“I’m a Little Bit Sick in the Head”: Scott Adkins on Accident Man: Hitman’s Holiday
Scott Adkins is a proselytizer for the art of Hong Kong action films, receiving his baptism as a bit player on Jackie Chan’s The Accidental Spy in 2001. He has been trying to bring Chan’s level of craft and creativity to English-language action ever since, climbing the ranks of the direct-to-video market with gravity-defying kicks until his picture on the box could sell units alongside those featuring Van Damme and Lundgren. Though he has made memorable spin-kicking turns on big Hollywood productions like Doctor Strange and Day Shift—even landing a role in next year’s John Wick: Chapter 4—his bread-and-butter remains DTV, where fans expect high-level fight choreography from him despite short shooting schedules and vanishing budgets.
As a result, Adkins has started to produce his own features to ensure that his precise vision of action isn’t thwarted by post-production fiddling. His latest is Accident Man: Hitman’s Holiday—an ultra-violent, bad-taste action-comedy sequel to 2018’s Accident Man—reprising his role as assassin Mike Fallon, who, fittingly, makes his murders look like accidents. Now on the run after the original’s gruesome ending, he ends up in a sticky situation in Malta (which, coincidentally, has attractive tax breaks for filmmakers). In its headlong abandon, Accident Man: Hitman’s Holiday channels the frenzied creativity, wild tonal shifts, over-the-top humor and brutal fight scenes of classic Hong Kong cinema. I spoke to Adkins ahead of the film’s release in theaters and on VOD this Friday, October 14.
Filmmaker: One aspect of both Accident Man films I really enjoy is how you used the structure where you’re chased by various assassins to showcase up-and-coming martial arts talent, like Amy Johnston in the first film. Could you talk about who you fight in the sequel and how you found them?
Adkins: I keep my finger on the pulse of who’s relevant in the action film industry. I’ve known Andy Long since Boyka: Undisputed, and he’s fantastic. He was actually the fight coordinator on Max Cloud, so I thought he’d be great for [ninja assassin Oyumi] in this film.
When we lost fight choreographer Tim Man, I knew Andy could come on and help us choreograph. But we arranged a lot of the fights in England before we went to Malta, and it wasn’t cost effective to have Andy come over for that. So, George Kirby, one of the directors, and fight choreographer Hung Dante Dong, were coming up with the fights and pre-visualizing it before we went out to Malta.
The hardest part to cast was Sarah Chang, the Wong Siu-ling character, because there are loads of martial artist stunt women out there, but not as many that are also good at acting. To find people that can do both is very difficult. I wanted her to be specifically from the Hong Kong area, [and Sarah is based in Taiwan]. We really narrowed the pool of who was available, which was difficult. But I’m so happy we got Sarah, because she’s fantastic.
Filmmaker: Sarah was a U.S. Wushu champion, correct?
Adkins: Yes, a Wushu champion, trained by the same people that trained Jet Li and Wu Jing. Wushu was perfect for that part, and I made her [character] a descendent of Wong Fei-hung. Jet Li was famous for playing that part in Once Upon a Time in China.
Filmmaker: Quite a lineage for her to jump into. What is the work breakdown on the script between you and your co-writer Stu Small?
Adkins: We worked on the story and structure very in-depth, scene-by-scene. We went back and forth on how we felt it should play out, then Stu took that structure away and added the dialogue. Stu is amazing at dialogue, and I’m crap, so he goes away, makes the script and grinds it out. Then, when George and Harry Kirby—the directors—came on, they had some very relevant ideas about structure that really elevated [the script].
Filmmaker: How did you hook up with the Kirby Brothers? This is their first full-length feature, correct?
Adkins: I worked with George Kirby on Dr. Strange—he was actually Benedict Cumberbatch’s stunt double, or one of them. He’s a working stunt man and really understands action. He and his brother have been doing these YouTube shorts for quite some time [under the name] K&K Productions. I knew of them because of that, then they sent me this short film that they’d done—I don’t think they’ve released it—called Survivors, a zombie thing. It was brilliant. I looked at the visual style and when we needed a new director for Accident Man 2, they were immediately at the top of my list. I was phoning them up, trying to play it cool, saying, “It’s going to be good for you,” desperately hoping they’d say yes. They’re brilliant, and they’ve done a fantastic job. I know they’re going to have a great career.
Filmmaker: One of the fun things about the series is how far you push the envelope, in terms of both the violence and the comedy. There is a wild sequence where you cut between a fight scene and the character Dante (George Fouracres) taking a giant shit into a can. Is there a line you were worried about going over?
Adkins: Basically, what it boils down to is that I’m a little bit sick in the head. I take full credit for the shitting in the bucket. I just find that sort of thing funny, you know what I mean? We actually had a note from Sony that said, “Can we have less toilet jokes in this one, please?” I was lying: “Yeah, OK. I understand.” I didn’t remove any, I kept them all there. I just find it funny. Come on—poo jokes are funny, right? Everyone likes poo jokes, even when they don’t want to admit it.
Filmmaker: How was it being on set when you were working with the actor in that scene? What was it like trying to get the expression on his face right?
Adkins: I think it was either his first or second day. His next job was at the Globe with the Royal Shakespeare Company playing Hamlet. I said, “George, you may be going on to play Hamlet next, but you’re never going to top shitting in a bucket on your second day on the job.” I didn’t want to bother him—I let the cinematographer and George and Harry to do that. It was really hard for me, because I had a specific idea of what I wanted, but I just thought it’d be too much to have me up there now, the star/producer/writer. I mean, he did a great job—one of the best cinematic shits in a bucket we’ve ever seen.
Filmmaker: It wasn’t in a bucket, but one I was thinking of was Dumb and Dumber when Jeff Daniels gets diarrhea. I think that’s the closest contender.
Adkins: Yeah, that was a good one. He had the leg going up and everything. Basically, I wanted the movie to be entertaining on every level, and I didn’t want it to be heady or smart. It’s schoolboy humor. You’ve got very visual stuff from the directors—lots of jokes—and hopefully they land. If all of them don’t land, it’s still okay as long as the majority of them do. Of course, the action is at a level that I hope I’m known for. You can always count on a Scott Adkins movie having good action.
Filmmaker: I’m a fan of your Art of Action interview series on YouTube, and on there you discuss in great detail how you prefer action to be shot. So when you work with the Kirby Brothers, how much are you leading during the shooting of fight sequences? Or do you let them handle it because of their background?
Adkins: I mean, that’s what was perfect about it. I’ve worked with directors who don’t know as much as me when it comes to shooting action. The clever ones get out of the way and let me take care of it, and the ones who aren’t so clever will get into an argument with me about it. But I’m very passionate about delivering good action. If I’m obstructed from doing that, then it’s obviously not a good atmosphere on the set. But the Kirbys completely get it. George is a working stuntman, and he was operating the camera for most of those fights—not all of them, but he understands choreography and thinks like a stuntman. He knows when to pan and when the camera is getting a bit static and boring. He’s got that Kingsman Brad Allen sort of style.
Filmmaker: The punch-ins during the fight scenes, were those all done digitally in post?
Adkins: Mostly digital, and it was all being brought by Harry and George. It puts me in a position where I can relax and concentrate on other things. When the action is not being handled well enough, I have to step up and take care of it. I’m happy to do that—I enjoy it—but I didn’t need to with these guys. I was very involved with the process of pre-visualizing the fights at the beginning, so you get all your ideas out on the table, have the the concept and know exactly what we’ve got to shoot. When we don’t have the luxury of time, we know exactly what shots we need.
Filmmaker: You have been a guest on the visual effects show Corridor Crew, and I see those guys received a credit. What shot did they work on, the eyeball going through the head?
Adkins: Yeah, absolutely, it was the eye through the head. Then with Poco the Clown and the breaking of the arm, they conceived that whole thing themselves. You’re going to see that in an upcoming episode of Corridor Crew. I think it will be out the same week the film is released, and it’ll take you through how they did it. Harry and George are big fans of the theirs, as well. I’m giving myself a bit of a pat on the back for being a good producer for making them do it. If we’d gone to a CGI house in Hollywood or London, we wouldn’t have afforded it. They gave us amazing quality for a favor.
Filmmaker: You’re getting more and more involved in every aspect of production. Do you think you’ll be directing at some point down the line? Or do you like being a producer?
Adkins: I hate being a producer! It sucks, man. There’s just a load of stress and bullshit that you have to deal with for no reason. A producer is not making a movie, a producer is trying to keep the circus from crumbling around him. I’d like to direct, I just need the right project. I’m putting it off, because I’ve probably gotta be in the movie as well as direct, which is already so difficult when it’s an action film. There’s so much pressure, and I’m so tired. I’ve been putting it off for too long. I need to do it, I want to do it, I will do it.