When it comes to modern martial arts movies, there aren't many that come with the pedigree of Sean Patrick Flanery's Born a Champion. The flick, out now digitally, is all about a phenomenal Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter Mickey Kelley (Flanery) looking to get back on his feet for another fight after years in the shadows. It's co-written by an accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter in his own right: Flanery, himself.
While Flanery is best known for his on-screen roles in The Boondock Saints, Saw: The Final Chapter, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and Dexter, but he's also an accomplished fighter. He has a third-degree blackbelt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and runs a jiu-jitsu studio in Houston (as well as an on-hiatus Hollywood facility). Born a Champion was his opportunity to bring his two passions together into one. After putting the pieces together for more than a decade, Flanery co-wrote the film alongside its director, Alex Ranarivelo. It's a deeply personal project for him, and the passion shows on-screen in the emotional tale filled with grounded, authentic fight scenes.
We chatted with Flanery back in December about the movie, his love for martial arts and what it was like sharing the screen with one of his heroes, Dennis Quaid. We also dipped into the hypotheticals of him reprising his role as Jacob Elway in Dexter's upcoming revival season and being involved in the upcoming Indiana Jones 5. Scroll through to read our full Q&A with Flanery.
Jiu-Jitsu is a passion of yours. How did martial arts enter your life, and how did you fall in love with it?
Martial arts came into my life because I was following a girl in some funny white pants ... She was pushing a bicycle with a flat tire. And I followed her all the way to a business right next to a Piggly Wiggly grocery store, and she walked into a karate academy. And I'd always wanted to train karate after watching Elvis Presley do "Suspicious Minds" on the Vegas stage. He was doing like a kata with kicks and everything. And I asked my dad, I said, "Man, is he doing karate?" Probably didn't say "man" to my dad, but he goes, "Yeah, he studies with the old man at Parker." And my dad was a Golden Gloves boxer. So he was privy to Elvis and his karate adventures. And that's how it started. By watching Elvis on the stage and then following a girl into a place next to a Piggly Wiggly (at) 9 years old.prevnext
When did you kind of decide to take this passion to the next level and be an absolute bad ass with this?
Well, I appreciate it, but first of all, that term is subjective. (Laughs) It's been a huge part of my life, man, since I was 9. It's never stopped. And when I discovered Brazilian jiu-jitsu specifically, I mean, it completely changed my life. I've spent more time on martial arts mats than I have on film sets by a comfortable margin. It's just been a part of me. It's what I know more about than anything else in my life. I've spent more time doing that than anything else. And it's a joy and the return on investment is something pretty astounding.prevnext
When did you first decide to kind of marry your two passions? I know this film's been in the works for awhile.
I originally wrote the story in 2007. There's a martial arts forum called the MMA Underground. And there was a thread about, "Hey, show us your best story fiction or nonfiction." And I actually wrote the story about Glenda Bilbo, the girl that was pushing the bicycle. And people seemed to like it. And then I wrote a second story, which is the Mick Kelley story. And I didn't publish it on the forum, but I decided, man, I need to make this a real movie. So it's been in the hopper since 2007. But anything that's that big of a part of your life, certainly you'd love to realize that in your bread and butter occupation if given the opportunity. But that's how long it took to put on the screen. We shot it in the summer of 2019. And I wrote the story in 2007. Man, that's 12 years.prevnext
The fights come off a lot different than a lot of the "flashier" MMA movies or boxing movies. What was the shooting process for capturing these scenes in such an authentic way?
Well, there seems to be a big separation between what real fighting looks like and what movie fighting looks like. And I wanted to display the most origin-based, fundamental that came to America in 1993. And it's ugly. It's slow, it's methodical. It's not dynamic, but it's incredibly dominant. And that's the jiu-jitsu that I wanted to pay homage to. I didn't want to use artistic license and do any extravagant things that you would never normally do.
If you watch UFC 1, it was ugly. Looked like Royce Gracie took an opponent down, hugged him, covered him, and then the fight stopped. And even the commentators have no idea what happened. They don't even know why the guy on the bottom gave up. It was that ugly. It was that hard to look at. But that's the jiu-jitsu that I want to illustrate in this film, and I wanted to stay true to the roots of the martial art. I wouldn't have been able to sleep at night with some flagrant cheats in that. And hopefully, hopefully we pulled it off, man.prevnext
What was it like working with Dennis Quaid and filming that particularly dramatic scene together?
Man, Dennis Quaid... I mean, he's an icon to me. You know? I mean, I've seen probably the majority of everything he's ever shot. He's also from Houston, Texas, which is where I grew up. And so the minute he signed on and he read the script and he loved it was one of the biggest smiles my face has ever thrown out there, knowing that he was going to be a part of my film. And then to meet him on the day and have him not let you down because you're worried when you meet an icon, and you don't want them to dispel the myth. Well, man, I'm here to tell you that Dennis Quaid didn't dispel it. He reinforced it. I mean, that dude is a solid cat from top to bottom, on and off the set. He is a genuine gentleman and a good-hearted dude. It's rare that you work with somebody like that. That you start off kind of loving their career, and he just solidified everything. That dude's a treasure.prevnext
Actually, about two weeks ago, I finished my rewatch of 'Dexter.' I don't know if you've been approached at all, but would you even be interested in revisiting your character in the revival?
Man, I had a ball doing that character. I really did. I think there's so many unexplored avenues to what drives that cat. But no, I hadn't been approached at all. I'm sure they're going in a very different direction. No idea. I haven't spoken to anybody about it. But yeah, I don't know many people that would turn down an opportunity to be on a hit show. You know? I'm sure a lot of people try to sound cool and (downplay it). Come on, man. It's Dexter. (Laughs) No, I haven't heard anything about it, other than what I've heard on social media and whatnot. But they have me as a viewer, for sure.prevnext
Also, Harrison Ford's last outing as Indiana Jones is coming in 2022. With films like these, a lot of times creators will bring in people that were important to the franchise in supporting roles or cameos. Would you like to have any kind of role or pa
Man, I can probably count on one hand the amount of people that wouldn't want to do something that George Lucas originated. (Laughs) Being in a Harrison Ford film, I mean, that falls into that same Dexter category. But having said that, I mean, to me, Harrison Ford is Indiana Jones. You know what I mean? They've got my 20 bucks at the theater every time they put one of those out. Absolutely.prevnext
Before I let you hop off here, is there anything else you'd like to add about the film for our readers?0comments
This is my love letter to jiu-jitsu. It's incredibly important to me, at least to my career. And I hope everybody out there gives it a try.
Born a Champion is available now via on-demand and digital providers, such as Amazon, iTunes and Google Play. Physical copies will be available on Blu-ray and DVD starting Tuesday and can be found at major retailers.prev