Face to Face with the Star of the New Kickboxer, Retaliation Movie, Alain Moussi
I had the pleasure to interview Alain Moussi. Known for his jaw-dropping high-kicks, killer precision and natural charm, Alain has been fighting his way through the entertainment industry where he has quickly risen as the quintessential stuntman and fight choreographer. With over 25 years of experience in martial arts and 30+ films to his credits, Alain has become the go-to expert to choreograph Hollywood’s blockbuster action fight scenes. Born in Africa, Alain and his family spent the first two years of his life between Libreville, and the Ivory Coast before moving to Ottawa, Canada. Growing up, Alain was very active with sports and discovered Jiu-Jitsu at the age of 7, but it wasn’t until he discovered the classic film BLOODSPORT starring Jean-Claude Van Damme that his passion was realized. After that, Alain made it his life goal to be able to do what Jean-Clade did in the movies and become a famed martial artist, and now he is reprising a role played by the very person who he so idolized. At the age of 23, Alain opened his own thriving martial arts school, NX Martial Arts and Fitness, specializing in combat Jiu-Jitsu and kickboxing, which will soon be celebrating their 15 years since opening. When Alain is not acting, choreographing fights, falling out of buildings, or running his martial arts school, he enjoys spending time with his wife Janie and daughter Annabelle at their home in Canada.
What is your “backstory”?
My name is Alain Moussi and I’m 36 years old. I’m married to Janie Des Rosiers who is an anesthesiologist at Montfort Hospital in Ottawa, and I am a father to a beautiful little girl named Annabelle.
I was born in Gabon from a Lebanese father, Jean Moussi, and French-Canadian mother, Rita Moussi. My dad was a math teacher and had a contract in Gabon. We soon moved to Moncton New Brunswick and then to Ottawa when I was 7 years old. I grew up in a neighborhood called Vanier. I was always outside playing with my friends. I was very physical and loved to run around play structures and do all sports.
When I was 10 years old my friend introduced me to movie Bloodsport. I was so impressed with JCVD! He could kick, do the splits and had tons of muscle. I had to become like him. My parents enrolled me in a Jiu-jitsu program at Therien Jiu-jitsu in Ottawa. From that point on Martial arts training became my obsession, especially kicking and doing the splits!
By the time I was 18, I had a second degree black belt in Jiu-jitsu, had competed and performed in many stage shows in Canada, the US and Europe. I loved performing. The adrenaline you feel when thousands of people cheer is incredible. In 1999, my training partner Robert Ladouceur and I became one of the top demonstration teams in our international martial art federation and started closing all their shows.
I always wanted to get into film, but just didn’t know how. There’s not so much being shot in Ottawa. In the meantime, I decided I wanted to become a full time martial arts instructor, so with our parents support my friend Stephane Roy and I opened a martial arts club in Orleans called NX Martial Arts and Fitness.
One day, a student of ours, John Purchase, was watching us practice a martial arts demonstration and said, “You guys should have your own show.” So I asked him, “What is it about?” He said, “Ninjas breaking in trying to steal something. You surprise them and you fight them.” Then I asked, “What is it called?” He said “NX Files.” (laughs) So, I said ok. My friend Rob Baldwin was there, and he happened to have a camera and know how to edit so I said, “Rob we’re doing this Thursday”. So that Thursday after classes, my friends who were all instructors in our club came in and we shot the video. We put it online and sent it to everyone we knew. Well, this video got popular and people started asking when the next one was coming out, so we decided to keep on going and develop a story. This little video spawned a 12 episode season where I played the lead, raised some funds, produced, designed the action and our instructors would become the heroes for all of their students. We ended up shooting and releasing 20 episodes.
NX Files was so much fun to produce and an incredible learning experience. I ended up watching Jackie Chan’s stunts to learn how to put together action sequences and learn about stunt reactions. While working on NX Files, I met Denis Lafond who was a stuntman in Ottawa. We totally clicked and Denis taught me tons of stuff. Denis was already a talented stuntman and action designer who had worked in Hong Kong and on Scott Pilgrim vs the World which was shot in Toronto. He had a wealth of experience.
In 2009, I got a call from my friend Jean-Francois Lachapelle who was a working stuntman in Montreal. JF had been world champion in Karate and was now working with Jean Frenette who had also been World champion in Karate and is a major coordinator in Canada. Jean also happened to be the fight coordinator on the blockbuster Immortalsstaring Henry Cavill. JF introduced me to Jean who agreed to audition me to train with his stunt team. I passed the audition and started training in Montreal weekly. Jean was developing fight concepts for Immortals and was shooting pre-vis for the director. Because I happened to be the same size as Henry, I ended up playing the hero in the pre-vis, which caught the attention of the stunt coordinator. When it came to deciding a stunt double for Henry, to my surprise, although I wasn’t a working stuntman yet, my name was the one that came out. Right look, right size, right skill set, right attitude. Jean Frenette backed me up and gave me my first stunt job! I was now doubling Henry Cavill in Immortals!
Immortals was my stunt bootcamp because there was so much to learn! We spent 8 weeks in prep training 8 hours a day, 5 days a week then another 12 weeks shooting. Most of the time, your first stunt job is to play bad guy number five, get shot and that’s it. The hustle continued. In my case, I doubled the star and worked for 5 months straight! Wow, such an incredible experience! I was also very fortunate to be exposed to many other talented stunt performers and coordinators, which created many other opportunities after Immortals. This was the beginning of a very successful stunt career. Over the last 6 years, I have worked on many cool titles including: White House Down, Pompeii, X-men: Days of Future Past, Warcraft, Suicide Squad, X-men: Apocalypse and many other films and tv shows shot in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
In the fall of 2011, I was working with Jean Frenette and his team, On Set Stunts, prepping a martial arts film in Montreal called Wings of the Dragon. We put together a showcase for the producer/director Dimitri Logothetis to show him all the fight scenes we had designed. I had no clue that this event was about to change my life. I was performing the opening fight with Max Savaria and the boss fight with JF Lachapelle. Each fight had a mix of martial arts, weapons, acrobatics and stunt reactions making it ACTION PACKED! At the end of the showcase, Dimitri singled me out and introduced himself to me saying he loved the showcase. We chatted for about 5 mins and he said he would look forward to seeing me on the shoot. The next day, I got a call from casting saying the director Dimitri had requested that I audition for the starring role of the film! I couldn’t believe it. What an opportunity! I worked on the material for 3 days with my friend Jason Cavalier. Then it was go time. The day after the audition I got a call saying the director would like to meet with me, so I met Dimitri for breakfast. He said he was re-launching the martial arts action genre and wanted to do it with someone who could bring authenticity to the roles and perform all the martial arts and action for real. That person would be me. Needless to say, I accepted right away and said, “Let’s do it!” That was the beginning of a brand new adventure.
We start shooting Wings of the Dragon. It’s exciting, it’s going very well. After 3 weeks, production shuts down. Our financiers were discovered to be shady. Years later he was arrested by the FBI on his yacht, but that’s another story (laughs). The opportunity came and just like that it was gone. However, I did meet Dimitri who believed in me. Dimitri had told me that in a few years he would be rebooting the Kickboxer franchise. Fast forward to the summer of 2013. I got a call from Dimitri asking me to come to LA and perform a fight for his producing partner Ted Field as my audition for Kickboxer. I was already scheduled to double Jean-Claude Van Damme on a commercial shoot for goDaddy.com, so I hop on a flight to Vancouver where I met and doubled JCVD for 3 days. I then flew to LA with my friend Max to perform a fight for the reboot of Kickboxer,which originally starred JCVD! Wild! I ended the fight with this cool acrobatic kick and Ted stood up and shouted “Wow! That’s Kickboxer!” 9 months later it was announced in Cannes that I would be starring in Kickboxer Vengeance alongside Dave Bautista and Georges St-Pierre, so incredible! It was only right before we started to shoot that JCVD came on board and that was the icing on the cake.
The night before our first shoot day, Dimitri called me and said, “Hey man, make sure you rest up tonight. Tomorrow’s going to be great. We wouldn’t be putting millions behind you if we didn’t think you’re the one for the job. We all believe in you. See you tomorrow!” Right after that call, I had heart palpitations. I was in a panic. This is what I always wanted and now it’s real! Can I really do this? After 15 minutes my panic turned into excitement! It’s go time! Our first day I was fighting with Dave Bautista and we had a blast! It set the tone and I couldn’t be happier. This was a dream come true!
One day on the set of Kickboxer: Vengeance, JCVD and I were shooting a fight scene in the rain. There was a moment right after a take where I just took a beat to look around and realize where I was and what I was doing. I am standing here, in Thailand, starring in Kickboxer, a film that inspired me to start training in martial arts, acting opposite JCVD who was my childhood hero and the star of the original film. I just stood there, looked around, smiled and appreciated the moment.
Now here we are about to release our sequel KICKBOXER RETALIATION! Retaliation was the most grueling shoot I’ve ever done. There is so much action shot in so little time. We shot for 5 weeks, 6 days a week with one day off to recover. No days off for me! I was on every single shoot day. The end fight was 7 days of nonstop fighting 12 hours a day. I took over the action department with JF Lachapelle as stunt coordinator and our Thai stunt team lead by our Thai stunt coordinator Jim. Our goal was to push the action much further than we did in Vengeance and make it more raw and real. I think we succeeded!
This time around producer/writer Dimitri Logothetis is directing. He is so passionate about making Kickboxer larger than life and he goes for it! His goal is to make Kickboxer as authentic of a martial arts film as possible. Real stunts and real action! Dimitri is a visionary and leads our creative team to the promised land. He’s always there to push everyone to be at their best. Our producer Rob Hickman brought in many big names from the sports and fighting worlds to our cast including World Champs: Mike Tyson, Ronaldinho, Fabricio Werdum, Roy Nelson, Brian Shaw, Babalu Sobral, Shogun Rua, Renzo Gracie, Frankie Edgar and Rigan Machado.
A major highlight for me was working with Mike Tyson. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid and played Punch Out a lot. The day we met we were shooting our fight scene. I have to say it was a great experience. In order to capture Mikes speed and power, we shot with high speed cameras. There’s a shot where you see Mike punch me in the chest and body multiple times, his knuckles digging into to me for REAL! I was punched by Mike many times and I survived! Thank god he’s a nice guy and he’s got tons of control (laughs)!
Shooting Retaliation was a phenomenal experience. In one film, I get to work with JCVD, Christopher Lambert and Mike Tyson! To complete the cast, we have the larger than life Hafthor “The Mountain” Björnsson, the beautiful and talented Sara Malakul Lane, and the “biggest mouth in thailand” Sam Medina. I’m blessed to work with such wonderful people.
And let me tell you this, it’s only the beginning of the adventure. Stay tuned!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your acting/performing career?
Over the years I’ve had tons of great moments on set. Truth of the matter is I love what I do, and I meet great people. Here are a few fun stories:
I randomly ended up doubling Jason Clarke on White House Down
I was hired to perform as Channing Tatum’s role on pre-vis for the film White House Down. The stunt coordinators, John Stoneham Jr. and Layton Morrison said that if I performed, it would sell to Channing and the director. I come to set one day waiting to get started, while they are shooting a fight between Channing and Jason Clarke on a rooftop. They do one take with Channing and Jason’s stunt double, but the director felt that Jason’s double wasn’t a great match. John says, “Alain, go to wardrobe and tell them to dress you as Jason’s character Stenz.” I come back, and it’s approved by the director. John says, “You have 5 minutes to learn the fight, we’re shooting a master.” (laughs) I knew the hero part but not Jason’s, so I go up and walk through the fight with Channing. 5 minutes and we’re good to go. Learning and performing fights was my thing. Right before we shoot I tell Channing, “Hey man, don’t be shy to hit me for real in the body. It”ll look better. I just want to know what level of contact you’re comfortable with.” So, he says, “You can hit me too man!” 3–2–1-ACTION! We go at it hard! It was all real (laughs)! We get to the end and CUT! Everyone is standing including the director and we get an applause from the crew. That set the tone for the rest of the day and that’s how I ended up doubling Jason Clarke for the rest of the shoot.
Luke Evans sang at my wedding
Around the end of the Immortals shoot, I was out in Montreal with Luke Evans. We ended up going to an after party at a friend’s house to have a bit of wine and hang out. It’s about 4:00am and our host, who happens to own 2 restaurants in Montreal, is cooking steaks. Meanwhile, Luke and I are talking about his career and how he got started in musicals. I said, “Wow! Cool! Sing something!” He sings, “The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” by Roberta Flack in acapella. It was so beautiful. My wife to be, Janie, had met Luke and thought he was the nicest guy. I tell Luke, “Janie would love to hear you sing”, so he said he would record the song for her. Now that’s after quite a few glasses of wine, so I was hoping he would but wasn’t counting on it. Immortals wrapped at the end of June 2010 and in mid-august I received an email from Luke saying: “I didn’t forget about the video, I’ll record it when I get home next week.” I answer, “Wow, that would be awesome, and you know what, it’s perfect timing. I’ll play it at my wedding for the first dance.” A week later Luke sends me the video. It was just incredible. Luke in front of a handy-cam singing acapella. It gave me chills. So, I get approval from Janie’s friend and hooked up the video to a projector and played it as a surprise first dance song. It was quite special and made Janie extremely happy. One day when my daughter watches the video she’ll probably ask why Gaston from Beauty and the Beast sang at our wedding (laughs)!
I kicked “The Mountain” in the face… for real!
While shooting the end fight for Kickboxer: Retaliation with Hafthor Bjorsson “The Mountain”, there was a sequence that ended with a spin hook kick to the face. Rehearsing slowly, we establish which beats would be real hits. Usually, those are to the body. Then for the spin kick, we sell it with a reaction. 3–2–1-ACTION! Kick, punch, punch, spin and kick! As I spun, WHACK! I felt my foot hit something. I knew right away, I kicked “The Mountain” in the face! My foot lands on the ground and I’m staring at him, full fight face on. Meanwhile, in my head I’m thinking, damn I hope he doesn’t get angry and eat me. As soon as Dimitri called cut, we looked at each other for a beat and both burst out laughing! Really dodged that bullet (laughing)!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
This spring we will be shooting the third installment of the Kickboxer Trilogy: Kickboxer Armageddon. I’ve already started working on concepts with Dimitri. I am head of the action department and act as fight coordinator and we want to push the action further than ever before. KB3 will be dark, gritty and raw. We are always striving to step up our game and that takes a lot of research and design. Get ready to see Kurt Sloan as you have never seen him before!
We are also in development of a new martial arts action sci-fi franchise called Jiu-Jitsu. Think of it as a cross between Mortal Kombat and Predator. We are planning to shoot the first installment of Jiu-Jitsu fall-winter 2018. Needless to say, this will be a very busy year.
Who are some of the most famous people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
While working on Suicide Squad, I got to hang out with Will Smith. I was a huge fan of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” growing up, so it was really cool to meet Will. He is so funny and jokes all the time. Will is exactly what you would expect. Happy go lucky always smiling. Such a pleasure to be around and such a hard worker. While shooting Suicide Squad, he wanted to make sure everyone could watch the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, so he had everything set up at the studio, so the crew could take a break and watch the fight. Will is an awesome dude and a true example of talent working very hard.
On X-men: Apocalypse, I got to meet and double one of my favorite actors on screen today, Hugh Jackman. I only worked with Hugh for a few days but what a fun few days! Hugh is always in a good mood and has a magnetic personality. When he’s on set, everyone is happy. That’s the energy he projects. I performed for 2 days and he was there for one. As a double you are a support system for the actor. My job is to make sure that Hugh can do as much as possible himself. There was this one move I helped him with where he had to step off one guy, then grab the next guy by the head while in the air, spin over and toss him as he landed. I did it a few times to understand the mechanics then helped Hugh break it down and perform it. It looked great!
I hope to work with Will and Hugh again in the future for sure.
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
I look up to too many people who have accomplished great things in martial arts, the film industry and in life. As a martial artist, I had incredible role models who inspired me be at my best and to stay humble. Hanshi John Therien was one of the most charismatic instructors I had ever met and has the ability to connect with everyone and anyone. Shihan Alain Sailly is a technical phenom and one of the most knowledgeable teachers I know. Bill Gatchell is an incredible technician and one of the most thrilling performers I had ever seen on stage.
The action stars of the past like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, JCVD, Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood as well as some of my favorite actors: Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Hugh Jackman, Will Smith, Dwayne Johnson. Their work inspires and motivates me to always work harder in order to grow as an actor. Their stories also teach me that everything is possible. When everyone says it can’t be done that’s when I say: WATCH ME!
The people who often get overlooked are the ones closest to us. One of my greatest inspirations is my father. He left Lebanon with nothing. Came to Canada and started from scratch. He went to school, got many degrees, raised a family and created an incredible life for us. We were never rich, but we had everything we needed and tons of love. My parents made sure we had every opportunity possible to do what we loved. My dad is a happy go lucky man, hard working, always in a good mood, and enjoys life and his family. He is the perfect example of the man I want to be.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Many people have told me my story inspires them to start training in martial arts, improve their health, and go for something they would love to do and/or improve things in their everyday life. I find it very humbling to be told that you inspire others to become better versions of themselves. I still teach martial arts workshops in Canada, the US and Europe to inspire students to keep on training. I have also started doing motivational talks for kids in elementary schools in Ottawa. I use my story to talk about goal setting, accomplishment and how to develop confidence. I also talk about failures and challenges and how to overcome them. If my story can inspire people to develop confidence and give them tools that will help them become achievers, that is very rewarding to me.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Funny enough, I can’t even come up with anything. I tend to learn as I go and make the best of every experience. What I can say is this. I wish I had started studying acting about 15 years ago. But instead, I became a martial arts teacher, a business man, taught martial arts internationally, became a stuntman, a husband and a father. All these experiences make me who I am today and gave me all the tools to be successful in the film industry.
Many people say I’m lucky. I understand the statement, but I always add to it. It’s not dumb luck. When I was 15 years old, I heard a statement from Karate World Champ Steve “Nasty” Anderson. He said, “When preparation meets opportunity that is luck.” That really stuck with me. If there is one piece of advice I’ve followed my entire life it’s this one. If you wait for an opportunity to get ready, you’re too late. You have to work on all the skills you need to accomplish what you want when there is no prize in sight, in order to be READY the moment an opportunity presents itself.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this.
There are so many people I look forward to meeting. If I had to choose right now, I would say Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold has many incredible achievements. I’m sure he also has some failures I could learn from. He has lived such a fascinating life. From his humble beginnings in Austria to Mr. Olympia, becoming the biggest action star in the world, Governor of California, a father, business man, and philanthropist. He’s inspired millions of people around the World. There is a lot to talk about. Arnold, if you’re reading this let’s have diner and I’ll bring the cigars.