just to be there and see how he works and how his set operates was great.
That was mad, but even more exciting than the MTV thing was I remember the day Bourne came out, Rolling Stone magazine, which is obviously a very well respected publication did the greatest movie fight of all time, and I just thought this is insane. It’s your first big movie, and it’s being heralded as one of the greats, a game changer. The Bond films started copying that fight style so did a million other films. We knew we had done something special when we had filmed it. American audiences like to clap in cinemas anyway, but when we had the cast and crew premier in LA, when that fight happened there was silence, people were just holding their breath and when it finished everyone erupted into applause. It was like a dream come true.
Is it fun playing an evil character such as Aldan who is given the task of hunting Snow White and the Huntsman down by the Evil Queen?
Yeah it was fun, and it’s the first kind of medieval, period thing, I instantly thought when I got it I’m going to be on horseback and have a sword, a bow and arrow and be in all this cool medieval gear. It was very exciting because it was a chance for me to do something I haven’t ever done before. If you get cast in a role that’s very similar to a role you’ve already done, your like it’s cool but I’m not covering massively new ground.
How would you describe the film if you wanted to make someone watch it?
It’s a fairytale movie, an action take on a fairytale movie but it’s been done in a very dark, gritty and in places unforgiving way. It’s going to have an impact as a result. If a film is whimsical or overly light you can casually take it or leave it. This is a film you have to pay attention to and take notice of because it deals with some quite strong themes. I would say a dark, epic take on a fairytale.
Your many roles so far have been very varied and diverse. How have you avoided being pigeonholed into only certain types of roles?
That’s a good question. The biggest risk was after Bourne because my character didn’t speak in Bourne, and there was all this action, it would have been very easy for me to typecast into being a fighter. Everything fighting or the bad guy, and I have so much more to give. There’s a whole load of skills I have as a human being and as an actor I would love to show and convey on screen, that I may not get the chance to if people can’t get beyond the fighter. Often you’re told by representation look, play to your strengths, because that’s what’s going to showcase you and give you that platform. Once your established enough for that strength, you can start diversifying and show what else you can do. If a great project with action is being offered to me I wont turn it down, because there are fans of mine that want to see action.
We hear that you are developing and directing a six part series based on the popular Capcom game Streetfighter. How did this come about? Are you a big Streetfighter fan?
I am the biggest Streetfighter fan you will come across. The whole story began about 3 years ago; there have been a couple of live action Streetfighter movies. Like most Hollywood takes on video games, there so unfaithful to the source material its not even funny, and fans are always up in arms about how there desecrating what the game stands for. I thought it needs someone who understands filmmaking and action and who also understands the game. I developed and wrote the treatment for the script with my writing partner who plays one of the characters in it, partnered with a production company and put together a pitch and approached Capcom who put together the game. To cut a long story short I got them to fund a short, almost like a vision, a pilot promo. My team and I made this film, and put it out there on YouTube and it had over 6 million hits. Off the success of that I thought we’ve got to go forward now and do something feature length, so I thought a series. It’s time to develop the characters and the world. The last two years have been writing, and the scripts are now done for the series, and we are trying to close the deal with Capcom to make it happen.
Is this just the beginning of a new career path into even more directing? Or are you more focused on your acting?
I’m always a performer. After Bourne I had a bit of a lul, and I used that period to develop my filmmaking skills. It’s difficult because all of the various hats I wear. I work professionally as an actor first and foremost, but also as a fight choreographer, action director and filmmaker and I almost see it as one of the same. I know they are two distinct career paths, but the more you know behind the camera, the more it helps influence your technique in front of the camera and vice versa, every area helps the other. One can’t exist or work without the other.
You have worked with some of Hollywood’s finest actors. Who would you next like to work with? What about directors?
That’s a good question. Sam Mendes what I’m seeing of the new Bond film, I’m loving his work as a director for sure. There are so many greats, Spielberg, Ridley Scott. I would love to be in a Bond film, or be Bond who knows. Actor wise Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Avengers was great as a comic book fan, the director of that Joss Whedon really pulled out something special. I just want to work with like-minded people that love doing great work and game changing work.
What would be the pinnacle achievement of your career so far, and what are you aiming for in the future?
I guess the pinnacle so far would be Bourne as an actor because as your big break, to cause so much attention and praise is special. It makes you think I want to start as you mean to continue. Streetfighter as well, my pilot program because that again was my directorial debut so to speak, I co-directed it, I wrote it, I choreographed it, it was my baby. Your first filmmaking project to put out there on a very well known brand with a lot of fans who had a lot of opinions and it had a 98.8% approval rating, where anyone can rip anything to pieces on YouTube, that was very special.
I’m on the rise as an actor, my profile is growing, and last year was a good year. I guess just to truly break in. I think the next stop is to cross over into the leading man territory. As a filmmaker, get my first feature length project out there. If you can do that for a brand like Streetfighter and it’s a commercial success, Hollywood almost gives you the keys to the car and says go crazy. I know if I can hit a home run with Streetfighter it will really open up choice in Hollywood, and that’s what I want ultimately. The choice to make projects, and to act in the kind of projects that I dream about.
Interview by Shireen Fenner