Josef Cannon is an actor and producer, known for the upcoming series Ticker (2020), Frenchy AKA Full Love with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Debt Collectors with Scott Adkins and Louis Mandylor. Josef stopped by The Action Elite to chat about Frenchy and Debt Collectors.
You’ve got a role in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Frenchy (AKA Full Love); so are we finally going to get to see this movie?
Yes! It’s funny but he was literally about to announce the release when the pandemic hit; he pretty much has it where he likes it because he wrote it and directed it. It’s very much his baby and he’s very meticulous not just as a martial artist but as an artist period. When we see these action heroes we sometimes don’t realize how some of them put a lot of effort into their craft; Jean-Claude is that way as he knew exactly his vision of it and that’s what he was pulling from us, the actors who were responsible in helping to bring his vision to life. I’ve read various posts where people think there is a problem with the film but there isn’t; it’s fantastic and I’m not just saying that because I’m in it.
While we were doing the press junket in Shanghai there was a piece where he was saying that this isn’t the kind of film where you would normally think of Jean-Claude Van Damme as it’s not all about the action. There is a thinking process to it where it’s almost arthouse and he’s forcing his viewers to think beyond people getting their asses kicked. I thought he did a magnificent job; he was very nurturing to all the actors as far as helping us bring the characters of his vision to fruition. So the film will be out soon; I’ve seen it numerous times and I think it’s probably going to be one of his best.
Of all the action guys Jean-Claude was one of the few that tried to act and had the ability to show some genuine emotions. I’m not bad-mouthing Steven Seagal or anybody like that, but Jean-Claude had the ability to either make you fall in love with him or if he is playing a dual character then you’ll hate the bad version of him. He always tries to give that and that’s one of the things I’ve always respected and admired about him. I think something people don’t give him credit for is that he is acting in a second language; they forget he wasn’t raised speaking English. He didn’t start speaking English until he was grown. It’s like me trying to do a movie in Japanese or Spanish or a language I’m not fluent in and they don’t give him credit for that. When he did the movie JCVD it was more acclaimed than all of his other projects I believe because that’s more what he is capable of doing rather than just doing the splits and kicking ass all the time. Sometimes they don’t realize that he is very funny with a ridiculous sense of humour and he’s just very talented.
Yeah, we got to see his funnier side in Jean-Claude Van Johnson; it’s too bad we never got a second season of it…
I was very disappointed as well, I really enjoyed the show. Thought he was very funny in it and it was so well written. The cancellation of “Van Johnson” came just a few months after Amazon’s studio head Roy Price stepped down, after being suspended from the job in the wake of sexual harassment allegations. Once that happened Amazon passed on many of his projects, including the cancellation of Van Johnson.
Everyone distanced themselves from anything that Price had his hands in because it was right at the height of the #MeToo movement. Amazon basically said they don’t need the headache and were like “no thank you, we’re not touching anything he was attached to!” Van Johnson sadly became a casualty.
You mentioned the press junket in Shanghai; when was that?
That was a few years ago; it was amazing. Obviously everyone loves Jean-Claude; the Festival and screening were fantastic and it was just an honour to be a part of that. To be mentioned the way he mentioned me, I was speechless! Anytime anyone puts you and Denzel Washington in the same sentence it’s humbling (laughs). I have to give him all the credit as he literally pulled it all out of me; he was able to see what I was capable of but more importantly what he wrote and his directing style. There are things I’ve learned from him that I’ve taken to every project since. So that press junket was amazing and Jean-Claude was very giving and for that I will be forever grateful.
In Frenchy, you play a character called Bobby Jackson; what can you tell us about him?
Yes! Bobby Jackson is Frenchy’s best friend in the film. (SPOILER ALERT) The way I like to describe it is it’s kind of like Saving Private Ryan where you have this group of men like sixteen of us in the beginning and then something happens without giving too much of the story away there’s only four of us left and then we try to survive and escape. In the process of trying to escape we run into this church where we’re waiting for the plane to come and rescue us. All of a sudden, we hear this noise in the back of the church and it’s a missionary with all these young kids. We are then given the task of having to save them and I end up getting shot in the spine and becoming paralyzed. That’s what puts my character in the wheelchair, and I end up becoming this heroin addict who is paralyzed throughout the rest of the picture. I was the weapons specialist and then years later JCVD’s character is suffering from PTSD and the memory of how he felt responsible for me being paralyzed. During the rescue he was supposed to cover my flank and he saw that missionary had fallen so he went back to grab her and in doing so he left my rear end unprotected.
So, he’s haunted by the thought that my paralysis was his fault as well as some stuff he went though as a kid. Years later something happens, and he needs his team again so he approaches us all but we’re all in different stages of our lives where I’m in Southeast Asia with hookers and heroin (laughs). He needs us but more importantly he needs me cos I’m the one with all the weapons. I refuse to give him the weapons unless he brings me along for this final mission. He is reluctant but my eyes and hands are still good so I’m still the same guy even if my legs no longer work. He eventually relents and we go on this one last mission.
Did you do any external research on what it is like to be paralyzed?
Oh absolutely! I was in the wheelchair for 6 months prior to filming; I lived in the wheelchair and I was sending Jean-Claude pictures regularly. I live in Marina Del Rey and every day in the wheelchair I would go to Santa Monica. There’s a great story about Anjelica Huston.
So every day I’m going to Santa Monica from Marina Del Rey in my wheelchair and back; I would stop at the basketball court in Venice and I would stay there in the middle and rehearse my script. I would have pictures taken and send them to Jean-Claude and give him an update of everything that I was doing to really get into the nuances of this character. Every day this lady had a floppy hat on, sunglasses and her dogs would walk up to me and we would talk briefly. Every time I would see her she would bring me bagged lunches, but I would say “Nah, I’m okay thanks!” This went on for months and then finally at the very end I wanted to thank the people who stopped because I noticed that a lot of people ignore me. They were uncomfortable, even friends who I grew up in this business with as I didn’t tell anyone I was rehearsing. I literally lived in character and even went to the dentist to pop the veneer off my front tooth, so I lived like I had been paralyzed. There were people stopping me saying “what the fuck happened to Josef?”
It got to the point where I had to tell a couple of people because it kept interfering with my routine of going back and forth to Santa Monica Pier. One day I was talking to the guy who runs the Venice Beach courts and he knew I was getting ready to leave to go to Thailand to start shooting and I was telling him how I wanted to thank everyone. He says, “are you going to thank Anjelica?” I was like “Anjelica who?” and he said “Anjelica Huston! Who do you think has been coming here every day asking if you are okay?” I had no idea! Any time she would come up and ask if I was ok and if I needed anything because her place at the time was here in Windward Circle in Venice. I think she sold it a few years ago but it was literally steps away from the courts where I would be at. So she would be walking her dogs early in the morning with her sunglasses and hat on; I thought she was just blocking the sun but I didn’t know she was just doing the Hollywood thing (laughs) not wanting people to distract her. Every time it was her and two other people who would stop and check up on me. There was a lady who would jog and she would always smile at me when I went past in my wheelchair; there was a homeless gentleman who would say “go young man, go!” and they were the only 3 people that consistently showed some humanity towards me.
You’ve also got Debt Collectors coming out next month on May 29th where you play Evo; what can you tell us about him?
Evo is a henchman in this movie. In the first Debt Collector Barbosa was the ringleader who was killed by French and Sue (Scott Adkins and Louis Mandylor); Barbosa’s brother is now seeking revenge and we are the henchmen for his brother. His brother Molly is actually played by Ski Carr who used to be a dancer on Soul Train. There was a tall guy who always used to dance with a cane – that was him!
So when Scott and Louis are out to collect the money myself (Evo) and Darius (Jermaine Jacox) were hired to follow them so throughout the film we’re pretty much tailing them and stalking them. We’re making sure that they’re basically not only collecting the money but that they’re not going to take the money and take off with it. We’re bad guys basically and as I like to say my character was so evil they spelled it with an “O” (laughs).
Scott and Louis are great together; their relationship reminds me of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte in 48 Hrs.; they have that kind of rapport together. Scott is amazing with the martial arts skills taking after JCVD and Louis was actually a professional boxer. Where Scott’s strength comes from the kicking Louis comes from boxing so it’s great watching those two in action.
Jesse V. Johnson directs again after helming the first one and he’s done several movies with Scott Adkins. Jesse’s also a former stunt person himself having worked on Spider-man and a ton of other movies so his choreography is top notch. I think the fans are going to be very excited about the action sequences. You know how in every action movie you have that one shit talker? I keep getting these roles… probably cos I’m a shit talker in real life (laughs). Evo has this connection with Louis’ character (SPOLIER ALERT) that when he was younger he remembers him as this actor who used to do martial arts movies. My character was a fan of his growing up and my brothers and I would watch him all the time. So when I first see him I recognize him and I don’t recognize him as the guy we’re supposed to be following but as one of my childhood heroes. Scott Adkins’ character makes fun of me saying things like “THIS guy is your hero? You actually used to watch his crappy movies?” so it’s kinda funny when they’re making fun of each other and the fact that I revered this guy. It’s a nice twist that I don’t want to do anything to hurt one of my childhood heroes and he is also reluctant to hurt me as I am one of the few people who still looks up to him.
I remember when I saw the first movie and (spoiler alert) it looked like they were killed off so I was delighted when I heard we were getting a new movie and that they both survived…
A lot of people asked “how did they survive?” and my response was “the fans breathe life back into their bodies”. Everyone had such a connection to French and Sue that the filmmakers had to come up with a way because everyone was hoping they didn’t die. The luxury of filmmaking is that we never saw their corpses; it gives you just that small crack in the door to what we were able to do now.
Did you have to do any physical training for fight scenes in this movie?
No I didn’t do any! It’s interesting I’ve been in two action movies with two of the most amazing Action/Fight guys and not have to get my ass beat was actually a blessing (laughs). With Jean-Claude I was on his side and didn’t have to worry about getting knocked out and with Debt Collectors me and my partner Darius (Jermaine Jacox) weren’t fighters; we were basically assassins. You’re not gonna get that close to fight us pretty much. We’re always strapped with guns everywhere and that’s what kept French and Sue at bay with us.
What would you like audiences to take away from Debt Collectors?
I think the relationship between French and Sue as well as the relationship between Scott and Louis is very similar where they have such synchronicity. I don’t think this is the last time we’re going to see these two together whether as these characters or other characters because their chemistry is really on point. It’s great when you get to see magic like that happen. To me it’s like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan; it doesn’t matter what movie they’re in, I’m gonna watch it because I know that those two are connected. Audiences can watch it and know that they are gonna get a great romantic comedy. I can’t believe I just referenced Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks when talking about Scott Adkins and Louis Mandylor (laughs) but they just have that synchronicity. It’s rare when in cinema there’s a pairing that you never get tired of watching. What I hope the audience can take away from this is that some people who can come from vastly different backgrounds and have a connection that is unexplainable but still great to watch. That’s the way it is with French and Sue who essentially became family.
We all have a connection to JCVD as well with Louis having starred in The Quest, Scott doing Expendables 2, Universal Soldier, The Shepherd and more and then myself with Frenchy. We all had to give kudos to Jean-Claude for our careers; that was the coolest part sitting at lunch and we’re all talking about Jean-Claude with such reverence and how we owe our careers to him. I think it’s cool that he can be somewhere minding his business not knowing that the three of us are thanking him because of what we have been able to achieve in our careers. I feel like we were all like different apples from the Jean-Claude Van Damme tree if that makes sense.
I first met Jean-Claude when I moved to L.A. and was living in the Marina and I pulled up in my car with my friends at 3.a.m. He was heading home in his blue convertible Bentley and he was at the light and I saw him and like a fan I was so excited. I rolled down my window and said “sir, I don’t mean to bother you, is there any advice you can give to somebody that’s new to the acting thing?” We sat at that light for almost thirty minutes; the light kept turning red and green but we turned on our hazards and cars would go around us. Fast forward maybe 13-14 years I’m in Asia preparing to film Frenchy aka Full Love and he says to me “I know you from somewhere” and I said “yes, the audition!” and he said “no, no I never forget a face” and literally a month into the shooting and he called me into the trailer. I thought I’d done something wrong kinda like a student going to see the principal (laughs). He goes “I told you I never forget… you were in a car with a bunch of your friends and we stopped at the lights and talked.” I was like get the frick outta here! (laughs). I had handed him a headshot and he said that he thinks he still has it in his garage somewhere. So impressed! This was 13 years ago and he remembered. No one knew this story but me so it’s not like anyone told him who I was. Even thinking about it now it’s just crazy. It’s nice to know that sometimes with people there is a deeper depth to them and that’s what I keep with me.
What else do you have coming up?
I just did a TV series called Snowfall that’s about the crack epidemic in L.A. going back to the 70’s. I was actually shooting that right before the shutdown; that’s a hit show here and it’s a great show. I’m working on a piece called Tortured Chicago which is about police torture; I’m one of the writers and producers on that. It’s a true story about police torture in Chicago from the 70’s to the late 90’s where Police Head Jon Burge would torture men into making confessions for crimes they didn’t actually commit. There’s also the Series “TICKER” which I completed last year and premiers this fall. I’m still up for the Teddy Pendergrass story and I would love to be a part of that; Tyrese Gibson has the rights to it so we’re trying to get that together. This was where my work on Frenchy came in; Teddy Pendergrass got into an accident which rendered him paralyzed and so he spent the last part of his life in a wheelchair. They are looking to do his life story and Jean-Claude was the first one who said to me that I should play Teddy. He knew Teddy and hung out with him so he was the one who brought that thought to my head initially. I’m going to do a sizzle tape of me as Teddy and hopefully we can convince the studios to go with me.
Thanks so much for chatting today and best of luck with all your upcoming ventures; stay safe and healthy.
Debt Collectors is out May 29th, 2020 and Frenchy AKA Full Love is coming soon.