The legendary action star talks about his award season ambitions, love of ‘La La Land’ and new film ‘The Foreigner.’
To American audiences, Jackie Chan is best known as one half of buddy comedies like Rush Hour and Shanghai Noon. But his latest English-language release (his first since 2010’s The Karate Kid) is a departure from what domestic moviegoers are used to seeing from the 63-year-old actor.
In the Martin Campbell drama The Foreigner, out Friday, Chan stars as a father whose daughter is killed in an IRA bombing in London, and will stop at nothing until he finds her killers.
“For action stars, it’s hard to change,” Chan told The Hollywood Reporter when asked about his choice to take a dramatic turn. “How many action stars today stay in the film business? They’re gone.”
Chan also produced the movie through his Sparkle Roll Media banner, a one-stop shop in China that spans film financing, production, distribution, marketing and acquisition, as well as exhibition through the company’s Jackie Chan Cinema chain. The Foreigner is the company’s first English-language co-production, they partnered with STX Entertainment.
The multi-hyphenate sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about his new movie, Chinese-Hollywood relations and his love of La La Land.
Actually, I never left America. I didn’t choose the right script is all. All those years after Karate Kid, I received so many scripts. I’ve been making films for 57 years, I’m trying to find something new. But in my own country, I can do a lot of different things. I choose The Foreigner because it’s totally different. That’s what I want. I want to make sure the audience, every year, sees so many different Jackie Chans. I just don’t want Rush Hour 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I’m tired. Probably the audience will like it. But if I continue to do these kind of [movies], my career will probably end in a few years when the audience gets tired and I cannot fight anymore. Then suddenly I would want to change and be an actor, but it’s too late.
So, I’ve been planning for years. Step by step, I let the world audience know: “Ah, Jackie, he’s an actor.” I’m not like some action star, that wants to suddenly change to drama. Nobody’s going to see that. When I looked at La La Land, I said I want to be an actor, I want to be as singer, I want to be a dancer. That’s what I want to be. I want to do so many different things in America.
American audiences are used to seeing you in comedies but your role in The Foreigner is more dramatic. Why did you want them to see this side of you?
Right now, for me, it’s not about box office. What’s more important is the audience. I’ve been working so hard for all these years in the film business. I wanted to prove that I’m a good stunt man, I’m a good stunt coordinator, I’m a good director, I’m a good producer, that I can write. Now, I want them to say, “That Jackie, he is a good actor.” After I got a life achievement Oscar, I want to get — I hope one day to get — a best actor Oscar.
There are so many foreign stars, and I could see whatever they did wrong. Then I can correct that in myself. What is the right thing to do? I’m looking at Robert De Niro and I’m looking at Clint Eastwood. An actor can live forever. But then I look at action stars around the world. How many action stars today stay in the film business? They’re gone. Look at Hollywood today and the technology they make. Everybody’s superwoman, they can make everybody an action star. Even some stars, they don’t know how to fight, but they can make them like an action stars. One day, when I’m old and I cannot fight anymore, they still can make me action star. But acting is still important.
You produced The Foreigner through your company, Sparkle Roll. What made you want to come onto the project as both a performer and producer?
I never get a script like [The Foreigner]. If I’m just the actor then I’m waiting for Hollywood to hire me to make a movie. It’s always Rush Hour, or similar to Rush Hour. I don’t get the chance to make La La Land. So this is why, when I like a script, I will finance it myself and I’m the producer. I teamed up with American company, STX, to help me in the American market, and I do the Asian market.
I don’t think Warner Bros or New Line will go “Look Jackie, I have The Foreigner. This is for you.” No, they don’t want the gamble in backing these types of [movies]. They want Shanghai Dawn or Rush Hour 4. For the last 7 years, with Shanghai Dawn, we would rewrite and rewrite and I don’t like it. With Rush Hour, I refuse so many drafts. Finally, last week, we get one and yeah it might work. Then next year, if I can’t do it, there is a problem with Chris Tucker getting so old. So, we will have to change the character.
You are searching for the American co-production for yourself?
Yes, because right now the Chinese market is blowing up. If I want to find some project, when I agree, I will finance and I have the China market. Every American production company will go “Ok! At least you have the China market– you have half of money. We could team up.” Right now, it’s a global market. It’s not just American market and Europe. A lot of American movies, that are not a success in America, will have a big box office in China. I hope there’s a La La Land, part two. They say, “Jackie Chan and La La Land?” I say, “I guarantee China market.” “Ok! Let’s do it!” As an actor, I want to try so many things. I just don’t want to try do the one thing.
Sparkle Roll has film exhibition, financing, production, distribution– is there anything you don’t do yet that you would like to try?
I want to try TV Drama. Look right now in Hollywood, every big star is doing a TV show. I watch so many American TV shows, and those are so good. I want to team up with any American studio, they have a good project. The problem right now? We have the money but we don’t have a script.
What are you looking for in a script?
We’re working on some right now but you have to think “Can they translate to Chinese?” After translation, it’s not funny anymore or not realistic.
How do you think the Hollywood-Chinese relationship will progress?
All those years I always said, the American movies go to the world. Chinese movies, very few can go outside of China. Even though there are so may big box office Chinese films they only play in China. Not even in Hong Kong, not even in Macau. We want to help Chinese movies go global. Like, China has Kung-Fu and we have pandas but we don’t have Kun-Fu Panda, that belongs to America. Like with Mulan, [China] makes so much television and movies but no one knows. But when Disney makes Mulan, the whole world knows. These movies help the culture travel around the world. We need American distribution and America needs Chinese market.
Are you looking for more American co-productions right now?
Yes, already. For the next few movies, we are doing co-productions. We have a good team in the U.S. and a good team in China. But [Sparkle Roll] isn’t a company that always makes announcement after announcement. When we do it right, then we announce. I don’t like press releases.