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Black Belt Magazine, March 1993

Meet the Karate Kid's Worst Enemy
Thomas Ian Griffith Returns to the Screen
in "Excessive Force"

by David W. Clary

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"Knowing martial arts can only help today's action star. I think audiences like to see their favorite actor handle himself physically..." (Thomas Ian Griffith)
Thomas Ian Griffith is no stranger to the acting business. He has had roles in Broadway plays, has starred in feature films, and has appeared in television series.
Griffith is no stranger to the martial arts either, and when Griffith put his two skills together to portray the evil karate instructor Terry Silver in
Karate Kid III, he created the most dastardly villain young Daniel (Ralph Macchio) ever had to face.
Griffith, 32, was raised in Connecticut, where he became interested in both acting and kenpo karate. He later took up Tae Kwon Do and began studying under Hyung Yup Chung, earning a black belt in four years. "I became addicted to it", Griffith admits. "It was a great sport to have on the side while I was working as an actor in New York."
It was Griffith's acting credentials, and not his martial art skills, that originally caught director John Avildsen's eye for the lead antagonist in
Karate Kid III. Griffith had appeared on Broadway as the lead in the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and off Broadway in The Three Penny Opera and Guys and Dolls. "When I was cast for the Karate Kid role, my character wasn't really supposed to do any martial arts at all," Griffith relates, "I just tortured Ralph basically, and plotted his demise with Martin Kove."

left side: Thomas Ian Griffith gets a chance to demonstrate all facets of his physical skills in "Excessive Force", including his kicking ability (1), weapons training (2), boxing background (3), and acrobatic abilities (4). (click to enlarge)

However, after learning of Griffith's martial art skills, Pat Johnson, the film's fight choreographer, suggested that the actor approach Avildsen about including some fight scenes with his role.
Griffith took Johnson's advice and discussed the matter with Avildsen, who became excited about rewriting the character as an active martial artist. "That was the first time my career as an actor and my martial arts came together," Griffith says.
Griffith claims that starring in
Karate Kid III has opened several doors for him in the film industry. Since portraying the sinister instructor Silver, he has starred in and written the screenplay for the feature film Kill Fee, played the title role in the made-for-television film Rock Hudson, and had appearances in the television shows Wiseguy, In the Heat of the Night, and Another World.
"I didn't come from the typical martial arts background and THEN became a movie actor. It's sort of the other way around," he notes. "I'm looked upon as a theater actor who happened to know martial arts before I got into the movies. So people tend to look at me in a different light."


l
eft side: Thomas Ian Griffith portrayed the evil instructor Terry Silver in the film Karate Kid III, in which he hires a talented trournament fighter to take Daniel's All
Valley title away (click to enlarge
).

Many people considered Griffith's role in Karate Kid III the best character in the film. Griffith credits Avildsen for that. "He really let me play with the character," Griffith relates. "It was bigger than life. I was supposed to give the adults a laugh and be all scary for the kids. We had a lot of fun."
According to Griffith, he was able to incorporate several of his own ideas into the film. " I kept coming up with new ways of torturing Ralph, and John Avildsen would get excited and try to find a way to work it into the script. That's how the whole teacher/student relationship came about. For me, it was a great first-film role. Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita were great guys and welcomed me."

Griffith will star in
Excessive Force, a New Line Cinema production due for release date in late February. In Excessive Force, which co-stars James Earl Jomes (Best of the Best) and Lance Henriksen (Terminator), Griffith performs Hollywood's version of a hattrick: He wrote, produced and stars in the film.
"I play a Chicago undercover cop who is obsessed with catching a crime boss," Griffith says of his role in EF. "The cop has tried busting this guy numerous times, and has come very close. However, something happened each time, and the crime boss got away."
The cop's obsession with the crime boss starts to affect him personally, and he ends up taking the law into his own hands, Griffith claims. "I's all about fighting crime and corruption in Chicago, " he says.
In addiction to his other work on
Excessive Force, Griffith also assisted stunt coordinator Bobby Bass in choreographing the film's fight scenes. "We worked together because he had never worked with someone who could kick and the other things I can do, " Griffith explains. "So we got in a room and started throwing out some ideas, and choregraphed the film between ourselves."

left side: Thomas Ian Griffith gets an opportunity to show off his Tae Kwon Do and Kenpo Training in the new film "Excessive Force" (click to enlarge).

Griffith says that the combination of Bass-who coordinated the stunts on Lethal Weapon and Thelma and Louise- and himself worked out really well. "He's an expert on handguns, and he improved my driving skills," Griffith notes. "Put that with my fighting skills, and we made a good team."
Griffith admits that he does not want to be typecast in so-called "martial arts" films. "I like to keep it mixed up," he says. "
After Karate Kid III, I didn't want to do another movie like this. So I got the lead role in the film Rock Hudson, just to break it up. I love doing the action, and I love doing the karate stuff, but at the same time I live doing the drama as well, and I try to keep it in balance. I enjoy doing martial arts films, but I like the straight stuff too. I'd like to go back and do some Shakespeare, and maybe knock out a play or two. It's all about keeping balance."
Nevertheless, Griffith sees the value in martial arts films. "The good part of martial arts movies is that, if a kid gets attracted to a skill-like if they see a kick or a fight and it gets them into a martial arts school-then that's a very positive side; that's great," he explains. "I'm very much for promoting the martial arts, because I think it's very beneficial for children."

                                            
left side: Thomas Ian Griffith has a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, and recently began training kickboxing (click to enlarge).

Griffith claims martial arts training can benefit actors, as well. "Knowing martial arts can only help today's action star," he asserts. "Excessive Force is the type of movie where, if you take out the martial arts, you still have a good film. But I think audiences like to see their favorite actor handle himself physically on screen, however he does it. He can wrestle, or box, or he can know karate. That is attractive to the types of people who enjoy these movies. Plus, as an actor, it's a blast being able to do it."
Griffith currently studies Tae Kwon Do under Los Angeles-based instructor Jun Chung, and lately began to do a little boxing training. "I've studied  Tae Kwon Do most of my life, and can do the good kicks," Griffith says, "but I recently went to Benny Urquidez' Jet Center and watched the fighters train, and I said `Man, I've got to start over.`It was a whole new deal getting into a ring and doing the boxing. In the ring, you can't back out and you can't play tag. It's like being a white belt all over again. That's what's exciting -learning more than one style. There's so much to learn in one style that you'll never learn everything. But it's exciting to complement your styles with others, and make yourself a better martial artist. Again, it's all about balance."

Playing various action film roles "is like being a little kid in a candy store," Griffith admits gleefully. "I go in and have all these great big fight scenes, and get to beat up everybody, and they can't hit me back."


 

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