Mykel Shannon Jenkins AKA “Turbo” from Undisputed 3 chats with The Action Elite about his role in the Undisputed franchise, the future of the series and his new web series Off the Grid and working with De Niro and Stallone on Grudge Match.
EOIN: I’d to start off by talking about your new project Off the Grid which you wrote, directed & produced. For those who don’t know can you tell us what it’s about and how the project came together?
MYKEL: Yeah, what’s more interesting is how it actually came about; I’m like a thriller and action junkie. I like clever scripts and I’m just a fan of real action thrillers. It seems that recently so many action movies don’t have the old-school taglines or the “I’ll Be Backs” which you could say with your friends. It’s just kinda gotten away from some of the real stuff that draws us to the theatres. There’s so much CGI and unnecessary drivel so I got together with my friends.
We all know what it is, we all know what we like so we set out to just put all our energy behind what excites us and see if people out there feel the same way. So we came up with Off the Grid which is set in the world of assassins, black ops and green berets and all these bad, cold blooded just super skilled individuals and that they have a world where they made the rules. Basically what they see as right and how to co-exist with each other. What would happen if they got involved in normal human life? Like what would happen if one of them fell in love? It opens up a weakness and brings predators to prey and it just flew on from there. It’s a throwback with a modern twist. I think people will thoroughly enjoy it.
EOIN: It’s not just pure entertainment, but is also informative and deals with important issues.
MYKEL: Yeah, that was another thing, we wanted to get back to “Where are our heroes?” and I love the concept that our heroes are flawed, I do but we’ve sort of lost the sense of using that as a vehicle to bring the attention to some real issues. Real issues that people don’t pay any attention to like the trafficking of kids and women. We somehow think this is all going on in third world countries but it goes on right here.
It’s a HUGE business in New York and Los Angeles; people don’t pay attention to it unless it’s one of their daughters/friends because they just don’t see it but is becoming almost an epidemic.
I have a girl and I worry about her all the time. I just think we can use it as a vehicle to get people to more attention to what’s going on around them and not be targeted so easily. People tend not to do what they can’t get away with so the harder it is to get away with it you gotta change your approach. When more people put their minds to it then we can do something about the numbers because it’s getting out of hand. We want ideas about things which are bothering you in your hood, right where you live. We always talk about Al Qaeda but they seem like three generations ago. I haven’t seen anybody in a turban or looking like Bin Laden. The terrorists I know about run up and down the block in stretched out limos and they wear gold rings and scare me. Right here in the neighbourhood.
Heroin is back and it’s consuming the young ones like crazy; that never went away. The war against drugs ain’t working so we need to come up with a different solution to the problem, so I’m thinking of trying to use entertainment in that way. People tend to see themselves and they don’t like the way it looks. I think there are way too many bootleg drugs which are made to look cool and it’s like everyone is doing them but that’s not the case and a lot of people suffer for abusing them.
Drugs have their place but we have to do something other than what we are currently doing because right now what we’re doing isn’t working. We don’t like to talk about it even with our friends even though we know it’s all going on right under our noses. I think communicating with each other is the key to finding some resolutions there. That’s where I think entertainment comes into it and why I want to try and reinvent the old school hero. It’s about telling the difference between black and white; right and wrong isn’t difficult but trying to justify our wrong to make it right which is what makes it so complex.
That is what Off the Grid is really about; people justifying the wrongs they are doing because it sounds like the right thing to do. So where are the heroes? Where are the people that you kinda wish you were? What I loved about Batman and Superman when I was growing up is they were just good guys but now they’ve gone straight dark and it’s more difficult to relate to them. You don’t aspire to be a troubled man, you aspire to be a good guy. I just want to bring that back.
EOIN: That’s very true, so many movies today are dark and gritty and you don’t really want to be like the characters anymore. I used to want to be like John McClane or James Bond but with the recent movies they have lost that spirit of fun and there isn’t any character that I would aspire to be.
MYKEL: Yeah, I think they think society is so negatively driven that we need the characters to be more like the worst part of us so we can feel good about the bad part of us and forget about the good part. I think you need to see some part of it, as you will with Artemis in Off the Grid. I think about when Bond was driven by a desire to protect humanity and defend right. It forces the creative to be much more imaginative with the gadgets, the story etc, but it’s like he’s not really the hero anymore. It may be “realer” but I don’t go to the movies to be real, I go to get a little bit of that.
You keep me entertained in a movie and I’ll walk out eager enough to talk about it or smiling cos I just got taken on a ride and it’s allowed me to forget about all this real shit out here. It’s like the darker, the grittier, the more problems, the more we flock to it. I think we don’t have much of a choice. I guess they can’t build a franchise on good guys anymore; they did originally with Roger Moore’s good guy or Pierce Brosnan’s good guy. When they walked into a room they owned it, but I don’t know if the series would have been so successful if they started where they are now and try to go the way they’re going.
EOIN: Off the Grid is incredibly stylish and beautifully shot and you’ve said before you’d love to play a James Bond type character. Is this you finally living out that dream?
MYKEL: Yeah man, first of all I used to love the fun that Bond used to have with the women; what I mean by that is the wit and banter. The women were smart and it seemed to me that he was always looking for the right girl, it was just hard to find her. I loved that and I took that and put it in our show. He is driven by something bad that has happened in his life and it has shut him off from finding her.
He always seemed like someone who was courageous, intelligent and afraid of nothing but just couldn’t find the courage to have a relationship. I took a little spin on that that he took a chance against the rules and it cost him. But it’s the difference between a hero and a villain. The villain is delicious, he has all these things we love but he’s not good. Bond is the same except driven by a good heart and he got taglined. So yeah, me and my team are really trying to put a focus on making it all fun again.
EOIN: That’s really where I came up with the idea for my site too; I missed the Arnie, Stallone and JCVD movies which were fun so I wanted to bring the attention back to the genre again.
MYKEL: That’s exactly why Expendables 1 & 2 blew the roof off, because we all missed those dudes. We missed that kinda guy. When I got into the Undisputed franchise, Scott and the other fighters were very serious about it and what it means in the action juggernaut. So I thought what I could bring to the movie is, we’ve got all the fighting we need so let’s try and get this story right so that people know who to root for. Instead of 19 bad guys fighting in a cage, may the best bad guy win; how about 18 bad guys and a couple could possibly be good and then see what they say. It turns out that the recipe worked and I just fell in love with the concept.
EOIN: I think the reason the Undisputed movies are so popular is because the writing is so good, not just the fight scenes. Boyka is this great character who starts off as the villain and then becomes the hero and finds redemption, thus the title. Because the characters are so well developed, you care what happens to them.
MYKEL: Yeah man, I don’t think we knew at the start that Boyka would essentially end up as the hero; what was nice about it is we just worked on the relationships moment to moment. Treat the scenes real but right; we wanted the tone of things honest.
With these types of movies you’re normally like “hurry up so we can get to the fights!” but the beauty of Undisputed was all the fight scenes had to be shot in a certain 2 weeks so we did all the other scenes first.
When shooting fight scenes you get hurt and you can’t shoot if you get hurt. So we put everything in the can first and then we went back and fought. That really helped in keeping the focus on relationships and story rather than, never mind the story, let’s get to the fights. Before you know it you actually have real people that you relate to and care about. I think it’s one of my very favourite action flicks and I’m very proud of it.
EOIN: What was the toughest fight scene to shoot?
MYKEL: The one in the rocks where we were chained together because we were really chained together; it was like a 40 pound chain. The rocks would fall all around the slope so you would have no real traction. You can’t even see what you’re blocking so you just have to trust as if it’s a dance. You gotta move really quickly or the chain is gonna hit you in the mouth.
So that was really difficult but the good thing about it is you just go, if you pause or stop then you’re just gonna get hurt. You have to just trust your training and what you know. Believe what you see and get out of the way. None of it was faked I’m proud to say; I got to kick Scott in the chest and that wasn’t meant to happen because he’s normally so fast but I got him, I got him!
EOIN: You trained in 9 different styles of combat to prepare for the role; do you still keep up that kind of training?
MYKEL: Yeah, you kinda have to as it’s tough to fake it if you don’t know what you’re doing. Isaac Florentine likes to shoot in the Hong Kong style and likes to make the camera the person so you’re gonna get hit and kicked a little bit. You can’t fake a kick to your back; you’ve just got to move it to where you can take it. You’ve gotta know what you’re doing, especially with that style because these guys are fighters, it’s what they do. There’s no turning the battery down. They’re not dancers so you gotta learn how to fight.
You have to move their strength to what you are doing, like if my strength is in my hand then I gotta keep my legs away from a sweeping leg. If I am down on the ground then I am pretty much nullified. You’ve gotta know how to defend yourself so you can be open and Isaac is one of those guys who wants you to be as good as you can be. So if it can be real and you can do it, then do it. You do some choreography at first then you fight and the first thing Isaac said was “Forget the choreography!” I was like Oh God!
EOIN: The fights were fantastic as well; you see everything that was going on and there were no quick cuts.
MYKEL: Yeah, he put a special emphasis on this, that’s why he shoots in the Honk Kong style of shooting which would sometimes take days to shoot all due to Larnell. Now Larnell Stovall who was the choreographer in it, he is amazing, just amazing. He would just open up the shot so you could see everything happening. Anything with Larnell involved is worth watching. He is a phenomenal fight choreographer; he dreams up things I’ve never seen before and he would dream up things they hadn’t done before.
He just understands the way the body is designed and the way you can move. We’re talking about with no protection and you’ve just gotta have a lot of faith in the guy telling you that you can do it. It requires a lot of cooperation so you can trust what you’ve been built to do and then just do it. He comes up with some phenomenally choreographed fights.
EOIN: Will we ever get to see Part 4? Scott Adkins didn’t sound too hopeful recently.
MYKEL: Come on! Come on with it already! That’s all I’m saying, I am so ready for it! I mean what is the problem? I don’t know what is taking so long. It’s going to happen one way or the other. Scott’s gonna pop, I’m gonna pop…. someone’s gonna pop and we’re just gonna do it! It ain’t over, you can believe that.
EOIN: The movies really have become a huge phenomenon with fans…
MYKEL: Oh I agree and it better happen soon before somebody gets their legs broken or gets hurt.
EOIN: Now you’ve also got a part in the Sylvester Stallone movie Grudge Match. Can you tell us about your role and have you needed to do any particular training for it?
MYKEL: Yes, my character is called Shmoo and I actually got to fight with Mr. De Niro. Shmoo is a smart mouth little cat who gets in the ring to teach De Niro a lesson or two but unfortunately for him, Raging Bull finds his kick and ends up teaching himself. I really think fans who liked Turbo will like Shmoo. It’s another situation where the director’s real cool and he allowed me to have input. That’s always better when they respect you and they allow you to help them showcase your talent.
L L Cool J is in it too and he’s one of the dudes I kind of admire so I REALLY put the training in before I showed up at that joint. There was no way I was going to have him looking over at me and thinking I was slipping. I was like “Shit no!” I’m gonna be nice so I’d like to think I was. He did say that I’m nice though so that’s alright. I’m interested to hear what you think about the move when you see it?
EOIN: Is it a comedy?
MYKEL: It’s a comedy because of the circumstance but there was nobody playing. So it’s the circumstance that’s a comedy but it is actually serious to the players playing in it. I think that’s what Sly Stallone manages to do very well. He’s a great writer and knows how to get you involved into people’s lives before he starts to deliver the message. I think he did an outstanding job with this piece. Very excited about it; can’t wait until it drops. Kim Basinger was there too with her daughter and they were both really nice. It was a very nice place to be for a little while. You’ve got this lovely, talented lady with all of these extra testosterone dudes and it was great.
EOIN: Now that you’ve worked with Sylvester Stallone, would you take a part in The Expendables?
MYKEL: Oh hell yeah! I was trying to get up in his lap like hey man, remember me? But I got my man Scott working on that cos he got in there for Part 2. So hopefully we can get it done cos I’d be really looking forward to it.
EOIN: What else do you have coming up?
MYKEL: A drama called Halcyon about two guys stuck in a submarine and things go as unexpected as they could. It’s about friendship and about memories and the time you have here. You never know when something crazy is gonna happen. I’ve got another film coming out called Anonymous and another one called Silhouette which is a short where I get to play a blind artist which was really challenging for me. I’m excited to see what people say about it when they see it. Other than that it’s all about Off the Grid.
EOIN: There’s a Kickstarter for Off the Grid too…
MYKEL: Yeah, we want to get people involved who want to be a part of something special and the reason we wanted to do a Kickstarter is so we can be in control of the project. Instead of going to some places where they would like tell you how to end it and take control of it. We’re offering the opportunity for people to come in and be a part of it. I just want us to get back to the kind of action that I really enjoy because that is what brought me into the game.