Set against the action-packed world of Mixed Martial Arts, NEVER BACK DOWN is the story of Jake Tyler, a tough kid who leads with his fists, and, often, with his heart. Jake Tyler, played by Sean Faris, is the new kid in town with a troubled past. He has recently moved to Orlando, Florida with his family who has relocated to support his younger brother’s shot at a professional tennis career. Jake was a star athlete on the football team at home, but in this new city he is an outsider with a reputation for being a quick tempered brawler.
Making an attempt to fit in, at the invitation of a flirtatious classmate, Baja (Amber Heard), Jake goes to a party where he is unwittingly pulled into a fight with a bully named Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet). While he is defeated and humiliated in the fight, a classmate introduces himself to Jake and tells him about the sport known as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). He sees a star in Jake and asks that he meet with his mentor, Jean Roqua, played by Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, In America).
It is immediately apparent to Jake that MMA is not street fighting, but rather an art form he wants to master. Roqua will take Jake under his wing, but it is up to Jake to find the patience, discipline, willingness and reason within him to succeed. For Jake, there is much more at stake than mere victory. His decision will not just settle a score; it will define who he is.
We had the honor of sitting down with Sean Faris who plays Jake Tyler in the film, and here’s what he had to say:
What was the physical preparation that you had to go through for this film?
We had three months leading up to it in Los Angeles. We trained for 6 hours a day, 6 days a week. It was pretty intense; my body actually went into shock after the first week. We had to see a chiropractor and a massage therapist to keep our bodies in tune so we could continue training. They would deliver 5,000 calories in meals to my door every day, and I had to eat it all so I would put on weight.
We would start out the day out with Muay Thai, Jujitsu, Taekwondo, and then we’d work on fight choreography for a little bit. After that we would have a break, either nap time or some chiropractor or massage time, and then we’d go off to Gold’s Gym in Venice Beach and train with a weight trainer named Tito.
It was hard. It was probably the most physical thing I’ve ever done in my life.
What was it like working with Dijimon Hounsou?
It was such an amazing experience. He’s an incredible actor, he’s got amazing presence, and he’s a great person all the way around. He made me want to be all I could be as an actor. We spent a lot of time rehearsing together and prepping, and he would give suggestions or if I had questions, he was more than happy to answer them for me. I can’t say enough great things about the guy.
How intense were the fights during shooting? Were there any accidents or close calls?
Oh man. The intensity was off the wall. I actually ended up loosing 17 pounds while filming the movie, I had put on 15 before in training.
As far as accidents go, I actually broke my thumb on the second to last day of filming and half way through filming I broke the L3 spinous transfer process, which is a small bone that comes off of your spinal cord in your lower back. That happened when Dijimon body-slammed me for 10 takes, and my back just finally gave in. But I still did 75% of my stunts after that.
Is there any particular fighting strength that your character has?
Yeah, he has a mean right cross [laughs]. The majority of his strength comes from his heart. He has a lot of heart, and a lot of fight within himself. I consider that the greatest strength that he has because that’s what gets him through training and ultimately he has such a big heart that his mind changes along with it. He becomes more self-controlled and more disciplined, and he learns to fight for the right reasons.
What are Mixed Martial Arts?
It’s basically different forms of marital arts like Taekwondo, Jujitsu, Muay Thai, and wrestling as well that are brought together to form a variety of fight styles in one.
Are you a fan of Mixed Martial Arts? And do you relate to that with your character?
I am a huge fan of Mixed Martial Arts. I actually was before the film. I’ve actually been watching UFC since a long time ago when they didn’t even have rounds. Basically, it was just one round, there was no time limit, and they just fought until someone gave up, tapped out, submitted, or was knocked out.
Do I relate to that? I don’t know, I’m just a fan. I’ve never wanted to be a cage fighter myself, but I definitely do enjoy the entertainment value of it all.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I’m in pre-production on a film that my manager, who is my producing partner, and I are doing ourselves. It’s going to be called The Glass Eye. We hope to have that going by the end of March or early April, but in Hollywood you never know. It depends on which actors we can get and whose schedules we can work around and whose we can’t.
There are a couple other projects I’m looking at that I would love to do, but it’s just schedule issues and whatnot, so we’re just playing it by ear right now.
Can you tell us anything about Forever Strong, and is that slated for a release date?
I believe they’re waiting for Never Back Down to drop in theaters on March 14th before they sell it to distributors. They’ve had a bunch of offers, but they haven’t taken any yet. Forever Strong is a great movie, it’s one of those coming of age films that is a feel good movie at the end of it. That’s about another character that I played named Rick Penning who has an alcohol problem and gets sent off to a boys home in Utah. He ends up playing for his rival team who he always plays every year in the national championships for high school rugby. There he goes through a lot of life changes with the coach, he’s kind of like a father to the boys on his team. He comes around and becomes a much better person from it all. It’s a really great story, and I can’t wait for it to drop. I hope it will be out by summer.
There was such good chemistry between you and main lady Amber Heard, what was it like working with her?
Working with her was really cool. We got along really well both on and off camera. We are both from Texas, so we had a lot in common like that. We just had a lot of fun together when we were working. I think she’s a bright girl, and she’s got a great future ahead of her.
Your role in this film and other films has begun to make you a sex symbol of sorts. What has that been like for you? Have you had any crazy fan experiences yet?
You know… I have gotten some funny mail in the past [laughs]. In fact, there’s a little story… I don’t know if it was a fan or what, but I had lived in my townhouse for like three months and I got home one day and there was a bra hanging from the door handle and a bottle tequila sitting at the door. I don’t know where it came from or why. That was rare [laughs].
A couple girls have mailed me pictures of themselves. Not all of them clothed… [laughs]. It’s quite interesting, but for the most part my audience up until this point has been younger. So I don’t think they’re as out there as some of the older girls have been.
I just consider myself a normal guy though. Doing my thing, I love my job.
What did you do for Valentines Day?
I spent it with a very close friend of mine. We went out to Malibu, and had dinner at Giorgio Baldi, which was absolutely fantastic. Then we went to Bebe lingerie launch party in Hollywood. We were going to go to the Santa Monica Pier, but it’s a bit too cold for that. After that we went back to her place, had some drinks, and just relaxed.
Do you have any desire to write or direct?
I’ve always wanted to write, but the problem is when I sit down to write, my mind goes in so many different directions. I wouldn’t be able to put together one script that’s based on one story. It’d have to be like 5 different stories in one. I would love to someday write, and possibly direct, because when I read scripts I can really imagine the visuals there. That’s something I think I may like to tackle later down the road when I’m a little bit more mature and a little bit calmer. For the most part, right now, I’m still learning how to be the best actor I can be, and I have a long way to go to get to the level I would like to be at.
The film is getting a lot of comparisons to Fight Club. How do you feel about that? And do you agree?
I agree on some levels, yes. But Fight Club was more of an organized thing for people to fight for a release of energy and crossing boundaries into a different world. Never Back Down is more of Karate Kid meets Fight Club in that sense. It’s teaching you to not fight, it let’s you know to fight for the right reasons and not just to let all this aggression or whatnot.
But if that’s the comparison it’s getting then I’m happy about that, because Fight Club is one of my favorite movies.
Interview By: Emma Loggins