Ray Park has gotten to be in some high-profile projects. Snake Eyes in “G.I. Joe.” Toad in the “X-Men” films. The martial artist even got to play Chuck Norris in “The Legend of Bruce Lee.”
But killing a Jedi puts you in a whole different stratosphere of fandom.
As Darth Maul in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace,” Park helped create the most well-known and popular villain in the franchise since Luke Skywalker’s dad and fellow Sith Darth Vader choked out his first victim. And in the panel “Ray Park: The Man. The Sith. The Legend” at the Star Wars Celebration, Park was treated as the royalty that befits any wielder of a double-sided lightsaber.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for Darth Maul. It was the best feeling in the world to get to play this character,” said Park.
But before getting into the role, which was the first acting job for the wushu fighter, there was a lot of talk about training. Park’s prowess as a martial artist is well-known, and he stated that he had practiced the aforementioned wushu, Shaolin techniques and kickboxing before being discovered
Darth Maul also dabbled in ballet.
“I wanted to jump really high, so I also practiced gymnastics and ballet.”
To demonstrate his onetime regimen, Park and the host went on a ballet interlude. Park hit a few of the basic positions, made a couple of leaps across the stage and lifted the host as he attempted a leap.
As they settled down, Park talked about being really disappointed when he found out that many of the martial arts movies that he revered had scenes that used wires, and that many stars used stunt doubles. He was 15, but despite the letdown, he still had heroes he looked up to.
“I loved Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen,” said Park. “And I really owe a lot to Jet Li as well.”
Li’s quickness with weapons helped Park develop some of his skills with weaponry. He spoke about how martial artists used anything as a weapon, with his own instructors telling him that “a weapon is only an extension of your arm.”
Park went into another demonstration. He was given a push broom and unscrewed it to make a staff. He was given two plungers and expertly twirled them, hitting a pose after what appeared to be a complicated maneuver. He was also given a couple of feather dusters, and despite it being a lot less menacing, made it all work. But the first item he held was the one that gave him the most trouble, and was the major weapon he used when training as Darth Maul
“Bo staff is one of the hardest weapons to practice,” said Park.
But practice he did, also dueling with Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson. Illustrating his routine and showing his physical prowess, a video was shown of Park jumping, kicking, posing and using weapons. While he trained and performed actual martial arts, he also worked on specific choreography for his now epic fight scene with the two Jedi. The work wasn’t without its compromises.
“Ewan and Liam would come in and do their scenes, then they’d have to go off and do their other acting things,” said Park. But with Neeson, he had to change his style.
“Liam was so tall, and wushu has a low stance,” said Park, demonstrating a stance. He mimed how Neeson would look trying to fight with his lightsaber against a person a few feet under him.
“Liam would say, ‘Hey Ray. Can you just bring it up a little?'”
It was not the only compromise, but another was one that Park initiated. When first given the double-sided lightsaber, he realized that the construction would make it hard to do anything with it without slicing himself. So he went to George Lucas and asked for a change.
“He was cool, though. He just said to go ahead and flip it,” said Park, referring to making the hilt longer and easier to handle. His relationship with Lucas also extended to who Darth Maul was and how he should play him.
“I asked George and he said, ‘Whatever you want him to be.’ He was really open to my interpretation,” said Park.
To show what it was like, Park played a video chronicling his on-set life as the twenty-something — at the time — trained, put on makeup, and commented about his role on the set of “Phantom Menace.” In the clip he mentions that Darth Maul, “with the makeup, the teeth, and the eyes … he just can’t help being naughty.”
And what about the scene? The death scene that, for a while, effectively ended Darth Maul and Ray Park’s “Star Wars” relationship? Well, Park, being a novice actor at the time, had never envisioned what that might be like. As a kid, he’d usually been the hero and could not imagine “being beaten up or cut in two.” So he improvised.
“I had to think of something, so I thought of going to the bathroom. That’s the face of Darth Maul as he’s chopped in half.”
Most will never look at the scene the same way again.
To get rid of the bad taste of his character’s death, Park showed one more video. It was the reworked scene, displaying how the fight should have ended with Obi-won. In it, a charging Obi-won runs in for the battle and falls into the large pit where Darth Maul eventually met his death.
Questions included the topics of training in the desert, wushu training vs. film training and a last one asking Park to contact Disney and have them make a solo Darth Maul project. Park responded to that final question by saying that he’d not eat, get ripped and be repainted to take on the role again.
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