"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)
Griffith is no stranger to the acting business. He has had roles in
Broadway plays, has starred in feature films, and has appeared in
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
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
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."
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
Rock Hudson, and had appearances in the
In the Heat of the Night, and
"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
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."
side: Thomas Ian Griffith gets an opportunity to show off his Tae
Kwon Do and Kenpo Training in the new film "Excessive Force" (click
Griffith says that the combination of Bass-who coordinated the
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."
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."
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