Marcus Shakesheff is likely a man that you’ve seen many times over and just wasn’t aware of it. He is one of the unsung. A stuntman who has bled in many of the top Hollywood films to bring you top quality action. His name is one that you should know and with his up and coming projects, likely one that everyone in Wales and beyond will know very, very, soon.
Newport boy Marcus is a writer, director, martial artist and stunt man with an impressive portfolio, including Harry Potter, Kick Ass 2, Guardians of the Galaxy, Sherlock Holmes 2 and he also doubled for Kiefer Sutherland in the latest ‘24‘ series. He has been thrown, beaten up and killed by many of the top names in Hollywood and television or used to make a star sparkle when it comes to an awesome kick or death defying jump. He has also starred and directed what has been billed as the first Welsh martial arts action film, Kamikaze, that will be released in America very soon. I was honored to be invited to his house and speak to him in person. Oh, did I mention that he also had been Batman?
I was warmly welcomed into his lovely home and shown into the garden where I settled into the patio chair. As Marcus made me what turned out to be the greatest cup of tea ever made, I noted the worn martial arts equipment strewn about the grass. The equipment is not for show.
He joined me in the garden and I couldn’t maintain my cool, so blitzed him with a volley questions. Marcus was patient and graciously answered them all. Due to the size of the interview, it will be in two parts. Welcome to part one!
When I’m working I don’t have a lot of time to train, so I act like a boxer, but training to prepare for my next job rather than the next fight. I do a regime of conditioning, upper body, a lot of kicks hence the paddle thing there. I tend to do three training sessions a day. One in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. I’ll go to gymnastics a lot. I’m also really up on nutrition at the moment especially as I’m getting older. The body doesn’t burn to get the same energy as you do when you’re 20. I’m eating super clean. There is no sugar in my diet. In the morning I would eat something like fish and nuts. When I’m not working, I’m living for my cheat meal. When working, you just have to eat whatever they give you. I have one cheat meal a week. I can’t wait! So I’m keeping everything super clean and train as hard as I can. I try to keep it full on as I can.
On Martial Arts;
When I was a kid I went to St Julians School in Newport. I was a bit hyperactive and didn’t pay attention enough. I was away with the fairies just thinking what mad stunts I could do. I started training in martial arts at nine years old in Kyokushinkai Karate and that’s all I had on my mind. I was going to be Bruce Lee, or Jackie Chan. I was going to be all of them! I was quite successful at it. I didn’t make ‘The Worlds’ but I competed on the European circuit . I was lightweight. I’m not lightweight now but at the time I was. I stopped when I got in to the films, so I was doing Karate for about fourteen years. I got to black belt. I fought for Wales and the UK. I fought in the bare knuckle knockdown, in the British, in the European.
When I quit, I was actually heart broken. It was like losing my left arm
Because stunts require a lot of training in a variety of skills, you have to be very knowledgeable, so there was only so much time in the day, so I had to take a step back (from Kyokushin). The problem is when you’re in a club at that level, they don’t want you to go. They want you to stay, which is understandable. I didn’t want to go but had to make a decision. It was a career move. It was hard for me and hard for the club as well. When I quit, I was actually heart broken. It was like losing my left arm.
I used to train at the Newport Kyokushin club under a man called Mel Howells. A very, very good instructor. I rate him as definitely one of the best. I would love to go back. There was a karate competition recently, I wasn’t performing (in films), I was assistant stunt coordinator on a job and I was going to enter it. It was on a Sunday and I thought, ‘brilliant.’ I was going to go for it but then got called back in to work so couldn’t do it. I would really, really love to go back to my old club and start training again. It’s just time at the moment. I know what will happen. I would go back, get the taste for it again and will want to fight again. Also, if I fought and got hurt and had a film coming up and I’m too smashed up to perform, that could cause a problem. So, it is something that I would like to go back to, I just don’t know when.
The thing is, I have learned a lot from other systems and I like to incorporate them into my into my work, but for me personally, I would love to go back to traditional. I’m sad to say that a lot of the traditional styles seem to be dying because of MMA and all of that. It’s a shame, so I would like to go back to that traditional style at some point.
At about 18-20 I was doing Wing Chun in St Josephs Boxing Club. The instructor was brilliant. A really popular and talented guy and then I found Wushu. There was a travelling Wushu team from China who came to the UK to do a show. The Tianjin Wushu Team. I got free tickets to go. I was absolutely amazed at their skill and so went backstage and just spoke to them. I asked if I could basically go with them, so I was sort of like a martial arts groupie! (laughs) I trained with them. That was good fun. None of them spoke very much English, so I think they appreciated someone around who spoke the lingo to help them out. I had not seen anything like that before. They were touring, so, I went with them around the UK. I got a taste for Wushu and met a woman called Rosetta Mui. She was the Hong Kong champion and came over to Cardiff to study so, I studied Wushu with her for three years. I went to classes and private lessons. It was tough. As far as styles go (and this doesn’t include fighting styles like MMA) as far as Martial Art form or martial arts style, this is the hardest one to learn. They demand pin point precision. It’s so very accurate. If you are out by one inch, then you just don’t move on. Three years isn’t a long time, so I tried to rush it as much as I could to get as far as I could before she left, so that was tough.
I trained in the broadsword, spear, cudgel, three section staff, staff and a little bit of whip chain. I also did a little bit of drunken fist, a little bit of monkey and (preying) mantis but mainly studied Northern fist. I was alright at it. It was hard to move on because you could just spend three years perfecting one form (to their standard.) It’s tough. It’s a tough style. (Click on links to see YOUTUBE demonstrations by various artists)
When Master Mui came over, she wasn’t licensed to teach in the UK. She was only licensed for China. She couldn’t really call it Wushu as the term is too broad in the UK, so she gave it the name, Wu De Kuen Wushu. (Marcus translates in his head) The mighty fist kung fu or martial art.
If you chop my leg off with a broadsword, there will be a few questions you’d have to answer there
I picked up a few words of Chinese just by working with her. I could just about manage more or less hold a conversation but I was by no means fluent. She didn’t speak much English so I had to learn Chinese! I couldn’t understand what she was saying half of the time. The training was tough and she was very strict. We were doing front jump snap kicks, where you run at full speed jump up, kick and land. I wasn’t going high enough and noticed her walk up to me. She had something in her hand behind her back and I thought I was going to get a slap with a stick or a broom. It turned out to be a bloody broad sword. She swung it down on to my leg. She would do things like that all of the time. Like, if you were stretching out, she would be forcing you down, tearing your ligaments. I told her that, you know, there are certain health and safety laws over here in the UK. You just can’t be doing that. If you chop my leg off with a broadsword, there will be a few questions you’d have to answer there! (laughs) It was the way she was taught though, to an extreme level. It’s interesting because over there, belts don’t exist. Belts are a western thing. They laugh at belts. The idea for them is that you start on white belt, and you’ve been training that long, it turns black. She never held gradings. I tried to explain the grading system to her she found it bizarre because they just have that student and master relationship. Or teacher rather. She explained that master was deemed someone who looks after you. That comes from the old days where the masters would take you in and look after you and also teach you Kung Fu. The correct term now is teacher. It was interesting in the culture to see how the martial arts are viewed over there.
To my knowledge, there is still nothing in Wales that do the traditional forms of Chinese Wushu and if they do, I’m not sure if it would be to the standard of London or Hong Kong.
I do a lot of martial arts tricking. There is only one person I know who coaches it and that’s Aaron Gassor, ‘The Ginger Ninja Trickster!’ He’s got a class on a Saturday…I think. He’s the only person to my knowledge who is really coaching it as such. It’s quite funny, because you’ll go to the gym and see some guys doing tricks but have never done a martial art in their life. They are doing really bad kicks and they don’t know why. If you look at all the top martial arts trickers, they all come from a Taekwondo or XMA background so they know how to kick, then it’s just the matter of adding to it for tricking. People think martial arts tricking is just martial arts and gymnastics. It’s not, its extreme kicking. Doing flips with the kicks. You could watch it on YOUTUBE but not really understand what you’re watching. I’ve been doing it close to ten years now. I’m probably only now roughly understanding it and what it takes to do it. If someone came up to me and said ‘I want to do martial arts tricking’, I would tell them to get yourself to a taekwondo club, learn how to kick and then get to a gymnastics centre or go to an XMA school. I used to train a lot with Aaron Gassor but I’m busy a lot of the time filming, or he’s busy with his successful YOUTUBE channel (click here to view). There used to be four of us training all the time. You’ve got Abbas Farid, who is a football free styler and Dilu Miah. He’s not a stunt guy but he does work in the films because he’s quite small. He does a lot of creature work for films. Then Aaron and myself. We used to train a lot together. My kicks were never as clean as Aarons, so I would learn from him. He’s ITF taekwondo. Then, because of my Wushu, I had a lot of flare that they others didn’t have, so the others would learn that off me. Abbas, he was very technical when it came to the tricking side….and Di, well, he was just there. (Laughs). Nah, he was very, very good. Abbas has got his own YOUTUBE things and teaches as well with the football freestyle stuff. If there was ever going to be a Welsh tricking team, then it would be the four of us. We should start one really? We should do a comp. We used to train a lot. We’re all connected, we’re all friends. I mean like with Aaron, we’ve been trying to get together for a while to do something for his channel. It’s just, time. Plus, because I’m working in the industry, I would be like giving it away for free so, it’s like the joker says in the second Batman, ‘If you’re good at something, never do it for free?’
When I started tricking, I was the first guy in Wales to do it to my knowledge. There was a lot of moves that I thought I had actually invented! I thought I came up with things like ‘Kick the moon’ (but obviously I called it something else) ‘high rise hyper’ and a few others. Then when I went to other places and saw people doing them, I was like ‘eh?’
If people do want to do martial art tricking, then in Newport, there is a gymnastics centre called Newport City Gymnastics which is on a Tuesday at 7 o clock. There is a tricking type class there on a Tuesday. There is a lot of really good trickers that go there. Dilu goes there. It’s fairly new in Newport. I do go…when I can. Not many people are aware that it is even open at the moment.
I did box for a while and had a few amateur fights but I then went into train in MMA. One of my best martial arts memories though is a charity boxing match I had done. It was great. I had not long been doing stunts. All I wanted to do for a long time was to do stunts and here I am at a high profile event within the stunt community and fighting in it. I enjoyed that a lot. We raised so much money for that. It had been completely sold out. You had a lot of the cast there from Harry Potter and cast from a couple a few other films that was running at the same time but it was the core stunt team from Harry Potter that started it. It was a good event. I fought a man called James Embree. He is a stuntman who has doubled James Bond, Jason Stratham and, I think, Bruce Willis. He’s a great guy, a nice guy, very talented and I smashed him up!
It’s quite funny because at the time I fought James, I had just started and I think people thought that I was a lot of chat, too much mouth! James said himself that he thought he was just going to flick me over. We agreed before the match to take it easy, we won’t go too hard. ‘If I’m rocked you back off, if you’re rocked, I’ll back off.’ The second the match started, I threw the first punch and just went all out. Whack! I think it shocked him. I thought, yeah, I’ve got the first round. I remember thinking that he’s not all that but I think the first round was a bit of a shock for him. The second, he, he, well lets just say, I’ll give the second round to him. He smashed me all around that ring. We had great fun. For something that was meant to be a bit of light fun, we just went all out! James and me were on the same jobs at the same time. Sherlock– the TV series, also John Carter on Mars. Neither of us had absolutely any time to train for it. James Embree is a really good friend. If we had been on different jobs and told me that he wasn’t doing any secret training then I wouldn’t have believed him. But because we were working long hours together, we both knew that neither of us had time. We couldn’t give our fullest, so that was a bit of a shame. You want to go out your best, but it was what it was. We had fun.
On being a stuntman
I didn’t realise that I wanted to be a stuntman until really late. For a long time I pondered. I wanted to earn money by doing what I love which is the martial arts. Apart from coaching and fighting, there is absolutely nothing else that I could think of. So, when I was about twenty two, I did start training in Brazillian Jujitsu and MMA because I was going to go in to the fighting professionally. The thing is with MMA, I was brilliant at stand up from all my Kyokushin days and boxing but when it came to the floor, I wasn’t too good. I was a little weak when it came to the grappling side. It takes a whole new level of training for me. You see a lot of fighters these days who haven’t got a strong basis in either. I think that waters it down a bit.
You want to tell the audience with your body that you’re going punch this guy in the face.
I remember watching Jackie Chan’s Project A. I remember watching the bar fight scene and it dawned on me. I could do something like this. I was watching it, and Jackie was hitting these people and I thought, ‘Who are they? How did they do that!?’ That’s how it all spawned.
It took a lot of work, a lot of dedication and a lot of training. I pushed it and pushed it. I used to do a lot of Welsh television as an actor before the stunts and then just fell into it (GD-stuntman pun?) doing bits and pieces. They needed boxers for a scene for something for the BBC. I ended up going up and playing one of the leads, so ended up doing a lot of acting on Welsh television. That’s when I put that and Project A together.
My family are all supportive of my career. I think that they do worry that I may get injured but I’ve been lucky up till now (taps the wooden table for luck). With my job, people have been seriously hurt and put out of commission for good. It’s a serious career. I really get annoyed because when I go training, you’ll see a really good gymnast, or a really good free runner or even a really good fighter and they will say, ‘ I can do what you do.’ They have absolutely no idea about what it is I do. I may have to do a back drop on concrete ten times in a day or jump across something stupid like a large gap. It’s not just. No disrespect to the fighters but screen fighting and real fighting are completely different. It’s two different elements. How you fight isn’t how you fight on screen, because it just doesn’t look good. It looks awful. It looks weak if anything. So, when you do screen fighting, you have to act. Everything is emphasized. If you’re a boxer (goes into a boxing stance) I know you can’t show your readers, but if you’re a boxer, I’m going to keep my hands close and I’m not going to telegraph anything if possible. Screen fighting, you want to telegraph everything. You want to tell the audience with your body that you’re going punch this guy in the face. It’s two different things. So you do get fighters coming up to you and say I can co-ordinate fights. It’s just not that simple. It’s not just about co-ordinating a nice fight. You can go on YOUTUBE and see loads of guys doing loads of fights and some of them are nice. You know, some of them are really good in their 5D’s that they are filming but what I’m seeing is that they lack basic technique, basic screen elements that I look for. It’s not just about nice moves. It’s about what lenses you’re using, what camera you’re using, the shutter speed. What is the speed? If you’re shooting on a Phantom camera – that’s what they used on Sherlock when you punch they guy in the face (click here to view). With that, you don’t have to punch fast at all. Because it’s a phantom, you can just act it. It can’t register speed. If you’re going on a fast frame rate, you don’t have to be going too fast, otherwise it will just be a blur. It’s all little things like that. There is an art and a science to it that’s for sure.
Despite all the things I’m involved with, I am a stuntman. Yeah, I act, I direct, I produce but I am a stuntman. I’ve been doing it for ten years. No serious injuries (taps the wooden table again). I have been doing it so long and I have done so many films that it all becomes one so I couldn’t pin point a particular stunt I’m proud of. I may watch something and remember it and think ‘Oh yeah, that was brilliant, I remember that.’ I did really enjoy being the Hashasheen in Sherlock Holmes 2. I played the guy Sherlock pulls out of the rafters. I had to hang there for quite a while just thinking, ‘Come on, hurry up!’ I played him. That was fun and I enjoyed having a one on one with Robert Downey Jr. He’s Wing Chun taught by a guy called Eric Oram who is very good Wing Chun practitioner. Robert, he’s not what you may think. He can really practice what he preaches. He can take a knock or two. That was fun. I had done a lot of good stuff.
When I first started, I thought I would be star struck with some people. I mean don’t get me wrong I was a little bit ‘Oooh look!’ Now, it’s just like you’re going to the office. For me to get star struck now, I would have to be on a film with Jackie Chan or Jet Li……or Batman! I am excited for Batman Vs Superman. In fact, I’ve done my little tribute short film called ‘The British Superman’. It’s not your typical action short. It will be more interesting than your average action short. It’s more for the comic book geek humour than your main market. I’m a big DC fan, but mainly Batman.
I picked up my skills along the way just by doing it. I have watched a lot of films but it’s something that you have to pick up along the way. There is an art to it. I remember going back years ago when I was 19, there was a one off Kung Fu show. I think it was hosted by Jonathan Ross. I believe it was called Stop! Kung Fu! There was a stunt guy on that and he said something like, ‘Everyone thinks that they can come to Hong Kong and be in a fighting (film) but it isn’t that easy.’ There is an art to it. I agree with him. It is definitely not as simple as people seem to think it is. The documentary Red Trousers is very good too. With screen fighting, you’ve got to be able to act. If you can’t sell a reaction, its game over. If you’re getting beaten up in a film, then you’ve really got to show that you’re getting hit to make the attacker look good.
I’ve done loads of wirework, I enjoy it. Jerks, pullbacks, explosions. You wear a harness with the wire threaded through. The V effects guys edited them out afterwards. So, I have done cars, high falls, underwater stuff, boat stuff, a range of different things.
Unfortunately, I’m one of these performers that always looks a sack of shit no matter what costume I’m wearing! The best costume I had to wear would be when I doubled Kiefer Sutherland in the last ‘24’ series. That was the best costume ever. Simple, casual, not uncomfortable. It was just like walking around in your normal clothes, it was great! Kiefer was great. He’s been doing it for years, so he knows the drills. You don’t have to train him up. Another thing that was great about that was that because I was doubling the hero, he wasn’t getting hurt or banged up too much! So it was great, I didn’t have to get hurt too much. It was driving around shooting guns.
Working on Game of Thrones was great because it was a lot of weapons. Axes, swords. Sometimes you can have Ali’s (aluminium) sometimes bamboo or rubber. It all depends what bit you’re filming, how close you are to the camera. But with the sword stuff, the Wushu definitely translates across well because you’re used to handling a weapon or it at least gets you used to handling a weapon. When you punch, the end of your strike is your fist, when you have a sword the end of your strike is your sword. It’s a different dynamic, a different movement. It really needs precision, so the Wushu was a great help to carry it across to film.
Stunt men are funny to be around as their view on life is slightly different given what we do.
Funny things happen all the time on set. Whether I can mention them I don’t know! Without referring to that moment it’s difficult. When you’re around the stuntmen, you’re around guys who are current or ex MMA champions, boxers, all sorts of styles and all sorts of systems. There is so much knowledge to draw from because each guy is an individual in their skill set. I will do something on camera one way and another guy will do it another. It’s really good to learn from them. Stunt men are funny to be around as their view on life is slightly different given what we do. I wouldn’t say warped but definitely……..yeah, a certain outlook. It does take a certain mentality. I remember a stunt man was in a pub once and nearly got in to a fight with this guy. He turned to the guy who really wanted to beat him up and said to him (whispers) ‘Don’t worry, you don’t really have to hit me. I’m a stunt man. I’ll make you look really good.’ The man was so shocked he didn’t do anything!
I’ve been lucky enough to win a couple of awards for my work on Harry Potter, 24, Le Miserables and Game of Thrones. I’ve won a few SAG awards. It’s like the Oscars but for stunts. The other really prestigious award is the TAURUS award. I haven’t won that one yet! I don’t really follow any of that. I’m not bitter because I haven’t won one (laughs) I just don’t follow it. I love doing the stunts and love doing my own thing so just focus on that.
On calling out Brian Nickles on Facebook;
There is the other stunt guy, Brian Nickles. This guy has done a lot. I don’t know what I can mention but he used to box professionally and he’s a really tough guy and yeah, and basically, I’m going to smash him up! You can tell your readers that. ‘Brian Nickles, is going down.’ And the music video called ‘the dirty little tramp’, I made that especially for him and he’s still ducking me. This is something that just built up. Basically, back in the early days, when I started doing stunts with Brian, we used to fight a lot. He’s smashed me up quite a few times. He’s given me black eyes, choked me out, left me unconscious on the floor but I’ve gotten good now and he’s getting old, so I’ve started fighting back and he can’t beat me up so easily anymore. I’ve been calling him out but he’s just ducking me. But this is ON. Charity boxing match. Any place. Any time. I AM going to fight Brian Nickles. I’m not frightened of him. I’m not frightened of him at all. (GD-Erm OK. i’ll let him know!)
Please join us next month to read Part 2 of this interview. It contains his time as Batman, directing the first Welsh martial arts action film ‘Kamikaze‘ and his other productions in the pipeline.
If you can’t wait and would like to learn more about Marcus. Please visit his website by clicking here.
All pictures except’ featured image’ are courtesy of Marcus Shakesheff and copywrite of these rests with him.