This interview with French stunt coordinator Brahim Chab is one of my favourites from my collection – why? Because he has given a very honest, candid opinion based on his experiences and I am truly grateful for this. As you can see his progression throughout his career has been won by hard work, perseverance and respect – with solid advice for others on the same path.
Thank you so much for this interview Brahim and wish you all the best for your upcoming projects.
Vikki: You grew up in France training in Aikido and Karate. At what point did you decide you wanted to take it to screen?
Brahim: In 2006 we took a trip to Bangkok Thailand with a group of friends. We were all practising at the time martial arts tricking which is a combination of different discipline like Taekwondo Kung fu capoeira gymnastic. The plan was to go there and do a casting for Ong Bak 2. We did the casting and unfortunately, none of us got to work with Tony Jaa on Ong Bak 2. My friends flew back to Paris but I stuck around for an extra 2 weeks. After that, I went to Miami for 3 months to train and also teach Karate in a school. The desire to do movies at the time came after doing that Ong Bak 2 casting. I was dreaming to work in films before that but society makes you think it is nearly impossible to do so. The rejection and also the fear of not making it scared me for a while but when I came back from Miami I took the decision that I will give it a 100% go. So after coming back to Paris I gathered what I had in savings and flew back to Bangkok. I lived in a tiny little apartment with no windows and trained daily but the jobs were not coming at all. I ran out of money so to pay my visa and daily expenses I started to do extra work to meet people and even replaced my friend to work as a French teacher. It took me nearly 1 year to book my first job which was a TV commercial in which I played a Muay Thai fighter for K1 Japan. Then slowly I started to get hired more often and started my career in the action film industry.
Vikki: Are there more exciting opportunities in Asia than in Europe for stunt performers?
Brahim: There are many differences between Europe and Asia. In Asia working in the action film industry you are on your own and by this I mean it almost feels like being part of the foreign legion. No Unions, mostly no adjustments, overtime pay very rare and lot of contact during the action scenes. In Europe, stuntmen are under union rules and get a lot of privileges which is a good thing as if any accidents they get covered. In Asia, you got to take care of yourself and make sure you know what you are doing otherwise you can get hurt and be out of jobs for weeks or months. I heard a Thia stunt coordinator say in Thai “if the foreigners get hurt, send them home right away with no pay”. If any of the Thai’s get hurt just replace each other… So as I said you got to be sure on how to take care of yourself. I worked in Europe several times and the stuntmen were mostly people who were just interested in pure stunt work. In Asia most the guys are looking to do work related to martial art movies so in this field yes there are more opportunities. But things are slowly changing with now big martial arts TV shows shooting in Ireland like Into the Badlands.
Vikki: Who were your inspirations?
Brahim: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Scott Adkins, Donnie Yen, Jean Claude Vandamme. All of them had something I really admired so I had all these magazines or posters about them. I use to read Jackie Chan biography every day. At the time my parents thought I was crazy and to be honest I would have never thought all this would make me who I am today.
Vikki: From your earlier work to your most recent films – how have you developed as an actor?
Brahim: I think to be believable as an actor you need life experiences and also a bit of age. I remember when I was in my late 20’s I couldn’t get any roles that were interesting. I use to double many actors and what I would do is look how they did the scenes. I also did god knows how many pre vis so I mostly learn my acting from these pre vis. After turning 30 I noticed more opportunities to play in front of the camera and I think I slowly started to get more experience. This business is a long marathon run, not a sprint. I saw people getting early shots to be leading guys and they disappeared instantly after. I am happy I got more opportunities late and I know now it was just god’s plan to let me mature and gain more experience.
Vikki: Which has been your favourite film to work on so far and why?
Brahim: I had 2 films that I really enjoyed working on. The first one, of course, Boyka Undisputed cause in terms of martial arts, this is where I got to shine the most playing Igor Kazmir. The atmosphere on the set was so relaxed and working with Scott Adkins was a joy. He is relaxed, polite and down to earth. Then we got Vanguard which is coming out in early 2020. Reason for this one was the amount of drama scenes I was involved in. The film is directed by Stanley Tong and stars Jackie Chan. I can’t say much about it but it was a great experience as well shot between Taiwan, England, Dubai and India.
Vikki: How do you prepare your roles?
Brahim: I wish I could say I prepared for those roles but honestly I do nothing more than being myself when they say action. Before that, I never really try to get into a character that kind of thing I think most people who say that are lying to themselves. We ain’t acting in The Revenant or Shakespeare we do action films it’s pretty simple to be honest. I hope nobody misunderstands me when I say this but that is just how I approach my work. A lot of people stress and overdo it when they are in front of the camera and overacting is what happens. I always play bad guys and for me it is very easy to play. I also have a certain mean look that doesn’t need much to convince you on camera that I am gonna try to kick your ass or do evil things.
Vikki: Do you feel stunts deserve more credit than they receive right now?
Brahim: There should definitely be an Oscar category for stunt coordinators, fight choreographers and 2nd unit directors. Now about the stunts or doubles, I think to have an Oscar for that is a little bit asking too much. The stuntman is there to create the illusion on screen. What will happen to the audience if they know their favourite action star didn’t do jack shit in the action of the film? What will the audience feel when they know the whole sequence was face replaced cause the stunt double did all the work? So if actors agree to share part of their success with their stunt doubles then maybe there could be an Oscar category for stuntmen as well but I doubt this will ever happen.
Vikki: I see you worked on The Foreigner with Jackie Chan as part of the JC stunt team. Can you tell me more about that experience?
Brahim: Interesting memory. The JC group initially flew me and another action actor to do a fight scene against Jackie. If you saw the film there is a scene in the hostel where Jackie fights two henchmen then end up tackling one of the bad guys through a window. We came in for this scene but for some reason, the British Union did not allow us to work on the film so I literally worked and not worked on the film. I didn’t really have an issue with it as I’ve got paid so in the end, it was all good.
Vikki: What are the key assets that someone needs to succeed as a stunt performer?
Brahim: Be independent, build a good relationship with people, take care of your body and maintain your skills. Also, try to learn about editing which is very important. Being good does not mean you will work in many cases it can be a disadvantage as someone will create negative stories about you so you do not get hired over them. Never make certain people look bad next to you, they will push you to the side for the next job. Also, be cautious about the day you turn stunt coordinator or fight coordinator. I turned stunt coordinator at 27 years old so it was me becoming my own boss so local coordinators in Thailand at the time slowly stopped using my services one after one.
Vikki: Any advice you can share for anyone wanting to get in this business?
Brahim: In recent years, the rise of social media is hurting more than helping newcomers. We got a big amount of new people but also people with years of experience wrecking their names because of the way they approach casting directors or stunt coordinators through platforms like Instagram or Facebook. Back in the days you sent an email with your reel. Now it became like look I’ve got 200 000 followers hire me now cause I am doing cool shit and got more followers than this guy… These individuals need to slowly accept the notion of working hard for your goals and stop faking it until you make it. We have also the desperate people who fly themselves to jobs, pay their accommodation and spread negative talk in the back of people so they don’t get hired. Do not be this kind of person as the movie industry is a small world. Also, aim high but don’t be an idiot. We all start somewhere but does not mean we need to walk over each other to get where we wanna get. Keep good relationships with people. I made the mistake myself to burn bridges so take my advice and always keep a good relationship with your co-workers.