Talking with positive role model, inspiring leading lady Gillian White, star of the gritty action drama Take Back, I was mesmerised by her conversation, humble attitude and appreciation of the martial arts craft. Married to the great, Michael Jai White (he actually stopped in to say hello to me during my interview with Gillian when kissing her goodbye before heading out).
Having interviewed Michael before, this was an absolute thrill, but getting to know Gillian, hearing stories from this covid-era film set and general career trajectory, I’m sure this is only the beginning of a Gillian White era.
Talking with Michael a year or so ago (for film; Triple Threat) he spoke very highly of you and told me you could kick his ass, just like in this movie.
GW – (laughs) he trained me good, don’t know if I can kick his ass though.
This was a Covid production, what differences happened on set.
GW – was difficult with many restrictions, many things we couldn’t do, changes to script, cut out characters and use actual people on set as extras being only allowed certain numbers within vicinity. Maybe only ten people from memory with masks on. Because Michael and I (husband and wife) had quarantine together we could play our scenes with no issues.
Did you audition for the role.
GW – over a lunch the part was offered by friends of ours, producer and director had worked with Michael before (Vigilante Diaries), after reading the script I of course said, absolutely!
You’re fantastic lead.
GW – that what was so exciting, they asked if I thought Mike would play the husband but it’s not the lead. I just said, I know my husband he will be ecstatic. He also loved the fact he played, a history teacher and not someone just going around kicking everybody’s head (laughs).
How much pre-training did you put in before cameras rolled.
GW – the good thing is Mike and I have been training for years so I’ve been well prepared for this already. The film was to be shot earlier in the year but Covid hit which upset that, but we’d already been training hard. We just waited until production opened back again, staying well prepared because we knew the scenes ahead and choreography.
Did you suffer any injuries during the project.
GW – no, I actually had a right lateral tear in my meniscus that I could film with, I just dealt with it. Straight after I shot a TV-show for Tyler Perry; as soon as that ended I had knee surgery. I’m all good now kicking again.
In the film your character bravely steps in to assist someone in peril, is that something you would consider in reality.
GW – I probably, honestly would especially now with an abundance of martial arts training I do, I know what I could achieve in that situation. I’ve always liked helping people or assisting those needing a hand, yes I would but remain smart, so I wouldn’t get hurt too.
Take Back, an action movie with serious subject matter, is that important when you pick a project to have solid story with fast-paced-action.
GW – so important to me, a factor when reading this script. It was based around true events, it was a topic that light was shed upon, something I look for and love in projects. Sex trafficking is rarely spoken about but is happening everyday globally. I have three daughters, constantly telling them be aware of your surroundings, pay attention. It takes a second for something to happen and you’re never seen again.
Do people recognise you in the street or mistake you for anyone else.
GW – it’s really funny I’m such a little tomboy with baseball caps on (laughs) I am recognised occasionally but not enough i cannot go do errands or visit the grocery store.
A lot of Take Back, was on location in desert or harsh terrain, does that mean more or less effort to get into character.
GW – I’m from Los Angeles, while Palm Springs where we shot is two hours away and difference in heat is astronomical. Filming was 120 degrees (Fahrenheit) drinking Gatorade or water to remain hydrated. Fighting around the desert all day did affect emotions and bring realism to the film.
You worked alongside legend Mickey Rourke here, how is he to act with.
GW – so excited when first hearing he was coming on board. Such an icon I’ve watched for years. The Wrestler is one of my all-time favourites. He’s fun to work with. In one scene we shot he kept improvising, throwing stuff down at me trying to get me angry, it was great helping with my character hating this guy, pissing me off.
James Remar too, another legend.
GW – someone else I’ve watched my entire life. He brought a gritty edge.
Action movies have never gone away, they remain popular and have evolved. Are your aspirations to push the genre, go further.
GW – I would love to although my favourite genre is horror (laughs) I love it so much. But getting into action more, I’m loving it, hopefully this will lay the path allowing me to do more action.
Do you have action film favourites.
GW – I love to laugh, in terms of action I like comedies such as Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan (Rush Hour) those are so great, I’d love a role in any action-comedy to kick butt while making people laugh.
Have you ever had any conflict or resistance in your career trajectory.
GW – I’ve never had anything incredibly negative happen to me thank goodness. There have been time though I’ve not got the part because I’m not black enough, not dark enough skin complexion, or not typical. It’s hard to comprehend but I’ve dealt with that before. I haven’t had any direct racism or extreme negativity.
You have done a lot of comedy, now action, which is harder to do.
GW – comedy; action is fun and easier being athletic it comes naturally, but to make people laugh is hard, I admire comedians on stage live stand up trying to make people laugh and keep going no matter what happens.
Not an easy thing, comedy is really difficult the more I think about it.
*this was the awesome moment, when Michael briefly joined in our zoom call, said hello to me, bye to Gillian. And, told me he enjoyed taking a step back playing his role which I admit he’s almost, hardly recognisable in.
Why should people watch this new excellent film of yours, Take Back.
GW – it’s such a relevant topic, there’s a believability, realism to it. All ages can relate to this film. There hasn’t been a movie for a long while with a lead black woman martial artist, I think it will be something people will enjoy seeing especially with some things that go on in society. To me it’s not just because it’s a black woman, but a strong woman dealing with a lot in life, protecting her family whom she loves.
I look forward to seeing you in a horror movie sometime soon.
GW – Thank you so much Shane, take care.
TAKE BACK will be released in the UK and Ireland on DVD and Digital from 29th March.
Follow Shane A.Bassett on Twitter @MovieAnalyst