The Old West is a terrain where even the most seemingly simple men and women become heroes, but for as rowdy as their journeys can get, a little levity in a Western never hurts.
Michael Jai White understands that well, and brings that combo in his new Western Blaxploitation comedy, “Outlaw Johnny Black”. As a spiritual follow-up to 2009’s “Black Dynamite”, “Outlaw Johnny Black” brings the same formula of humor and action to the Old West!
Directed and co-written by Michael Jai White, “Outlaw Johnny Black” tells the story of its titular outlaw, who is on a mission to avenge the murder of his father. However, an unexpected case of mistaken identity complicates Johnny Black’s journey, and leads him to make some surprising new friends along with some new revelations along the way.
Of course, in the midst of Johnny Black’s spiritual journey, plenty of action-packed and comedic hijinks come into play!
Today, KFK sits down with Michael Jai White to talk about the making of “Outlaw Johnny Black”, some the themes and messages at work in the film, and some other Blaxploitation-inspired projects he also has in the works…
Hi Mike, welcome back to Kung Fu Kingdom! Hope you’re doing well!
Hi Brad, I’m doing great, thanks for having me back!
Fantastic! Well, let’s jump right into “Outlaw Johnny Black, which has gone through a rather lengthy production process. What can you share about the journey of “Outlaw Johnny Black” becoming realized?
Well, I shot a mock trailer, which was a one-day shoot some years ago, and I did that to get the money. But people were a little confused, because they thought the movie was completed.
So, eventually, we got the money up and we shot the movie in 2019, but with the pandemic that came shortly thereafter, for that block of time, we were down, because our intention was always to share this with a moviegoing audience. So, here we are at that specific moment and we’re proud to be able to bring this to the theaters.
On that note, “Outlaw Johnny Black” has been positioned as something of a spiritual successor to “Black Dynamite”. How would you say “Outlaw Johnny Black” connects to “Black Dynamite”?
I’m going to borrow a statement from another interviewer, who said that “Black Dynamite walked so that Outlaw Johnny Black could ride!” That’s pretty darn accurate. This movie is equal parts blaxploitation, faith-based moviemaking, family, action, and romantic-comedy. All these different things are interwoven into the movie, so it has all these intended messages going into it as well.
Yes, it definitely brings a lot of different elements together into the story. You also recently released a behind-the-scenes video where you talked about some other similar concepts to “Black Dynamite” and “Outlaw Johnny Black”, which include a horror spin-off and a few other genres. What do each of those entail?
Yeah, when I did “Black Dynamite”, we intended on doing the blaxploitation type of action movie then an action-Western type of movie, which is “Outlaw Johnny Black”. Then, we also intended on doing a type of “Blacula” and movies in the blaxploitation era that ventured into horror, and then another one called “The Black Dragon”. If you follow martial arts, I’ve been donned with that name from the original Black Dragon, Ron Van Clief. So as an homage to him, I intend on doing “The Black Dragon” movie.
That sounds great, looking forward to seeing it! You previously directed the MMA movies “Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown” and “Never Back Down: No Surrender”. How would you say directing MMA movies compared to a Western blaxploitation comedy like “Outlaw Johnny Black” is different?
Well, in writing all three of them, I pretty much will have the whole movie in my mind, so basically, I write what I’m seeing, and I’m a very visual kind of person. There are other things I’ve directed which I’m uncredited for, and I’ve written several things that I’ve just sold as a writer.
So, I’ve had this converging type of career where I’ve done all these different kinds of things where I’ve been a martial arts instructor, I’ve been an acting teacher, I’ve been a schoolteacher, I’ve directed and produced. So, for this type of engagement, it’s quite natural for me to bring all my worlds together. I feel like I’m made for this kind of thing, and “Outlaw Johnny Black” is the best thing I’ve ever done.
So, what would say was the most physically demanding part of “Outlaw Johnny Black”, in terms of stunts or fight scenes?
It really wasn’t very physically demanding for me, as I’ve trained in martial arts my entire life! For me, it’s kind of cliff notes for me to do a fight scene, and the fight scenes that I did for this movie I basically created on the way to the set. Even the slap sequence I edited on the way to the set, and when I found that I had time to shoot it, I shot it.
Were there any injuries or mishaps during the making of “Outlaw Johnny Black”?
No, there were no injuries whatsoever, and not a shot fired throughout the entire movie. The gunshots were all done by visual effects from the most amazing visual effects team that you could ever wish for.
I could do a whole documentary on the visual effects and how amazing they are, and I keep telling people ‘You know, that wasn’t on set where that was created.’ There’s so much stuff that they seamlessly do. I think the best visual effects are those that you don’t notice, and I’m still amazed by what they were able to do.
Cool! So, what was the most standout experience in the making of “Outlaw Johnny Black” for you, both as director and in playing Johnny Black in the film?
I think the most standout element of it is that there were crew members – they may be part of the lighting crew or gaffing or what have you – that requested scripts.
Normally, they don’t care, but they got really engaged in the moviemaking and the storytelling, and many of them told me that this was the first time that they had ever invited their family to come to the set.
For me, that’s just something really special. People said that this was the best time that they’ve ever had on set, and that means a lot to me, and I want that to be the case in any movie that I do. I feel like we’re so blessed to be able to do something that was in our hearts, and I always liken it to running away and joining the circus and making a living out of it.
It blows my mind that there’s a lot of tension and bickering on sets. I don’t think that there’s any room for that, and I won’t have anything like that on a set of mine. I just think we’re so blessed to be able to make a living at what we truly love that it should be nothing but a joyous occasion.
Brilliant! Super well said. So Mike, what special message would you like to share with Kung Fu Kingdom followers and your fans around the world now that “Outlaw Johnny Black” is out?
Well, with ‘Outlaw Johnny Black’, I love the fact that people say that it’s my best movie, and it’s a movie that they’ve never seen before, and they’re surprised by the messages.
They don’t see it coming, and that’s the thing I hope is consistent with the people seeing this movie. I’m very proud of being able to do a movie like this and bring it to the theaters.
Great to see it finally arrive! Thank you so much for your time today, Mike! Good luck with “Outlaw Johnny Black” and all of its related projects coming up in the future!
Thanks a lot for having me on Kung Fu Kingdom again Brad!