I caught up with actor / producer / writer Alexander Nevsky to chat film, filmmaking, influences, US – Russia relations (why Russia gets a bad wrap on film too), the climate for independent filmmakers today and his latest film Showdown in Manila, on VOD and Digital HD January 23.

In Showdown, private detectives Nick (Nevsky) and Charlie (Casper Van Dien) live and work in Manila. A murder investigation leads them to the jungle camp of an international terrorist called The Wrath. Not trusting the police, Nick and Charlie assembly a team of daredevils to walk straight into the Wrath's lair and fight an army of his goons.

Showdown in Manila also stars Mark Dacascos, Tia Carrere, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Matthias Hues and Maria Bravikova. Dacascos directs the screenplay by Craig Hamann with the story being by Nevsky.

Nevsky was born in Moscow. He learned English at UCLA and studied acting at Lee Strasberg Theater Institute in Los Angeles.

Nevsky is an established movie star and a household name in his home country. His hit television show, "Self Made Man," had a weekly audience of about 50 million. He has been featured in many publications included The Hollywood Reporter Russia, Men's Health Russia, GQ Russia and Playboy Russia. His first Hollywood film was Walter Hill's Undisputed, followed by Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere

He has produced 7 international action films to date including Moscow Heat, Treasure Raiders, Magic Man and Showdown in Manila. He recently made his directorial debut with the action thriller Black Rose, which was a theatrical box office hit in Russia/CIS, and will be released by ITN in North America on April 28th. His upcoming projects include the action comedy Maximum Impact directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak (Doom) and written by Ross LaManna (Rush Hour).

Nevsky is an active member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and has voted for the Golden Globe Awards since 2003. His production company Hollywood Storm is based in Los Angeles, California. He is also a bodybuilder – having been crowned Mister Universe 3 times.

I know you will enjoy this chat as much as I did. It helped me believe even more that film can go a long way to healing division in our world – building bridges and not tearing them down – indeed, something you would not expect from talk of an action movie.

Alexander Nevsky. Photo Courtesy of Catie Laffon

Catch Alexander in Showdown in Manila, on VOD and Digital HD January 23.

Welcome Alexander to The 405! Maximum Impact

Hello Wess! How are you?

Wonderful. How are you?

Wonderful. Did you get a chance to watch Showdown in Manila?

I did. I liked it.

I'm glad you liked it. It was so much fun making it. So much fun.

I usually enjoy stories about the PI – particularly from the golden age of Hollywood, like Out of the Past or The Maltese Falcon. What influences went in to how you played your PI character in Showdown in Manila?

To be honest with you, Showdown in Manila – as a project – was inspired by The Expendables franchise because I am a huge fan of The Expendables and I am a huge fan of Sly Stallone.

For instance, when I was a kid in Moscow in the Soviet Union, I was so inspired by Rocky. I started boxing, and then after that kickboxing, and then after that body-building.

So, as a project, Showdown in Manila was inspired by The Expendables, and when you have a great team on the film – in my opinion, all of them deserved to be in The Expendables – Casper Van Dien, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Tia Carrere, they're so great – Mark Dacascos: so great.

When we got the team together, Craig Hamman wrote the perfect story and its really a fun movie. We have the buddy-cop dynamic in the movie, some comedy in the movie, and some drama in the movie, and we have some action in the movie and some martial arts in the movie. Craig did a great job because he put it all together.

As for me, I don't know if you know my other films, but I always try to play kind of like a "good Russian." I don't play the "bad Russians", or your stereotypical Russians, I hate that because I like America and I am completely against anti-American stereotypes when I am in Russia and I am completely against anti-Russian stereotypes when I am in America.

In my movies, Russians and Americans always fight together against evil – not against each other, you know what I mean?

(L-R) Casper Van Dien as Charlie Benz and Alexander Nevsky as Nick Peyton in the action film “SHOWDOWN IN MANILA” an ITN Distribution release. Photo courtesy of ITN Distribution.

I do. I also admire your consistency there Alexander.

Exactly. So you asked me about my character? My character is a Russian-American and – as the story explains – because of his girlfriend he had to move from New York to the Philippines and he joined that force and he was picked out because he has that friend who is all messed up from a variety of different reasons and is an American – but they support each other because they are friends.

What we have in the film is kind of like Arnold and Jim Belushi in Red Heat but I think in a lighter way – not just because of my character, but also with Casper's – who is such an action icon (I'm sure you love him in most of his movies the way many do), but also a great actor. We created our characters from something fresh because Craig wrote a great script – but it was also my story and Mark Dacascos's story, we worked together on this.

I also think the idea of a Russian guy and an American guy kicking ass in the Philippines is kind of fun to watch. It was also definitely fun to make.

Certainly. I really admire what you said there about that consistency in good Americans and good Russians banding together to fight evil. With Russia being in the news so often of late, I'm wondering if that consistency is more vital now in combating misconceptions I'm sure many Americans have about Russia?

You know Wess I am an entertainer, not a politician but I am well aware of what's going on in the world today. As I told you, I was born in the Soviet Union and it was the freaking Cold War when I was born.

Indeed.

Thanks to Gorbachev and thanks to Reagan we got over it and became friends – really friends – and that's a big part of what I remember about that time. As an artist, that's my position in my movies – I have never played a bad Russian, I am against the stereotypes. You know, me and you, we understand its movies, but that's exactly what you just said.

I did an interview with the Hollywood Reporter last week, and I'll tell you what I told them: I was on a plane – it's a long freaking flight from Moscow to LA, about 12 hours – I watched 3 movies in a row. One of them was The November Man with Pierce Brosnan killing Russians. The second one was Taken 3 with Liam Neeson killing Russians. The third one was The Equalizer with Denzel Washington killing Russians.

Again, I understand it's just movies – just entertainment. But as you just said, with an American audience it's all big movies. American audiences get that impression now – that all Russians are bad. Not just from CNN or Fox News, or other things on TV – they're also getting it from movies.

I think it's our duty as filmmakers – whether in the United States, Russia, Germany, or where-ever – to fight against stereotypes. Because with the bad guy – and I'm sure you will agree with me Wess, and we have this in Showdown in Manila – they're not Russians, they’re not Americans, they are not Germans, they’re not even North Koreans for God's sake – they're terrorists.

They're terrorists who don't talk – they just indiscriminately kill people day by day.  They enjoy that and they are very much around in real life too. So those are the real bad people.

I just hope that my example will be useful – not just to American producers, but to Russian producers also. Of course also over there they have things on TV with people blaming America for something.

Tia Carrere as Mrs. Wells in the action film “SHOWDOWN IN MANILA” an ITN Distribution release. Photo courtesy of ITN Distribution.

Indeed. Both countries have and use their propaganda.

Yeah. Like here where people blame Russia for everything too. Yet, for regular people, there should be something else.

I don't know if you watched my previous film Black Rose – it's on Netflix now and was my directorial debut – it had a wide theatrical release in Russia and internationally and is now on Netflix in the States – it was exactly like that in my previous film.

I play the good Russian – there's a lot of good Russians around that like America and want to be friends with Americans. Just like there's a lot of great Americans in Russia who want to be friends with Russians too.

So, that should be in movies too, in my opinion.       

Indeed. Pretty cool how cinema (and really all forms of art) can help combat those stereotypes. A more general question: what makes a great film? Also, favorite films and performances? Which have really influenced you as an artist and stuck with you?

You know, I'm lucky because when I was a kid I had an opportunity – I mean, it was the Soviet Union and they never really released Hollywood films in Russia, but in 1986 I watched Conan the Destroyer with Arnold on the big screen at the Moscow Film Festival outside of competition. I wasn't really showing in theaters but it was showing at the festival. I was at the screening and I saw Arnold in his prime in that movie on the big screen – it was unbelievable. Salvador by Oliver Stone was released at roughly the same time in the Soviet Union, I watched that one. 

In the '90s, the Hollywood studios didn't really release their films over there but we could watch the films on pirated videos. I watched all of them – of course I watched all Arnold movies, all the Stallone movies, Chuck Norris movies, but I watched Goodfellas and I just fell in love with Scorsese.

I've watched all his movies, all Spielberg’s movies, I watched Alan Parker – I mean, I've watched so many great films, so it was a kind of education for me.

To answer your question of what a great movie should be – I talk about all of these together for a specific reason: Arnold especially in that iconic film, but all of them really pushed so many people to fight for their dreams – I mean, they're great!

Alexander Nevsky as Nick Peyton in the action film “SHOWDOWN IN MANILA” an ITN Distribution release. Photo courtesy of ITN Distribution.

Arnold may never get an Oscar but he's made so many great movies – just great entertainment and really inspiring – as well as Scorsese and Spielberg – all of them.

Right now, I am representing Russia at the Hollywood Foreign Press for the Golden Globe Awards. I think I'm the only filmmaker in their organization – a guy who is not only writing about movies, but also making movies.

As a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press and an independent filmmaker, I believe it is my duty to support other independent filmmakers because it is not easy at all right now to produce independent film Wess, and you know that.

Indeed. It's tough out there.

It's not easy at all. It's not easy for studios now, for independents it's just crazy out there.

For me though, in talking about great film, you first must have a great team around you because it’s all magical. You will never know at once whether it will work with an audience but the only thing you should be careful and sure about is the team around you. I think Mark Dacascos – as a first-time director – did a great job.

We had a great team of actors over there – and it was a tough shoot, Wess. A very tough shoot. We didn't have a studio budget so we didn't have say a year for pre-production in New York and that sort of thing – no, we had just a month and a half for everything: to prepare everything and to shoot it over that month.

It was the Philippines – we really shot it there in Manila, in the jungle. The guys who helped us there also worked on Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. It was the same river too.

Wow.

Yeah, it was the same river they shot that movie on many years ago.

It was a great adventure, it was a great team, and I think the audience – I am always honest with my audience, Showdown in Manila was its title in Russia too – and by the way, Casper Van Dien and others from the cast went with me to Russia for the world premiere which we held in this HUGE Moscow movie theater with 2000 guests who all loved the movie and loved the Americans in the movie.

 They cheered for Americans and it was in freaking Russian, you know? [Laughs]

[Laughs] Indeed.

(L-R) Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Aldric Cole, Dmitriy Dyuzhev as Victor, Olivier Gruner as Ford, Casper Van Dien as Charlie Benz, Mark Dacascos as Matthew Wells and Alexander Nevsky as Nick Peyton in the action film “SHOWDOWN IN MANILA” an ITN Distribution release. Photo courtesy of ITN Distribution.

I hope that an American audience will also love it because they love the idea. We were having fun making the movie and it's not like a studio movie – you can't really compare it to like a big budget film. No, no, no, but we did a film that respects all the great action stars in the great time that was the '80s and '90s when the stunts were real. Indeed, when action movies themselves were more real.

I just hope that we did a good job and that American audiences will love it. International audiences loved it already and my audience loved it.

So, that's what I try to do is get a great team together – I think that is what makes a great film.

Definitely. I think American audiences will enjoy Showdown.

Thank you.

I think if there's anything they really like in a film it's that fight against evil. They like to see the good guys triumph.

Finally, what is next for you?

I think you will enjoy my next film. It's called Maximum Impact – it's already finished and was directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak who directed Doom and Romeo Must Die and Cradle 2 the Grave and Exit Wounds. In those films he was the director, in Showdown in Manila he was executive producer and consultant but on Maximum Impact he was the director. 

The guy who wrote the script for Maximum Impact was Ross LaManna and that film is actually the biggest one I've produced yet. Its shot kind of on a studio level – like a mid-size studio movie, I think you will enjoy it – and in that movie, as with the others [Laughs]…

[Laughs]

Russian agents work together with United States Secret Service agents. They don't like each other at first but at the end of the day they respect each other, they like each other and they work together to prevent a huge international crisis.

We have a huge cast in the movie – Tom Arnold, Danny Trejo, Billy Baldwin are all in the movie. Mark Dacascos is in the movie again and Kelly Hu is in the movie. There's some Russian stars in the movie. Maximum Impact should be released world-wide by the end of this year. I hope you will like that one too.

Really, thank you for your interest, thank you for your support and thank you for your good work because really it is my duty as a filmmaker and your duty as a journalist to try to prevent another Cold War. People like you and I should fight for friendship, not another Cold War. What do you think?

I couldn't agree more Alexander. I think the medium and magic of film is a powerful and universal way to build and cultivate that sort of friendship as well. Thank you so much for your time and applying your trade as a filmmaker like you do! I can't wait for Maximum Impact.