Bao Tieu

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Bao Tieu was born in Cheshire, United Kingdom where he first began his acting career in television commercials starring in three advertisements for a communications company. From there, he soon began recognized for his in Martial Arts skills.  Using these skills as a spring board to launch his career he soon grew both as an actor and stunt artist mainly known for action films.

1.  Where are you from?  How did you get into Martial Arts?

I’m originally from Manchester in the UK.  My parents are from Vietnam and came over here in here in 1978.  Once they arrived here and settled down I popped out, in 1980.  I went through the same things as a lot of the other students.  I started out with Karate then moved on to Shaolin and then to Wushu which I have been doing for a number of years.  I never stopped training really.

2.  Do you do that competitively? Are you involved with any organizations which hold competitions?

Yes I do.  The academy that I’m with competes with BCCMA – we do all the gradings and when there are championships which come through obviously we enter them and get involved and start competing.  But I haven’t been able to do that the past two or three years because the dates clash we have not been able to compete recently due to overlapping schedules.

3.  Is that exclusively in the UK?

Yes the BCCMA is the British Chinese Martial Arts association.

4.  How does that relate to your film career.  I know that you saw your Martial Arts experience as a way to get involved with the film industry?

Basically, it was because of my Martial Arts that I got recognized in the film and TV industry.  It was one of my very first stage shows that I did.  Every Chinese New Year we tour the UK and we also have the Cheng Du acrobat team that comes over every year.  We combine teams and perform together.  It was backstage one time that a casting agent approached me with a business card and said “we saw what you did up there” because they had seen the Lion Dance that requires Martial Arts skills with the lions head as well and they noticed that.  They turned around and said “you’ve got potential”.  I had never thought about TV and film before.

I thought about it as I had never thought to go down that route before.  They just gave me the business card and told me to get in touch.  And then obviously they had me in and got me to sign the contract.  Then they got me to train in Martial Arts because they knew that was my niche and then they got me to do some auditions.

My first audition was rough.  It was a UK network company 3 Mobile.  And that was the first job I got and obviously I moved on from there.

5.  Can you tell us about some of the projects that you were involved with early on?  Some of the films you worked on and how your Martial Arts experience provided you with those opportunities?

My first big hit was the mobile phone commercial I did.  I was in the old movie Rocky – we did a montage of it.  It was a spoof of when Rocky was going through his training days.  But we were just training to make a better network and provide a better network.  They hung me upside down and I was doing upside-down crunches and martial arts exercises for core strength.  After that it was about a year later, a producer Andrew Cooke got in touch with me and said I know your reputation and I have seen videos of you performing.  Quite a number of people have pointed me in your direction and we have got a Bollywood movie.  He needed 50 Martial Arts fighters.  So he asked me if I could round up a team for him and if we could do three weeks of film shoots for him.  It was like Martial Arts ninjas in the film.  So again I got some guys from my Martial Arts academy – they managed to get 25.  They had to get 25 from somewhere else.  We all got together came down and did the film shoot.  And then then I got credit for it as my first major stunt performing job.  And it just progressed from there.

Andrew Cooke is also the producer for the movie Bend It Like Beckham.  He spread my name around and introduced me to more people.  He recommended me to other companies.  That was my early progression in the Martial Arts stunt world.

6.  One of the notable films you had the opportunity to work on was Fast and Furious 6?

It was very last minute that one because I was in Los Angeles and when I first arrived back to the UK a lot of my Martial Arts action friends were already signed to the film and they had been given the dates for rehearsals and so on.  I came back and half was through this.  They turned to me and said “Bao you need to get involved with this because you have the Martial Arts skills, you have the fight skills, you’re fast at picking things up and they are always in need of people.”  In the UK they have the main stunt crew and then you have your performers who act around it.  So drop falls, jumps falls, flips.  That’s what we do.  They have us do various scenes in there and luckily I managed to send my reel through and they said “yes” and brought me on board as well.  Because I’m trained as a drift car driver they saw that and being Fast and Furious, which is car related, and because I could drive they said “okay, we’ll have you on that as well on standby”.  I did a few of the fight scenes.  So that was Fast and Furious 6 in London.

7.  Can you tell us about some of the other projects that you have been working on recently?

We also did 47 Ronin, that’s quite a few years ago now it was my master that brought me in on that one, he was one of the swordsman in that one.  He spoke to one of the producers who brought me on board for that one.  I was playing one of the Red Ronins in that.  That was a good shoot.  That was nearly five weeks worth of shoots.  The boot camp was about three months long.  That was a good shoot as well.

Recently I started doing King Arthur.  Its been directed by Guy Richie.  I was a stunt performer on that.  I was doing a lot of the hand combat and we had a lot of sword training as well which you can actually see in my show reel.  We had two weeks of boot camp for that.  We were training to get ready to fight the Black Knights.  My scene was actually the main scene where we charge into the castle to take over the castle to try and assassinate King Arthur.

8.  Do you train some of the other actors in the project or do you simply do training for the scenes?

We just train for the scenes and the action coordinator because there are so many actors and so many stunt actors, they break us down into groups so they say “can you come up with your own fight sequence and then we will come around one by one check out your fight sequences to see if it does match with the era of the film.  If they like the fight scene they’ll shoot the scene on a steady cam and they usually have it on an aerial camera as well so the aerial cam will be shooting us as well.

9.  Early in your career were you inspired by any Martial Arts movies?  Were you a fan of Martial Arts cinema when you were growing up?

It’s every kids dream.  I was one of them as well.  One of the first films I remember watching as a kid that really did inspire me – it was during the years I was getting bullied and pushed around at school – it was called “Monkey Magic”  it was back in the 1980’s.   It was his Martial Arts moves that inspired me.  Every time he did fights he did really well and when he fought he had the golden staff which is a bow staff.  When he used it it just inspired me and thats one of the reasons I got involved in Martial Arts.  At that age part of the process was figuring out which Martial Arts was which and that was when I decided to start going to Shaolin and started studying with my old master, Master Wan, who has passed away now.  He was in Sheffield in the UK.  He was the one who taught me everything I need to know.  After that I moved on to my new master, Master Chen De Qing who teaches WUSHU and Shaolin at the same time.  He’s fifth generation master and World Wide National China Championship winner.  He was the one who brought me into 47 Ronin as well.

There were also Martial Arts actors who inspired me.  Jackie Chan, Jet Lee, Donnie Yen, people like that really do inspire me in the Martial Arts world.  I’d say Jackie Chan was my main inspiration to follow.

10.  Do you have a favorite movie with Jackie Chan?

He wasn’t the main star in it but he was in Shaolin.   He was coproducer in that film but he was also cast in a role in it.  He played the chef in that film – the chef for the Shaolin Monks.  Just an absolutely amazing film simply because it kept a record of the story of what happened to the Shaolin temple back in the day and it was a true story of what happened.  Just an absolutely amazing movie and the Martial Arts in it.  There’s minimal wire work in it.  Everything is genuine flips, genuine kicks, genuine maneuvers and everything you learn in Kung Fu.  In every move you can see the form and you can see the movement.  Its a genuine movie.

11.  You’re talking a little about the history of Martial Arts.  Are you able to trace your roots back to China, do your ancestors have any connections with the Martial Arts?

None of my family have any connection.  My connection now is through my master, Chen De Qing and because he came from the province of Han Nam and because he trained in the Shaolin temple he taught us a lot about it.  And during holidays we would travel back over there – I believe I will be traveling back there this August.  When we are over here we train the principals and are taught all the things that are taught at the temple in the traditional Martial Arts method.

12.  When you were in Los Angeles were you taking acting courses?

Yes.  The reason I went over there was to take courses at the Stella Adler acting studio because I wanted to pursue my acting career aside from my work in action.  I did two years training there through summer courses.

13.  Do you have plans to go back to LA?

Yes.  I have three movies lined up for me so I have to meet with the production company and I also have a new talent agency who wants to sign me onto their agency books.

14.  Are the films Martial Arts related?

Yes, two of them are and the third just has a really good story.  Obviously I’m not allowed to give away the details without them released yet.  One of them is kind of like a fiction horror action movie.  I’m playing one of the strong lead characters in there.

15.  You talked about Shaolin and how the Martial Arts moves are very authentic.  What is your opinion about the use of wire work or special effects in action movies?  For instance, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is probably the first one that was popular to a western audience.

Yes, that was one of the movies that was going through my mind when you mentioned that.  Oddly enough I actually got auditioned for that.

The Martial Arts in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon still carries the authenticity but it just got carried away too much with the wire work.  Every time they do the wire works I understand it is the old way of doing Chinese filming but its kind of a little bit over the top.   When you watch it it is a little bit unbelievable, you know that people can’t actually fly that much in real life.  It kind of becomes too fictional rather than traditional.  I don’t know, I’m kind of 50/50 towards it.  When you have real close-up fight scenes it’s really believable and that’s when I love it but when it starts getting into wire work and it gets into extremes where they’re jumping over the tops of buildings and so on – even Ninjutsu can’t do that.  So that’s the point where it starts to spoil the movie.  I like the realism in Martial Arts films.

16.  Do you try to pursue that in your own career or have you looked for roles or scripts that try to portray Martial Arts in a more realistic manner.

I do yes, that’s everything that I tend to go for so several movies that I have done and a pilot shoot that I’ve just completed called “Deliverance” that will be seen at Cannes have wire work in them.  I instructed the stunt coordinator by saying, “look, I know this is on the wire but I don’t want it over the top, I don’t want people to think ‘this is on a wire’”.  So that is the direction I go down when I am doing stunts and I keep a close eye on them with the stunt coordinator.  If I feel uncomfortable with something or if I think something isn’t right I’ll say something to the stunt coordinator.  Then we will go back to the script to see if what I wanted to do was right for the film.  Then if we agree they allow me to do it.  Luckily for “Deliverance” they let me take the upper hand with the stunts.

17.  Is that something you have typically done is communicate with your coordinators or directors?

Yeah, we always have to do that because if we think something isn’t working and you can visually see it because you are the body that’s flying through the air you know that that is going to look awful on the camera so you have to have a few words with them.  Once you’ve done the scene that they want then you can do the scene the way that you want.  At least if gives them time to play with it.  I always do that with productions.

18.  Do you have a sense of where you want to end up with your career?

I do, yes.  As I said earlier on, Jackie Chan is my inspiration.  He is the direction I want to head in so whether be working along side him – I’d just be honored to be signed up to work on a film with him.  I have several friends who are signed up with him already and taught me about how he is.  It has inspired me to try and work with him again in any of his up and coming movies and hopefully before he retires.  That’s where I want to be.  I want to be able to perform with people who I can look up to.

19.  It sounds like you have managed to bring yourself closer to that goal with your recent roles and casting in Los Angeles.

Another one that I have to go back and meet, his name is Leo Fong, he used to be a fighter along Bruce Lee back in the day.  He’s well-known, he’s known in Los Angeles and he is in the Martial Arts Hall of Fame and because we have mutual friends – we have a friend in common who works for CBS Studios over there he knows about me and my friend has spoken about me.  He said, “when he comes over here I want to meet this guy and I want to work with him on something”.   So that is why I will be in LA so I can meet with him and see what leads he has for me.

20.  One of the films we haven’t talked about is Doctor Strange.  I understand you were involved with that film?

Yes!  I was involved with that one.  It had completely slipped my mind actually.  That was another strange one.  I never really got called in for an audition.  It was through a friend called Nino.  He was signed on to it and he did a lot of stunt work in it and then it got to a finally scene where we had to do the Hong Kong scene.  They needed more Martial Arts bodies.  They needed people who were already highly trained.  They needed people who already knew what they were doing.

Nino gave me a phone number one day and said “give these guys a call and don’t pass it on to anyone” this is actually someone who is in the production team and they are looking for someone who is in the Martial Arts and I recommended you”.  So I got in touch with them.  I gave them a phone call and sent them my show reel.  They said I was everything they were looking for and they needed me on board.  So you make the boot camp.  They said that since they had me now they would utilize my full length of contract use me in the final scene which is the Hong Kong scene.  She basically said “we want you as a stunt performer” so whenever there are explosions we want you to be able to crash and fall.  Because of my experience with Parkour when there are explosions they need someone to jump over burning cars – jump over anything that was an obstacle.  That was basically my task in Doctor Strange.

21.  So that gives you a connection with Marvel doesn’t it?

Yeah, it does.  I’m friends with one of the lead actresses as well – she was performing alongside Benedict.  It was great –  I was there in the zone with the leads and we would do the stunts and I remember it was the second to last day and everyone was tired.  We kept changing camera angles and the story board kept changing.  I remember Scott came down from his camera and actually grabbed ahold of me because every scene we were doing I seemed to be caught in the camera lens and running the wrong way.  So he came down and he had actually drawn a route for me.  Everyone was wondering why Bao was getting called out.  So he put his arm over my shoulder and lead me through the action scene and said “follow me” and he actually walked me in the direction I needed to go – where I needed to be running.  The script originally had me running in front of the principals but it was causing a distraction from the attention of the principals.  So they made sure the principals moved forward so that I would go flying behind them.  I went to see the movie and got to see that scene and I was surprised because they actually reversed that scene so I saw myself running backwards!  That’s why I posed something saying I look great running backwards!

22. I understand you were in a music video recently?

The music video is called Bring Me The Horizon (BMTH) and the song is called OH NO.
My agent sent me an email telling me that I had the audition for this, and was originally asked to audition as the sound guy in the music video, but after auditioning, they told my agent I was on a pencil for the job, and when they confirmed, they actually offered me a more suited role of playing the Henchman working for the big boss (he was the lead role in the music video).
The band are originally from Sheffield, GB, and are now a global rock metal band signed by Sony Entertainment.
The music video was done by Sony Entertainment, and the director was Isaac Eastgate.

23.  Maybe you can tell us a little about your Parkour experience.

Its just through the Martial Arts, of course in the Wushu there is a lot of jumping so through the jumping skills I kind of learn how to leap over things so that I have been doing.  Jumping over walls, jumping over rocks.  Its just basic Parkour, I wouldn’t say I am highly skilled.  But I have enough skill to bring me through to the film industry.  If I needed to get over an obstacle, I’m not sure I would be able to fly over it.  So that’s what I have been using in the film industry.  Scott called me down and said “I know that you can run, I know that you can jump so I want you to jump through this behind the principals”.  He knew that I could do it without getting injured as well.  That’s what anyone wants – especially the lead director.

24.  Is it something that you do as part of a club or do you go out with other people onto the streets and buildings?

No, again it is just something through the Wushu so through the Wushu Kung Fu we do a lot of jumps anyway.  We do a lot of jumps.  If you looked into it everything with the Wushu is on the three step.  It works similar to Parkour where you run, line up and then you jump.  With Wushu you have to jump up high so that you can get your twists and you can get your turns in.  Again it is the same adaptation for Parkour.  It works hand in hand really.  Basically what I am saying is that if you do Wushu or if you do Shaolin then Parkour is second nature as well.

25.  Do you speak Chinese?

No I speak Vietnamese.  I recently got called for Tomb Raider which is due to shoot in South Africa.  The casting director got me right through final rounds and the character they were looking for was down to my description – I was exactly the kind of person they needed for the role.  It was me all over.  She sent me a message asking me if I can speak Mandarin and I had to say no.  It put me straight back onto a pencil and I haven’t heard back since so I don’t think I’ve landed that role simply because I don’t speak Chinese – I speak Vietnamese.

26.  I know that recently that has been an issue in the film industry – matching ethnicities with roles of a similar ethnic background.  Andrey Ivchenko mentioned this and that he would like to see Russians cast for Russian roles in films rather than casting Americans of Australians for a Russian part.

I know that in Doctor Strange there were economic reasons that they did that.  So yea, “politics” as they call it.  That’s the way it was with Tilda Swinton – playing the Ancient One.

27.  Also, Ghost in the Shell – there was a huge backlash when an American was cast to play a Japanese character that is such a huge part of Japanese culture.

I certainly feel the drawbacks of it because the main role for Tomb Raider was such a strong role and the main reason I didn’t get is was I don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese.  I think this is going to be the main year that I am going to be learning Cantonese or Mandarin, or possibly both if I have the brain power.  As they say you have to keep learning in order to advance.  It is a huge drawback that I don’t speak Mandarin or Cantonese.  I’ve been to quite a few auditions over the years but they’ve asked me to speak Vietnamese.

28.  Have you studied Mandarin or Cantonese previously?

No, my parents taught me Vietnamese from a very young age – I believe from the age of four.  I am fluent in the Vietnamese language but with Mandarin I am simply going to be asking my master to teach me Mandarin.  He is fluent in Mandarin and English as well.

29.  Have you gone back to Vietnam

My parents have said that they want to take the family back because they want to show us the real Vietnam.   My mother suggested we go back together and that should be in the next two years.  They will teach us about the real Vietnam and teach me about where I came from as well.  Rather than going as a tourist, going as a family.

30.  Are there any projects that you have in the future or might be doing in the future?

Just the three I told you about.  I need to go back to LA to talk to my agent about them.  Once they do a press release about it I can talk about them.  Right now they fall in the realm of the “NDA” – the non-disclosure, so I am not allowed to talk about them yet but it is something exciting coming up over the next two or three years.  One of them is going to be made into a TV series as well.  We’ll see how it takes off on the America TV channels.

31.  Do you have anything you would like to say to the readers at Ninjagirl?

As a Martial Artist everyone knows you have to stay humble.  Everything you put out into the universe you have to do positively.  You have to train hard and never think that you are the best because you never are, there’s always someone out there who is better than you.  There’s someone out there that can do two back flips but there will always be someone who can do three or four.  So always stay humble, always train hard and listen to the people who help you and don’t take too much self pride in everything because sometimes when you fall someone else can overtake you if you don’t build bridges so it can always backfire on you if you don’t build bridges with someone.  They could possibly be someone who takes the upper hand when you walk into a production company.  You just have to work as a team – especially as a Martial Arts stunt performer/actor – you have to work as a team and work as a family.  I think that shows through the with the Fast and Furious franchise – everyone works closely as a family.  If anyone wanted to pursue this career they need to treat everyone as an equal – treat everyone as your brother and sister or your father.  Treat them as though they are directing you in the right way.  The main thing is to just stay humble.

Thanks for talking to us!

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