Action movie kicks into high gear

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According to Dijmon Hounsou (Blood Diamond) and Sean Faris (TV’s “Reunion”) their new film Never Back Down (Summit Entertainment, March 14) is anything but another fight movie.

The film tells the story of Jake Tyler (Faris), the new kid in town with a troubling past. Tyler is humiliated after trying to impress a girl by picking a fight with a local bully. After a new friend introduces Tyler to Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) trainer Jean Roqua (Hounsou). Roqua takes it upon himself to train Tyler.

Academy Award nominee Hounsou was drawn to the concept of the film from the start.

“It came from the love of [MMA],” Hounsou said in an interview with The University News. “I was mostly drawn to the sport, and then [I] read the story . As much as it seems to be an all-out fighting movie, it had some emotional value . with the … discipline that it takes to go through this type of training and the mental conditioning of it.”

Faris had a similar view.

“I’ve been a huge fan of MMA,” he said. “I loved the story [and] I loved the message … [Never Back Down] is like the Karate Kid for the Internet age.”

Faris was also drawn to his character.

“I’ve got some similar traits [to Tyler],” Faris said. “I moved from Houston to Cleveland when I was 12 [years old], so I know what it is like to start all over again and what it’s like to be an outcast, to be alone and to have no friends … We’ve all had our problems in life. I went through a lot of things that filled me with anger and rage, and I’ve had to deal with it.”

This film was refreshing for Hounsou, as the African-born actor is known for more intense and emotionally draining roles in dramatic movies such as Blood Diamond and In America, he said.

“I was definitely looking for something less emotional,” Hounsou said. “This was quite refreshing in that it was just a light-hearted movie.”

For the film, Hounsou and Faris had to learn MMA, a fast-growing sport that is currently illegal in 17 states. The actors went through intense training and lengthy research to tackle all aspects of the difficult sport.

“Certainly it was [difficult] for me since the only martial arts I knew were Kung Fu and boxing,” Hounsou said. “It’s a combination of so much more . I trained for it and was lucky enough to have a great number of guys who know the sport to [help me] emulate some of the great moves. I had to do a lot of physical conditioning and a lot of fights with the fighters we were training with. [The fighters] were the ones who helped me better understand the sport.”

As a result of his training, Faris put on 15 pounds of muscle, all while going through a grueling training schedule.

“I trained [for] six hours a day for several months, six days a week,” Faris said. “I put on 15 pounds of lean muscle in the process of two and a half to three months. I was eating 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day; it was not fun. I’m not talking about Krispy Kremes or Dunkin Donuts; I’m talking about carrots and yams, steak and chicken and baked potatoes and stuff like that. Just heavy, healthy food.”

Hounsou and Faris hope that audiences walk away from this film with a better understanding of MMA.

Hounsou said he appreciated “the physicality and all those great tools for young men and women. As we see today [there are] so many young men and women troubled in schools, and, if they had this kind of training, [it would be] great discipline [for] them. It [is] great mental conditioning for them and, as a result of practicing the sport and [attaining] better understanding [of] the sport, you gain a better spirituality.”

“The message I hope audiences take from this film is that it’s not a movie that’s encouraging fighting or ending things by violence,” Faris said. “[I hope the audience is] not distracted by the eye candy of all fight scenes [or] the girls running around, [but] that they take a little bit of the story home with them: to have discipline, self control and to only fight as a last resort.”