THE MAN FROM DEATH LIVES: An Interview With Actor Eric R. Lim


No matter what, I almost always seem to surprise myself what with the workload I've been piling onto myself for Film Combat Syndicate and thankfully I've been getting a little bit of much-needed help. January saw an opportunity to tackle a few interviews and I actually thought things would slow down going into February after failing to get Donnie Yen in the wake of Well Go USA's release of Ip Man 3, but that also left me a window open enough to work on reaching out to several up-and-comers as well.

That said, it was back in 2013 that netizens caught wind of actor Eric R. Lim's performance in The Forge, a work of spiritual magnitude in the essence of epic good vs. evil storytelling with a message. The shortfilm was a very personal one for Lim and its director Stephen Reedy who I have actually been trying to follow since I became a fan of his work with the MTV award-winning kung fu comedy from The Stunt People, Undercut, which is still a fresh and fantastic piece of work to this day.

At any rate, The Forge got my attention as it did for most people, and it led me to make an effort in contacting Lim in hopes of following his career a bit more. Alas, until recently, Lim and I haven't had much of an opportunity to talk and convene since we got acquainted. Needless to say his journey has been a personal one which has kept him otherwise preoccupied in his craft, and to that end thankfully, in the world of film, and alongside none other than Reedy who himself has sharpened greatly since Undercut and shooting Eric Jacobus's cult hit feature, Contour.


For this, we now come to The Man From Death, just the latest from Lim and Reedy with a cast that features Dennis Ruel and Street Fighter star Mike Moh in a story centered in the old West, and boasting visuals and a narrative that shape this little shapeless gem as anything BUT conventional. It's a love story in more ways than several and chock-filled with blistering sequences of action and fantasy that transcends many planes and dimensions that just leave you wondering "Exactly what the fuck kind of good shit is Reedy smoking? And when is he going to share???"

That’s a question I'll leave to Reedy for another time should he and I have the opportunity to talk. For now though, I'm more than happy to discuss The Man From Death which currently awaits an official online release on March 9 while the official link and screeners remain private with the hopes of gaining funding, and so hopefully we'll get to see somewhat of a teaser to help sample with for fans who love a good psychedelic martial arts fantasy western.

And today, I share my conversation with Lim who divulges plenty into his work, inspirations, experiences and motivations. Lim's is a story worth sharing as nearly as anyone who has taken a road as long and tumultuous as his has been thusfar and some of those details are being left out of (or in) this interview at his own behest. Thankfully the road is upward and this latest perspective into Lim's life comes with some extra laughs and great feelings to boot. Talking to him was good gravy.

Film Combat Syndicate: Hey Eric, thanks for taking the time to talk. How has your year been so far?
Eric R. Lim: 2016? Oh man, it's been good. There's some fun little projects that I got to take part in last year like Mark Cheng's "Ghost Source Zero." I was also in this cool short film called 'Angeltown' by Nancy Liu, and got to meet MC Jin, so that was fun. I'm really looking forward to seeing some of the stuff I filmed late last year come to fruition this year. They are really diverse parts for me so that's rad.

As always, there’s some stuff percolating and ruminating with some familiar collaborators. The regular grind of think-tanking than work-shopping. It always starts fun and dandy, then it progressively harder until the point you’re screaming bloody murder. It’s exactly like Stephen Reedy’s short ‘Lifecycle of a Good Idea.’

I hope I can check back in down the line and have some cool projects to share, whatever shape they take.

I've been doing tons of improv around town too. Improv is a fun sport. Our team (Glass Buffalo) long form inprov is based on Tennessee Williams and/or David Mamet plays. If you wanna see my in action, try and find us in LA.

Then, of course, my big release 'The Man From Death' is (just about) here. It’s a proof-of-concept short directed by the aforementioned Stephen Reedy. For me, this is the beginning of my long game, trying to lay the groundwork for another feature outing. Definitely the big one for me as producer and actor in 2016, and I hope people like it!

As far as dating life, could be better. Maybe I should change my tinder picture.

My parents got a new dog and it bit me, I got a tetanus shot; it felt like somebody sidekicked my arm really hard.

I went to Tijuana for the Super Bowl, but I really did stay out of trouble. That’s been about my 2016 so far.
FCSyndicate: Well at least you got to go to Tijuana - and I have my own opinions about Tinder (*cough* it sucks *cough* balls *sniffle*).

Anyway I'm glad to finally discuss your career. I requested you on social back when your earlier project, The Forge which I thought was fantastic. I wanna get to know a little more about what built you up to here. How long have you been film? What got you into the field?
EL: Oh man, I'm really glad you liked 'The Forge,' It was a really hard for my family, with the loss of my sister, Tanya. And I want to say, I'm sorry I didn't get around to you sooner.

I can recall two things from that time period around 'The Forge'; one KONY 2012 had just come out (do you guys remember that?) and the non-profit world was kind of turned on its head. The Invisible Children organization came under a lot scrutiny. When we lost my sister to suicide, my parents wanted to start a non-profit to promote awareness for mental health and depression, and I was like 'Mom, Dad, we don't know how to run a non profit...but we know how to make movies."

So that was when I met Stephen Reedy, he had this amazing treatment for spec commercial, about fighting back never giving up on yourself. It really was a universal feeling for millennials at the time---it really resonated with me. So we got to work really hard and fused the idea of resilience, self-care, and suicide prevention awareness. I think that's what it was at the end of the day; just trying to use social media as a platform to talk about mental health. There's a certain stigma around mental health, depression, and suicide, and we tried our damnedest to just present that topic through a trojan horse of spectacle and through my personal story as a brother who had lost his sister.
 
Promo still for "The Forge" (2013)
When that was done, it was kinda crazy. I was going through a lot of really profound experiences, and I really needed film again. Once I had met all these guys like Stephen, and Dennis Ruel, and Vlad, and Eric Jacobus; all these dudes that I grew up watching and idolizing---the stunt people; and working with them. (You may never see the short I did with Eric; ask him, Pete Lee, or Shaun Finney.) But anyway, working with those guys on 'The Forge' it was kinda like---'Hey what's next? I need to keep going!' I talked to Stephen about this idea that originally was kind of like 'Drunken Master' but for a trick shooter; where we'd kind of emulate drunken master; but with a Rooster Cogburn character instead of Begger So. But Stephen Reedy is gonna Stephen Reedy, and it started to become this cool resonate little anti-revenge story.

As for me, I trained shoreiyu karate in Chicago since I was six under the dope Sensei Steve Gross. When I was about 11 I discovered Jet Li with my dad in Tsui Hark's 'Once Upon a Time in China,' and decided I wanted to be him. So here I am a grown-ass man, still wishing I could be Jet Li.
FCSyndicate: You and I are definitely cut from the same cloth in terms of independent action. For me it was Undercut and Contour that put Stephen Reedy on the map for me back a decade ago and he's really come into himself between those and projects like The Forge and The Man From Death. What's it like to share workspace with him?
EL: Ha. It's really funny with Stephen. On one hand, he really really makes your job easy as an actor because he has such a tight concept of what he wants, and how he explains it to you. I remember there was a time on set were I really got the sad tear-works going when I talk to the ghost of my wife, and he was like "No no, that's not right, you play it real casual!" And I'm like "Uhhhh how many times a week do I talk to my dead wife?" and he's like "Two or three times a week!" So I really got it. I got how mentally fragmented Stryder was. His brain was kind of broken, and Stephen made it really easy for me to understand.

Every time I go into acting all I can do is do my best to analyze and take on the material as it's written for me; but with Stephen, he just kind of utilizes your acting in a way you never thought possible. He's a very very talented editor, and can find a lot of things you didn't even know you were giving in post production.

As a producer and creative partner with him, I remember seeing the 'bullet love story' he put in the film where a .45 calibre bullet waxes poetic with Natalie Padilla's character’s forehead. It's this crazy aside; and at first I was like 'Jesus Tapdancing Christ, what in the world are you doing!?' But narratively, he paid it off in the end. And I'm really happy to have gone along with that experiment and not creatively cock-block what seemed totally crazy to me at first.

He's a great collaborator and listener, and he really really trusts guys like Vlad and his other department heads. He's kind of like a very thoughtful president who rocks this funny little "Evil Dead" hat everywhere, who has a very tight knit cabinet of collaborators. He's very open and thoughtful to new ideas that the team brings to the table.

I've had to work with him on two really really emotionally vulnerable roles now, and it's a blessing just to share a space with somebody that supportive and understanding.
FCSyndicate: I'm totally with you on Stephen. I remember seeing a screenshot on social media pertaining to The Man From Death and it turned out to be something ENTIRELY different than I expected. How long did this project take to film and finish?
EL: All in all it's been probably two years from inception to where we are today. 2014 we started moving the gears. Stephen went down to his lab, Vlad became my sensei and we did some dragon ball z level of training. When the principle photography ended, VFX grand master Lincoln Smith had the monumental task of taking on hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of VFX shots just like the Forge---only more and more complicated this time.
FCSyndicate: How much input did you have on the post production process?
EL: Oh that's a good question. There's definitely a little challenge in being an actor-producer because there's that vanity part of you that goes 'Oh I wanna show my dopest kicks! I wanna look so hot for the ladies!" But in the end, you really do have to get past that. I always do my best to restrain going 'I'm the producer, so do it this way.' At the end of the day, I think a good producer really supports his director's vision. To be quite candid there was some stuff that I was really proud of as far as my fight performance with Mike Moh in 'crazy mode' where Lincoln did a tremendous job bolstering with his VFX that were completely cut. But I think it was ultimately a wise choice for the flow of the narrative.
FCSyndicate: Back on your point regarding this as a potential feature, this is actually something I would love to see happen. What is (or what hopefully will be) the next step to achieve that goal?
EL: Right now, it’s just getting that script to SHINE. I do feel really emboldened by the project and its development. I think now that the proof-of-concept is locked and going out to folks, the onus is on us just to deliver strong on our script. There’s a unique voice in ‘The Man From Death,’ with its particular humor and narrative devices, so I want to just make sure we develop its identity to its fullest. I see a lot of potential to deliver on a really really playful project; but we have to make sure we provide the right framework for it to have a playground.
FCSyndicate: Tell us, generally, with getting a proof of concept going from short film to feature film status, how difficult is this sort of thing? What sort of hurdles have you experienced in this effort that many of us don't see in plain view?
EL: Hmm, well I'm imagining there's gonna be some monstrous hurdles ahead; it's just such a fluid process. Just adjusting the tone of the script to match the short, and making sure the short serves the script. For example, there's no Greek chorus robot voices in the feature yet; but it's an essential part of the short's narrative presentation. 
From L to R: Dennis Ruel, Mike Moh and Eric Lim on the set of "The Man From Death"
 It's really hard. I'll go back to 'Greenside,' have you seen that? That was the first time I crossed fists with Mike Moh. Came up with CorridorDigital, Niko Pueringer, super talented guy. People really liked it, it was before YouTube is what it is today. We just got word of mouth from festivals. So there I was, as a dumb 22 year old kid, and I was actually getting in the room at studios and production companies, but I had nothing prepped for them. I had a proof of concept in essence, but no script, no long term plan. That sucked. So this time, if those type of opportunities pop up I’d like to go into those types of meetings better prepared. I’d like to think that on a baseline level, I already would be better prepared, because I’m generally a tad wiser with a little more experience. Really, I'm just trying to keep my wit about me and not be a dumb 22 year old kid. I'm in uncharted territory myself! Wish me luck! Pray I don’t melt.

In all seriousness though, you play the hand you're dealt. There are opportunities at random places and with random people you can't even really foresee or plan for. You have to be real flexible I think, just in case something like this does happen.

It's a slow slow process, it's like you're nurturing a giant wild feral unpredictable beast baby. You must not panic and be light on your toes. Anything can happen.
FCSyndicate: I'm wishing you a lot of luck lol. I actually havent seen Greenside but I'll definitely check it out once I find it.

Tell us, are there other areas of film you would like to dabble in whether its behind the scenes or in front of the lens?
EL: Well, if you wanna see all the old stuff I evvvvver made, most of it is all up at babyunderthemoon.com, that is the website for my little production label!

I've had the opportunity to have had really rewarding experiences being behind the camera and developing ideas with some awesome collaborators. So I'd like to try new things with guys I'm familiar with; you know, like Jon Truei from 'Secondary Education'.

Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to work with great new collaborators I don't even know yet. I just love world building and being able to sneakily come in the back door into roles that might not be readily available for me in mainstream Hollywood.

In front of the lens, it's rewarding to embody more and more complicated roles; it's a rewarding craft with lots of exploration. Whether it be nuanced dramatic work, or just trying to really calibrate the right kind of comedic timing. Just hoping to keep learning and working across from talented people, and hope it rubs off a little. Just hoping for the good fortune to continue experiencing being on set and honing my craft.

But, really what I wanna do is a project where I FLY AROUND ON WIRES. Like a Ching Siu Tung wuxia fight scene. LIke---I just wanna be strapped in and waving a sword or something and jumping all over furniture and a two story set, spinning and flipping in Chinese period clothing or regular clothing, I don’t know. If you talk to Vlad, will you ask him if he'll choreograph that? Also I ride a motorcycle, I have this bomb Harley Sportster 883. Could you imagine me as Steve McQueen like guy? I know I fantasize about being that cool on the regular. I’m definitely not, but it’s nice to pretend. Or you know what? I would rob the proverbial liquor store to have the chance to make a ski movie. Like, an 80s raunchy ski resort movie with tons of debauchery and ski race ultimatums. Maybe it could be all three at once?

One thing I really don't wanna try in front of a camera is singing. One time I was auditioning for this role, it was for a musical. I was asking friends "Ummm, how do you sing right?" And they basically told me they couldn't explain in the twenty minutes or whatever before the audition. I did pretty well on the acting part, but I'm sure a part of everybody in that casting room died a little when I sang. I was like "Errr, you can autotune me like Kanye right?" I didn't get the part to that project's benefit.
FCSyndicate: I'm actually looking forward to talking to Vlad (been trying to ever since 2008, FYI haha). And l'll definitely ask him about lending you your wuxia moment one day. Eric Lim, wuxia hero on a motorbike, a la Steve McQueen. Just plain dope!

On a more personal note, considering what you've been through in the last several years and the steps you've taken in coping with those things, how are you doing and feeling these days compared to before?
EL: That's really thoughtful of you to ask. I appreciate it Lee.
Last month was a monster to me. It would have been my sister's birthday on the 27th. I also lost someone extremely dear to me right before 'The Forge' released. It would have been her birthday last month as well.

Last month got really tough. You know, there were the professional matters like scrambling to make sure to prep 'The Man From Death’s' launch, and staying focused on its meetings and development. Amongst all that, there was a struggle to allow myself to find enough space and support in the times when grief would return. Sometimes, it just all hits you when you need it to lay off. But it's ok.

I can tell you, in the past, there were days where I didn't want to get out of bed to send emails for ‘The Forge,’ there's days I didn't want to have a microphone stuck in my face to champion mental health awareness, when I myself wasn't in a good place. When those kind of days come and go, you just have to stick to your laurels.

One of the main impetus behind the entire 'The Man From Death' project is for me is to dedicate a full-fledged feature to that special somebody, to get it up on big screen and represent that person in a way that would have made her proud and would have made her laugh. And I’ll cherish that day when it happens, just as I tried to do when ‘The Forge’ came out. But I also know that this, or any other project, isn’t simply some metaphorical journey to conquer.

Sometimes, a lot of times, things don’t go according to plan. But, personally, going through profound loss; it puts things in perspective. Any problem with film or in the entertainment industry is a luxury problem. There's way WAY more to life than making movies. Art is important, and you can’t go without expressing yourself. I'm really fortunate to know a guy like Stephen who has the ability to creatively channel and appropriate certain experiences and philosophy in the realm of film. But getting over a hard day is something entirely different. There really isn’t an individual accomplishment in the world that can serve as some sort of symbolic bandage to cover up bad days, I’m pretty sure.

Being in LA can be difficult if you have nothing to identify yourself besides your craft as an artist, creator, director, actor, whatever. Sometimes you just need to disconnect from that identity and that world. It is a profound amount of pressure on an individual to only exist by their creative identity. There are so many people out here that put SO much pressure on themselves to succeed professionally. But I think, ideally, you gotta be at peace with the fact that your talent and diligence may not be the only elements that control the outcome of your work. In a weird way I find that angering, humbling, and freeing at the same time. So many things are beyond our control, and my personal philosophy is that everybody's' worth is so far beyond what their creative work presents.
 
When tragedy has struck me in the past, what really put me through was the support of family and friends. At every difficult juncture in my life, I’ve found that people from different eras and places in my life come and hold me up. So now, even when it gets hard, I can look to those people and I can find a safe and supportive environment. Those same people are there for me. It could be just socially. A beer, a whiskey, a night out, a dancefloor, a rockclimb, a sail, a ski session. Somebody just grabbing me and putting me at ease. They are my strength. I'm very fortunate.

I can just shed whatever label I have on myself and fall into their arms. Just be Eric. Not Eric the producer, or Eric the actor. Whether its a bro, or my mom, or my dad, or family friends, or people from high school, college, whatever. They catch me and prop me up.

So, to have real life people like that; people that love you whether your film is awesome or you failed spectacularly---that doesn't even matter. Completely irrelevant. Some of my best friends and closest loved ones aren’t really familiar with my breadth of work, and I love that. To have unconditional support from people close to you---no matter how hard it gets, I know I can keep getting back up and stick with it.
FCSyndicate: Whats projects are you keeping busy with now apart from The Man With Death, if any?
EL: The Man From Death development is definitely the bulk of my focus and meetings right now. In LA you’re always just gunning for a happy opportunity, whether it’s a print ad, commercial, long or short form project. So right at this very second, beyond 'The Man From Death,' I'm kind of in two spaces. I'm just trying to get in a suitable place to submit myself for other projects; and, on the other side, I'm really just beginning to develop the tiniest minuscule bud of ideas with some friends. Nothing noteworthy, yet, who knows where those ideas will go or what they will become. In the meantime, I have just been performing improv to cut loose but at the same time, stay sharp.
FCSyndicate: Beyond all your work-related stuff, what does the rest of your 2016 calendar look like? Anything set in stone?
EL: Well to quote the great Bruce Lee, "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what chocolate you're going to get." I really hope what's coming is chocolately sweet and not like bitter bitter lemons.
FCSyndicate: From one chocolate fiend to another, I concur. Eric I want to thank you for being as insightful and engaging as you have been with me in our first real conversation together. You've been through it and so your journey upward continues. Are there any final thoughts you would like to leave off with for readers?
EL: Yeah. I have this memory. Niko Pueringer of CorridorDigital again---maybe some of your readers are familiar. Anyway, we were in college and he gave me some really fantastic advice. He says to me "Eric, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take." And I don't remember if he was talking about taking on some huge ambitious project or asking out a girl. It's true though, you just gotta get your shots up. And if you are on a cold streak of all cold streaks just keep shooting through. Don't get down on yourself for too long. Keep shooting.

Let me ask you a question Lee, are you a fan of basketball?
FCSyndicate: Ooh! A question for me. This is new! haha. Well, frankly I used to play basketball just for fun but I was never a huge fan or follower of the sport or others, really.
EL: Oh. I love basketball. So I was just going to close with a metaphor. Sometimes you have Derrick Rose years, where you have really high expectations and hopes, but your ACL blows and life is a disappointment and a disaster. Then sometimes you have Stephen Curry years where you light the world on fire. You kind of have to be ready to take either happily and enjoy the journey, not the outcome.
FCSyndicate: Eric, even I have my days where wisdom like that needs reminding. Thank you for that today, and once more, for sharing your story with us. I look forward to talking again.
EL: You too, thank you much, Lee Golden! Till we meet again!

Stay tuned for more info on The Man From Death!

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