An Interview with Eric Jacobus
If you consider yourself a fan of the action genre and have yet to check out the new short Blindsided, you need to do yourself a favor and check it out ASAP. I’ll even make it easy for you and provide a link.
I recently had the opportunity to interview the star of Blindsided, Eric Jacobus. Eric and I discuss his accomplishments thus far in the action game, his influences and future plans in the movie business.
CTB: I really enjoyed your latest project Blindsided. We get a glimpse of what you went through to prepare for the role during the closing credits. How difficult was it playing a blind man? And how much preparation did you have to do for the role?
EJ: Pretending to be blind was a strange experience. On the one hand I’m a sighted person pretending to be blind, and I had to make sure I didn’t artificially alter any situations that a blind person might experience. For example, ordering food from a menu at a restaurant meant asking the clerk what he recommended. Had he known I was sighted he might have said, “Just pull off your blindfold and look, you hipster,” but I had the blindfold and sunglasses positioned so it looked like I might have been recently blinded and currently in training, so it was believable. I created the most realistic experience possible, which also meant never cheating. We ran into things, got whacked by low-hanging tree branches on the sidewalk, which we’d cut off with pocket knives, almost got hit by a car, spilled water on the restaurant counter, poked a dog with my blind cane, and a lot of other embarrassing stuff. The whole day was a very humbling experience. Real-life Walter lives by a set of rules that set him up for victory, and you drive forward head-first when you step out of your front door. Otherwise you’re always second-guessing yourself. This was the mindset in creating the Walter character. He walks faster than normal, leaning forward slightly, because even if he hits some poles and takes some knocks, he has to win in the end.
CTB: After watching Blindsided and the two Rope A Dope shorts, I can’t help but think that your blend of action and comedy was influenced heavily by the legendary Jackie Chan. Is that an accurate assumption? And are there others who have influenced your style of action?
EJ: I was raised on Vaudeville films by the Marx Bros., Laurel and Hardy, Three Stooges, Keaton, Fields. Jackie Chan was the man who mastered self-deprecating comedy combined with martial arts action. He was brought up in Peking Opera, which served the same function that Vaudeville did. These guys were all-around performers and took knocks for laughs. These characters go way back in history and originated in the traditional court jesters. The court jester was the butt of the joke, the scapegoat for the crowd, who exiled him with their laughter to bring catharsis to their group. It was when entertainment and ritual became one. With mass entertainment he suddenly found himself in the spotlight, and he still chose to be the fall guy. We laugh at him, but when he triumphs through some kind of internal conversion, we end up laughing at ourselves and looking within just like he did. We end up thinking to ourselves, “Maybe the bad guy is in us, and not in this harmless jester, not in some strange outsider.”
Zatoichi was Japan’s post-WWII innovation in this regard. He wasn’t a heroic patriot, but a classical outsider, pushed to the margins of society and always caught between some kind of feud. We’re following in Zatoichi’s shoes in all his adventures. We really have to give credit to these innovative storytellers because Zatoichi would have been a villain in old Japanese myth. Blind people are always popping up in myth, appearing as monstrous outsiders, people with an “evil eye”, the “cyclops”, etc. Zatoichi, Vaudeville, and Jackie Chan films are radical departures from those old myths, and we can only hope this mindset survives into the next generation, but it takes a strong understanding of history, myth, and religion, which the millennial generation knows nothing about anymore. I wonder if producers are too cynical for it now, too. We seem to be regressing back into mythical storytelling now for the sake of selling tickets. We still love our underdogs, but we should always be wary of who the new “monstrous outsider” is, and who out there might be feeling associated with him.
CTB: Do you prefer short form films over feature length films?
EJ: Short films give us a level of freedom we may not have with features, so we can look at them as training exercises. Ultimately though we want to find what works using the short film format and simply apply it to the feature format. Based on the metrics of these shorts, that they have over 99% thumbs up votes on YouTube, we probably have a good case to make.
CTB: Talk a little bit about your feature Death Grip. The film is incredible. Where did the idea come from and why we haven’t seen Death Grip 2 yet?
EJ: So glad you enjoyed it. It was a passion project, one I wrote when, after finishing Contour, project after project kept falling through. We were expected to make Contour 2 but we couldn’t make that film because we were all growing up, building careers, getting married, having kids, figuring things out. Lots of people left for LA too. Living in the ballooning Bay Area was really hectic and I was working a day job full time, which made filmmaking even harder. So I finally just sat down every night for a year and wrote something that I could shoot myself with a little bit of investment money. It was thematically dark, probably because I was dubious of my own future as a stuntman and performer at the time. I finished it, got it out of my system, and learned almost everything I know now from trying to sell Death Grip at AFM and Cannes. If there’s a Death Grip 2 it’ll be a proper comedy like Evil Dead 2.
CTB: Aside from your acting, you are also busy behind the scenes doing a lot of the fight choreography and stunt work. How did you end up in those roles?
EJ: I started out making films playing every role, from writer to choreographer and director, sometimes camera operator, and ultimately editor too. I did these out of necessity and built up those skills over the years. Since partnering with Clayton we can now dole out most of these roles to others, but I’m always able to step back into those parts if necessary. He brought me to China to work in Heart of a Champion as pre-viz shooter, editor, and fight coordinator. I shot the finale in Thailand too.
CTB:. The biggest movie to date that you have been involved in would be 2013’s A Good Day to Die Hard. What was it like working on a movie of that scale and being a part of one of the greatest action movie franchises in history?
EJ: Unfortunately I never even stepped on set and only had a chance to choreograph a fight scene for it with Alvin Hsing and J.J. Perry. The fight is good, but they never used it. They just blew up a building instead.
CTB:. You also had the opportunity to work on the Mortal Kombat: Legacy TV series. Were you a fan of the video games growing up? And what was it like working on a project with a lot of experienced action stars like Casper Van Dien and Mark Dacascos?
EJ: The arcade was my second home as a kid, back when they had arcades. I was a real tech geek growing up. My first job was programming PHP at a community college when I was 15, so nobody expected I’d get involved in films. That I got to work on a series based on one of my favorite fighting games was a real treat. I’m not sure why they decided to make it so serious, though. It seems the more film markets open up to the world, the more demand there is for revenge and murder, like we’re losing our checks and balances on these things. Mortal Kombat was the fun fighting game! At least Casper had fun with it, since his character was ridiculous, and I could play the fish out of water. Dacascos was so cool, but they cut his action because of time constraints. We had a 2-on-1 fight against Liu Kang prepped, which would have been amazing.
CTB: Hypothetical situation. You get the green light to make your dream project in Hollywood. Money is no issue. Scheduling is no issue. What is the project? Who is involved?
EJ: I’m suspicious of free money! I like money with restrictions because it pushes us harder. Give us just a million or so and we could make an amazing Blindsided feature film. If Rutger Hauer would be involved, or Beat Takeshi, that’d be a dream come true.
CTB: What is next for Eric Jacobus?
EJ: We’re prepping more for the world of Walter Cooke in light of the success of Blindsided.
CTB: Thanks Eric for taking the time to answer my questions. Loving the work that you are doing to keep the action genre alive and well!
EJ: Thanks Chris, happy to be a part of it.