Mark Dacascos on his latest film, “One Night in Bangkok” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Mark Dacascos on his latest film, “One Night in Bangkok”

The actor and martial artist plays a cool, collected hitman

Aug 24, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Ever since his first major role in the late-era Cannon feature American Samurai (1992), the Hawaiian-born Mark Dacascos has been a fixture in martial arts and action cinema. The son of famed martial arts instructor Al Dacascos, Mark trained from a young age, eventually bringing what he’d learned to the screen in early starring roles in Only the Strong (1993), Double Dragon (1994), and Crying Freeman (1995). He kept training as he continued to mature as an actor, landing big roles in cult films such as Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) and Cradle 2 the Grave (2003).

Around this time, Dacascos adopted one of his most famous (not to mention, more light-hearted) roles: as the chairman on the competitive cooking series Iron Chef America. Fans will most likely have caught him most recently on the big screen in last year’s John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum.

For his latest film, Dacascos has reunited with Wych Kaosayananda, the director of last year’s The Driver as well as Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever and Dead Earth. In the film, Dacascos plays a mysterious killer in a grey suit. He lands in Bangkok after dark, summons a cab on his smart phone, and pays the woman driver an incredible amount of money to be his driver for the entire night. By the time she realizes that he’s killing people at each stop, it’s impossible for her to back out of their deal.

Mark Dacascos joined a Zoom call with us to talk about his new movie, how his martial arts training prepares him for his roles, and how he’s been keeping busy at home during the pandemic.

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: There’s no shortage of action in One Night in Bangkok, but it comes in violent bursts. During the moments in between, it’s a fairly quiet thriller. What excited you about this project?

Mark Dacascos: I loved the story. I loved, basically, the unraveling of the characters, and not knowing what was going to happen next. I loved the writing, and I really enjoy working with the director, Wych Kaosayananda. We did The Driver (2019) right after we did John Wick: Chapter 3 (2019) and right before we did One Night in Bangkok. So, he sent me this script, and it got me. It was very interesting and different, and I needed to do it.

Not to give much away, but as the film goes on we learn there’s a lot more to the character you play than what we see up front. Along the lines of what you said, the script sort of peels away at the character as the story moves along. Was that something the specifically grabbed you about this role?

Absolutely. It’s just like when you meet people in real life: there’s always more to them, and I like characters that are given time to reveal that. And so, yes, in One Night in Bangkok there’s a lot of revealing, and going deeper and deeper and deeper. That’s exciting to play, and it’s fun to play. I don’t want to give anything away, but there are certain elements of this character that I’d never played before. I got to experiment and explore.

The action in this one is predominantly gunplay – but I think a lot of viewers, like me, will have seen your name on the box next to Kane Kosugi’s, and immediately think, “Oh, man, I can’t wait for these two to fight each other.” Can you tell me about working with him?

He’s wonderful. Really nice, with a great sense of humor. Obviously he’s a physical specimen – he can kick like a tornado. Crazy, crazy talented. We had a lot of fun. We’ll have to do something again, hopefully soon, and do more of that action.

For both of you, martial arts are part of your bloodline. I’ve interviewed Kane in the past, and I know that he was set on the path towards martial arts by his father [Sho Kosugi] when he was just a few years old. With your also having renowned martial artists for parents, how young did you start training?

My mother and father are both martial arts teachers. My dad says at four years old I was running around his school and kicking his students in the shins. [Laughs] That’s not a good thing, but I guess I was already playing around with it. I started formally training when I was six, and then our parents entered my brother and I into our first tournament when we were six or seven. Then I fought competitively for eleven years. For two of those years, I actually enjoyed it. [Laughs] For most of those years, it was because our parents made us.

When you have a family heritage like that, how important is it to you to continue passing it down? I know your daughter [Noelani Dacascos, The Driver] has followed you into acting, but do you do martial arts with your children?

You know, I’ve tried. They like watching it, and I would say of my three kids, my daughter probably likes it the most. She’s probably the most apt to actually practice.

Both boys, I think they have potential, but they’re interested in other things. Kopono, he’s eighteen years old, and he’s a great soccer player, and he’s recently discovered surfing, so that’s his thing. So it’s okay, he’s staying athletic. My eldest will be 20 this year, his name is Makoa, and he’s a culinary guy. During his senior year in high school he went to a cooking school and graduated from ACE, which is a great cooking school here in Los Angeles – the same cooking school my wife went to. So, he’s following that direction. He likes travel, he likes culture. He also has a lot of potential in martial arts. He has the opportunity to learn from my father, and so I’m hoping he takes that and learns as much as he can.

When you’re fortunate enough to study martial arts for as long as you have without your body breaking down, it seems like you can keep adding to your arsenal by learning new styles and disciplines. Has that versatility become an advantage as your screen career has gone on?

Yes! Absolutely. I’ve done martial arts most of my life, and during the eleven years I did them competitively, there were only two where I loved doing it. Most of those years, because my mom and dad put me on the senior team, I was a teenage boy fighting grown men. I’d get these tension headaches because I was always so scared and nervous, you know? So, the tournament aspect of it I wasn’t thrilled about, but I always loved the training aspect of it – the essence of martial arts.

Learning different styles is inspiring to me, and it keeps me motivated. I’m just in awe of all the different ways of doing things. So, yes, that has helped me as an actor, because when I go into a certain role, I’m not limited by not knowing a different way. Most of the things I’ve learned I’m not a master in at all, I’m still a beginner, but I know enough basics to move differently, or have some idea of a different technique for whatever my character may be into. Because, you know, a lot of the characters I’ve played have been different ethnicities, and have different styles, arts, and ways of fighting. Fortunately, from trying different things, I have an easier entry into those characters. So yes, it does help.

Martial arts also teach you discipline, purposeful movement, and focus. In a role like One Night in Bangkok, where you’re not throwing punches in every scene, does that training translate in other ways?

One hundred percent. As you said, in martial arts you can learn punching, kicking, and self-defense, but to learn all of that it requires focus and discipline. You also learn breathing, and how to be grounded. All of the things I’ve learned in martial arts I’ve needed, and can apply in acting. Actually, everything I’ve learned in martial art and in acting can be used with each other, interchangeably. Everything can be used in real life, too, and that’s the beauty of it.

I know you’re no stranger to filming in interesting cities, and I know your workdays can be very long. But in this move in particular, your wife [Julie Condra] also has a small role. Did you have a chance to tag on a family vacation in Bangkok, before travel closed down?

Yes, actually. We did The Driver with the same director before One Night in Bangkok, so we’d already been there the year before. But this one, my wife is in it, and my daughter came along, because Wych and my daughter have a great connection. The three of us went, and before shooting, after shooting, and whenever we had some time off, we walked around and saw some sights. We enjoyed the food and the culture as much as we could. That’s one of the major perks of working as an actor and filming in different locations: sometimes you get an inside view of the culture and country, because you’re not there for just a few days. You’re there for weeks, sometimes months, and you’re working with the locals. Many times we’ve been fortunate enough to build friendships, and really get inside the culture and country.

In another interview earlier in the pandemic, you mentioned you were working on a project that was a one-man show that combined martial arts with Shakespeare. Can you give an update on that?

I’ve been working on a one-man show incorporating the lessons and perspectives I’ve gotten from martial arts and traveling all over the world, and Shakespeare has been a huge part of that. I’ve learned so much from his stories. I’ve had to learn about my breath, and how to be grounded enough to work at the pace that he sometimes requires. Emotionality, diction, grounded physicality—all of these things.

I love live performances, because you can’t hide with a camera angle or with a second take. You just have to be on. I want to challenge myself, and Shakespeare and martial arts at the same time, in something I’ve written myself, would be very challenging for me to perform. I’m still working on that. Thanks for bringing it up.


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