Film Star and Bodyguard – Richard Norton Interview P.2!
Part two of this incredible interview with Richard Norton, martial artist, film star and bodyguard! Enjoy! As always please share, subscribe and like to support the site 😀
You have experience protecting some of the big names in show business, such as The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor and David Bowie. How did that opportunity come about and what did you learn from the experience?
It came about again through Bob Jones. I was working the doors since I was a teenager in the clubs of Melbourne, so I obviously got a lot of experience through this. In early 1970, a local entrepreneur called Paul Dainty rang us up at the club and asked if we’d be interested in looking after The Rolling Stones. So of course we said yes and that’s how the Bodyguard work and touring started. As far as longevity in bodyguard work, that really came from word of mouth within the industry. It’s not something you send your resume in for and get a gig. Its more someone like a David Bowie speaking to another artist and saying, “Yeah, Richard is the best in the business and if you want personal security, then that’s the guy you need”. So it’s the word of mouth and recommendation of guys like David or a Linda Ronstadt, or a Mick Fleetwood that gets you your next gig with whatever next big act is out there. As far as bodyguard work it self, there weren’t really that many violent situations when I look at the 25 years of being a body guard, as it’s really more about the pre-emptive side of being aware of your environment and sensing the potential for a violent confrontation and hopefully avoiding it before it kicks off. For example, in a concert setting, it’s about the setup of the security personnel and where you place them before the band even hit the stage. I always saw myself as really the last line of defence, and even then, it’s all about the de-escalation of a situation before it becomes violent, as the last thing someone like a Mick Jagger would want is their bodyguard to kick the crap out of a fan! Not good publicity for them. A lot of the band members would often joke with me in the tour bus when travelling to and from gig’s, saying ‘Oh come on when do we get to see you do your thing?! I remember having a funny conversation with Danny Kortchmar, a guitarist with James Taylor, who was saying after a few beers on our tour bus. ‘Come on, I play guitar; you see me playing every night, Russ plays drums and you see him play every night, so when the hell are we going to see you punch someone! I’d laugh and point out that I knew that that’s the last thing you’d actually want me to do! Again, of course there was some violence, but I don’t really like talking about it as it glorifies it and wasn’t, at least for me as a Martial Artist, what the job was all about. I always said that the best security was when you didn’t even know you had it. Having said that, it’s a very different world now to when I was doing security, sadly due to the epidemic of drugs like Ice and Crack etc. I mean violence has truly just gone to a whole new and disgusting level. There are also CCTV cameras everywhere you go now too, so you’re always in the spotlight and you can’t just flippantly go the physical route like in the old days, as you’re so often going to end up on film as evidence and end up with your day in court. Then your whole life can change forever.
You’ve also worked with some massive names in the film industry such as Jackie Chan and Chuck Norris, so gain, let’s just talk about how that came about and what it was like!
The meeting of Chuck Norris and consequently my movie career began with Bob going over to America and asking Chuck to come out to Australia as a guest and do some demonstrations for some Zen Do Kai Kick Boxing events we were holding in different states in Oz. This was in 1978. So Chuck came out and as it turned out, I was also demonstrating on the same card in front of maybe 4000 people at a place called, Festival Hall. Anyway, from the first time we met, Chuck and I just got on so well from the get go and he basically said that if I was ever in California, to look him up and we’d do some training. So obviously, for a kid from the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, this was like a huge wow moment! So a year later, I was working in Australia as bodyguard for one of the biggest rock and rollers of the time, Linda Ronstadt, and she asked me to move over to America and work with her full time. So off I went to California, amazingly after a lot of hesitation. So there I was, living and working with Linda, and of course the first person I called when I got there was Chuck! Incredibly, true to his word, he invited me round to his house to train. We would go on to form an incredible friendship and train every morning in his house for years to come, doing hours of kicking routines and fitness marathons and everything else, martial Arts related. It’s through Chuck and his many influential MA friends that I got the introduction to Jackie Chan. Chuck was so well liked and respected and kindly opened doors for me that I could have only dreamed about, had I not met and befriended him. So that’s how my movie career really began! I can’t thank Chuck enough for giving me the opportunity to meet some of the greatest Martial Artists in the world and help me get the skills I have today! Back to the start in movies, when I first arrived in California and started training with Chuck, he was in the very early stages for his film, `The Octagon`, and because of my demonstrations in Australia, he was well aware of my skills with Okinawan weapons. So there was a main bad guy character in ‘The Octagon’ by the name of ‘Kyo.’ So he asked me to accept that role! It’s funny, because the character was originally meant to be Asian, hence the reason for the crimson headdress in the movie to hide the fact I was in fact a blonde Aussie! So I ended up playing ‘Kyo’ and also helping Chuck’s brother, Aaron in choreographing a lot of the fights. In fact just four of us did all the ninja work in the movie. My claim to fame in `The Octagon` was I died eight times in that movie, as every time someone went splat in a black uniform it was probably me! So that was the start of my movie career! Pat Johnson, who was a partner of Chuck’s back then and who had worked with Jackie on `The Big Brawl` suggested to Jackie that I would be good to have as the bad guy in one of his movie’s, so a few years later I got a call from Jackie and his team and that’s how I ended up working on three of his movies. It was all a matter of circumstance really; I didn’t go to the states planning on getting into the movies, but, as fate had it, that’s what happened and here we are, some 70 movie’s later. Not a bad way to make a living, eh?
When did you decide to make the jump from stunt man to choreographer? Was it a conscious decision or just a natural progression?
Yes, I guess it did just kind of happen, of course helped by my Martial Arts background. I think I worked out, after being in the industry for some time, that as an actor, you’re kind of a product with a short shelf life. You either get overexposed, or you’re not that good, or there are no roles that suit your look or whatever. I mean loved being in front of the camera, but was realistic enough to know it wouldn’t last forever. Also, a lot of the types of movies I was doing back then they just don’t make anymore. I also realised that advancing age was going to reduce the roles I was going to get offered. So I thought it would be prudent and smart for me to learn what it’s like being behind the camera and, as it turned out, that was a good move for me. On `Mad Max` I had an acting role, but I was mainly working as fight coordinator. Now I’ve just been hired as Fight Coordinator on another huge movie in 2015, so it all doesn’t look like stopping anytime soon, thank goodness. Honestly, movies for me are primarily about economics and earning enough to make a living and allow myself more time to spend in the Arts, doing what I love doing most, and that’s living my passion.
LOOK OUT TOMORROW FOR THE THIRD AND FINAL PART!