Chuck Norris Interviewed by Geoff Thompson.
I was recently invited to teach a self-defence seminar for Mr Chuck Norris in Las Vegas Nevada. Whilst there he was gracious enough to do an interview with me for Front Magazine and pose with his Front Hero medal. When I offered him the medal and informed him of his cult status with the readers of Front he was genuinely delighted and said it was a great honour. When you get to meet celebs it is often a disappointing experience, the minds eye image you have of your screen idol is often blasted half to death in ego.
I am delighted to say that Mr Chuck Norris was ego-less, he was not a disappointment, rather he was a delight. I found Mr Norris to be a genuinely warm and humble man, very quietly spoken and courteous at all times. This is what he had to say;
Geoff Thompson: What was your first break in to the film business?
Chuck Norris: Well, really my first big break was a movie called Good Guy's Wear Black. This was a screenplay that I helped develop and write. I peddled it around Hollywood for four years before I was able to finally make it a reality (laughs). But before that I had a chain of martial arts schools that a company wanted to buy and go nation-wide with. You know, like a whole chain of Chuck Norris schools. I thought that maybe 500 schools was better than owning six schools (laughs), well turns out it wasn't. Anyway two years later I lost everything. It took me five years to get out of that whole and pay all the creditors back. In the meantime I was trying to decide what I was going to do with my life. I was teaching private students at the time and one of them was an actor by the name of Steve McQueen. He asked me what I was going to do and said that I wasn't really sure yet whether I was going to start over again or what. I had a family at the time so I was making it by with private lessons and seminars. So he said 'I would suggest that you try the acting field'. I said 'why? I've never had an acting class in my life. I never even did a high school play (laughs). He said 'well, acting is not just having lessons. You either have a certain presence that comes across on the screen or you don't'. And he said 'I think you may have it. I strongly suggest that you give it a try'. So, of course I tried to go to acting school but, you know at this time I had no money. Nothing. And I was checking into acting schools and they were just too expensive. Finally I found an acting school that I was able to take on my GI bill through the military. So I went back to school to learn acting. Then I went out trying to find work (as an actor) but I was competing against guys with years and years of experience. I said 'this isn't going to work'. So I wound up writing my own screenplay and finally, you know through sheer determination and faith I sold the idea and made it a reality. That was in 1977. That, really was the beginning of my career.
Geoff Thompson: You played a wonderful role opposite the legendary Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon (Return of the Dragon - renamed for US release), now a movie classic how did that come about?
Chuck Norris: Well Bruce and I met when I won the world (karate) title in New York City in 1968. He was doing that TV series The Green Hornet at the time. He was at the tournament as a special guest. We hit it off pretty well and so we started working out together in Los Angeles for a couple of years. Then he left for Hong Kong to pursue his movie career. He called me up in 1972 and said 'I've done two movies in Hong Kong and I'm really big over here'. He said 'I want to do a movie with a fight scene that every one will remember and since you and I have worked out together so much how about you being my opponent (in the film)? So kiddingly I said to him 'who wins?' (Laughs) Bruce said 'I win, I'm the star (laughs).' I said 'Oh, I see you want to beat the world champion (laughs)'. But any way, you know at that time I was teaching, I had no aspirations toward acting but I went and did the fight scene in the movie with Bruce just as a kind of a break out of my schedule.
Geoff Thompson: And it was a classic too.
Chuck Norris: Yes it was. It was amazing because when I got to Rome my fighting weight was 168 (lbs.) and at the time Bruce weighed about 145. The producers of the film looked at us together and said to me 'you know you two don't look much different in size, you need to be bigger than Bruce, can we make you bigger?' I said 'what do you mean?' He said 'can you put on some weight (laughs)?' I said 'well, I don't know.' You know by this time I'm intimidated because I've never done this before, I'm scared and I said 'well how much weight do you want me to put on?' He said 'well can you put on 20 pounds (laughs)?' I said 'well I'll try'. So I started eating hamburgers and drinking malt. But I was training every day so I was burning the weight right back off again. I had to literally stop training and just eat. And then of course you know it wasn't muscle it was more fat than it was muscle (laughs). So I went up to about 180 for that fight scene. That's why you didn't see me do any jumping kicks I couldn't get off the ground (laughs). But it was a real experience to see Bruce Lee who was far ahead of every body else in that field. He had a vision that was years ahead of everyone. Then I came back to America and I thought my life would be teaching. Then, as I said in 1974 I lost everything with my schools then that's when I started pursuing and acting career. Fortunately in 1977 Good Guy's Wear Black became my first break.
Geoff Thompson: What was Bruce Lee like to fight.
Chuck Norris: He was very fast. And he learned from everybody, he had a very open mind. Bruce never believed in only one style, or one style is the best, he felt that there were so many 'best' of everything. He said that everything had strengths and weaknesses and what he wanted to do was find the strengths and use them. When I first started training with Bruce he only believed in kicking below the waist, from the groin down. He didn't believe in kicking any higher. And I said well you know the thing is to be able to do anything. Don't limit your self to only being able to kick from the waist down. At least develop the ability to kick high, not meaning that you have to, but at least have the ability to kick high if you choose. Then make it work however you want. So then I started to do my spinning heel kicks and hitting the pads and all this kind of thing then Bruce started doing it and off course in six months he could do it as well as anybody. So Bruce was a guy who learned and absorbed everything. He worked with me, he worked out with Joe Lewis and Mike Stone and he learned from all of us. Then he added it to his repertoire of techniques.
Geoff Thompson: When you finally sold Good Guys Wear Black, that must have been a very exciting time.
Chuck Norris: Yes it was, because fortunately for me at the time I didn't realise how hard acting had to be (laughs) I was too stupid. I just didn't realise it was so difficult. So I went in there very naïve and not realising there was so much to it. And off course the critics crucified me because my acting was so bad (laughs). But fortunately the martial arts in the film was adequate and people loved it, my flying kick through the car windshield and stuff like that. That's what people remembered and the movie did well. My next one was A force Of One where I played a world champion kick boxer and that one did really well. Then I did the first Ninja movie, The Octagon and that was the big fight scene movie so yeah it was very exciting times but I was always learning, I am always learning and that's what's so great about it. And you know people ask me if I still enjoy it and I say 'what's so great is that I'm still doing the martial arts and I'm still doing everything I love but I'm making more money doing it (laughs)'. So I'm making a better living doing something I love which is the martial arts. You know acting is my career, martial arts are my life. It'll be a part of me as long as I'm alive.
Geoff Thompson: You are known globally What is the key to your success?
Chuck Norris: I think setting a goal, getting a visual image of what it is you want. You've got to see what it is you want to achieve before you can pursue it. I've always found that anything worth achieving will always have obstacles in the way and you've got to have that drive and determination to overcome those obstacles on route to whatever it is that you want to accomplish. A lot of people give up just before they're about to make it. You know you never know when that next obstacle is going to be the last one. A lot of times people give up and say 'well I can't do it' but that next obstacle might have been the final one for them. And so I always kept that in my mind and I'd say to my self well maybe the next one, the next person I meet might be the one. You need the tenacity to stick to it when things get tough. And have faith that you can do it. A lot of times people look at the negative side of what they feel they can't do. I always look on the positive side of what I can do. And when I got into the film business I didn't say 'look Chuck you're 34 years old, you've had no acting experience, there's 16,000 unemployed actors in Hollywood, the average income of an actor is $5,000 a year'. Now if I had looked at that side of it, the negatives, it would have probably made me give up. But I didn't, I said 'you know since Bruce has sadly died there's a gap there for a good strong positive heroic image on the screen'. And that's what I wanted to portray, a positive image. Because movies in the seventies were kind of negative movies, anti-hero type movies. And I said, 'you know I think there's an opening here, a spot here for a positive influence on the screen'. And that's how I went for it and that's what saved me because my acting left a lot to be desired. But I think that the image I tried to portray on the screen, a strong positive person, is what saved me and why people tolerated the poor acting.
Geoff Thompson: You are a very humble person. Do you think that has helped you, the fact that you are obviously genuinely grateful for everything you have been given and have achieved.
Chuck Norris: Oh yeah, absolutely. I'm very grateful for every thing I have. You know when you start losing that then you start losing what life's all about.
Geoff Thompson: But people do though don't they, why is that
Chuck Norris: Unfortunately they do and I don't know why that is. I think they forget, you know. People need to realise what real happiness and success is, because success as an actor is fleeting. You can be up there one day and gone the next. It's very transient. Arnold Schwarzenegger and I have talked about this and he feels the same way I do. You know you take it for what it is. It's great to have the acclaim and all that but it's not going to be there forever so don't go thinking that 'I'm it forever', too many people do that. Too many actors feel 'I'm the best and I'll always be the best'. It doesn't work like that. It's like being a competitive fighter in the martial arts, you'll be the best one day, some one else is going to be the best the next day. So you've got to understand that and realise that the real secret to happiness is friends, camaraderie, for me it's my (karate) organisation, my family. This is what success and happiness is about. People say 'well if I make a lot of money I'm going to be happy'. Negative. Some of the most miserable people I know are some of the richest people in America, they are the most miserable individuals I've ever seen. So the money has not guaranteed their happiness. It's working toward something that you want to achieve in your life, seeing those goals and striving for those goals. It's like, you know, some one said to me 'when you won the world title isn't that your greatest accomplishment?' I said 'no, the greatest one was the first tournament I won because I worked so hard trying to win it.' It was the tournaments in between the world title that was the fun part. Once you've achieved it then say 'well now what?' Then you need a new goal see. That's what life's all about, working towards them goals and striving toward them and making your life the best you can make it.
Geoff Thompson: Are you a spiritual man, do you have God in your corner?
Chuck Norris: Oh yes. I definitely feel I do have God in my corner. I've been very fortunate that way, I am very spiritual. I'm a very religious person. There's to many things in life for us to cope with without the faith of God. I think that's why there has been so many suicides today, the kids don't have the strength of God in their hearts and so they give up, as individuals they don't have the strength to cope. That's why the third leading cause of death for teenagers in America is suicide. That's very sad. You need internal strength. I think that's where martial arts are such an integral part, because it does give you that strength of character, it does build internal strength. It becomes spiritual at a high level.
Geoff Thompson: I notice that you use your Walker (Texas Ranger) character as a vehicle to pass on a on a positive message.
Chuck Norris: I've been very fortunate to be able to use my series as a platform to show a good message for the kids. We actually use the Kick Drugs (Kick Drugs Out Of America) kids in some of the episodes. We just finished an episode last night actually that we hope will have a tremendous amount of influence. In America the schools have become too permissive, the kids now are controlling the schools, the tail is wagging the dog. We've got to make a change there and get it back to where the teachers have control of the classrooms. We need to take it back to grass roots and hopefully one day that's going to happen.
Geoff Thompson: What is Kick Drugs Out Of America?
Chuck Norris: With the Kick Drugs association we work with inner city children. A lot of out kids are kids who already have two strikes against them and we're just trying to keep them from striking out altogether. We have helped a lot of children. We have 3500 children now on our programme, a lot of these kids have become black belts. The ones we are trying to help are kids that have problems. We have one who was a gang member, on the way to destruction who has just been admitted into one of the biggest universities in America. We just want to help as many kids as we can, help get them on the right track and away from drugs and crime.
Geoff Thompson: What is your ethos in life? Is it to serve.
Chuck Norris: Oh yes, absolutely. You know I find that when you serve, when you help others it comes back to you, automatically, it is a philosophy that is true. What you give out is what you are going to get back and if you put out that negative vibe you are going to get the same thing back again. And when you serve there is a gratification there and you're going to find that life is worth living.
Geoff Thompson: Have you a final message to leave the readers?
Chuck Norris: Focus on what it is that you want, set a realistic goal. Start setting goals that you feel you can accomplish. Don't try to go right to the top in one leap. Every time you accomplish a goal you develop the strength and wisdom to accomplish the next one. Success begets success just like failure begets failure. So when you start developing these little successes it makes you want to become more successful. Keep focused on it and don't let anything get in your way.
Geoff Thompson: Thank you so much for you time Mr Norris.
Chuck Norris: You bet ya.
This article has been reproduced with the permission of Geoff Thompson
Geoff Thompson has written 30 published books - 250,000 copies in print - and was on the Sunday Times Best-Seller list with his autobiographical book Watch My Back about his nine years working as a night club doorman.
He has published several articles for GQ magazine, and has also been featured in FHM, Maxim, Arena, Front and Loaded magazines. For two years he was a contributing editor for Men's Fitness magazine. He has been featured many times on mainstream TV about his book and his articles. Geoff has completed several book signing tours of Great Britain promoting his books in Waterstone and W.H. Smith.
As one of the highest ranking martial arts instructors in Britain, Geoff was voted the number 1 self defense author in the world by Black Belt Magazine USA and was invited to teach for Chuck Norris twice in Las Vegas Nevada.
Visit his website www.geoffthompson.com to purchase copies of his books/DVDs go to http://www.shop.geoffthompson.com/acatalog/.