Andrey Ivchenko is known for his roles in XXX: The Return of Xander Cage and Stranger Things; his latest project The Best Man has him facing off against Brendan Fehr at a wedding gone very wrong. We chatted about that, what makes a good villain and working with JCVD on Darkness of Man.
It’s great to chat with you again after so long. First off we’re going talk about The Best Man; what was it that appealed about the script?
The director, Shane really loved me for the role of Viktor and I liked the script. It’s funny, it seems like low budget movies I mean, I’m not talking about the studio level, but independent movies, they have better scripts than studio scripts so it was appealing. It was in my kind of realm in that size of action film and the script was good so I said, “Yeah, let’s do it”.
I was talking with Brendan Fehr about you the other day and we were chatting about that fight scene. How did you find working with him especially on that fight?
Yeah, he’s a great dude. We actually had fun and I like to work with big guys who are not afraid to take a hit, you know what I mean? Not that I’m saying the smaller guys cannot do it. I’m not saying that but it’s so physical to do all these fights, you have to withstand all this fitness and Brendan was one of those guys. So, we had a fun time doing it and he was fully in where he wanted to do stunts, he wanted to do all the fights by himself, which was great and we only had a brief rehearsal before. Then the next day as we started filming, we just did segment by segment filming the whole action scene, but it was great doing it with him because he likes to do action stuff and he’s passionate about it. That gives you energy as well to invest yourself into it.
I think it helps whenever everyone likes to get involved; Scout Taylor-Compton said she loves to do fight scenes and wants to do more action roles in the future; do you prefer to do most of the action scenes rather than using a stuntman?
I’m not saying you have to be some sort of professional or semi-pro fighter, but you have to understand what the fight is about and understand the real fight. If a real fight happened in real life you have to kind of feel it. Some people never fought in their life so it’s hard. They don’t understand the action so it’s very hard to perform with them. Although a job is a job, right? But Brendan was one of those guys, he also wanted to do it and he knew how to do it. He followed instructions like I did, but he knew how to do it, which makes the fight more real.
Do you like to put in your own input into the fights and say “maybe we should do this or do that?”
Usually on independent movies, you don’t have enough time for this and we had a great crew from Hollywood Stunts, amazing guys, and very professional, very flexible with adjustments if needed. We had some adjustments as well, because of the time frame of this fight; the fight they put together was a little bit longer. So, we had to cut some bits and pieces and make it a little bit shorter. But yeah, if I can, I might throw a few ideas here and there. But usually it’s a solid stunt team and that’s what I like as well about movies especially if they hire professional guys to do that you don’t have to worry about it.
What kind of training did you have to do for this movie? Did you have any firearm training or just physical training to prepare for it?
I’m pretty good with firearms; I was in the military and I’ve done so much work with firearms so I’m pretty familiar with that. Not specific training but I’ve done my fair share of karate and boxing in my life, different types of action and sports, so I’m pretty flexible with all of that stuff. I mean, I like to have more time to rehearse but that’s it. At the same time, I understand time is money and independent movies might be kind of limited in time and money. So, you just rehearse on the go and then perform it in front of the camera. But yeah, if it’s more time to rehearse, it’s even better because you can polish the fight scene or whatever action scene you need to do and do it even better.
Having worked on bigger budget projects like Strangers Things as well as various independent films do you have a preference on which gives you more creative freedom as an actor?
You know, it depends on the script, to be honest; some scripts I just read and I’m like, I don’t have anything to add or take out, it’s all perfectly written. I liked the character and when I’m on set, I can put my input about dialogue or character or if he should do something in that particular moment in that particular scene.
Actually, XXX: The Return of Xander Cage is a great example. When me, Vin Diesel and the rest of the cast shot that scene on the island the crew broke for lunch, and we just stayed there because I started to talk to Vin. I said, “Listen, maybe the dialogue was a little bit choppy”. I’m a bad guy. I’m an antagonist so when you say a few words here and there it doesn’t create that image, you know what I mean?
People understand you’re holding the gun, you’re Russian KGB, you’re a bad guy. But I wanted to also deliver that sense through the dialogue. We started to talk and I started to give him ideas. His sister is also a producer on this movie, and he’s like, “Where’s the guy with the camera? We should bring him here and listen to what Andrey says and record all of this” but the guy wasn’t there because everybody broke for lunch. So, he listened and we had a few ideas and would change dialogue from the original one, to the one that’s in the movie. We basically talked through the whole lunch but there was a great conversation. We both had input, both exchanging different ideas and stuff. Yeah, I think it was pretty creative and whenever I can, and if I can I definitely will talk to the director and maybe share some ideas.
You’ve played one or two villains in your career, including in The Best Man; what is it you think that makes for a memorable villain?
I think personality. There is the opinion that villains tend not to have memorable personalities or are not especially memorable characters in some projects. I always bring up as an example John Lithgow; he built his career on playing villains; later in his career he started to play good guys but basically from when he started through most of his career he played bad guys but his personality was outstanding. He played villains not the way people expected him to and that’s what I think is a great seed for the TV or movie projects to create a great villain. From my experience, what I see now is many scripts are lacking because they simplify the villain; in the scripts they make him not interesting which I think is a big mistake because in order to understand what the good guys are about you have to have antagonists, you have to have a villain especially in action films.
Many script writers when they write villains they make a mistake not to give him much personality; villains can be played in different ways which you can’t really do with the good guys and with many scripts now they take away personality from the villains.
Absolutely. I’ve talked about this regularly with my friends that there are very few memorable villains these days where they just don’t have that personality in them anymore. I think maybe Thanos from the Marvel movies has become iconic but if you’re talking classic action films like John Lithgow in Cliffhanger or Alan Rickman in Die Hard there aren’t that many iconic villains that are coming out like that these days…
Nowadays they only give a good platform to the good guys but the bad guys just run around screaming and shooting guns. That’s what basically a villain is nowadays; I wish they would give more space to whoever plays the villain in different projects, to work on it and to bring more personality as well.
What do you look for in a script to be interested in a project?
As much as I like action, I never take action for action. I’m not gonna be in the project where the action is done for the sake of action, but not with a good story or with good content or character development. When I read a script, if I see that I like the story, and the script brings good dialogue that’s probably what I look at first – good story obviously good writing because some writing really makes you not want to do the projects. It can be very choppy, it’s very unrealistic, but some scripts are very smooth where the dialogue just flows and that’s pretty much what I like about it. The story, good writing and good dialogue. Action will always be there but action has to follow the story. You cannot just put 30 minutes of shoot-outs and kicking ass here and there for the full 30 minutes. Action can be boring as well. If you put action for a long period of time, it’s wearing thin. Action has to be in the right place at the right time. Then people will be interested to watch it and that’s what makes it great. That’s what makes action great especially from the past where people still remember them, and still watch them today.
Did you get to spend much time with Dolph Lundgren on The Best Man?
No, to be honest. In the movie you will see me having a scene with Dolph but those two segments were shot at different times. Dolph was shooting before me and then he left and then they were shooting me. I met him, the first day he arrived actually. Nice guy. I didn’t communicate much with him but he’s a nice guy.
How did you find working with Jean-Claude Van Damme on Darkness of Man?
Darkness of Man is film noir and it’s Van Damme’s passion project. I believe he wanted to do this movie for the past 15 years. It’s action. I’m not gonna obviously go into what it’s all about. But Van Damme is a great dude. I’m talking from my point of view. I worked with him for days and to me, he’s a great guy. He has a great work ethic. He’s humble, very communicative and very funny. I mean, you can get that sense from if you watch the interviews from the 90s on different shows. He told me some funny stories about when he did Expendables and that rivalry with Steven Seagal. Those stories going on from years back but it was interesting. The way he tells the story is really funny.
His assistant wanted to call her daughter and me and Jean-Claude, we staged this scene, like we kidnapped her. It was funny, because she was Face Timing with her, then I grabbed the phone, and Jean-Claude was talking to her. It was really funny. But yeah, he’s a great guy and is a funny guy. It’s easy to work with him as well. He obviously is a pro and he knows what he is doing. I was talking at the very beginning about bigger guys and smaller guys, and I’m not by any means diminishing the smaller guys, because JC is smaller than me. But because he’s a pro he knows how to do it which was really interesting. He’s a legend, like doing stuff with somebody you watched when you were 17 or 18 years old, in movies like Bloodsport and Cyborg and all those movies is amazing and he’s still got it too.
What else do you have in the pipeline coming up?
We have a lot of seeds planted by my manager and we met with one of the main producers of Wonder Film back in October, November. They have so many projects in movies and TV shows in the pipeline so it’s trying to get our schedules to work out because everyone is so busy. In the future some stuff is probably going to happen with Chad Law who you know, so hopefully something is brewing there as well.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat; it’s been great catching up.
Thank you! It’s been amazing to see how The Action Elite has grown over the years.
The Best Man is out today and Darkness of Man is Coming Soon.