Day Shift Director JJ Perry Deserves A Doctorate In Crafting Action Scenes [Interview]

For Jamie Foxx, how’d you want his character to fight and move?

I made Jamie as much like me as I could, because we’re the same age. We’re both from Texas. I was in the army. You saw when he’s in the shower, he has the 82nd airborne tattoo, and he’s working as a loan operator. When you’re in the army, you’re working on the squad level, platoon level and squad levels. You’re working, you’ve got six or seven men or women in a stack with you. As a loan operator, when you come in, you can’t watch your own six. That’s why he puts the wire, so he’s protecting himself. He’s put an ambush in the back.

I wanted to make him smart. I didn’t want to give him a style of fighting, like, “Oh, he’s a judo guy.” I wanted to be ambiguous. He’s a scrapper. He’d been in the army. He’d been to combat. There’s a couple of karate trophies in his apartment that the camera pans off of, whether you see it or not; there’s a boxing trophy, a karate trophy. You just have to hint that he’s got a background in maybe some martial arts or whatever, and that’s the way I played it with Jamie.

With all the contortionists, I mixed contortion work with lucha libre and MMA, within the movement. So you saw when the old lady gets him, she puts him in the crucifix. You saw the lucha libre entries there. The character Heather (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) as well, she did some lucha libre to get off of Jamie in the apartment. I think lucha libre, Mexican wrestling, is super fun and interesting and super dynamic. You don’t need wires to do it. You just need game-bred performers to do it.

Snoop, of course, was interesting because — I’m going to call him Calvin Broadus, because that’s who I hired. I didn’t actually hire Snoop. I hired Calvin to play Big John in my movie, because I think everybody hires Snoop to be Snoop in their movie. He reminds me of my old platoon sergeant, and I’m a big fan of his. When I hired him, no one had seen him kick a**, and he’s actually quite handy. He’s really handy as a martial arts guy. He’s a very avid martial artist, boxing, all that stuff.

I want to go back in time a bit to your Hong Kong days. What did you shoot there?

The first one that I did was a movie called “Enter the Eagles,” and it starred Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, and Benny Urquidez, Benny the Jet, who’s one of my idols at kickboxing. I played his little brother. Corey Yuen was directing and we shot two months in Prague and then three months in Hong. It was the first time I went. This is probably ’95 or ’96 and right before I did the “Mortal Kombat” movies.

You get there and you have to really pay attention, especially back then because they’re speaking Cantonese and they’re choreographing stuff very fast and they expect you to learn it immediately. So you have to watch everything, because I don’t speak Cantonese. But they were super cool, super efficient because they’re shooting with one camera and super wild.

I remember Corey came to me and he says, “So JJ, after this, you’re going to do one big weebo stunt.” And I was like, “Weebo stunt?” And he was like, “After stunt, weebo, weebo, weebo.” So that meant he was going to 86 me. I got knocked out and it was beautiful. It was odd, but the shot looked great. I got ratcheted across a room into an electric box and they didn’t have ratchets. It was six of the Chinese stuntmen on a ladder with a bunch of sandbags. They jumped off the ladder and pulled me across the room and smacked me into this thing. So that’s what we call a weebo stunt in Hong Kong: You know you’re going to get 86’d, brother.

[Laughs] So it was a great experience getting knocked out.

It was awesome. Listen, every experience in this business — when I got out of the army, I never thought I’d be doing any of this. I’m just super grateful for all the experiences I’ve had. All over, 36 countries. I didn’t go to college. I didn’t really have any movie school, none of that. I got out of the army and I became a stuntman and I just never said no to anything. I said, “I’m going to embrace this and I’m going to go on the ride.” I got to work with some of the greats and it’s been a real hoot and I never expected any of it. I’m grateful for every minute of it. So, for me, all of it has been amazing. All my experiences in Hong Kong, Thailand, I mean 36 countries, brother. It’s been amazing.

What have been some of the best countries you’ve worked in?

I got to tell you, I love Hong Kong. I love Thailand. England is sick. Hungary is ridiculously cool. Australia, New Zealand, any cities that are on the water, like Sydney or Vancouver. Those cities on the water where you’re taking water taxis and you know you’re going to get thrown in the drink, probably, as a stunt man. So if the water’s cold, it sucks. But if the water’s warm, it’s bada**. Hawaii’s bada**. “The Rundown” we did in Hawaii. Listen, I haven’t really had a bad experience anywhere. It’s like I said, it’s been a blessing to get to do this work. It’s really been a blessing. Every movie I’ve been on, I cherish it.

Do crews tend to work differently wherever you go? Like, in Hong Kong, they were notorious for moving fast and everyone helping to do everyone’s job on set.

absolutely. We have unions here and that changes things a bit, but I’ll give you an example with “Undisputed II.” That was a good movie. It’s a movie with Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White, a million dollar budget movie that we did back in Bulgaria in 2003. I got to operate the camera, and we did a little bit of everything. It was like one of my first big second unit directing jobs. It was a great experience for me. And that’s part of it, too. When we’re shooting, pre-viz, we’re operating cameras, we’re editing, we’re building little makeshift props. Doing pre-viz is actually filmmaking, strangely. All the guys that do pre-viz will inform you on how to be a great director. So yeah, the different countries have different methods. I still think Hollywood now, we were behind [Hong Kong] a little bit in the fighting in the 90s. But once Hong Kong came here and left, I think we’ve surpassed them. I think we’ve totally surpassed them. If you look at what’s coming out of Hong Kong now, it’s not great.

Why do you think that is?

I think that China and Hong Kong now, it’s just a different climate there, maybe, politically or whatever. But look at South Korea making great movies. Thailand had “Ong-Bak” come out 20 years ago. It was refreshing to see “Ong-Bak.” Japan makes great action movies. France, England, I mean, all the world now, because right now there’s more content being made than any time in the history of TV, cinema, film. More content being made means more experience. People are getting way more experience. More people are getting into the business. And now that technology grows exponentially. When I started in stunts, you couldn’t say, ‘Let’s just fix it in post.” You had to figure out how to do it. Now, well, there’s a zillion ways to make it better.

“Day Shift” will be available to stream on Netflix on August 12, 2022.

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