Mick Gould on Training Actors

February 04, 2012

Mick Gould has been a martial artist since he was 14 years old. He was a member of the British SAS, and a close-combat instructor for the advanced training wings of the SAS. He created the martial arts discipline Nagasu Do, and he’s worked as a bodyguard, marital arts instructor, and technical advisor (martial arts, close combat, firearms) for the Hollywood film industry. He’s been a part of eleven films and has worked with a slew of actors that includes Johnny Depp, Val Kilmer, Marlon Brando, Tom Cruise, Al Pacino, and Samuel L. Jackson. We wanted to find out if working with actors was really as much of a pain in the ass as it seems.

BTW: How did you get started in the movie industry? What made you want to branch into the industry of Hollywood?

Mick:  I had no intention of going into the world of Hollywood, I was about to leave the service and I received a call from Michael Mann, how he found my number and knew I was leaving I don’t know and he still won’t tell me! However, he asked me if I would train the actors up for a movie called HEAT.  The first thought that went through my head was I don’t think I can be dealing with a bunch of pansy-ass actors I was of the view that all actors had big heads and huge egos.  So I explained politely that it was probably not my thing.  Mann asked me why not, I said I was used to working and training people for operations that were real and not for movies.  His reply was, “I want to train them for real, let me send you a script” to which I agreed.  I read through the script and thought actually it sounded quite interesting, and to be quite honest I had never been to Los Angeles. So I thought free trip and a week’s work (which turned into six months) seemed like an excellent idea.

BTW: What’s the biggest challenge working with actors?

Mick:  The thing with actors is you have to remember that most of them have been pretending how to do things for biggest part of their careers and getting your head around that can be quite challenging.

BTW: Has an actor’s ego ever gotten in the way of training him or her?

Mick:  I think I have been very fortunate that I have worked with some of the biggest actors in the world. For example Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Tom Cruise and the late Marlon Brando and, they are and were ultra-professionals at all times.  It was a pleasure working with them, absolutely no ego at all.  Strangely enough I went to meet Robert De Niro for the first time on a gun range in LA when we were about to train for HEAT.  I still had this thing in my mind that all actors were probably arrogant and half way up their own descending colon.  I thought to myself I will ask him what he would like me to call him and if he says Mr. DeNiro, I shall tell him to call me Mr Gould!  So Mann introduces me and I say my piece to Mr. De Niro, and there was a moment’s pause with a look of curiosity on his face and he said, “Bob”!  One of those times when you need an egg to push in your own face!

BTW: Which actor was the hardest to bring along to the point of a convincing martial artist?

Mick:  I have never done a movie in the true sense of martial arts. Most of the techniques that I try to put in are as close to reality as I can make it within the realms of movies. All of the directors I have worked for have wanted to keep things a little gritty, so the art side gets a little lost.  My usual routine is to give the actor or actress I’m going to train a series of exercises which will enable me to teach the best type of techniques suited to their ability, in other words something that is more natural to the way he or she moves and build from there… But at the end of the day it’s whatever the director wants to see.

BTW: Do you watch the movies with actors that you’ve trained?

Mick:  Yes I do, but I must say when you watch things on a screen ten times bigger than reality I have sat there a few times with my fingers crossed… I prefer to watch them in the comfort of my own home where I can pause the movie and replay the sequences.

BTW: In your opinion, what is the best example of actors doing martial arts in a mainstream movie?

Mick:  I rarely watch martial arts movies. A lot of them get a little hokey for me but I must admit I do enjoy watching Jackie Chan, fighting with humor, tongue-in-cheek. Can’t fault it.

BTW: And what’s your favorite movie?

Mick:  I have a tendency to watch movies that are a bit off the wall, a little sci-fi like Blade Runner. It is what it’s supposed to be.  If I watch action movies with guns blazing and never ending rounds of ammunition they drive me crackers!

BTW: How would you best summarize or characterize Nagasu Do?

Mick:  I believe it is a good all round system that builds a realistic base for realistic training and reactions. I have practiced Martial Artist since the age of 14.  I  put together a system of techniques that I have studied and developed over the years, drawing from my experience as the Close Quarter Combat instructor in 22 Special Air Service, and as an Operator for a UK government intelligence unit. So I keep things as close to reality as I can.

BTW: What do you do to continue learning? Are there guys out there that you train with who teach you new techniques or principles?

Mick:  I’m in my sixties. I can’t imagine not being able to train. Although now that it’s getting a little harder, I still do as much as possible, I have a good friend names Jeff Keene, he’s like my brother. I’ve known him for forty-odd years, and we still train together and from time to time to experiment and modify various things. You just have to be careful that you don’t lose your basics. I have two other instructors in Nagasu Do that are also firearms trained, Jay Hassal here in Wales and Dexter Fletcher in Miami, so there’s always healthy conversations on what’s going on.  I have also instructed and worked all around the world, and you learn something from someone or something every time you arrive and teach, there’s always something and as the saying goes, “there’s always one.”  I don’t think there are many new techniques. We are probably using the same principles, tactics and tradecraft as Genghis Khan. I think the changes are just modifications and extensions to already-established systems.  Technology changes day to day, and I believe that a lot of systems and institutions are becoming more and more reliant on it and in lots of cases it’s a good thing, but I think we have to be careful not to lose our basic tradecraft.

BTW: What do you for fun, on your days off?

Mick: I started writing a few years ago and I live in an ideal place where it’s peaceful enough to write. I have a nice home in the hills of the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales, and I love being there.  I spend a lot of time away from home so when I am there I’m very content to kick back and do nothing.

BTW: If you had to give our readers one piece of advice or principle that could save their ass in a fight, what would it be?

MG:  I think the old saying  “train hard, fight easy” just about sums it up. But one of the main principles that I teach is Observe-Assess-React. Make every technique you apply a singular event and don’t get caught up in preset combinations. That way you are always on the offensive. Observe the threat, assess the threat, maneuver and apply the appropriate reaction. If any part of a set combination fails your brain automatically tells you “that was wrong”, you now have to change your mind and re-evaluate while on the defensive, which is not a good place to be. The speed of the observation and assessment gives you the position and speed of an accurate strike. Now as it happens, I am about to release a book called “Methods For Mayhem,” which talks about close-quarter-combat skills for professional protection officers and security personnel.  And I will be teaching close-quarter-combat courses in Miami.

Learn more at mickgould.com

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