RON BALICKI INTERVIEW 2017


Season three of “THE LAST SHIP” brought us many new enemies: President Peng, Alison Shaw and the Regional Leaders, and Takehaya, to name but a few. However, one of the most standout moments of the entire season didn’t have one of the Big Bads in the scene, but came in the form of an incredible machete fight between Wolf Taylor and one of the pirates.

From: twitter.com/BrenFosterReal

The pirate in question was played by none other than legendary martial artist Ron Balicki. You may not have heard of him before seeing him play the Polynesian pirate Alezan, but he’s a familiar face to fans of Steven Seagal and martial arts movies. We talked to Ron about his role, his martial arts background, and what’s coming next for him.

Credit: ma-mags.com

Given his phenomenal background in martial arts, we ask the obvious question: how did he get started? “I’m an old man now, I’m 53! When I got started, there weren’t martial arts schools on every corner, like there are now,” explains Ron. “I started training in judo, from there I went to karate and kung fu, and then I met Dan Inosanto, and I ended up training in jeet kune do, which is Bruce Lee’s martial art, and Filipino martial arts, which are Kali, Eskrima and Silat, and all the other things that they teach. I ended up immersing myself in it.

“I grew up in Chicago, in a bit of a rough neighbourhood, and most of the people I grew up with are either in jail, or dead from all sorts of issues, dealing with that neighbourhood. I found that martial arts kept me more off the streets and a little healthier.”

With most serious martial artists, it’s not something that they “do”, but it’s a part of who they are. Ron is no exception to that.

“It’s always been a passion. When you start out in martial arts, obviously, you want to learn how to be this buttkicker, and I think the Bruce Lee influence really got me. I was around when he was on “The Green Hornet”, and it just got me. It was still, then, just a thing I did.”

“After I met Dan Inosanto, and my progression with him, was when I saw a change in me. People were starting to look to me to answer questions, because they didn’t understand him. Part of it was maybe my accessibility to him. I would say that happened in my early twenties, when I knew this was going to be in my life forever. That’s when I saw the evolution in me.”

RON TRAINING WITH DAN INOSANTO

Ron started his career in the Cook County Sheriff’s Department, long before making a name for himself as a martial artist. “I started there in 1986 or 1987,” he says. “I loved police work. It could be very political; Chicago is a very political town. I was going through some ups and downs in the department. Everything that was going on there was survivable, I could have got through it, but I wasn’t happy. I liked the police work, but I wasn’t happy with – partially – the environment, and the way everything was going there.

“Dan Inosanto could see my frustration, and he said ‘if you want, you can come to California and manage the Inosanto Academy’. At that point, I wasn’t in a relationship, I had no debt, so I resigned from the Sheriff’s Department, and I moved to California. My family thought I was a little crazy, my dad wasn’t too happy with me, and he didn’t quite see it the way I did. He was a little bit disappointed in me at that time, but later he said it was a good move.”

Of course, making a career in martial arts is a far cry from working in film and television, and this next career move wasn’t something that Ron sought out. “I never went after film and TV, it kind of found me,” he says. “I was training at the Inosanto Academy, and there were all sorts of film people at the Academy at that time. There was a man who came to the school, and he was watching me work out, and he could see that I wasn’t really hurting anybody, that I could perform it safely and snap it out at a good rate of speed without damaging somebody. That’s really important in film work. You can’t be putting your hands on everybody, because after take two or three, they’re not going to be looking the same! People will obviously get upset if you’re hurting them!

“So he saw that I had that ability, and first, I did a low budget film called “Sword of Honor”. So I did the film, and he [the man from the Academy] was the stunt coordinator for a new TV series that was coming out, called “Power Rangers”, of all things! They asked me if I wanted to do it, I said ‘sure’, and I ended up doing a couple of years on it. It was a lot of fun, but it was like a conveyor belt. We’d go from one set to the next set, to the next set, and just fight, fight, fight, fight. It was a lot of training. For me, I liked that, because it was a lot of experience, very fast, on what to do and how to do it.

“It took off from there. After that, I was offered some different things. One of the things I was offered early on was [by] Robert Lee, Bruce Lee’s brother, who was doing a movie about his brother’s life,but I don’t think it ever really took off. It was called “The Curse of the Dragon”, and was a documentary style film about his brother, but there was some martial arts in it, and he asked myself and my instructor, Yuri Nakamura, to come and be in the movie.”

TRAILER – Bruce Lee: Curse of the Dragon

Given that Ron has barely stopped working since, it was clearly a smart move to have made. As well as working in stunts, he also specialises in fight choreography, which is an incredibly complex job in itself. “For me, it’s all about the dialogue,” he explains. “I hate movies where a policeman pulls over for driving erratically, and he gets out and they kung fu fight. That gets me insane.The fight has to be dialogue, and you’ve got to tell the story, don’t make it any more than what it is: it would almost be like a script that’s too wordy. It must dictate what’s going on. What I’ll do is I’ll get with the director, and ask him his vision. Or I’ll throw out ideas, or try to make a pre-visual video, like a little mock fight, and ask ‘is this the flavour that you want?’

“A lot of the time, they’re like ‘that’s great, but no…’, or ‘I like that’, and then we run with that from there. A lot of the thing with fight choreography is actually retarding the person’s ability sometimes. That means if they’re a great martial artist, and their character isn’t supposed to be a great martial artist, we have to ‘floppy’ them up some. It’s the same thing with the average person playing any character: who is that character? Is he an Einstein, or is he someone who might just be an average Joe, you have to match that dialogue. It’s the same thing with a fight.”

Given his vast body of work, it must be hard for Ron to pick something that he’s particularly proud of. Apparently not. “There’s this little indie movie that I did, called ‘The Prodigy’, and the director was good enough to let me have free rein, and develop that character the way we wanted to. There’s martial arts in it, but we tried to make it not look like martial arts. We tried to make it gritty, with technique, so it looked like a street fight with someone who really knew what they were doing.

THE PRODIGY FIGHT SCENE

“I ran with that, and, to this day, I still get a lot of people who don’t know me, and reach out to me about that film, and about that fight. I think it was a staple on how I see fights, and how they should go. It still holds a really strong place in my heart.”

Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses – things can go drastically wrong at the drop of a hat. “I do fire burns also,” says Ron. “There was a time when I was doing a movie, and someone messed up the shot. I was doing a full-on body burn, and they came up to me, and said we had to film it again. It was no problem, it meant more money! I had to re-gel, and I thought I had put enough gel in a certain area, and I didn’t… I blistered up. I didn’t feel it right away, your whole body is stinging after you do a burn.

“The paramedic was there, and asked me how I was doing, and I said I was good, and we’re walking back, I’m covered in this gooey gel – picture being slimed on ‘Ghostbusters’ – and I’m walking back and I’m starting to feel it. The paramedic asked what was wrong, and I said ‘I think I’ve got a problem’, and he asked where. I pointed ‘down there’, and he was like ‘no’! So I took a shower, and he was outside, and asked me how I was, and I said ‘I’ve got a problem!’ You can’t really bandage that area, so I was walking around like a ruptured duck for a week or so, and I had to keep it dry and clean, so it wasn’t fun. That was one of the lower parts of my career!”

Ron is well known for working with Steven Seagal on a number of projects, too. “I used to be Steven Seagal’s bodyguard,” he admits. “Because of my connection with Dan Inosanto, I got to meet Steven. I would act as his bodyguard. We knew each other from when he used to do events in Chicago. I remember getting on a movie – ‘The Glimmer Man’ – when I moved to California, and I remember walking in there, and he looked at me, and it was a strange look like ‘is that who I think it is’. He asked what I was doing there, and I said I’d got a new job.

RON BALICKI WORKING WITH STEVEN SEAGAL

“We kinda kept in touch, and within the last five years, I’ve been handling most everything for him, movie-wise: all the fights, all the choreography. He’s been bringing me in on second unit directing, and I’ve fought him [in movies] a few times now. He and I are also in business together, making swords and knives, and selling them through Cold Steel Knives.

“I don’t know if he would appreciate me saying this, but I’m gonna bring it out anyway. He’s got a bad rap for being a stern, stoic guy, and in the time that I’ve been with him, one of the most amazing things that he’s done… My son has autism. He went in, he grabbed a whole bunch of clothes and stuff like that, and he signed everything and he donated it to the charity Cure Autism Now. He did that in my son’s name for my wife and I. I’ve seen him do PSAs [public service announcements] in Romania when I was with him, because there’s a big problem with sheltered animals, and abuse of animals. I’ve seen him help children’s hospital funds, like St Jude’s, that sort of thing. He’s not a bad man. He’s a good man, just very misunderstood.”

BTS ON FORCE OF EXECUTION

It was through a Steven Seagal movie that Ron met Bren Foster, in fact. “It was ‘Force of Execution’, and I wasn’t even on this movie! It’s really funny how it happened. Bren is an anomaly, he’s a freak of nature, he’s so good. He’s an outstanding kickboxer and grappler, and he’d had some weapons experience when he lived in Australia, but he wanted to get more knowledgable with a knife: he had a knife fight coming in this movie, and it was a big knife fight. It ended up being a lot bigger than it was when I got involved.

“He came in and he wanted to train with blades, and so we started to work out. Bren’s not a guy who takes things lightly at all. He’s one of the most diligent – if not the most diligent – martial artists I know, next to Dan Inosanto. He’s brilliant, I can’t say enough good things about that man! When we got together, one or two lessons turned into a couple of lessons a week, and we were just hanging out and spending more time than I can count together, and he was just drilling, and wanting to get this art down.

FORCE OF EXECUTION

“As we got into it more and more and more, I asked him who he was fighting in this movie, and he didn’t know. I told him ‘you’d better watch out, because it could get really dangerous. I know it’s a blunted knife, but it still has a point, and it can still hurt you. Whoever you’re getting, you’d better start doing this with.’ They ran to the producers, and the producers knew who I was, and they asked whether I wanted to do it with him. That was great. I indirectly got myself a job!

“I didn’t think I was going to get it, because they were filming it in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and they ended up saying that because I was with Bren every day, we should just work this knife fight out. It’s an enormous fight, but they just kept telling us to add things, and to go further and further with it! To this day, we work out together. Obviously, we’ve worked on ‘The Last Ship’ together, but we’re working out tomorrow, in fact. We’ve got a really true friendship with each other now, probably more so than most other people I’m around in Hollywood. My family knows his family, we go to each other’s homes, we train, and I think he’s one of the better people I’ve ever met.”

It was his connection with Bren that got Ron involved in “The Last Ship”, too. “They were in south-east Asia, in Vietnam or somewhere like that, so he had had an idea [to get me onto the show], but it didn’t end up happening. We were both there boohooing about it. And then I said ‘you know, the French were all over Vietnam’, and he ran back, and then they go ‘you’re gonna be this French-Polynesian pirate!’ It was awesome, and we got to do The Fight!”

At last, an explanation for Ron’s impressive facial tattoo! “I had no idea until the day I got there,” he says, his voice clearly smiling.

Credit: twitter.com/RonBalicki/

“They were like ‘get in the chair, you’re getting a tattoo!”

“The funny thing is, I was on four episodes of that show – and I’ve done ‘Star Trek’, so I’m used to being in makeup – so the first day, it’s a few hours getting all that on me, and after the 30th day of doing it, I was so tired of getting into that makeup every day, but I was happy to have the work.”

MACHETE FIGHT – FROM 3×06 ‘DOG DAY’

Ron’s big scene was the epic machete fight with Wolf, and we ask him to talk us through it. “The fight rocked,” he says, clearly proud of it. “We threw that thing together, probably in one or two workouts. When we filmed it, things got morphed and changed a little bit, but because we trained together so much, we know each other so well, we just ran with it. The crazy part is, when it started, they wanted a three minute fight scene! A three minute sword fight? Oh my god! That’s crazy. It got whittled down to a minute, and we said okay.

TRAINING WITH BREN FOSTER

“It was supposed to be highlighted and shown on its own, but who knows what goes on with editing? It might have been too graphic, too. When we watched it – Bren and I saw it together – we were happy it made it, but we were disappointed the entire fight didn’t get shown.”

THE MACHETE FIGHT – BEHIND THE SCENES

The machetes were real, too – weighted steel blades. “I have a group of guys that I’ll go full-bore with, with blades. We’re not crazy, we don’t go with sharp blades, but we will go with aluminum, or I have armoured steel, with people I know. Bren, I know really well, and we know where each other’s at. There’s this whole thing with sword fighting that myself, my father in law, my wife, that we all train is edge awareness and point awareness. If you don’t have eye contact with somebody, you know when to bail out of it. I’ll ruin a take if I think that a person’s not ready for me swinging at them.

BREN TALKING ABOUT THE FIGHT SEQUENCE

“What’s kept me relevant in this business is my weapons experience. There’s a ton of young guys who are agile, and amazing martial artists and gymnasts, who could probably kill what I do. But when it comes to weapons, not everybody has that, and if you’re swinging your sword at a Bren Foster who has his own show, and you hurt him, for one, I’m done in this business if I did that. Word would travel like wildfire if I did that, and I’d be out of a job. I really take a lot of time, a lot of care, to make sure that whoever I’m facing is safe, be it an A list star or anybody. It’s paramount. I have to make sure that we’re both gonna get out of this thing unscathed. And if I didn’t trust Bren, I wouldn’t have made it that beefy a fight scene. I would have really watered it down.”

TRAINING WITH BREN FOSTER

One thing that fans are asking is whether we can expect to see Ron make a return to “The Last Ship” in season four, minus that facial tattoo. “Didn’t I die,” he laughs. “There’s been talk, but I don’t know. I would love to. Everybody from Eric Dane – everybody treated me like gold. I would love to do it. Adam Baldwin was amazing. It was a great time, and one of the most cohesive groups of crew and cast that I’ve seen. They have their stuff together really well, it was a lot of fun, and especially with Bren. He’s my guy. I’ll do anything with him, all he has to do is ask.”

Just in case Ron doesn’t make a return for season four, we ask what’s coming next for him. “I’m doing a couple of shows – I can’t really say the name… My wife and I have been working behind the scenes a lot, I can tell you those shows: ‘Lucifer’, we trained the cast for that. We trained Kat McNamara for ‘Shadowhunters’. We were training Rosa Salazar for ‘Alita Battle Angel’, which is James Cameron’s new film, with Robert Rodriguez directing. Our fingerprints are there, we just haven’t been in front of the screen!

“I’ve got some stuff going, and there’s always talks with Steven. I’m supposed to go out to Steven Seagal’s next week and we’re gonna get some kind of battle plan for some future projects together.”

It sounds as though Ron is going to be busy, busy, busy! Here’s hoping we’re privileged enough to see him back on “The Last Ship” in season four.

RON’S OFFICIAL WEBSITE – COLD STEEL KNIVES OFFICIAL SITE