Cynthia Rothrock is not only a legend of the action movie genre, but also an incredibly accomplished martial artist.
She holds 5 Black Belts in various Far Eastern martial disciplines. These Arts include; Tang Soo Do, Tae Kwon Do, Eagle Claw, Wu Shu, and Northern Shaolin.
Cynthia will be joining us at The Urban Action Showcase in New York this weekend but before that she stopped by to chat with The Action Elite about her career and her upcoming projects.
You’ll be joining us at the Urban Action Showcase next weekend which celebrates and encourages diversity in the action genre. Do you think there is more diversity in today’s cinema compared to say the 80’s?
Well I think Hong Kong action has always shown more diversity and created action that nobody had really seen before. Then The Matrix came out and we saw all this different kind of action, except it wasn’t really anything new because Hong Kong had been doing it for years and years. I just think action is action where you can do it either down and dirty and really strong or you can do it really fancy with wires and fancy kicks. So I don’t think it’s really different; it’s just been around for a long time and there’s only certain ways you can do certain techniques so I think it’s pretty much the same.
Is there anyone working today that you think has potential to become the next great female action star? I think Gina Carano or Rhonda Rousey perhaps?
I think it’s just not as popular in the States as it is in Asia for female action stars; Gina Carano did that one film and it wasn’t that successful and I don’t know why. When I first started doing action films it was very rare for women to be fighting; it was normally “Well, you have to be the assistant to the guy as he is the main fighter and you just help out and he’ll save you in the end” or “you have to team up and do it together because you can’t do it by yourself”. I think that now people are a little more accepting that yeah, a woman could hold her own and she could fight. Then again you had your action stars then and you still have them now; well most of the guys, there weren’t many girls when I was doing it. Everybody that I’ve worked with (including myself) are all still doing action pictures.
Speaking of action pictures, we’re really excited for The Martial Arts Kid; what I love most about it is it has a positive anti-bullying message. Was that important from the start and can you talk us through how the project came together?
Actually the project came together because James Wilson had said that he really wanted to do a family picture and he really wanted me and Don in it. He said that three years ago and basically when James says something, he gets it done. He then got some financing, and then we did Kickstarter and made about $175,000 on that which gave us a bigger budget than what we were originally going to do. I think it’s a great family film and that’s what he wanted; he said he wanted to see me as a mother and Don as a father. I think he really pulled it off; it’s a great little film and I think martial artists and non-martial artists are really going to like this film. The good thing about it that’s universal is there is a big anti-bullying message in it and we’re all behind it “Kicking it” which is the slogan for it. So far, we’re still finishing up the production of it but it’s looking good and it’s getting a lot of interest and a lot of buzz, considering it’s a small film. We’re just hopeful that that we’re going to expect some great things with this film.
How has martial arts changed your life? Has it made you see the world differently?
Well, it’s a safer world for me. (laughs) But yeah I think it did; I started martial arts when I was a real small girl and I’m still doing it today so obviously it’s a lifestyle for me. Everything I do as far as career involves martial arts whether it’s doing films or teaching. So the best thing for me that I’ve taken from martial arts is whenever I first started it was very hard and I was the only girl in the class. I felt very uncoordinated; I couldn’t punch, I couldn’t shout and all these guys were there. Martial arts taught me never to accept failure and not to be a quitter. If you’re not good at something, it’s only because you don’t work at it. When I started really practising then I started getting really good and I became the best in my field. If I went with my own child instincts then I would have quit because it was like too hard and I think that’s something I’ve carried along with me is that you don’t accept failure. Just keep going and going until you get it and with strong determination and a positive attitude you’re going to get a lot further than if you just quit.
Martial arts taught me never to accept failure
After Sci-Fighter in 2004, you took a break from movies for a few years, what made you want to return?
I think what happened; in 1999 I had my daughter so I did Redemption with Don Wilson and was kind of thinking I want to be home with my baby. I don’t want to be travelling so much because at that time most of the movies I was doing were out of the country. I did Above the Law which was in Puerto Rico and my daughter was two at that point; that was the first movie I did and I thought “I wonder if I can do a film with my daughter”. It worked out good and I brought her to Puerto Rico.
When she became five and got into school, it wasn’t easy for me to pull her out of school and take her with me so at that point I kind of slowed down. So as the years went on and I was busy teaching and doing seminars, I was going to open up a school. My daughter turned around 14 at that time; I was an only child and dealing with a teenager who was also an only child, I didn’t know what to compare it with. She wanted to be with her friends and didn’t want to travel with me or do things with me, it kind of like hurt my feelings and I was quite devastated.
So I thought I’m going to go back to work and I focused on getting work. I did two films (Santa’s Summer Home and Badass Showdown) and then last year I did Mercenaries and The Martial Arts Kid. I have a couple of projects that are hopefully gonna come through for next year so it’s like it’s come full circle. It’s like action movies are popular then they’re not, then they are again; Cynthia’s away and now she’s back too. That’s been kind of my focus now is that the school is put on hold and now it’s time to focus on doing films again.
I actually wanted to talk about some of your upcoming projects, including the rather excellently titled Bitchfight from Dean Meadows. Can you tell us about that and your character?
That project is still being worked on so it’s not completely together yet and the script is still being written and stuff like that. It’s possible characters could change or something so let’s just say it’s a work in progress. But yes it is a great title. (laughs)
Any word on a release date for White Tiger?
Yeah, actually White Tiger is finished; they had a little bit of a problem with it between the Producer and the crew and there were lawsuits going on so the film wasn’t able to be finished or made. Now all the lawsuits are over we went in and did a little bit of AVR and I believe they are going to start selling it at the American Film Market, which is coming up soon. I think people will get to see this film next year. The great thing about this is that it was Joe Lewis’ last film. I think for a martial arts icon that so many people have loved then they will really want to see his last film because when he was in it he was going through the highest stage of brain cancer. He was just a trooper and did his best and worked hard; he had such a positive attitude that he made me think “Wow, that’s a real warrior in martial arts” and I don’t know if I could be as positive or going out and spending your last time teaching or doing movies. It really made me respect the guy tremendously.
I like the sound of Blue Suede; where you play a character called Gin. What are you able to tell us about that?
On that one I was just supposed to be the martial arts coordinator which was exciting for me because it was something I hadn’t really dabbled with before. I’ve done it on a few on my own films not that I wanted to because I normally prefer someone else doing that. That is one of those projects that you think is gonna go but then there are issues like no financing; as far as I know that project is not green-lit.
You’ve played some iconic characters like China O’Brien and Linda Masterson from Tiger Claws, of all your characters. Who is your personal favourite and do you identify with them personally?
Well I love the China O’Brien character and also the Sci-Fighter character because I played two people. I got to be a videogame character but also a regular person which was fun to do. China O’Brien I liked; it was my first film and we were all really green on acting so what we’ve talked about is we would love to come back and do a modern China O’Brien and make it a lot darker and gritty. Make the fights tougher instead of friendly and fun and just bring that character back. But getting the rights is really hard so that would be difficult to do.
I also really liked Sworn to Justice where I was a psychologist; it was kinda fun because I had to learn a lot of technical terms. That film was a great transition for me because I felt like I was really getting into good acting. A lot of times back in the 80’s and 90’s the script wasn’t as important so much as the action was. That was a great movie, plus I got to work with Brad Dourif so it was fun to work with an Academy Award winner.
Would you be interested in doing a follow up to Mercenaries where you have a bigger role?
Yeah I would love that! What happened on that was Rebecca DeMornay was originally going to play my part. I was actually on my way to Ohio to receive an award from Arnold Schwarzenegger. I think Rebecca had some scheduling conflicts and dropped out so they called me and said I had to be on set tomorrow morning. I was like “Yikes, I’m supposed to be getting an award from Arnold” which was pretty big so I couldn’t do it. Then the producers of The Arnold Classic called and said this was huge and I could be on set Sunday.
So I got my award and then I left; I was meant to be playing this one part but because it had to shoot Saturday I ended up playing another part. So I’m trying to study this other part and as I get on the plane and I don’t even have the script and I have to be on set the next day. Then they say “No, you’re now going to play Mona” so I literally got the script the next morning, I went to set and I had so much dialogue to do and I didn’t even have time to study it. It was really quite rough for me but I was shooting for three days and there really wasn’t much action, just that little thing with Vivica Fox.
I’m hoping they do a sequel and they bring in the head as well to fight. I know a lot of people were wondering why I didn’t get to fight but it wasn’t the intention that I was going to be in it and was more of an acting role for Rebecca DeMornay. Hopefully they will do a sequel and put me in as part of the team.
I would love to see you working with Richard Norton again. Any plans to work together soon?
Oh yeah! I’m sure Richard and I will work together again; we’ve done maybe ten or eleven movies together and I’m almost positive we’ll work together again. Don Wilson is working on another project which will have a lot of martial artists in it and if that happens then Richard will be in it.
Thanks so much for chatting with us and see you next weekend at the Urban Action Showcase.