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Sierra Leone Grammar School’s Iron Mike Tyson (Part 2)

26 March 2021 at 18:23 | 1553 views

Sierra Leone Grammar School’s Iron Mike Tyson (Part 2).

By Godfrey Lloyd Randall, Beijing, China

Plot and cast
The Movie ‘China Salesman’ depicts foreign entities bidding for access to telecommunication rights in an African nation. Mike Tyson’s character, Kabbah, is a commander in one of military factions in the country. His ‘African accent’ was at times quite hilarious, considering that he speaks with a lisp. I mimicked his speech pattern and spoke with a lisp. I was afraid he would knock me out with one of his trademark uppercuts.

Steven Seagal, as Lauder, is a foreign mercenary operating in the nation. The lead actor, Li Dong Xue, as Yan Jian, heads the Chinese bidding team. French actor, Eriq Ebouaney, plays a local sheik, Sheik Asaid. He starred in the movie ‘Patrice Lumumba’, released in 2000 and also acted alongside Jason Statham in Transporter 3. He has worked with Hollywood stars like Orlando Bloom, Antonio Banderas and Michael Sheen.

I learnt a lot from these experienced thespians and became friends with most of them, including Norwegian model and actor Janicke Askevold. I have also established a life-long brotherhood with Bryan Byrne, Steven Seagal’s former personal bodyguard, who also played a cameo role in the project. Bryan is a badass former Special Forces dude with a menacing look and a heart of gold.

The kid from Circular Road fights his childhood icon,Seagal
On my first day of shooting, I was thrown into the deep end fighting and scrapping with a guy I grew up idolizing. The Jackie Chan stunt team had designed an elaborate fight scene between Mike Tyson and Steven Seagal. Steven is a martial artist and Mike is a boxer, so they had to come up with a style that worked for both.

Seagal would often observe my rehearsals with his stunt double. He analyzed everything we did through a microscopic lens. He studied the moves carefully and made tweaks along the way. In fairness, some of the maneuvers were overambitious for a man in his mid-60s.

He was also particular about camera lenses and angles, much to the chagrin of the film crew, who muttered a few Chinese insults under their breaths. I did not translate these utterances because I did not want him breaking necks. I sensed angles and lens mattered to him because he had put on some weight, especially in the abdomen region, and he didn’t want his fans to see him in such unflattering light as. He is a demanding man, so I understand why some people have had difficulties working with him.

In general, he was pretty nice to me, except the one time during shooting when he yelled “slow down motherfucker”, as I clipped him with a hard punch. These things happen during a fight sequence proceeding at a thousand miles an hour. During breaks, I bombarded him with questions, and more often than not, he was willing to respond. He taught me how to break necks and put people to sleep, all while speaking in a deliberately concocted baritone voice. It makes the art of breaking necks spookier when you speak in that tone.

Our most intriguing conversation was about his trips to Nigeria, under the late leader, General Sani Abacha. I was surprised that he had such an extensive knowledge of the African continent. He knew tribes, capital cities, heads of states, etc. He befriended the late General Abacha and they had a lot of fun on his Abuja and Lagos escapades.

Those fight scenes took a lot out of me both physically and mentally. I lost over 10 kilograms in a matter of days. I was paralyzed by the fear of making mistakes and screwing up. Chinese directors don’t babysit actors. If you make a mistake, they have no qualms yelling at you at the top of their lungs. There were days when Seagal’s gorgeous wife joined us on set and I wondered if she would take me out with a kung fu move if I had mistakenly hit her husband, who was not as agile as he once was due to his age.

I was the one that got injured after all. I needed treatment from a physiotherapist because Seagal kicked me in the groin during filming. They also provided acupuncture treatment for me after I pulled my hamstring. We were crashing into tables, breaking bottles over our heads, and doing all the crazy stunts you see in a Chinese kung fu flick. We shot a scene in Mongolia where I barely escaped severe injury and burns. There was supposed to be an explosion after a helicopter gunship fired a missile at me. I was never told how heavy the blast or intense the fireball would be. It wasn’t until after I had shot the scene and watched the replay, that I realized how truly dangerous it was.

After a few torrid days, I got better, and my confidence improved. It wasn’t all plain sailing, but I learnt an awful lot from the experience. One day I will tell my kids that that I dueled with Seagal for almost a fortnight and held my own.

Don’t judge a book by its cover
Growing up, we knew Iron Mike as the ‘baddest man on the planet’. He had a fearsome reputation in and out of the ring. I had also read his autobiography in which he detailed his journey into the abyss of crack houses, sleeping in brothels, the death of his daughter, his acrimonious divorces, his incarceration for rape, etc.

In the book, he takes full responsibility for things he could have done better, and I could tell he was on a personal crusade to be a better person. However, there is a huge difference between reading things in a book and witnessing them first hand. I was quite elated when Iron Mike eventually joined us on set. It was quite apparent that the ‘baddest man on the planet’ was a thing of the past.

My dad often said, little things mean a lot. I observed Mike’s interaction with people on set. From the extras, to the cleaning ladies, he was humble and polite to everyone. He was accommodative and patient. He was inundated by all and sundry, clamoring to get a picture with him. He commended me on the scenes I had shot and gave me other words of encouragement. He even took time to help me fix my right hook, which I consider my most deadly and effective punch now.

Nigger or Na ge(那个) ?
When Mike was on set, I relaxed and let my body recover from the rigorous weeks of shooting. As his stunt double, my role was to go over the scenes we had shot before he arrived. He reshot the same scenes again, but this time, it was mostly close-ups. It was fascinating to see the master at work.

Mike was about 50 years old when we shot the film. I was expecting him to be slow and old. I was wrong. He arrived in pristine shape and could still move and box with amazing ferocity. I was stunned. I witnessed the raw power of a Tyson punch when he broke several bottles with one swipe. I felt for all the heavyweights that were at the receiving end of a Tyson punch, when he was in his prime – simply frightening.

Mike and I were chatting during a break one day when he heard somebody on set say “那个(na ge), 那个(na ge)” and I could see Mike’s demeanor change drastically . He said to me, “Lloyd, did you hear that? You heard that? She said Nigga?” I gave the champ a reassuring smile and told him that it’s an often-used expression in Chinese that means ‘that’. ‘The baddest man on the planet’ was about to emerge, but thankfully, I was able to explain to Mike before he went on a devastating rampage.

I remember when I lectured at the university and told my students that if they intend to study abroad, they would need to be extremely careful with that expression. There might not be sufficient time for an explanation before somebody gets very agitated or possibly lash out. That expression is quite common and ubiquitous in the Chinese language.

A professor was recently suspending at an American University after students complained about the manner in which he used the expression. He was discussing the culture shock he experienced in China with some students in a zoom class.

Baddest man on the planetis a B2K fan?
Mike made me feel quite comfortable, and we discussed a plethora of topics. I was like a sponge, soaking up as much information as I could. There are few people who have enjoyed a more ostentatious lifestyle than Iron Mike. I had read the autobiography several times, and there were stories I wanted him to further elucidate upon.

All topics were fair game, with the exception of one. So, I avoided raising the sensitive issue that led to his incarceration. I asked about his tiger pets and his crazy rant before the Lennox Lewis fight. He ended that rant with one of the most bizarre quotes in the history of boxing. “I want to eat his heart. I want to eat his children; praise be to Allah”, Mike said bullishly before storming off. He laughed when I quoted that rant verbatim. He also recounted how he met young Brad Pitt at his ex-wife, Robyn Givens’ driveway when they were going through an acrimonious separation. He was like, “Lloyd, Brad was scared man, he was scared”, in that Brooklyn accent and lisp.

We spoke at length about women and dating. I was glued to every word. This is the man that once had girlfriends in every continent and area code. It is alleged he had a file of the names of hundreds of women he had slept with. He’s also the guy that allegedly had sex with beauty icon Naomi Campbell during a party in New York, while his manager waited outside. Ironically, the manager’s job was to keep women away from Mike.

He told me how he lost the fight against Buster Douglas in Japan because he didn’t train hard enough. He was too busy having sex with all the Japanese maids that cleaned his room. He couldn’t fly in other women because his management forbade it. “I was bored, man. It was a mess, brother. Some of those women weren’t pretty, Lloyd”, he said, with a wry smile. He is brutally honest about his past and not afraid to be self-deprecating.

But the thing that surprised me the most was when our conversation turned to music. He spoke about how sad he felt when he lost his friend, rapper Tupac Shakur, who was gunned down after he went to see him fight, in Las Vegas, in 1996. Mike and Tupac were very close.

He asked what kind of music I was into, so I showed him my playlist. He knew most of the artists on a personal level. I then asked him about his music preference. He mentioned some renowned names, and then to my surprise, he added B2K. My response was, “What? The baddest man on the planet listens to B2K?” I said, taunting him and calling him soft. “ Shut up Lloyd. You don’t know anything about music, “ he fired back with a smile.

Seagal quits
As shooting continued, it became quite apparent that the production was dealing with a lot of management issues. These issues culminated in Steven Seagal ultimately walking out before the completion of the project. I do not know what the final straw that broke the camel’s back was, but there was always some simmering tension between him and management. There was also a constant change in the shooting crew, including the sudden replacement of the director in charge of fight-choreography. He was firm, vociferous and extremely demanding, but he was the man for the job.

I am convinced that Seagal walking out had a major impact on how the film eventually turned out. As I had alluded to in part one, Steven and Mike were never on set together.

One of the most memorable parts of the film is the fight scene between the two stars. By the time Mike arrived in Beijing, Seagal had left. So it was basically my fight scenes with Seagal, Tyson’s scenes with Seagal’s stunt double, and CGI that made things possible. I am going to be a bit braggadocios and say, had it not been for those scenes I did, the film might not have been completed. It is amazing what you can do with a green screen and CGI. I should have renegotiated my contract and asked for a pay raise.

I was really looking forward to seeing Seagal and Mike go toe-to-toe, but that never materialized. Seagal walking out also meant that other scenes had to be altered drastically.

You can’t take the Brooklyn out of him
As the management woes worsened, we all felt the impact. I remember one day we shot a scene where we launched an armed assault on a conference hall with a tank. It was a crazy experience. All the guns we used during filming were real, but with blank bullets. In the chaos of deafening rapid machine gunfire, a massive explosion went off. The blast was immense and shook the building. This led to an actress becoming very agitated and livid. She was bleeding from the ear. She was told to expect an explosion but she never anticipated the magnitude of the blast. There was utter bedlam. I could see the consternation and concern on some actors’ faces.

There was a concerted effort to make the action scenes as raw and riveting as possible. There were a lot of bold and risky maneuvers deployed to enhance the entertainment value. Mike was a joy to work with and quite easy to get along with. But as his contract was about to expire, he threatened to walk out unless he was offered a new and improved deal. He was also becoming weary of the long shooting hours that went way beyond what he had initially agreed to. There were days we filmed for almost 16 hours. It was tedious and mentally draining. It was against this backdrop that I saw ‘The baddest man on the planet’ demeanor emerge for the first time.

Mike and another actor were shooting a scene when he lost his patience. Mike felt the guy was intentionally trying to hurt him. In a menacing tone and as audible as he could, he said, “I have noticed some of you here think you are tough. If you truly believe you are a tough guy, prove it”. He surveyed the set as he laid down the gauntlet. Silence permeated the set, and you could tell he wasn’t messing around. I thought to myself, “There he is! The guy that even elite fighters feared before a punch was thrown.”

All good things come to an end
I spent months on that project. It is an experience that I would cherish forever. I learnt so many things and gained a wealth of experience. I worked with some really nice people like Joaquim Tivoukou, a French actor and many others. I remember when we got to Mongolia and the director asked me, “Can you ride a horse because you have a horse riding scene in four days”. I had never ridden a horse, so I was given a two-day crash course. When you grew up in adversity like I did, you are going to do whatever it takes to get things done. I was able to pull it off. It was just another tool that I added to my skillset. I learnt how to handle rifles, dodge missiles from helicopters, rope work, and even attempted a high-speed car chase.

Tyson and Seagal were both impressed with my fluent Chinese, and I taught both of them some useful words and expressions. I gave Tyson a ‘Useful Chinese Expressions’ book as a gift, and he gave me a signed copy of his autobiography, ‘Undisputed Truth’. His parting words were, “ Lloyd, you are a smart guy and you have a bright future. Thanks for all the translations and other assistance. Be careful with women and good luck."