Whether through B-movies centered on underground martial arts tournaments, in the simulated reality of the Matrix, or the simply doing stunts in a major blockbuster, you’ve definitely seen Daniel Bernhardt in action multiple times. Beginning his career in the low budget sequel “Bloodsport 2: The Next Kumite”, Daniel’s skills and charisma have been become a staple of action movies for over twenty years!
Hailing from Switzerland, Daniel’s was drawn to martial arts as a youth, and his skills and talent made him a natural for action movies. Over the course of his career, he’s faced off with everyone from Charlize Theron to Keanu Reeves in incredible action scenes elevated by the power and versatility that Daniel’s life of martial arts has imbued in him.
Daniel’s connection to the famed stunt group 87Eleven Action Design has also seen him at the heart of such action-packed popcorn hits as “John Wick” and “Atomic Blonde”, and most recently, he’s added aliens to the list of enemies he’s battled in “Skylines”, the newly-released third chapter of the “Skyline” series.
Today, Daniel sits down with KFK for a behind the scenes look at the making of “Skylines”, along with his early life in martial arts and career beginnings with the “Bloodsport” sequels, in addition to teasing a pinch about his upcoming return as Agent Johnson in next year’s “The Matrix 4”!
Hi Daniel, welcome to Kung Fu Kingdom! It’s great to connect with you and we hope you’re holding up well during the current pandemic?
Hi Brad, I’m doing well, thanks. It is what it is and I’m making the best out of it, trying to stay healthy and safe.
Great to hear. Had you heard of KFK previously? Also, our mission is to encourage 100 million people around the world to get into martial arts for all the positive benefits that it brings to individuals, physically, mentally and socially – what do you think about this goal?
I have, absolutely. Anything with kung fu I love! I’m right there with you on your mission, 100%. Martial arts has been part of my life for forty years, and it brought me to where I am, and without it, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today.
Daniel Bernhardt’s Martial Arts Background
Awesome, and likewise for us! Okay, let’s kick off with your beginnings in martial arts. What different disciplines have you studied?
I started in kung fu when I was 15. I was born and raised in Switzerland, and at the time, martial arts wasn’t really that popular there. I happened to meet a kung-fu guy that I started training with, and I absolutely loved it. Then I started getting into kickboxing, boxing and taekwondo. When I moved to L.A., I did “Bloodsport 2”, and was teamed up with Grandmaster Hee Il Cho, who became my mentor and teacher. And it was another amazing experience to be with such a taekwondo Grandmaster, and it was something I will never forget in my life.
The Bloodsport Sequels…
A true TKD master! Speaking of “Bloodsport 2”, you’re well known for your roles in the “Bloodsport” sequels. What interesting stories do you recall about making them? Were there any injuries or mishaps?
(Laughs) Well, “Bloodsport 2” was my first film, and everything that could go wrong went wrong. Delayed, didn’t have enough time, got injured, everything went wrong, and it still turned out great. And at the end, I said “If I can do this, I can do anything.” It was just a big challenge making the movie in Thailand, I tore my floating ribs, I got really bad food poisoning, it just wouldn’t stop, but it was kind of like a test. I was the lead in a major franchise, I had a lot on my back, and I did the best I could, and I had a lot of fun doing it.
So, which would you say was your favourite “Bloodsport” movie to work on?
Definitely “Bloodsport 2”. People often ask “What are your favourite films that you’ve done?”, and I think “Bloodsport 2” is always one of them, because it was my first. It was so new, I was so excited, I worked so hard, and it’s still something very special to me.
As ‘Agent Johnson’ in “The Matrix Reloaded”
Absolutely, “Bloodsport 2” was a great follow-up to the first. Speaking of sequels, you later appeared in “The Matrix Reloaded” as Agent Johnson. How did you become involved in the movie?
I mean, imagine getting a phone call saying “We want you to play Agent Johnson in The Matrix franchise”? I was like “What? Really? Oh my God, incredible!” The first guy who called me was Chad Stahelski. He and I were really good friends, we worked together on “Bloodsport” (he actually played a fighter in “Bloodsport”), and I did a bunch of films after “Bloodsport” where Chad was my fight coordinator, stunt coordinator, so he helped me a lot in my career.
When “The Matrix” came around, he was doubling Keanu Reeves, and he called me up and said “They’re looking for Agents”. So I did my audition, had to go back to audition for Yuen Woo-ping, because he had final say on who the Agents are because they all had to fight Keanu. So, it was definitely something very, very, very unique.
So, how was “The Matrix Reloaded” different from “Bloodsport” with all of the CGI and wire work?
I mean, you can’t compare (both laugh). You’re talking about a $150 million movie that would be like $300 million today, and on “Bloodsport”, we had nothing, we just did everything practical. The wire work was demanding, it was hard, but it was fun. It was a fun gig, and it was a long gig. I was on it for six months over a period of a year and a half. It was a pretty cool job.
In “John Wick” as ‘Kirill’ with Keanu Reeves
Well, on that note, you also appeared opposite Keanu Reeves again in “John Wick”. How was it working with Keanu and what do you remember best about the experience?
Keanu’s one of my favorites, he just such an amazing guy. Chad basically asked me at 87Eleven, “Hey Daniel, you want to be in ‘John Wick’?”, and I’m like “Sure!” so he offered me the part of Kirill. Fighting with Keanu again was a lot of fun, and I was just lucky to be working with such talented, amazing people.
Oh, totally. Looking deeper at the action of “John Wick”, what was it like adapting to the very different style of fight scenes compared to the wire-fu of “The Matrix Reloaded”?
Well, you know, Chad has a gift, he’s always looking for the next thing. And Chad has done every martial art you can imagine, he’s a master in probably ten martial arts, there’s nobody else that I know that’s more gifted than him. But when we did “John Wick”, he wanted to do something very different, and he’s somebody who always finds what’s the new next thing. So he mixed gun fighting and Judo, and that’s we did a lot in the last few years.
Working with Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn on “Birds of Prey”
A winning combo, no doubt! More recently, you were also seen in the DC movie “Birds of Prey”, which Chad was also involved in. What was it like to be working with Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (and getting your legs broken by her!)?
Margot’s an amazing actress and an amazing woman and I’m a big fan. So, when I was invited to be in “Birds of Prey”, I was thinking “Yeah, I get to work with Margot Robbie!”, and I think it was actually the first shooting day when we did the scene where she broke my legs.
Then I had to come back a few months later to do the scene where I’m in the wheelchair, which was a lot a fun, too. Margot’s so free, and when she broke my legs, I just asked her “Can I curse at you?” and she said “Please, give it to me!” So she was the best.
Daniel’s latest role as ‘Owens’ in sci-fi, martial-arts actioner: “Skylines”
It hurt to watch that part! Well, looking at the topic of the hour now, your latest movie is the sci-fi martial-arts film “Skylines”, in which you play a commando-like military character, Owens. How did you get involved with the movie?
You know, I’m always very flattered when I get a call, and for “Skylines”, I got a call from my agent saying, “Hey Daniel, they want you for this franchise called “Skylines”, check it out.” So I read the script, met with the director, (Liam O’Donnell) and he was just such a gem.
He was so excited to have me in the movie, and it’s always really flattering when someone really wants you in their movie. He had great ideas, he wrote a great script, he gave me a really nice guideline of what he wanted me to do, and of course, I bring in what I want to do. I really relate to the director, because he probably spent about ten times the amount of time on the script than you would.
It was a fun character, and what he wanted me to do was be more of a likeable guy in the beginning, and then he goes the other way. And I have to say, Lindsey, who played Rose, is such a wonderful actress. She was so good, so much fun, and so snappy, and it was also really fun working with Alexander Siddig, who played my commander.
Director Liam O’Donnell did an Amazing Job!
Liam really did an amazing job with the movie. We’re not like a massive, $100 million movie, but I think what he did with this franchise, and especially with number three is that it looks like a big movie. When you’re doing a sci-fi movie and you don’t have $100 million, you’re kind of like “Well, I wonder how the visual effects are going to look.” And Liam had kind of an “Aliens” thing in going to Cobalt-1, and that was very special.
Fight Scene with the Incredible Martial Artist, Cha-Lee Yoon
Liam’s really done some incredible work with the “Skyline” series. So, what was the most physically demanding part of the film for you in terms of fight and combat?
Well, obviously, because of my background, Liam really wanted me to do a big fight scene. And I have a fight scene in the movie with Zhi, who’s played by my friend Cha-Lee Yoon, and he’s an incredible, incredible martial artist. He was also the fight coordinator, and he came up to me and said “Hey Daniel, I have this idea, why don’t we make this kind of an homage to the older Chinese kung fu movies and we’ll do trapping?” and I’m like “Oh my God, I love that”, because I hadn’t really done that in many, many years. So we started to play around, we started to trap, and he’s super-fast, so I had to bring up my game.
That was probably my favorite fight in the movie, and really fun to do something different. It was shot by our Second Unit Director Can Aydin, and the great thing is, we’re all friends and we’ve worked together many, many times. So it’s kind of like, everything’s a shorthand, and Liam was wonderful, we pitched to him what we wanted to do, and he said “Oh, I love it, go for it”.
Were there any injuries during that fight?
No, I mean, we’re all pros, we’ve done this for so many years. The most important thing for us is safety, and of course, you’ll pull a hamstring and you’ll hurt yourself a little bit, but it’s nothing that you can’t tape up and move on from!
Working with Yayan “Mad Dog” Ruhian of The Raid Movies
Well, speaking of martial artists in the movie, did you also get the chance to meet Yayan Ruhian of “The Raid” movies while making “Skylines”?
Yes, I actually met Yayan before on “John Wick 3”, but you didn’t see my face, because I had a mask on, I was one of the ghost soldiers. I actually did the underwater fight with Keanu on “John Wick 3”. I met Yayan on set and we liked each other immediately, I’m a huge fan of his work, and then, we got to work together again on “Skylines”.
Yayan’s a combat beast! So, what would you say was overall your most memorable experience from making “Skylines”?
What was really nice for me was in the past maybe ten years, I’ve played a lot of parts, good supporting parts in bigger movies, but I didn’t have that much dialogue. So in this one, Liam really gave me a role that I could sink my teeth into. For me, that was really, really fun to act, to fight, and spend time with my friends. So I have to say, “Skylines” was really one of my favorite movies to work on in a long time. We had such a blast, and such a good time.
Daniel Bernhardt’s Top 3 All-Time Favourite Martial-Arts Movies
Ideal lifestyle! So, what are some of Daniel Bernhardt’s all-time favourite martial-arts movies?
I love the old classics. Bruce Lee, “Enter the Dragon”, one of my favorites. I think he was probably the one that inspired me to get into martial arts. As for the more modern movies, I’m a huge fan of Hong Kong cinema, and I love movies like “Hero” and “The Grandmaster”, and those I would probably say are my two favorites, they’re just unbelievable.
Agree. What are some of your favourite actual movie fights?
Oh, there are so many! I probably have to go back to Bruce Lee. Even today, nobody beats him. The charisma he had, the techniques he had, isn’t it amazing? It’s like Elvis Presley. Bruce Lee, he was the man. I love Jet Li, as well, and Jackie Chan too.
Daniel’s Favourite Fights from His Own Movies
All masters of their craft. So, Daniel, what are your own top 3 fight scenes from your own filmography that you’re most proud of and why?
I think one of my favorite fights was in “Atomic Blonde”. That was a really, really cool fight, and to work with somebody like Charlize, you’re working with an Academy Award-winning actress. And what she does in the fight, I’m not just talking about fighting, just the acting in the fight is very important to me.
So, watching her, I’m going, “Damn, this is incredible.” So I learned so much. Also, the fight with Keanu in the nightclub in “John Wick”, that’s one of my favorite fights, because it was just so much fun to do, working with all my buddies, Chad Stahelski and David Leitch. And, I have to say, the fight with Morpheus on the truck in “The Matrix Reloaded”, that’s still a very, very cool fight. I just watched it the other day, and I was like “That was really special”.
Speaking of the “Atomic Blonde” one-shot fight, that was really brutal! Did anybody get hurt doing that fight?
As mentioned, safety is the most important thing, and we all train really, really hard not to get hurt. And the same with Charlize, she trained for like three months, and she couldn’t have been more prepared. And she was so talented, the director David decided to do long shots, so we did maybe fifteen to twenty moves sometimes, and that’s very difficult even for me, so kudos to her. I’ve been doing movie fights for twenty-five years, and doing that many moves is not easy.
Back as ‘Agent Johnson’ in “The Matrix 4” 2021
Awesome! Looking ahead at another sci-fi franchise now, you’ll also be seen as Agent Johnson again next year in “The Matrix 4”. How did it feel to return to the role of Agent Johnson and the world of The Matrix again? What can audiences expect from The Matrix 4?
Well, I saw Lana at 87 Eleven, and she was really excited to see me, and she goes, “Oh my God, I have this great idea, I want you back”, and she invited me back to do “The Matrix 4”. That’s all I can really say, but I’m very, very honored and flattered to be in such a fantastic franchise.
One has to wonder if it’ll have the same crystal ball that Liam had about a “virus” though!?
Isn’t that bizarre? I mean, we were all like “Damn!”
We definitely look forward to seeing “The Matrix 4” next year.
Crazy! So, what other projects do you have coming up in the future?
There’s a couple of really cool projects floating around that I can’t say too about just now. I don’t like to talk about them when they’re not done yet; when they’re not sure things and I’m not booked yet.
But there’s some really amazing people talking to me about projects next year, and I did a little film earlier this year which is a World War II drama that I’m really proud of. And I just want to keep working and having a good time – and do martial arts, which I do every day for probably two to four hours! (Both laugh)
Fun & Leisure
Definitely, lots of precision required. Well, looking at fun and leisure now, what’s one geeky or interesting thing that people don’t know about you?
Oh, I’m a totally a geek! I’m really into technology, and I’m a very passionate photographer. I actually wanted to be a photographer before I got into the movie business. So I’m a real geek!
Going off of that, if you could be a superhero, who would you be and what superpower would you most like to have?
I think maybe flying. Just imagine if you could fly through the air. Oh my God, how cool would that be?
Future Goals & Ambitions
So, what other dreams, goals and ambitions are you keen to accomplish?
I’m very lucky that I have a job that I love. I love what I do. For me, as long as I can work on a movie, it doesn’t really matter to me what I do, and people always ask me, “What is your favorite thing?”. Well I love to act, I love to do stunts, I love to do fight scenes, but I also love to direct, I love to edit, I love to shoot. I really like it all, and I really feel that doing everything makes you better at everything else.
So, it’s nice to try other things. I directed a short film fourteen years ago called “Fetch”, and that was a lot of fun. In the future, I probably want to try to get my hands into directing, it’s just something I really enjoy. I think “Fetch” still holds up today, and there was a time where I wanted to go a little bit more into directing, but then my career kind of guided me back into acting and performing, but directing is something that I can do now or in five years.
Daniel Bernhardt’s Philosophy
Yes, “Fetch” was actually included in the anthology film “Blood, Sweat, and Terrors”, and you did a great job with it! So, what are some warrior-wisdom quotes or philosophy that have helped you become who you are today?
You know, something I always say when do seminars or speak to people, I say “Never give up” and “Have a dream”. If you have a dream and you work really, really hard, you can achieve almost anything. So that’s just how I’ve always been – you tell me no, and oh my God, I’ll prove to you different! And also, trust yourself, and believe in yourself.
Daniel’s Message to KFK Followers & Fans
True words. Well, as we prepare to sign off, Daniel, what special message would you like to share with Kung Fu Kingdom followers and your fans around the world right now?
Again, be good, be kind, be respectful, never give up, and work hard!
Strong note to end on! Thank you so much for the privilege of speaking today, Daniel. We wish you all the best of success with “Skylines” and your upcoming return as Agent Johnson in “The Matrix 4”, and all your other action projects in 2021!
Thanks Brad and thank you for having me on Kung Fu Kingdom today!