Dave sits down with one of Hollywood’s finest stuntmen to learn about his leap to the director’s chair.
“I have to admit that Jeff Speakman was easy to work with,” says stuntman extraordinaire and occasional director Rick Avery. “Well, except for two things: I didn’t agree with what he wanted as wardrobe, nor his obsession with looking so blatantly muscular in every scene!”
Boasting seven-hundred film and television credits, the multi award-winning Avery is very much an icon in his profession. Starting out in the early ‘80s, his first credited role was as John Travolta’s stunt double in Brian De Palma’s Blow Out (1981); and over the course of forty years he’s been pushed off buildings, leapt out of planes, and even set a Guinness World Record for the biggest car crash in movie history with Blues Brothers 2000 (1998). However, DEADLY TAKEOVER (1995) was one of only two films in which Avery found himself wielding the megaphone, and both this and his other directing job, The Expert (1995), proved to be ideal vehicles for then-recent discovery Speakman.
Avery first worked with the martial arts star on Sheldon Lettich’s A.W.O.L (1990) – although he had become acquainted with him a few years prior.
“I have known Jeff since he was a blue belt in Kenpo Karate,” explains Avery. “Mr. Parker [founder of American Kenpo Karate] sent him to a set I was working on to introduce himself to me as an aspiring actor. When he finally landed his first move, The Perfect Weapon (1991), he invited me on as the stunt coordinator. I did several films with him in this capacity and after we did The Expert, he was meeting with Harel Goldstein, the producer of Deadly Takeover, which at that time was just called ‘Takeover’. There was so much action for me to shoot as a second unit director on that film, Jeff recommended that I might as well direct the whole movie!”
A Nu Image-backed riff on the classic Die Hard (1988) formula, Deadly Takeover (a.k.a. ‘Deadly Outbreak’) makes up for its ceaseless clichés through a continuum of unapologetic arse-kicking entertainment. The plot is a back of a napkin absurdity that sees a terrorist group led by Colonel Baron (Ron Silver) take over an Israeli chemical weapons lab in search of a new secret weapon, only for Sgt. Dutton Hatfield (Speakman), a US embassy stooge, to unleash his inner warrior and save the day.
The picture wins with its eye-catching casting. Speakman already has an endearing likability about him, so playing a single dad whose wife has run off on the back of a Harley with his best mate does little to quell his winsome allure. Meanwhile, after a spell in ‘quality cinema’ like Reversal of Fortune (1990), Ron Silver had found himself in a string of DTV actioners like Danger Zone (1996) and The White Raven (1998) – but, as always, his softly spoken menace out-intimidates many of his peers.
As expected, Deadly Takeover offers a veritable orgy of hand-to-hand combat and explosive delirium, embodied by an epic Suzuki mini-van face-off, and climaxing in a helicopter-led bus chase that wouldn’t feel of place in a multiplex. For Avery, though, the Israel-lensed nearly didn’t happen, owing to Nu Image’s desire for a non-Union set.
“Well, I only accepted the job with the stipulation it would be a DGA signatory movie,” asserts Avery. “However, when I got to Israel, Avi Lerner decided to make it non-union, so I told Harel I was going home on the first plane. Harel called Avi and they argued loudly on the phone until Harel convinced Avi to relent, and I believe I was one of the first, if not the first director, to be a Nu Image DGA signatory.”
“Israel did bring a tricky set of challenges. It was tough, because aside from my main cast, all the other actors were local Israelis and we had to loop their voices in post- production. Buck McDancer had to employ a mostly Russian stunt crew for the action, so as well as a budget of only $3million we were hindered by a host of obstacles. Not that the experience put me off directing solo. Immediately after we wrapped, I went on to do second unit on fifteen feature films, then I directed a television pilot and my own documentary too. Funnily enough, I bumped into Danny Lerner on another Speakman movie and asked him when he was going to hire me again! He said they were very happy with my work and that the movie made money. If he had a star attached to any script I had, he wouldn’t hesitate. This is the problem with any project in Hollywood though finding a star that has box office appeal to sign an intention to do your movie. Once that’s done, the rest is pretty easy.”