The honor of donning the cape and cowl of Batman has been bestowed upon a lucky few, such as Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, and Ben Affleck, but martial artist and stuntman Dave Lea can also count himself among those who have worn the tights of The Caped Crusader, serving as Michael Keaton’s stunt double in 1989’s “Batman”. It was a stunt gig that launched Dave’s career in show business, and he hasn’t looked back since.
In the ensuing years, Dave has lent his expertise in martial arts, stunt work, and fight choreography to such films as “Demolition Man”, “Best of the Best 2”, “Batman Returns”, “Last Action Hero”, “Tango and Cash”, and “Double Impact”. With his years’ of experience in action filmmaking, Dave also teaches seminars on stunt work to give aspiring stunt performers and screen fighters all the right tools in their quest to break into the industry!
Today, Dave sits down with KFK to share some stories on his long career as a stunt performer, along with imparting the importance of training and preparation for stunt work that his time in the business has taught him. He also shares some behind-the-scenes tidbits of his role in the new ensemble martial arts spoof film, “Fury of the Fist and the Golden Fleece”!
Hi Dave, thanks for taking a few moments out of your busy schedule for us. Hope you’re doing well?
Hi Brad, I’m doing fantastic, thanks. Glad to speak with KFK today!
Terrific! Well, let’s kick off with a little background for the readers, i.e., how you first got into martial arts and when? What different arts you’ve studied and trained; who you’d credit as having most influenced you and would consider your heroes or inspirational figures in the martial arts?
I started out in Shotokan Karate as a kid, and from there I studied Wing Chun, Shaolin, and just anything I could get my hands on. That’s been very beneficial to my stunt career because you need to be able to adapt to any different type of action, and you don’t just want to be doing the same thing as everyone else.
Bruce Lee was one of the biggest obvious heroes for me growing up, but all the teachers I’ve had the chance to study with have probably been the most direct and important ones for me, guys like Dan Inosanto, Joseph Cheng, and Leong Swee Lun
All legends in their own right for sure. Looking over your stunt career, one of your most well known roles was in Tim Burton’s “Batman” in 1989. What interesting stories can you share about making the film?
Oh man, I had so much fun doing that movie, I don’t know why they even paid me for it! It was my first big stunt gig, so I was really learning a lot on the job, but I just jumped into the Bat-suit, and that movie really set my course. Doing “Batman” was what got me onto “Tango and Cash” and “Batman Returns”.
“Batman” launched a lot of careers! You also did stunt work on 1993’s “Best of the Best 2”. What interesting stories can you share about making the film alongside Phillip and Simon Rhee?
I was still pretty new in L.A. at the time, and my friend Peter Antico was the stunt coordinator on the film, and he got me into it. I did a few fight scenes for it, one in particular where I got flipped onto a marble floor five or six times by Simon Rhee! He and his brother Phillip are great guys.
Absolutely. You also did some stuntwork on 1993’s “Demolition Man”. How was it working alongside Sylvester Stallone and Wesley Snipes?
Well, I’d already done “Tango and Cash” with Sylvester Stallone, and I got a call from Sly’s office, and they said, “Sly wants to meet with you at this club.” So I went and met Sly there, and he told me, “Dave, go check out this movie ‘Passenger 57’ with this guy Wesley Snipes.” So I went ahead and checked it out, and was quite impressed with Wesley’s work in the film. Sly really liked what I did with him on “Tango and Cash”, so I could tell that he wanted me to check out Wesley in “Passenger 57” to get an insight into Wesley’s on-screen fighting style, as he thought their two styles would mesh really well together.
Training with Dan Inosanto came in very handy when working with Wesley, because he’s really well-versed in the Filipino arts, as well. After we finished the movie, I was out at a Salsa club in L.A. one night, and I turned around, and ran into Wesley dancing with a girl, and was like “Wow, Wesley, you’re a dancer, too!”
So the homework certainly came in handy. More recently, you appeared in the martial arts spoof film “Fury of the Fist and the Golden Fleece”, which boasts a huge ensemble cast, including Gene LeBell, Gokor Chivichyan, Bill Goldberg, Ernie Reyes Jr., Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Michael Dudikoff, Cynthia Rothrock, R. Marcos Taylor, Taimak, and many others. What can you share about the experience of making the film?
“Fury of the Fist” was a lot of fun, because I got to draw off of my Shotokan background a lot, but it was also a spoof, so we were able to be a lot more comical with the way we designed the action in the film. Pete Antico was the stunt coordinator, and we really improvised a lot of the fight choreography and did a lot of crazy yells and poses and things like that. There was one scene where I was fighting Alex Wraith where he jumps up, grabs a beam on the ceiling, and does a split on my and another stunt guy’s shoulders.
So we got to just play around and be crazy with the choreography because of the nature of the film being a spoof. It was also fun because I used to watch the movies that guys like Michael Dudikoff, Cynthia Rothrock, and Don “The Dragon” Wilson used to make in the 80’s and 90’s all the time, and here I am making a movie with all of them now!
Sounds like a dream come true! So, what was one fun, interesting or memorable highlight for you whilst making “Fury of the Fist”?
I really loved being able to act out as a really insane karate guy in the film, and I’m not usually a big fan of doing the “Hi-yahs” and “Ki-ais” in a fight scene. But this time, it fit the movie perfectly, so I really enjoyed being able to cut loose with the screaming and yelling in the fights!
Gotta have those expressions eh! By the way, what would you say is the most daring stunt you’ve ever done?
That’s a question I get often, but I think the main thing people miss is all the preparation that goes into doing stunts, they always just want to hear about the jump or the crash itself. A lot of martial artists try to get into stunt-work thinking they already know everything, but the main thing I try to impress upon people is the importance of you being prepared when you’re asked to do a big stunt
To give an idea of what I mean, there was a stunt I did on one of the “Prophecy” movies where I was one of the bad angels, and I’m jumping from one building to another. I’d already done a four-hour make-up job, and it was about three or four in the morning, so think about where you’re going to be mentally and physically in that situation, and you see how important the preparation is for a stunt like that. I was about one-hundred feet off the ground with no airbag underneath me, and we did a test run where they took me out about halfway between the two buildings, and someone shouted “Lunch break!”, and they just left me hanging there and said “We’ll come back for you, Dave!”At first I thought they were serious, but they were just pranking me, and they pulled me back in.
Nerve-racking prank! On that note, what was the most serious injury you’ve ever experienced and how did you work around it?
It was on the movie “Nothing to Lose” with Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence. There’s a scene where I’m driving through the desert late at night, and I pick up a couple of hitch-hikers, who then kick me out of the car. We’d done it a few times, but the director wanted me to get kicked out of the car a bit further, so we did it again, and the guy kicked me right when I was in the middle of a breath and popped my rib cage. The pain was unbelievable, I almost passed out, and I still have a little bone there sticking out to this day. I also did “Get Carter” with Sly a few years later, and I was black and blue from that movie!
I always try to impress upon people at my stunt seminars that stunt work and screen fighting involves training and preparation, just like anything else. It’s like acting and delivering dialogue; if I just say “Get out of my face”, nobody’s going to believe it, but if I scream it at the top of my lungs and really emphasize it, then they will, and it’s the same thing with stunts. You have to convince the audience you really just took a punch in the face or jumped out of a car, it’s performing, just like acting is.
That’s so well said Dave. So, what other projects do you have in the works after the release of “Fury of the Fist”?
I’ve got a movie I’m doing in London very soon, and a T.V. series I’ll be doing soon in L.A. I also have a few in the works that I can’t talk about just yet.
Definitely looking forward to hear more on those! Well, as we get ready to wrap, what message would you like to share with Kung Fu Kingdom readers and those who know you around the world right now? And, what’s one piece of warrior wisdom you’d like to relate?
I always like to say, when the truth is in what you do, and you strongly believe in it and don’t compromise it, your passion will show. What my mother used to tell me as a kid is, “Son, don’t try to fit in, always try to stand out.”
When you fit in, you’re a chameleon like everyone else. So, if you go for an audition and there’s twenty people there, no one stands out if they’re doing the same things as the guy next to them, so you’ve got to create something that’s all you, and you may not always get what you’re chasing after right then, but people will remember you. That’s what made Bruce Lee the legend he is, and no one’s gotten anywhere trying to imitate him, because he was one of a kind. I did an audition once where I threw some kicks very close to the director’s face, and I said, “They won’t forget me”, and within twenty minutes, they called me up for the film. The director told me I had some guts to try that, and I said, “You noticed me”, and he said, “You’re right, you made me look at you!” There’s only one Bruce Lee, only one Muhammad Ali, only one Mother Teresa, so be the best you can be and stand out from everyone else.
Sage advice there Dave. Thanks so much for your time today, it’s been a blast. We look forward to all the action-packed stuff you’ve got coming up in the works!
Thanks Brad, and it’s my pleasure to sit down with Kung Fu Kingdom!
“Fury of the Fist and the Golden Fleece” is currently available on Video On Demand platforms. Seen it yet, what are some of your fave kung fu comedies? Let us know in the comments below, like, share & join in the conversation on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram too. (Find more FU-fillment with our other exclusive interviews!)