Randy Couture has forgotten more about dispensing pain than you or I will ever know. After an amazing career in the world of mixed martial arts (he’s truly one of the cornerstone names in the now colossal business) he’s gone on to do a wide variety of things in the business world, including launching a very successful gym franchise but also in dipping his toe into the world of film. As Toll Road in The Expendables (buy it from us) he ups the stakes and is part of a diverse and unique melding of talents that covers the entire spectrum of what we’ve come to expect from action stars.
I had the chance to speak with the man on the eve of the DVD and Blu-ray release of the film, the results of which await below…
Nunziata: I just was just watching the special features of the Blu-ray and there’s a moment where you get handed script pages on the fly, or I guess the Sly would be more applicable. A major scene for you. He seemed like he was constantly inspired and shaping the film as he went.
Randy Couture: He definitely kept you on your toes. My one biggest scene was that monologue about the [his famous cauliflower] ear and I’d spent a lot of time with my acting coach working on that scene. I wanted to make sure I did a good job on it. I had like three pages of dialogue. I showed up, and it happened to be the very first day of our New Orleans shoot and we were going to shoot that scene and he hands me a whole new set. He rewrote the entire scene. I was like “Oh my God!”. I was in my trailer for a couple of hours freaking out and trying to get off book on it and get it down. Thankfully Terry Crews was in the trailer next to me and he helped me a bunch and it worked out. I kinda freaked out.
Nunziata: Not only is acting not your second career, it’s like your fourth and fifth and there you are with guys that have been doing it for decades, thrown into the fire.
Randy Couture: It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed it. The guys were all great. Everyone thought there was going to be set drama and stuff like that, you have all these Alpha Males together and there was absolutely none. Everybody got along great, had fun, and joked around. I think all of that was possible because we all had so much respect for Sly. He set the pace and we all tried to keep up.
Nick Nunziata: What’s the through line in terms of how you became involved in this and your relationship with Stallone?
Randy Couture: I had met him a couple of times. Superficially at some events and then he was filming all the photos and stuff for a book he was doing with his wife at a Gym here, the R1 gym in Segundo. I got the chance to meet him more closely and see what he was doing. He did some video stuff there with a guy who was doing a documentary about fighting. He remembered who I was when this movie came along. My agent sent me in to see him, originally for the Hale Caeser role which worked out so well for Terry. They manipulated things around and came up with Toll Road and he explained to me sitting in his office exactly how he saw Toll Road. This flawed, articulate, and intelligent warrior and that’s how he wrote it and it came out.
Nick Nunziata: What’s the significance of the name ‘Toll Road’?
Randy Couture: “If you’re gonna get past me you’re gonna have to pay.”
Nunziata: Nice! That is so Stallone. The way he distills things right down to the bare bones. A lot of the roles previous to this, it was somewhat familiar terrain. Here, though you have some fighting there’s a lot of gunplay. Was it fun to play guns on set, getting to live out the childhood fantasy?
Randy Couture: Like most guys I spent a lot of time as a kid running around with a stick playing soldier. I actually wore the uniform for six years. I was in the Army right out of high school. I was familiar with the M-16 and a lot of the other weapons. I’ve been an avid hunter and outdoorsman my whole life. Most of the hunting I do with a bow, I do archery but I have a few rifles and a few assault rifles. It was like a childhood dream to run with all those guys though.
Nunziata: How does stage gunplay compare to reality in terms of what’s enhanced to look good on camera?
Randy Couture: Everything changes a little bit. Certainly the fight scenes have to change. It’s not about the most effective technique. It’s about what sells and what looks good when you’re capturing it on film. The same thing is true when you’re packing around a weapon and fighting in tunnels. It has to look right and that’s the most important thing.
Nunziata: You’ve worked with Stallone and David Mamet. Huge inspirations for me. Talk about polar opposites at least from an outsider’s perception. You were in Redbelt and Mamet has this aggressive reputation.
Randy Couture: I actually found them to be very similar. I really enjoyed David Mamet and Redbelt. David did the same thing to us. You’d see David pacing around on set and of course he uses a lot of the same actors. I was there with Vinnie [Guastaferro] in most of my scenes as Dylan Flynn and he’d elbow me and say ‘watch, we’re about to get a whole new page of dialogue here’ and sure enough Mamet would come over scribbling stuff. He’d say ‘it sounds better if you say that and you say this’ and he’d hand us the dialogue for the scene and we’d be ready to go. In some ways David wasn’t caught up in the the words he had originated on the page. The same goes for Sly. They are way more interested in manipulating it and getting their clear vision out.
Nunziata: You hear of actors who simply can’t hang with Mamet. His world. How he writes, what he demands of his actors, and how he runs a set. It’s refreshing to hear that he’s not as rigid as the press would have you believe.
Randy Couture: I had a great experience with him. Maybe it’s because I don’t come from that world. When I came in to read I had no idea who David Mamet was. I went back to Gersh Agency and told them that we spent an hour going through scenes and that it went great. They said ‘What? You just got to read and spend an hour reading with David Mamet, are you kidding me?’. I was like ‘What?’. Everyone else was flabbergasted. I didn’t know. I had no idea.
Nunziata: I think that may have worked to your benefit actually.
Randy Couture: Absolutely. I wasn’t uptight. I wasn’t worried about it. I had no preconceived ideas, I was just doing my thing.
Nunziata: Have you caught up on his body of work subsequently?
Randy Couture: Yeah. He’s given me some books. I’ve seen a lot of the stuff that he’s been a part of and made so special. It’s pretty cool.
Nick Nunziata: Well, he’s sort of a treasure in the business. And on the stage. That’s a really cool story. The Expendables is one of those movie that exists in the dreams of fans. Movies like this aren’t supposed to happen. Was there a sense that this was a big milestone as you were making it?
Randy Couture: I think there was. I remember in Rio the very first night that all the Expendables came together for that first scene. We were doing the palace entry after we’d all gone back to the island. We all congregated together. I think that was the first time we are all together for one scene. There was an electricity on set. Everyone was abuzz with all those guys in one scene together. It was pretty remarkable. Sly’s the only one would could have pulled this off, gotten all those guys together. Especially when you talk about Arnold and Bruce. All those guys.
Nick Nunziata: I spoke to Dolph Lundgren last week and he’d said there wasn’t any ego on set, and that seems to be the case from watching the special features. What was the dynamic like, this group of people all known for being tough guys?
Randy Couture: Everybody was just comfortable with their place. Nobody felt like they had anything to prove. We respected each other and all accomplished our things in different areas. We’re all kind of coming together for this. It made this special. People thought there might be issues but there just wasn’t.
Nick Nunziata: Has Sly teased you about the sequel yet?
Randy Couture: He hasn’t. I got to ride back from the New York press junket with him. He was tossing stuff around and writing stuff down for the new script. I still have yet to see the new script or anything. I know they want to get rolling on the new one in March. I don’t know what Toll Road’s going to be doing in the next one.
Nick Nunziata: Well regardless, you’re going to get new pages on the day anyway.
Randy Couture:Yeah, so I’ll probably spend less time with my coach going into this one!
Nick Nunziata: The film was a sensation globally. Has there been anything new in terms of how fans have responded to you?
Randy Couture: The mixed martial arts crowd is a very tight group. We’ve been banging it out for sixteen or seventeen years and we have very loyal fans. Now to walk around in places and people starting to recognize me from The Expendables, and the first couple of times people recognized me from there was strange. It wasn’t the norm for me. It’s been a new experience. It opened up a new can of worms for me there.
Nick Nunziata: Are you enjoying acting enough to want to continue stretching yourself and exploring how far it can go?
Randy Couture: Absolutely. Looking forward to challenging myself. I’m not one of those guys who does anything halfway. I’ve been very intrigued by the process ever since I did Cradle 2 the Grave with Jet Li and DMX. That was the eye opener. I’ve been trying to take it seriously ever since. Been taking classes and working with coaches and trying to avoid the “thuggish” roles that they’re going to want to push me towards because my physicality. I’ve got a long way to go but there’s some opportunity there.
Stay tuned for a chat with Terry Crews in the next couple of days, you lucky pigs!