LIGHTS... CAMERA... SHOWDOWN!: An Interview With Alexander Nevsky


January had a few setbacks, but still kept me busy in the thick of a few things currently trending in the world of action cinema. Russian action star and award-winning bodybuilder Alexander Nevsky has proven relevant in that regard, having come under my radar in the last few years with the long-awaited release of his latest murder mystery thriller, Black Rose with actress Kristanna Loken.

More to the point, it just so happens that Nevsky has become pretty big at home in Russia, and perhaps big enough that it has earned him the clout needed to grow as a film professional in acting, producing and even journalizing having become a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Bearing this in mind and still with Nevsky in his element working in action movies and mingling with the right people, I'd say Nevsky's prospects are looking quite good at this juncture.

Operating via his Los Angeles-based Hollywood Storm production banner since 2007, he now has at least two more films slated to arrive this year, and thanks in large part to his business relationship and friendship with action star Mark Dacascos whose diretorial debut, Showdown In Manila, isn't running light on action starpower. Among other things, the film aims toward a greater goal Nevsky is setting for himself on both a personal and a business level, and with 2016 further setting the pace for his career, it's reasonable that some may take notice and want to learn more about Russia's equivalent to the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At present, Nevsky is preparing for a star-studded premiere of Showdown In Manila at the October Cinema Theater in Moscow on February 9. Alas, I couldn't afford an e-mail Q&A as per his busy schedule, but thankfully Nevsky had sometime to answer a list of questions for an interview in which he discusses some of his aspirations while growing up, his interest in books as well as weightlifting, life on and off set, and more.

All other formalities aside, here is my interview with international action star, Alexander Nevsky!

Film Combat Syndicate: Greetings Alexander! How has the new year been for you so far?
Alexander Nevsky: Hi Lee! January was very good. I represented Russia at the Golden Globe Awards, my directorial debut, Black Rose got U.S. distribution, we started a serious advertisement campaign for Showdown in Manila's upcoming wide theatrical release in Russia/CIS and filmmaker Andrzej Bartkowiak arrived to LA to work on his director's cut of my next action film, Maximum Impact. It's been pretty busy for me, yet fortunately I've still managed to have time to workout and enjoy L.A. everyday.
Alexander Nevsky and Arnold Schwarzenegger
FCSyndicate: Tell us about how you got into bodybuilding and making films.
AN: I was a skinny kid, with a passion for reading, especially poetry. Mom always taught me that fighting is bad, but I decided to start boxing as soon as I started getting bullied. They didn't know any poems, instead they’d simply punch you in the face. By then, I realized that it is equally important to be smart and strong, and so I did boxing for several years and started bodybuilding when I was 16. At that time, my height was already almost 6'4 but the weight was just 120 pounds and my biceps were... around 10 inches. 
Nine years later my height was 6'6", I weighed 320 pounds and had 23-inch biceps. I was inspired by Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone and always wanted to make action movies, like they did. So, three Mr. Universe titles were enough for me and I started my film career in 2001, at age 29. 
FCSyndicate: Your new film, Showdown In Manila comes to the CIS in February. How excited are you?
AN: I'm very excited! The World Premiere will take place in the biggest movie theater in Moscow, with around 2000 guests in attending. My co-stars Casper Van Dien, Matthias Hues and Robert Madrid will come with me to Russia to promote this film and I hope Mark Dacascos will join us too, although he is busy filming Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. at the moment. I also invited my friend and bodybuilding idol Ralf Moeller (Mr. Universe and the star of "Gladiator" and "Conan" TV series). 
But my most important guests at the premiere will be my Mom and my girlfriend Maria Bravikova, who also happens to be an established TV star in Russia and an actress, and will be making her film debut in Showdown In Manila.
Maria Bravikova and Alexander Nevsky on the cover of FILM Magazine in 2015.
FCSyndicate: Showdown In Manila is your latest project with Mark Dacascos debuting as director and the first of two projects you both will appear in this year. Tell us about how you and Mark met.
AN: We met 5 years ago and did several free fitness seminars for kids. Mark promoted martial arts and I represented drug-free bodybuilding. He is an impeccable athlete, great actor and, most importantly, a wonderful person. I'm proud to call him a friend.
FCSyndicate: Showdown In Manila has a pretty hardcore cast of action stars. How challenging is it to get this many people together for a film?
AN: It's not that hard when you have Mark Dacascos directing with executive producer Andrzej Bartkowiak (respective co-star and director of Cradle 2 The Grave with Jet Li in 2002), because so many actors are keen to work with them. Also, we had a good budget and were able to pay everyone a nice salary. Of course it wasn't easy, schedule-wise, but everything worked out in the end. It was a dream come true project for me as a producer and an actor. I consider all of my Showdown in Manila legendary co-stars great action heroes!
Photo: Alexander Nevsky, Olivier Gruner and Casper Van Dien in Showdown In Manila (2016)
FCSyndicate: Tell us about your character and how he ties into the film.
AN: My character's name is Nick Peyton, he's an ex- police special forces, now working as a PI in Manila. He is big, strong but polite and well-mannered. He has a girlfriend (played by Maria Bravikova) and seems kind of happy with life. His P.I. partner Charlie (played by Casper Van Dien) has a different story, but together they make a good team. The plot centers on mysterious woman (played by Tia Carrere) who hires Nick and Charlie to investigate her husband's murder but things are about to get tough and so Nick decides to call his old friends (Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Cynthia Rothrock and Olivier Gruner).
FCSyndicate: What were some of hilarious and/or challenging moments for you on set?
AN: Oh, we had so many! Sometimes it was too hot in Manila, or we bypassed poisonous snakes hanging from the trees in the jungle. We had about a month of pre-production and a month of shooting, and so many things happened. Fortunately our co-producer in the Philippines, Chris Santiago, and his crew did a great job. Mark and the director of photography Rudy Harbon were fearless and our cast included some toughest fighters in the world, so we didn't care much about challenges. Regarding funny moments: when we shot an action scene on the roof of a very tall old building in Manila, Tia Carrere refused to use an elevator. I agreed and went with her to use stairs. But almost everyone else laughed at us and jumped into the big elevator and...it got stuck! They were trapped for about 30 minutes because the elevator was as old as the building, perhaps even older. ;)
FCSyndicate: Tell us about your stay in the Philippines. Was it your first time there?
Matthias Hues, Cary Tagawa and Alexander Nevsky on the set of Showdown In Manila
AN: Yes, it was my very first time in Asia actually. We stayed in a good 5-star hotel with Gold's Gym on the first floor and I trained there almost every morning before shooting with my friend and idol Matthias Hues. I enjoyed my stay in Manila, but it was a little difficult and boring for my girlfriend Maria. But at the end of the day we all had fun over there and shot a great film!
FCSyndicate: How would you rate Mark as a first-time director?
AN: Mark Dacascos is one of the best directors I've worked with. You would never think Showdown in Manila is his debut. Don't forget, I worked with Walter Hill, Andrzej Bartkowiak, Sophia Coppola and several good directors from the world of independent filmmaking before. Mark knows how to shoot action and fighting scenes, so that they feel real. And, most importantly, he knows how to make his actors feel comfortable while shooting serious scenes with a lot of dialogue. Trust me, he will direct his next film pretty soon. And it was great that Mark was able to play an interesting character in Showdown in Manila too!
FCSyndicate: How did this production feel compared to other productions? What are some lessons or feelings you take with you from this experience? Would you go back and change or improve anything if you could?
AN: This is my first non-stop action film. I was producing and starring, so it was tough. My previous films were action dramas (Moscow Heat, Undisputed), action adventures (Red Serpent, Treasure Raiders) and action thrillers (Magic Man, Black Rose) but I'd never had so many stunts/fights in one film before. Lessons? I should've spent more time in a boxing gym, rehearsing fights, instead of pumping iron so much, although I got really big for Showdown in Manila, which was good too.

In terms of improving, the editor Steve Adrianson, the score composer Sean Murray and John Frost's post-production team did such a great job on the material we’ve shot, I don't think I would go back and change anything.
Fitness And Bodybuilding Magazine (2012)
FCSyndicate: Being a big star in Russia as well as a film producer and a journalist, I imagine a lot of this can be quite tasking. How do you balance it all out? And what do you do for fun?
AN: I became a celebrity in Russia in 1993 when I was 21 and Russian TV did a documentary called "Target: Universe" about me and my story - a skinny kid from a poor family, raised by his Mom, becoming a professional athlete and Mr. Universe contender, as well as a graduate of Moscow University of Management at the same time, and about 40 million people watched it. I got my own TV show after that and started a big campaign for healthy living in all ex-USSR. I wrote hundreds of articles about fitness as well as eight bestselling books. Also, I started my anti-steroid campaign in 1995 because I was a natural bodybuilder, and so I always sought to my responsibilities in trying to inspire people to change their lives (and bodies) for the better. The action film, Moscow Heat made me a movie star in Russia in 2004, making that even easier.

What am I doing for fun? Man, everything I'm doing is for fun! Whether it's working on a new film, working out in the gym, swimming in the pool, writing a new book, reading new scripts, meeting new interesting people, etc.! And I've been living in Beverly Hills since 2009, so it's a lot of fun for me already to wake up here every morning. ;)
 
I'm living my dream and this is the biggest fun you can get, in my opinion.
FCSyndicate: In your opinion, how big is action film productivity in Russia compared to America and other parts of the world?
Variety's AFM 2015 poster for Black Rose (2016)
AN: Of course, you can't compete with big budget Hollywood movies, and it doesn't matter if we talk about Russian action films or German action films, or Japanese action films. Also, we don’t really have the action cinema industry in Russia. They produce great dramas over there all the time, but good action movies - not too often, even for the Russian market. That's why I work toward producing international action movies in English with Hollywood cast and crew, open them theatrically in Russia based on my name, and still manage to sell them and promote them around the world.
FCSyndicate: Does Russia have a big enough voice in the market to present its titles to buyers in other countries? Or do you feel it could be bigger?
AN: Non-Hollywood films shot in foreign language have difficulty with buyers at AFM or Cannes, and it doesn't matter if it's a Russian or a German, or a French film. A film like that has to win some big award or win at a serious festival which could potentially lead to international distribution, but there are no guarantees, not even for the local box office big hits. My friend produced the Russian period action drama "Stalingrad" which grossed almost $50M in CIS and China, and was picked up by Sony but it didn't do much business in U.S. anyway.
FCSyndicate: Earlier on you starred in a film called Black Rose, which, in conjunction with establishing yourself in America as a film producer and star, culminated with your own efforts to fizzle what you felt were "cold war stereotypes" about Russians. Do you feel you have achieved that goal in 2016? If not, how much further does that journey continue for you?
AN: I think I started it in Moscow Heat, long before Black Rose. In my movies Russians and American always fight together against evil, not against each other. And there is always a Russian good guy. If you check most of the recent Hollywood action films, you'll find 'bad Russians' and Cold War stereotypes (Taken 3, Equalizer, November Man, etc). I don't think it's a good idea to go back to Cold War. When I moved to California, I was offered several parts like that in movies, but never accepted. So I'm against anti-Russian stereotypes in the U.S. just as I'm against anti-American stereotypes in Russia. I will continue fighting these stereotypes in my future films.
Photo: Maria Bravikova, Alexander Nevsky and Sylvester Stallone
FCSyndicate: You attended this year's Golden Globes and were in the company of Sylvester Stallone. How long have you known each other? Is there potential for future collaborative work?
AN: Sylvester Stallone is my role model and the 1976 film, Rocky, is a masterpiece, and so I was so happy when he got the Golden Globe for "Creed" - another great movie with the same character. Sly has inspired millions of people all around the world, including me. He deserves an Oscar and I hope he'll get it this year. 
I’ve known Sly for several years and was happy to congratulate him personally at InStyle/Warner Bros. Golden Globes after party! I hope to make a movie with him one day and am grateful for all the advice he gave me on acting and producing.
FCSyndicate: What do you love most about acting?
AN: Every film is an adventure and each role is an adventure too. It's very interesting to create a new character and actually become him for some time.
FCSyndicate: What would you be doing now if you weren't working in film?
AN: I don't know. I've never had a "plan B" or anything like that. Many years ago I knew that I have to start training, I have to get an education, I have to move forward every day and believe in myself. My Mom always told me that I'm the best and can achieve everything I want, if I work very hard.
Photo: Alexander Nevsky, fight coodinator James Lew, and Mark Dacascos on the set of Maximum Impact (2016)
FCSyndicate: Your next film on deck is Maximum Impact with Dacascos as your co-star. What is the status of that film so-far?
AN: Maximum Impact was written by the great writer Ross LaManna (he wrote the Rush Hour franchise) and was directed by the legendary Andrzej Bartkowiak (who also directed Doom, Exit Wounds and Romeo Must Die). We have an ensemble cast that includes Kelly Hu, Tom Arnold, Denny Trejo, Mark Dacascos, Matthias Hues and Eric Roberts. It's my first action comedy, and post-production should be finished by summer. Also, it's my biggest project budget-wise to date, with a strong worldwide theatrical potential.
FCSyndicate: I imagine there are a lot of people you want to work with in the near future. Is there anyone in particular you want to share the set with soon?
AN: Yes. I'd like to make a film with Jean-Claude Van Damme and hope that it will happen very soon!
FCSyndicate: Going into 2016 with Showdown In Manila and Maximum Impact on the way,  what is next for Alexander Nevsky?
AN: I have three films in development: A drama about underground fighting, a "fish out of water" non-stop action film about Russian cop working in Asia and a science fiction action movie. But it's too early to talk about them.
FCSyndicate: The movie calendar is pretty crowded in 2016. What are some titles you're looking forward to in film?
AN: I would have to get back to you on that because I have two of my own films to release and one to finish. However, I did enjoy the new episode of Star Wars and it's unfortunate that they moved the next one to 2017.
FCSyndicate: What advice do you have for aspiring action stars and filmmakers?

AN: Don't wait for your chance to be given to you, just grab it yourself! What I mean is this: I see so many talented people in L.A. and they're doing nothing for months or years except waiting for their agents to call them with offers. The truth is that 99% of them will never get the call, and it's unfortunate. So don't waste any time, dream big first, create a real plan on how to achieve your dream and start working on that very hard TODAY. If you do that - you will really have a chance to achieve everything you want. I really wish all of you best of luck!
FCSyndicate: One last question - I always ask people I interview about some of their familiar foods. So, being from Russia, what are some favorite dishes or desserts you recommend?
AN: You should try borsch, chicken kiev and beef stroganoff.  And good thing is, you don't have to go to Moscow for that, if you live in NY -  just drive to Brighton Beach in Brooklyn and find a good Russian restaurant over there!
Alexander Nevsky just earned some extra cool points from me for knowing his way around Brooklyn. I'm an even prouder New Yorker for this, and I look forward to getting out of Queens next time around and exploring the area for myself!

The official poster for the Russia/C.I.S. release of Showdown In Manila
Showdown In Manila is officially opening on Feburary 18 throughout the CIS and is dubbed completely into Russian for local audiences. From there, an international version will be presented at Cannes Film Market in May for potential buyers, so expect some release news by late 2016.

Click here to read my previous interview with the assistant stunt director for Showdown In Manila, actor and stuntman Sonny Sison. Also, stay tuned for more information and updates on the film and Nevsky's forthcoming endeavors, as well as details presented on the film's official website, and let's hope Jean-Claude Van Damme gets wind of this!

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