Interview de Stuart Smith
Thank you for being kind enough to accept answering our questions. To start with, could you tell us a bit about you and your life before you went to Asia? Where and when were you born? What did you do for a living?
I was born in Winchester, England but grew up in Sydney, Australia. I was working in the Import/Export business after flunking out of law, and between jobs, when I got involved with a local community group who were setting up a small government-sponsored film/acting school. We made some surf film documentaries focusing on the young local Many surfers and I ended up doing most of the on-camera interviews. Off camera we went though a 12 month drama course, had access to all the cameras and production editing facilities we could ever want. I went out and found an agent, Shay Martin, and began working, initially as an extra on a number of ABC productions , Australian soap operas and a few feature films My agent had a learn as you go philosophy to acting and thats exactly what I did, slowly picking up small speaking roles in larger productions.
When did you move to Hong Kong, and what made you leave your homeland for Asia?
I moved to Hong Kong in March of 1986. My acting agent in Sydney also ran a travel agency and although I loved growing up in Sydney, I wanted to go and live somewhere completely different.. She told me that Hong Kong producers and directors were looking for Western actors to work in Hong Kong so I sold everything I owned in Sydney and got on a plane for Hong Kong.
During the 80s, it seems there were good opportunities for Westerners to appear in movies in HK. How was it to be a gweilo performer in HK? (the way you were considered by Chinese crews, the money you earned, relations / acquaintances with other gweilos etc.) Some websites reported that you had been a stuntman. Is that correct?
Well A Better Tomorrow had just come out, Tai Pan was currently filming and it was Renaissance-time for the film industry in Hong Kong, so it was good place to be at the right time, by chance.
The money was always a process of negotiation but US$100/day was my standard rate.
You have made several films with director Godfrey Ho (and producer Joseph Lai). Other Western actors such as Richard Harrison and Bruce Baron, who both did ninja films with Ho and Lai, explained to us they had been tricked. Indeed, the scenes they shot have been edited any which way with some old Asian pictures and, beyond the poor quality of the result, they eventually found themselves appearing in many more movies than their respective contracts did specify. Was it the same for you? Would you have a comment about the content of these two interviews? What memories do you keep of Bruce Baron, Pierre Tremblay, Richard Harrison, Louis Roth, Mike Abbott, Grant Temple, Alphonse Beni, etc.?
Well it didnt take me too long to work out that a 10 day-2 week shoot for a film wasnt going to produce 90 minutes or so of screen time, so something wasnt quite right. I contracted for so many days on such and such a film for so much a day.. They owned that footage. I have no doubt that what both Richard and Bruce say was correct. The 10 or 15 minutes of screen time shot in Hong Kong was cut into other multiple cheap Asian films, mainly from Thailand and the Philippines. I worked with both Richard and Bruce, both consummate professionals.
Louis Roth was a dear friend of mine and is sadly missed. I first met him on the set of one of Godfreys early films and almost broke his nose in the first scene we filmed. He was a tough New Yorker, ex Vietnam vet and an actors actor. We worked on many films together, including Undeclared War, and his sharp wit and dry sense of humour is still remembered by all who met him. He could be fairly abrasive if you didnt know him and I know he ruffled a few peoples feathers over the years. He founded the Actors Studio in Hong Kong and some of my best memories are of taking some classes for him when he was away on his numerous film shoots. Theres nothing better than the opportunity to pass on a bit of what you have learned in the business to those just starting out or wanting to learn.
We read on a website that Louis Roth was involved in scriptwriting and continuity on some of Godfrey Ho's ninja movies. Is this true?
I think that Louis was involved in rewriting alot of the "scripts" they came up with. To hold him in anyway responsible would however be an error of judgement. Everyone who appeared in their movies was involved in rewriting what they said on camera, because believe it or not, they were even worse before that! Louis did however write the first script for "Undeclared War", and some of the early rewrites before they brought someone in from L.A. to do the final rewrites and bring the script together.