MATRIX: How did you get the role of Agent Jackson?
DAVE: I got a call from Chad [Stahelski], the Martial Arts Stunt Coordinator, and R.A. Rondell, who is the Stunt Coordinator, to come in and audition for the part of one of the Hugo Weaving stunt doubles. The audition consisted of going through some fight choreography with [Yuen] Wo Ping [Fight Choreographer], the Hong Kong Wire Team, and doing some basic gymnastics, which they put on video. My main background has been stunts; although I’ve done some acting in commercials, videos and some TV episodes, that isn’t my main forte. The Agents needed to be physical, so they took some people from that audition. It was in my favor since, in addition to having done stunt work, it’s preferable to have a background in martial arts and gymnastics for those kinds of roles.
So they sent those people with “the look”, so to speak, to Mali Finn the Casting Director. I went through two auditions with Mali for the acting — the dialogue part of it, and she in turn sent X amount of people to the Wachowski brothers [Writer / Directors of The Matrix] to audition for them. I was fortunate enough to get sent, and the eventual outcome was being selected for the character of Agent Jackson in the film.
MATRIX: What was it like auditioning for Larry and Andy, especially without having an acting background?
DAVE: I thought it was going to be a lot more nerve-wracking than it was; part of the nervousness was just due to the nature of it being THE MATRIX. I’ve done a lot of auditioning because of commercials that I’ve had acting spots in, and just being in the film business for the last seven years, so I knew what to expect. Plus, as I mentioned, I’d read for Mali two times prior to that, so I knew what they were looking for. As far as the dialogue that they gave me to audition with and that kind of thing, it wasn’t too bad, but just the virtue of it being THE MATRIX made it a little nerve-wracking.
MATRIX: I guess it would only be nerve-wracking to a fan of the first film.
DAVE: I’m absolutely a fan of the first film. What I liked most were obviously the martial arts and the stunts. When I first saw it I was like — oh my God! I think a lot of people had the same reaction because they were doing things that had never been done or seen before — running up on walls and all that kind of thing. Although I got the story the first time, I mainly watched it from a stunt perspective, so it wasn’t until the second and third and fourth time that I actually sat down and analyzed what was going on that I thought, it was just brilliant. Larry and Andy are geniuses, it was an honor to actually read for them.
MATRIX: Did you read something out of the script itself?
DAVE: Yes. I think we had two pages of actual dialogue that the Agents read from. We had to sign a confidentiality statement stating we wouldn’t talk about the dialogue, and that’s how it has been the whole production, signing confidentiality agreements so we don’t leak any information. Each page of the script I have has my name in four-inch high letters across every single page — this is so I don’t go and duplicate the script and start sending it out.
MATRIX: The parameters of the Agents in the first film are very well defined, so as upgrades the Agents now have to take it to another level.
DAVE: Yes, we’re upgrades. As everyone knows, Agent Smith [Hugo Weaving] was the main Agent in the first movie, with two back-up Agents. In RELOADED, Agent Smith is traveling by himself as a rogue Agent. If you remember from the first film when he has that scene with Morpheus, Smith is almost getting some emotion — he’s starting to feel things, which he’s not supposed to, and he unplugs himself from the Matrix. Now he’s a rogue Agent traveling by himself. We’re never to be seen with him in RELOADED, if we did we’d kill each other because he’s on this ego trip.
Originally there was a scene in the script [for RELOADED] where we three new Agents were first introduced. Agent Smith had come in just before that, and they didn’t know how they were going to handle the entrance of all of us, then they finally realized that we can’t be seen together because of what I just mentioned.
MATRIX: So you didn’t get an opportunity to work with Hugo Weaving?
DAVE: We did not, we will never be seen on screen together with Hugo. Although we did get to work with him while training. We went through quite a rigorous training regiment for this film because Larry and Andy want everything perfect and very stylized.
MATRIX: How much training did you actually do?
DAVE: We started in San Francisco in March of 2001, exactly one year ago; we were there for three months prior to coming to Sydney. I had one small scene in the three months that I was there; I spent the majority of my time in California just training. The Brothers really want a lot of integration with the actors getting together so you feel at ease when you actually go before the cameras and you’re dialed in, so to speak, with what they want delivered on film. Because it’s a physical role they want everybody to be very well trained. It was basically six to eight hours every day: consisting of breakfast in the morning, and then an hour of stretching, two hours of martial arts, then on to weights and cardio. And that’s every single day. It was pretty strenuous.
MATRIX: Your background encompasses stunts, so you’re used to training; was this up a couple of notches from what you’re used to?
DAVE: This training was specific to martial arts. As a stunt person you need to be well-rounded, so to prepare we’ll ride jet skis and dirt bikes in addition to lifting weights, running, and all different kinds of cross training. Because this production is a little more geared towards martial arts, that’s what our workouts were more specifically geared to. I’ve had kick boxing training in my background —in a style called Aikido-Kan — but nothing to this level. Chad puts you through the paces.
MATRIX: With your Agent Jackson scenes done, will you be shooting anything else?
DAVE: No, my parts are done. I’m actually waiting for clearance from the Producer and the Directors to go home. I’m done with everything that I am doing for the film, although the rest of the crew will be here for a few more months.
MATRIX: In general, what is your overall impression of RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS?
DAVE: Unbelievable. Having been around for so many months working with both First and Second Units has been spectacular. They put together a twenty minute clip that I was able to see, and it’s a real ride emotionally. It’s going to be awesome.
MATRIX: How large a role is Agent Jackson; do you have a lot of dialogue?
DAVE: A few lines, four specifically. So no — it’s not a lot of dialogue. Of the three Agents, I would be the lesser of the three, but I feel extremely fortunate to be here, to have that role and be a part of these films. It’s a part of history. I don’t know exactly how many lines the other Agents have — maybe one has five and the other has six. It’s pretty minimal. It’s all in how we come in, the fight scenes that we do, and shooting our big Desert Eagle guns.
MATRIX: What kind of direction do you get on set from the Directors?
DAVE: They are very specific in their direction, they know exactly what they want, and give you those exact directions. So there’s not a lot of room for misunderstandings.
MATRIX: When you say they give you the exact directions, do they actually tell you how to stand and how to move?
DAVE: Absolutely. Everything from dialogue, to where you’re going to stand, to where you’re going to move, to which moves. For example, the fight scenes will be set up with Chad and the Wire Team, but sometimes when you get to set they might not look right. So they’ll go through it with us: instead of taking three steps in and throwing a kick, I want you to take two steps in and kind of shift it to the side, that kind of thing. So they’re very specific.
It’s the same with dialogue; you deliver a line with the kind of manner you think it should have, and if they don’t think it should be that way, they’ll give you direction on exactly the way they want it. They know what they want; as I said earlier they’re geniuses, and that’s why the first one was so successful. I can’t imagine that the sequels won’t be just as big.
MATRIX: What was the most challenging thing you’ve had to do on this film?
DAVE: Probably the martial arts aspect of it. We have a fight scene with Neo; it’s his first fight in RELOADED. It’s about ten minutes into the film and it’s termed the “Upgrade Fight”. The three of us Agents meet up with Neo in a courtyard alleyway and we have a fight there. Some of the moves they asked us to do in there were a little tough, so that was pretty challenging.
MATRIX: Will everything feel upgraded in the sequels?
DAVE: Upgraded — exactly. They’re taking it to another level, so to speak. Bigger and better. And not only from a martial arts standpoint, but with scenes like the big car chase. We were able to see part of that chase, and it was just jaw-dropping. Daniel [Bernhardt], Agent Johnson, was on the truck and I’m in one of the cars. I transform into an Agent from a police officer, and have a couple of lines of dialogue in the police car when we’re chasing after Trinity on the Freeway. Trinity is on a Ducati zipping back and forth, and then takes off down an off ramp.
MATRIX: The Agents are pretty physical on set; did they make any adjustments to the costumes in order to make your job easier?
DAVE: There were some accommodations made. When I first got the role we had to go for fittings, and I remember showing up the first day when they were taking measurements. Normally, as a Stunt person you ask for suits one to two sizes bigger so you can fit pads and stuff underneath, and we usually have what is called a dialogue deliver suit, or a presence close-up suit — on this show we had two of them. And then I think we had four stunt suits because they have to cut through the suits for attaching the wires onto you, and at some point you’re going to fall down and you’re probably going to rip one. So in total each of us Agents has six suits.
MATRIX: Do you expect much bruising in your line of work?
DAVE: Yes, there is some from the wires they hook up. In one scene I’m fighting with Neo, and I grab him and throw him across the courtyard, he grabs a hold of this pole, swings around and kicks me across three-quarters of the courtyard, slamming me into a wall. So they hooked the wires up, and we did takes prepping for the actual shot… when I got home I found out the wires were literally cutting into my skin from the front, and I have bruises on my back and hip from slamming into the wall. There’s also a shot where I slam down on the ground, so there are bruises on my knees.
MATRIX: How much rehearsal do you do for a shot where you’re slammed into a piece of breakaway set?
DAVE: The preparation for that started here in the training center. We rehearsed it on that wall right there and put mats up to simulate the breakaway. We hung the wires from the steel beams along the ceiling, and that’s where they hook us up with the Wire Team and with Chad. To slam us into the wall they’d say how you’re going to launch off your feet, how they want you to fly through the air (with your legs up and your arms in this position), and what pose they want when you hit the wall. All step by step.
For training we work with the mats, since it’s extremely expensive to set up the actual breakaways. That’s okay, though, since the feel of the breakaways is similar to going into the mats, because Special Effects makes the scenery “soft”. They’re not real bricks, obviously.
When we get there on “the day” (as we call it) to actually do the stunt, we’ll run through a couple of rehearsals. For that run-through they actually rigged a wall in front of the breakaway and then put in the mats again, so we rehearsed everything how it’s going to happen that day. And then they take the makeshift wall that they put in front, set up the breakaway, and it’s go. We used all three walls, so I went into it three times.
MATRIX: Is that a usual number of breakaways for a set up like that?
DAVE: Yes, three is pretty usual. You hope you get it on the first one or two, but you have to go for all three. I think they had it on two, but they didn’t want to haul the last breakaway back and waste it, so they wanted us to go into it again for number three.
MATRIX: Was there any change in the way you hit the breakaway each of the three times?
DAVE: Yes, each one was slightly different. That way, they have a little variance so when they’re in the editing room they have material to pick and choose from.
One direction given was when I lift up on the wire, instead of my arm being at a particular height, to drop it down eight inches, so the camera could get a little more of the impact of Neo’s feet into my chest. And when I flew back, to bring both hands back at the same time instead of one, lifting them up six inches, keeping my feet up the entire time I’m going back, instead of just halfway. There were a lot of specific directions, for sure.
MATRIX: How much wirework had you done previously; have you worked much with the likes of Wo Ping?
DAVE: I hadn’t worked with Wo Ping. I’ve done wirework before because when I first got in the business I was with a stunt engineering company in Hollywood. We would come out and set up the different stunts: we would hook people on wires with ratchets, and pull them back and fly them through the air and that kind of thing. I rode those quite a bit, so I was familiar with wirework. That was one of the pluses of getting the call to audition.
MATRIX: Did you find interesting differences in the Hong Kong wirework to the methods you are used to?
DAVE: Yes. A lot of the wirework back in the US is straightforward: you hook up a ratchet to the performer’s back, hit the pneumatic pulling system and fly through the air. A lot of what the Hong Kong Wire team is doing is what we call hand pulls. There are a couple of the guys — they have this wire system threaded up through the ceiling with ropes that come down on the other side — and they literally pull and jerk you around, as they did with me when they yanked me back into the wall. It wasn’t a pneumatic system; it was just a few guys pulling a rope and yanking me into the wall. When Keanu goes around the pole and does the move to kick me in the chest, he’s being picked up from the hips. There are different weird pick points to create different body positions and give you that effect of running on the walls, or swinging around poles. Which is kind of what makes the Matrix THE MATRIX.
MATRIX: In a way, you’re more dependent on Wo Ping’s team; they become a part of your acting in that moment when you’re running up the wall. How long did it take to feel comfortable with them in control?
DAVE: Pretty much right away because you see what they’re doing with the other actors, as well as knowing they are renowned for being awesome at wirework. Plus you see how they set it up. I have a little knowledge of wire and safety because I’ve been around it since I first got in the business, so I can see how careful they’re being hooking up the performers, the safety that’s being considered and their professionalism.
THE LAST WORD
MATRIX: What have been some of your favorite memories from the experience?
DAVE: I guess it would probably be the fight with Neo, and getting a chance to work with Keanu. He’s an awesome perfectionist, and without actually having a huge martial arts background. Watching how hard he has trained in getting ready for this film is unbelievable. And he’s hard on himself: when we’re at twenty-five or thirty takes, and Keanu might think a hair is out of place, he’ll want to do another take, everything is dialed in and on. It’s an honor to work with him, so the scene I had with him is probably the most memorable. The sequence I mentioned earlier with the fight scene around the pole and kicking the wall is going to be good.
At date of this interview we’re fourteen months away from RELOADED being released, and that just seems like forever. I want to see it tomorrow.
MATRIX: When you became involved, did they tell you what sort of timeframe was involved?
DAVE: Yes. They let us know from an acting, or a stunt, perspective, that we’d all be tied up for almost a year-and-a-half from contract sign to completion of my part.
I’m only in THE MATRIX RELOADED, but all the leads — Carrie-Anne Moss and Keanu and a couple of the other people like Seraph who are in both RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS, are having their lives tied up for two to two-and-a-half years. And Chad, for example, he’s going to be on this for maybe three years by the time it’s done. So that’s crazy — crazy good. But there are gaps in between — I didn’t work a full fourteen months: I was on for a few months, and off a few months, and then back on for a month or two, and then off for a few months, and then back on another month. It’s quite a dedication from an actor or stunt person’s perspective.
MATRIX: And there’s not only the performing, but the travel to consider; had you been to Australia before?
DAVE: No, this is my first time. I love Sydney. I got here five months ago, and I took a couple of months off to do a little traveling to Fiji, New Zealand, Tasmania, and Australia. So from departure out of the USA in late October, to my returning here in mid to late March, it’ll be almost five months, and it’s been quite literally a dream, both with production, and the travels and extra-curricular activities, it has been awesome.
MATRIX: Thank you, Dave.
Interview by REDPILL