If anyone knows the in’s and out’s of being a stunt performer, it’s Clayton Barber. For over two decades, Clayton has done falls, crashes, and fight sequences for everything from “Blade”, “Blade II”, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Blood and Bone”, “Black Dynamite”, and “Man of Steel”. Of course, he’d never dream of stopping there, frequently collaborating with The Stunt People co-founder Eric Jacobus, and imparting both his vast knowledge of martial arts and his own competitive background to the U.S. Taekwondo team!
More recently, Clayton has continued to blow audiences away with incredible fight scenes in Ryan Coogler’s “Creed” and “Black Panther”, and the latter would be just one of two superhero properties Clayton would work his magic on in 2018. He would also serve as fight choreographer for the second season of the Marvel-Netflix series “Iron Fist”, and under his action direction, the show is one amazing martial arts battle after another.
Today, Clayton sits down with KFK to share some stories of his own beginnings as a stunt man, a look behind-the-scenes at his collaborations with Ryan Coogler and action legends like Chuck Norris and Sammo Hung, and how it’s lead him to coming aboard season two of “Iron Fist” and making it into the action-packed, chi-powered, comic-book bonanza that it is.
Hi Clayton, thank you so much for joining us today. Hope you’re doing well?
Hi Brad, I’m doing great, and it’s my pleasure.
Had you heard about our site before, what do you think of the name Kung Fu Kingdom (KFK)?
Yes, I have, and I think it’s awesome. How can you do better than the title “Kung Fu Kingdom”!
Fantastic, thanks. So, let’s kick things off with “Iron Fist” season two. What can you share about how you became involved with the series as the fight choreographer?
Well, it was the showrunner, M. Raven Metzner who contacted me about it. He pitched me a really good vision of what he wanted to do with the Iron Fist character. At the beginning of my career as a stuntman, I did a lot of martial arts films, and TV series like “Martial Law” and “Walker Texas Ranger”, and after twenty years in the business, I had really wanted to make a return to doing that style of action. “Iron Fist” was a really great opportunity to do that, so I was very thrilled at the chance to join the show in its second season.
Most certainly. So, what can you share about the process of designing the martial arts action for a superhero series such as “Iron Fist”?
Well, a character like Iron Fist is a very organic type of superhero. He’s not the type of character who has bulletproof skin or leaps tall buildings in a single bound, his power is that he’s the greatest fighter on the planet. So designing the action of “Iron Fist” was going back to the basics and paying tribute to guys like Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen, and that was really the approach we took to designing the action in season two.
Well, that approach definitely turned out well. On that note, what can you share about the process of training the series stars, Finn Jones, Sacha Dhawan, Jessica Henwick, and Alice Eve for the series; were there any major injuries or mishaps during the making of season two?
The cast really put in the time, the effort, and the energy to train for season two. I don’t really look at fight scenes as the same thing as stunts, because they’re dramatic scenes with movement. So, I don’t really like doubling actors in fight scenes, and I really try to instill that mindset into the actors.
The cast of “Iron Fist” felt the exact same way and really dove into the training for the season, and I think their dedication was really what elevated season two. There wasn’t really much in terms of injuries, but a few things, here and there. Finn got punched in the face once, and at another point, Alice accidentally kicked Finn’s elbow and had to get her foot checked out and fortunately she wasn’t hurt too bad. But I let everyone know “Doing fight scenes is a contact sport, so expect to catch a few hits here and there”, and if you prepare the cast with that mindset, they’re less likely to get hurt, and we had very minimal injuries on season two fortunately.
Safety first! So, what’s your personal favorite fight sequence from season two of “Iron Fist”?
That’s a tough question! (both laugh) The whole season was designed to be one big, beautiful album of action, and we wanted to start the season off really strongly with the restaurant fight.
I think probably my three favorite fight sequences in season two would be the fight in K’un Lun with Danny and Davos, the fight with Colleen and Misty fighting the Crane Sisters, and the community center fight in episode nine. The K’un Lun fight in particular, we designed with the idea of it being a “24-hour fight”. Basically like, if two guys were in a fight for an entire day, what would they look like by the end? So they start out very crisp and sharp, and by the end, all the technique goes out the window and there’s just battering each other until one of them yields, and they both refuse to yield. Sacha and Finn put in so much work for that fight, they did 90% of the fight themselves. We really tried to capture it as a kind of violent ballet, likewise with the Crane Sisters fight.
Well, that K’un Lun flashback definitely came across as an elegantly-orchestrated brutal- ballet. Looking ahead now, where will “Iron Fist” be going for season three. Will you be returning for that?
Well, I don’t really know where season three is headed other than we left this season with Danny and Ward overseas searching for Orson Randall. But I think the texture of the action is really going to evolve in the next season, and I’m really looking forward to seeing that. If they call me up for season three I’d definitely love to come back for it.
On that topic, what other projects do you have in the works now that Iron Fist is out?
Well, there are a few movies I’m a part of right now that I can’t talk about yet, and I’m currently working on season three of “Jessica Jones”. It’s been a lot of fun coming off of “Iron Fist” to work on “Jessica Jones” because it’s focused on a very different character and lets you paint on a different canvas.
Superb, looking forward to seeing all of it! So now, Clayton’s Top 5 favorite martial-arts movies, let’s do this!
Well, “Enter the Dragon” is obviously a martial arts classic. I also really love “Bloodsport” and “Above the Law”, I think they really stand out among martial arts films of the 80’s, and, of course, Jackie Chan has done so many amazing films like “Drunken Master II” . This is also one that I was actually a stuntman on, but I think that “Blade” really kind of bridged the action of the 80’s and 90’s, and I think it really came out amazing.
Classics all round. Looking a little back in time to give people a glimpse of some of your past work, you also did stunts on the popular TV series, “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “Martial Law”. How was it working alongside such icons as Chuck Norris and Sammo Hung on the shows?
Those were both such great experiences. When you’re working with guys like Sammo Hung and Chuck Norris, you’re working with two legends who have been putting it out there for decades, so it was a real treat to work on those shows. Working with Sammo also really familiarized me with the Hong Kong style of action – I was very fortunate to work on those two shows, they really had a huge influence on me and a major learning experience in how that style is done. In fact, I brought a lot of what I learned from Sammo on “Martial Law” to the way we designed the action for “Iron Fist”.
An influence that was definitely felt! You also later served as fight choreographer on 2015’s “Creed”. What interesting stories can you share about making the film with Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone?
Working on “Creed” was probably one of the accomplishments I’m most proud of. I’d never done a boxing movie before, but when you break it down, you doing the same kinds of movements whether you’re punching or kicking, so I really took it upon myself as a challenge. I also really wanted to respect what a master like Sylvester Stallone had done with the “Rocky” movies beforehand, since those had really laid the groundwork for boxing films from the 1970’s on.
Seeing Ryan Coogler work with Sly on “Creed” was like seeing the old master passing the torch on to the young Jedi, and now, I think Ryan is the best American director working today.
Ryan actually came to me with the idea of the one-shot fight in the film, and he asked me if I thought it could be done , and I said, “Wow, I’m not sure”, but he really thought we could pull it off. So we went to the gym and he really pushed me to believe in it, and after we mapped out the fight, knew we could accomplish it in one shot. Without him believing so much in it, I don’t know if I would have even attempted it, but he really was the driving force behind that fight sequence in the film.
It definitely led to a memorable one-shot fight sequence. Speaking of Ryan Coogler as we prepare to wrap up, you also worked with him again on this year’s “Black Panther” as fight choreographer. What can you share about making the film”?
Well, “Black Panther” came out of just wanting to work with Ryan after “Creed”. We had a huge stunt team on the film, and working with Ryan again was like watching that young Jedi working at his craft again. The cast also really gave it everything they had, and Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita N’yongo, and Danai Gurira really transformed themselves into these characters. After working with Mike now on “Creed” and “Black Panther”, I can definitely say that he’s one of the best guys working in action movies today. He doesn’t just transform himself physically, but mentally and emotionally, and he puts himself through things that are just on a whole different level, and Chadwick Boseman is a real specimen himself. It was really fun to be making the movie and realize “Oh, here’s an Oscar winner doing a flip!”
Fascinating insights. Thank you for your time today, Clayton. It’s been a real pleasure to hear the stories of your life in stunts and working on season two of “Iron Fist”, we look forward eagerly to all the exciting projects you have coming up!
Thanks Brad, glad to share some behind the scenes on “Iron Fist” season two with Kung Fu Kingdom!
Season Two of “Iron Fist” is now available on Netflix. Be sure to check it out to see the vastly improved action Clayton put together for the series! Seen it already? What are your thoughts and your personal favorite fight scenes from the Marvel-Netflix shows so far? Let us know in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram. (Unclench your iron fist for a second and click on into our FUniverse of exclusive interviews!)