On 20 November, 2009, our own JoshB was given the opportunity to interview one of the stars from the surprise-hit family TV series, "Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight"- martial artist and actor Matt Mullins, who plays Len/Kamen Rider Wing Knight!
Unfortunately, the conversation could not happen online as to be recorded in a clearer form to be posted online. And so one of CDX's senior writers, EVA_Unit_4A [that would be me], transcribed the entire 24-minute interview for your reading pleasure!
"Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight" (rated "TV-Y7" for fantasy violence) can be found Saturday mornings @ 11:30am on The CW Network's 4KidsTV programming block, and all of the complete episodes currently-aired on their site, www.4kidstv.com/kamen-rider-dragon-knight.
JoshB (CollectionDX creator/owner/webmaster, giant robot pilot): How did you come to learn about "Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight", and how did you get cast for it?
Matt Mullins (Len/Kamen Rider Wing Knight): Well, my first experience with the show had actually been when I saw the audition. And I did, I think, like everyone else has done who’s not familiar with the series when I saw Kamen spelled K-A-M-E-N, I’m like, ‘Kay-men Rider’? What is ‘Kay-men Rider’? And so actually I went online and started looking at it and doing a little bit of research and really understanding the huge lineage that is of Kamen Rider, and really that was my first experience with the pre-show pilot. And then I actually got cast in the pilot ‘cause I went and I-- I crashed the audition for the pilot because I originally did not have… I couldn’t get an audition for the pilot. I had an agent […] here, and I wasn’t able to sit in for the actual audition. So I found out when they were holding audition, and then I went in and crashed it met [writer/co-producer] Mike Lang and ended up hooking the part in the pre-show pilot.
So you had no experience with this genre before you had done the audition?
Not specifically with Kamen Rider. I was huge Power Ranger fan when I was younger, and that was sort of a similar vein, you know, vein. I loved Ultraman, Beetleborgs, VR Troopers. One of my favorite, like, Japan-ish shows was Voltron--
-when I was younger, and was my absolute favorite TV show when I was really young. And then, of course, [Teenage Mutant ]Ninja Turtles next came out, then Power Rangers as well ‘cause there was… Anything that had sort of an action vein to it I dug and I was into.
So do you think the Power Rangers show was an influence to your decision to get into martial arts?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. It was the common reach between "The Karate Kid", Power Rangers, and "Ninja Turtles", and I think those were my inspirational factors into martial arts.
Now, your main career is martial arts, and you tour with this thing called Sideswipe[ Performance Team]. Can you talk about Sideswipe a little bit?
Sure, absolutely. Sideswipe, um… Let me start with my martial arts background. I was competing in the national circuit (the national conference for martial arts), and there were divisions where you could start to open your team, and in these open forum divisions, competitors started throwing crazier moves, like flips and aerials, and spinning jump-kicks, and I was sorta part of that whole evolution of martial arts. And by the time I was an adult, it really had grown quite a bit and people were doing it in synchronized form and routines, and I had moves to Los Angeles, and I had started doing that type of performance in shows. I had gotten a call from a few choreographers. That’s ‘cause I had friends who were able to do that type of performance as well, and that’s how Sideswipe got started. I started […] with the performance team [in] Los Angeles, and then it sorta just grew from there. We did a show called “30 Seconds To Fame” that was on Fox TV. We won $25,000 [the show’s weekly grand-prize], and that really launched Sideswipe to what it is today. Because from there we ended up doing “Steve Harvey’s Big Time[ Challenge]”, “The Tom Joyner Show”, “The Ellen Degeneres Show”, “The Wayne Brady Show”, and then of course, most-recently “America’s Got Talent”. And so after the television period, since we started doing live performances at halftime events for NBA basketball teams, corporate events- Microsoft, Fed Ex- whoever had a concert and needed to hire acts, we’d need to go and perform. And then most-recently, I choreographed for the Brittany Spears show for their “Circus” tour, and most of the Sideswipe team had been on tour with her.
Oh, wow. That’s pretty interesting.
[…] Martial arts is kinda all-encompassing for me, so anything that involves martial arts, I really love doing. I like to think my main career is actually a performer. I’m an overall performer, ‘cause it doesn’t matter why the performance is commercial, stage shows, producing- we produced quite a few of our own live performances, throughout the country… I train and I teach martial arts, but not because it’s definitely what I want to do. It’s just because it’s something I’ve always done. I’ve trained kids for movies, and I’ve worked with quite a few of the younger up-and-coming martial arts superstars as well.
That’s pretty impressive. Now, "Kamen Rider..." is over right now, correct? The filming has stopped?
Right, we finished filming. We finished all 40 episodes in about a 9-month period.
Has there been any talk of moving forward with the series yet, or is that still up in the air? And if so, would you come back for it?
I guess there’s actually- there has been talk about it. I’m actually going down to Adness Entertainment [the “Dragon Knight” production company] today to talk to them about a few things. One of them is the video game that is coming out. We’re also planning- I’ll be over in Germany at the end of December; we’re gonna do some PR stuff over there as well. But there has been talk about the second season, and then if there is a second season, I would absolutely come back. I thought it was a phenomenal experience.
So the show will be airing overseas as well then?
Yes. The show is already airing in Brazil and Japan. The European broadcast, I believe, starts in January.
Now that’s an interesting take- right now “Dragon Knight” is an American take on a Japanese franchise. So you’re saying that the American take is now being re-shown in Japan?
Actually, guy who played Ren[ Akiyama/Kamen Rider Knight, Wing Knight’s counterpart] in Japan actually voiced-over the series for me.
Oh- no kidding? Has there been any reaction to that? Do they like it? Do they think it’s a curiosity or…?
I think it’s just-- Because the "Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight" series was never meant to be, like, a remake of the “[Kamen Rider ]Ryuki” series…
Yeah, it’s a whole new series with the same suits, basically.
Right. Exactly- that stood on its own. So the storyline is completely different, especially when you get action sequences that we were able to do, and you start throwing stars in there like Mark Dacascos [Eubulon, the Advent Master], and you really start to get a whole different feel to a show. Especially in the last ten episodes of “Kamen Rider...” really… ends and sways differently from “Ryuki”.
Right… So, now, speaking of the martial arts and the action in the show, what kind of input did you have to the fight scenes, with your background? Were you allowed to choreograph those, or were you under direction from someone else?
Well, I was really under a lot of the direction of Alpha Stunts, who had done the majority of the Power Rangers shows. Koichi [Sakamoto] and Yuji [Noguchi] are two of the gentlemen who filmed second-unit. Koichi did the first four episodes and Yuji did the remaining episodes of the series. And it was really an honor to work with them because, those are action sequences that really inspired me to take my [martial arts] performance to new heights on-screen.
Right. Yeah, you’ve got quite a legacy to live up to.
…really, they came up with an amazing type of choreography. I was able to give input as far as what I could do, because they weren’t exactly sure what movement I could do, so it was a little bit of I give-and-take especially when I was doing my [phone distortion] with them.
So, doing choreography for Japanese directors and that sort of thing, was there any, like, 'Wow- we’re really surprised that this American guy can do this!”, or were they already aware of your capabilities?
They were kinda aware of my capabilities, one because of… One of my instructors, Mike Chaturantabut, was the blue Power Ranger [character Chad Lee] on the “[Power Rangers] Lightspeed Rescue” series, so they were familiar with the type of technique, but I like to think that, for being a 6’ 1”, 200lbs white guy, they were a little impressed that I could jump and do what I could do. It’s just not too common to see such a big dude doing all this type of large action.
Were you ever in the suit for the scenes, or was that a stuntman? Because, obviously, you did the scenes not as the Kamen Rider, but were you ever in the suit and did the scenes?
No, I did not. The outfits- there was a couple reasons why. One, the costumes were actually created for Japanese stunt performers, so there’s no way I could even fit inside of one- I could never even get my leg in the pant leg! But also, we were shooting so quickly. We were shooting so quickly; we were shooting second unit, so you had the first unit doing all of the out-of-costume shots at the same time they’re shooting the majority of the costumed footage as well.
Ahh. So you never got to try on the suit and just- you know…? (*chuckles*)
No, uh-uh. But when I was younger, and I first got to Los Angeles, one of my first gigs was I did, for the “Power Rangers Time Force” series, I ended up doing the in-costume stuff for the Quantum Ranger on some of the tour.
Oh, that’s cool. So what was your favorite Power Rangers series? You know, depending on your age, you start off with a different Power Ranger(s) in a sense. What one would you say is the first one you had exposure to?
Uh, the “Mighty Morphin[ Power Rangers]”.
The very first one? Did you have any of the toys?
Oh, yeah. Oh my god, yeah. I loved the toys. …um, what was my favorite? I kinda like them all. I mean I wasn’t too big a fan of the Pink pterodactyl. But I had all the other ones, I really liked. I liked in the series too that everyone did all of the out-of-costume fighting, and they all did a really good job, and the choreography was just beautiful. It was just so high-packed, so high energy. None of the other series could really pull that off except with the “…Lightspeed Rescue” series, where they did a lot of out-of-costume fighting with the characters as well. I think that’s important in a lot of the series too, because you really see that it… suspends your disbelief that you’re really watching a real show because you’re able to see the people do it out of the costume. So of course you’re doing the costume. So for me it was like “Wow!”, I was really very impressed.
So, being that you grew up on Power Rangers, and now that you’re involved with Kamen Rider, what’s it like to have a toy of you?
(*laughs*) Ahh… it’s very cool. It was never something that, I’m like, “You know what? I’m gonna go to Hollywood, and get on a TV series, and have a toy of myself.” I never had that as an intention, but it’s very cool because, you know… I don’t know, it’s like your toy and your action figures is something that will be all around the world and everyone will have a chance to see and… Obviously if you buy an action figure, it’s because you relate to that character somehow and that you want to personify that type of person or you want to pretend that you are that person, and hopefully what it does, I hope it inspires in people to either train in martial arts or take what they do to the next level… It’s really cool in a lot of aspects. I was, like, “Wait- I’m gonna have a toy!?” I mean, that’s the coolest thing in the world.
Now, is the toy as articulated as you are? (*chuckles*)
(*chuckles*) Uh, it’s a little shorter. And it’s huge, like it’s really ripped. Ironically I’m wearing blue jeans and a black shirt right now so... I look just like my toy if I had my black glasses. It looks pretty close.
Darkwing and Len (Set #33922)
Kamen Rider Wing Knight with Wing Cycle (Set #33953)
So, you’re essentially on a kid’s show. You have a toy out. What is it like playing to that younger audience as opposed to, like, some of the martial arts stuff you’ve done in movies and things like that in the past? Is it a big shift to work for kids as an audience?
It’s not really a big shift. I mean, first of all the writing really take care of the demographic of the show. So one of the things that the Wang brothers (Steve and Mike Wang) wanted to really make sure that they did it, they didn’t want to dumb it down for kids. They really wanted to make the show where you truly connect with the characters and you’re sure to become emotionally attached to them so that when they actually get Vented [a Kamen Rider being ‘killed’] or taken off the show, you have a range of emotions for that character when they leave, and that’s what they really remember. So, as far as playing specifically for kids, we really tried to keep it as on the mark as possible as far as… I’m not being hit over the head with- “Oh, look- a monster! Let’s go fight!” –like that type of performance. And kids nowadays are so intelligent, and I think that their level of entertainment has not… It has gone up and down. Meaning that, it’s more of a high-paced or quantity-based type of information. That’s why you get a lot of hits on YouTube of things that are “high action” or really short in length. But they’re able to, I think, grasp a lot heavier concepts than you or I were as a kid. That’s what the trend has been right now.
Yeah, you compare a show like “…Dragon Knight” to some of the earlier Power Rangers shows, and the earlier ones are filled with sight gags. They’re almost comedies as well, and this is… “Kamen Rider…” is a dramatic show for the most part.
Absolutely. It’s a very intense show. I mean, in the last 3-4 episodes, when the main character has been vented, and that is a big thing. Like, who kills-off their main character, whom the story is all about, in any TV series, let-alone a kid’s show? But it’s just something that the writers and the producers and directors felt would be a really… strong thing to happen in the show.
Well one of the things that I always associate with- ‘cause I grew on “Voltron”, “Robotech”, and all that stuff- is that because they came from that Japanese origins, they always had a little more mature subject matter. I mean, people did die, plots were arching. It wasn’t just half-an-hour where it was done. And I think that with a lot of translations that have come over in the last ten years-or-so, like Beetleborgs, that all kinda went by the wayside. And “…Dragon Knight” looks like a nod back to that era where, ‘let’s take it more seriously’.
Yeah, I think that’s very accurate of the content of what is coming out is much more true to what the original form and version of it was. But it’s just, as I said, it’s just something that… a trend that’s catching on. But when you even have things like, oh… Even “Ben 10” is definitely more of a serious show.
And even the new “…Ninja Turtles” are like the really hard-lined-drawn characters. It’s not the super-Disney-cartoonish characters. Now I loved the original “…Ninja Turtles” […] but these “…Ninja Turtles” nowadays are looking… they’re just fierce-looking!
Yeah. It’s definitely a sign of the times. It’s a lot less care-free in a sense now, I think. But the media’s reflecting that now.
[…] I want to ask you about fandom. So, obviously the closest thing I can relate it to is Power Rangers. There’s, of course, the primary market is kids, but you have a lot of people who grew up with Power Rangers now that are older and still following fans of the show and they get very vocal about when things are done-away that aren’t the way that they want them to be, and things like that. I know there’s a Kamen Rider fandom, but have you had any experience with fans of the original show, and their comparisons to the source material and that sort of thing? Or has it been pretty benign?
Across the board everyone has been very, very gratifying for the show. Everyone has run positively about the show. A lot of people have- like these purists- typing, ‘Oh, it’s not “…Ryuki” that we know and love’, ‘They’re not even doing “Henshin!” [the standard Kamen Rider transformation command] in it’. So there’s a lot of purists for the show. …The biggest comment that we’ve gotten is that it’s so much better that the Disney[-era] Power Rangers. I think everyone kinda was aggravated that Power Rangers had gone to Disney-
-and had been watered-down even more than it was, and at least… and Kamen Rider was sort of a rebirth of this genre. So overall it has been very positive feedback. I’ve noticed the community being very, very giving as far as what the Wang brothers have tried to do, and what the actors have done on the show as far as doing their performances and… the effort of everybody to make a great show.
So in your travels, have you ever been to Japan; either with Sideswipe or with the Kamen Rider stuff?
Yeah, actually we were over there performing for the Marine and Navy bases over in Japan; it was awesome. So we were there just this last May.
Yeah, the whole culture of [the] Kamen Rider franchise in Japan just literally permeates everywhere. I mean, if you go to a convenient store, it’s there. If you go anywhere, it’s there, it’s everywhere. So it’s a big legacy. It’s kinda daunting, I would think, to be part of that.
Absolutely. The deeper I dug into how big the lineage is of Kamen Rider and… Even the “…Ryuki” series was a great series, and to be able to be a part of that franchise and lineage is truly amazing. I really am thankful that I had the opportunity to kinda give my take on just a great character and be able to try to take it to the next level.
Pretty cool. So, the next question I’m gonna ask you is… who’s ass could you kick? Okay?
Okay, uh… My- my answer would be “Everybody’s”!
(*laughs*) Well, I’m gonna run down some names, and say who they are today, ‘cause I know a lot of these people are long in the tooth, and it probably wouldn’t be too hard. So, Jackie Chan?
Well, this is an interesting question, and let me pre-frame this, first of all. Actual fighting ability and on-screen fighting talent, two separate things.
So, I’m trying to think… You know there’s a lot of things that go into an actual backyard brawl with anybody.
(*laughs*) You can take it to mean however you want it to mean. If you want it to mean in-tournament or whatever; just as a joke. Just have fun with it.
…Okay, alright. (*chuckles*, mumbles off-phone)
Okay, so I got a name here- Steven Segal. You know?
Steven Segal. I think- woo, that’s be a good one. He’s a kenpo guy. I think nowadays I’d be able to out-move him, so yes, I think I could piece after him and take him out. Who else you got?
Ah- Ralph Machio?
Ralph Machio? Yes, definitely.
(*laughs*) Ah… [Jean-Claude]Van Damme?
Van Damme? Yes, I don’t think he was… Actually I met Van Damme just recently too- really nice guy. Think I could take him out- I’m much bigger than he is.
Alright, now you’re gonna get tough ones… Jet Li?
Ooh… Uh, I’m gonna say yes too. He was a wushu practitioner, and I think he has strong fighting ability, but- again- much bigger. I think I could take him down pretty good too.
Alright, last one- Tony Jaa?
Tony Jaa? Yes, same thing.
First round, I’d take him out. Again, I think all these guys- their on-the-street fighting abilities, especially Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Tony Jaa- have their on-screen fighting abilities… Just insane at the amount of physical [moves] that they’re able to do. But, even when we tell about our performance in martial arts, you wouldn’t do it just… You wouldn’t spin three times in the air and then kick someone.
Right, you just wanna take the most-efficient course and be done with it.
Exactly. It’s very direct just throwing punches, kicks, grappling, you know, armsbars locks. So, again, it depends on if you were trained with that or not. I think, actually, Tony Jaa has brought a little bit of muay thai, so he could be a little more difficult. No, it would all be some good matches. I’d normally say if I had to fight anybody else, we’d kill each other at the same time.
But I will- for the article- I would say “Yes”, I would take out all of ‘em.
At the end of the interview, Matt showed his appreciation for CDX's efforts in sharing what they loved with the rest of the world! (He even read a few of our reviews before the interview.)
Oh, and by the way- Matt's agent came to us first, not the other way around!
. . .
Good news: Matt has agreed to autograph three mint-in-box "Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight" figures just for CollectionDX! They are:
4" Kamen Rider
4" Kamen Rider
4" Kamen Rider
One autographed Rider figure was presented to the first three applicants who could correctly answer this question taken directly from the series:
What is the name of General Xaviax's home planet?
Wow! Only one day after this interview was posted to CDX, three people gave the correct answer! The winners are:
Congratulations to you three! You knew the correct answer: KARSH (Remember, Xaviax was an alien who invaded Ventara; he did not originate from Ventara.)
Additional images found at:
Matt Mullins' personal homepage
Sideswipe Performance Team homepage
Bandai America's products page for "Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight"