THE LATIN DRAGON SPEAKS: An Interview With REDEEMER Star Marko Zaror!


It's been well over a decade since Chilean martial artist and stuntman Marko Zaror transitioned his career, thus landing in our sights with his debut role in the action-packed feature, Kiltro. Billed as the first South American film of its kind, it helped put Zaror and its director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza on the map toward greatness as the two forged a path through film that would ultimately see them become festival favorites by and large.

Nowadays, Zaror's fourth film with Espinoza, Redeemer, is on the cusp of releasing to North American audiences next month, and it's a real pleasure to still see films like this exist for the big screen, even as films like these are allocated to limited targeted metropolitan theater chains and VoD/digital platforms. Zaror and action stars like him don't get the mainstream treatment that Hollywood once gave to the genre in the 1990's when movie goers couldn't wait to see Jean-Claude Van Damme do a sick helicopter kick to someone's face, so I'm more than willing to throw my money in and support this movie when it comes.

As it stands, it's quite refreshing to add Zaror to the roster of people I can finally share my fandom with and learn from. He's done more than well for himself in becoming one of the biggest stars of the martial arts movie genre and he's grown a fanbase with an outpouring of support that still remains since his career took off while proudly bearing the nickname, "The Latin Dragon". In addition, he continues to accumulate a wealth of knowledge that further sheds light on the need for film industry growth on an international level for aspiring film workers in South America, which no less qualifies him as someone anyone on their way up should listen to, even as he, himself, never stops learning.

You learn things by talking to people, and it's an honor to have spoken with him in lieu of his latest success and continuing efforts in film and martial arts. With his current resume of hits, he's got plenty more coming as he so discusses in his newest interview with Film Combat Syndicate.

Film Combat Syndicate: Greetings Marko, and thank you for taking the time to talk about your career with Film Combat Syndicate. How is 2015 treating you so far?
Marko Zaror: Hello Lee and thanks for your support! 2015 started really good for me with filming The Green Ghost in Austin, Texas and it was a really nice experience. I play the main villain and also served as fight choreographer, and I've got some amazing projects ahead. I feel healthy and I'm training good, so I'm really thankful.
FCSyndicate: You've been around for quite sometime now, but for those of us just getting to know you, tell us a bit about who you are and how you got started in martial arts and film.
MZ: I started martial arts when I was 6 years old. My mother is a Blackbelt in Karate and she used to take me when I was little, but my passion for martial arts truly began when I with my first viewing of Enter The Dragon. From then on, I understood the personal connection there was between martial arts and the direction I wanted to go in life, and I took up several styles thereafter, training in Karate, Kung Fu, Tae Kwon Do, Boxing, Gymnastics, etc. 
It really grew my curiosity on how the human body can evolve and I then excelled into studying high-performance training, learning how athletes train to achieve more speed and power and so on, and I began applying these methods into my own training regimen. 
I traveled to Mexico where I trained with José Luís Mósca and Roberto Perez. At the time, Mosca was working on home videos movies and I realized that there was a opportunity for me to contribute to the martial arts genre through film. Afterwards I then began looking into TV acting, and it was not until close to a year later that I had to make the move to Los Angeles. 
When I arrived, it opened opportunities for me to begin working on stunts, and I ultimately got to work with Andy Cheng on Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's 2003 film, The Rundown. And my story continued from there.
FCSyndicate: I like how you mentioned your interest into high performance training as a means of evolving your own training in stunts and martial arts. What are some specific things that you do to condition your body? Describe your routine and diet.
MZ: I start with general conditioning three times a week, working on the major muscle groups to prep the body for power training. Then, I start working with more heavy weights and combining these exercises with plyometrics. After 6 weeks of this trainning, I start lowering the weights and I begin focusing more in explosive training, using elastic bands, medicine balls, and so on, as well as doing circuit training of plyometrics combined with power training to develope endurance for filming. 
When you're filming a martial arts movie, sometime you need to be fighting for ten hours and be able to jump and explode and put all of your energy in, so good training is really, really important. 
My diet consist mainly of tuna fish, pasta, rice, broccoli, egg whites, plenty of greens, almonds and honey. In the morning, I have a big fruit salad and I prepare my snacks so I can eat approximately every three hours.
FCSyndicate: Ten hours sounds like a lot! [laughs] You also mentioned working with Andy Cheng to perform stunts on The Rundown. How was that experience for you prior to stepping into acting? And what inspired you to become a more intergral performer as a male lead on film?
MZ: Andy is the man! Working with him was really amazing for me as I made an effort to learn as much as I could, and he is really clear on how to push limits and make you do stunts that you never knew you could do. That experience and all those memories therin will stay with me as some of the best moments of my career. Andy's a good man and I truly admire him as a person.  
That experience gave me the opportunity I needed to apply everything that I learned on the set of The Rundown in Chile. After the movie was released, I went back to produce Kiltro and take on a totally new challenge of making just the kind of action and martial arts movie in a country where this sort of thing did not exist, and it was a nice process. We first hosted a big audition to select our team and then began a six-month training program to teach how to apply martial arts choreography and performance on camera. That challenge in and of itself was also motivational for me.
FCSyndicate: I'm glad you brought Kiltro into the conversation because as it turns out, you have now done four movies with director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza, and you both are a great working pair for the types of films you do. What was it like working with Espinoza that first time? Did you guys know each other prior to Kiltro?
MZ: Yes, we were friends since high school. He was into film and always playing with a camera and making home movies. At one point, we were given an English class assignment to make a video in English and what happened was that we teamed up and made a martial arts movie. We got an A for it! [laughs] 
Ernesto and I have been friends for a long time. He moved to the U.S. when I was there working to work in the industry, and after spending time in Los Angeles, we ended up coming back to Chile to produce Kiltro. And we haven't stopped since!
FCSynidicate: Clearly there's no stopping. [laughs] You two have a good thing going, and you have now continued with your latest film, Redeemer, which I had the opportunity to screen and review last year, and thank you again for the opportunity. Your role in this film is definitely another entry into the "vigilante genre" next to a few other similar characters you've played before. Here, your character, Pardo, makes a deal with God that allows you to hunt down and kill the people you used to work for. What was it like for you to immerse yourself in this particular role?
MZ: It was fun! This is our first movie where I play a character who is so trapped in darkness and delirium. I think MirageMan was also a similarly troubled character, but I think my character in Redeemer goes a little further in that direction. What I liked about it, however, is that we see Pardo trying to free himself of this self-inflicted ritual and set of beliefs to essentially find the redemption and meaning he wants so badly.
FCSynidicate: The film also contains some great key fight sequences, especially one-on-one action scenes and your finale with Mósca was a treat to watch as well. Were there any specific challenges that you faced in designing the action?
MZ: The main challenge for the final fight between myself and  Mosca fight was the location. There was plenty of wind, it really cold and the floor was hard as rock, and it was really hard to stay warm during the fight. It took us four-and-a-half days to film that fight due to the scene's intensity and also for the lighting. 
I wanted the fights in this movie to be more realistic and raw, but without losing their sense of style. After working with Larnell and Isaac in Undisputed 3 several years ago, I tried to incorporate that experience on this movie, and after seeing the result, I'm really happy to see such a big difference made from previous work with Ernesto.
FCSyndicate: And you mentioned training with Mosca earlier on before your career florished in Los Angeles. How would you describe your friendship and comradery with Mosca, on top of working together on this movie?
MZ: When I arrived to Mexico, Mosca invited me to train at his gym. He is from Chile but he's been in Mexico for more than 20 years. He is a martial artist and actor whose work spans between television and movies in Mexico's entertainment industry that have work in television and he was the one that gave me my first opportunity to be in a movie when I was 19. We became good friends ever since, and stayed as such even after I left to the U.S., and we always stayed in touch in the hopes that we would one day film a movie togheter. Redeemer finally gave us that opportunity.
FCSyndicate: I have to say, you are among several major stars today who have unlocked a significant chapter in the world of fight choreography, with the evolution of tricking and gymnastics and showcasing such versatility in making it so screen-friendly as you have done in your movies. Now, I know you don't want to let the cat completely out of the bag, but I do want to ask is, do you feel that the state of martial arts choreography has reached its fullest potential in 2015? Or do you feel like there is another level of achievement waiting to be exposed?
MZ: Yes! Speaking first for myself, I believe that due to the conditions of how we make movies here in Chile with regard to really low budgets, I feel that there is much more we could do if we had the same resources used by other productions. After seeing Redeemer, I'm absolutely happy with the result, but I also know that with more money, the action, choreography, execution and overall performance can reach an even higher level, especially when there's time, more props, stunt rehearsals, etc. But at the end of the day, it's really all about doing your best and expressing your self with what you have. And I do feel that you can see the evolution in Redeemer along with with my other movies. 
With regard to the industry, yes, especially with all the new and young talent there is there, kids training like athletes with access to the whole world to learn from the best, and I believe there won't be an end to this trend. Remember, I was raised from a generation that had neither YouTube nor internet. I still remember finding Bruce Lee VHS tapes at the old video stores in town.

FCSyndicate: I come from that same generation as well, so I admire that answer very much.
You have Redeemer coming out next month and you also mentioned filming The Green Ghost with director Michael D. Olmos. Aside from playing the villain and without giving too much away, what can fans expect from that particular film?
MZ: We had an incredible time in Texas, and it was a great opportunity to work as a martial arts choreographer with really talented people and good friends!  You guys will see plenty of fighting and a really fun movie. I can't really say much, but I really hope the production will start releasing more info so we can talk again!
FCSyndiate: Same here Marko! I'm also aware that you will be starring in an upcoming project based on Nicholas Rodriguez's creation of Zambo Dende - yet another vigilante role! What was that experience for you like while in Bogota, Colombia with the team?
MZ: Thats was the best!!! I really love ZAMBO DENDE, and working and seeing the sights in Bogota was amazing! The people were genuinely nice and the production was really on another level, and working again with Larnell was great. We took it to the extreme while filming and was a really intense shoot while fighting with Michelle, Tait, Esteban and Darren. It was an awesome challenge for us and I'm really looking forward for that project so I can go back to Colombia become ZAMBO DENDE for a much grander-scale project. 
This is a character that really makes my career something special, everything from the message of ZAMBO, his fight against oppression and the inherent history behind this epic source material is what makes this project so powerful.
FCSyndicate: I absolutely agree. I love the story and the set up, and from what I've heard, if the right people would come aboard this project, Zambo Dende could truly become a cinematic superhero feat with franchise potential, especially internationally. Plus, with the posters I have seeng, you and the cast appear to be doing it justice. What is your most fondest memory from working with this cast? What were the rehearsal and training days like?
MZ: It was fun! The first rehearsal was in L.A. at 87Eleven so that was really cool. We did three ten-hour days to work on pre-viz before arriving to Colombia. Once there, the van picked us up and took us to the gym, and then after the rehearsals we stayed, worked out for an hour and all of us went out for walk around town. Two locals helped us around too, Samara and Juan! They were really nice and took good care of us. I really miss Colombia! 
What really surprised me was how nice and passionate everyone was about this project. We had fun and it was very delightfuln and Nicolas is the producer and creator of ZAMBO. He really transmitted his passion for the project to everyone around. I love his energy!
FCSyndicate: The Zambo Dende campaign page on Facebook also paid a special tribute to your late co-star, Darren Shahlavi earlier this year, and I think it is safe to say he left quite a lasting impression on us all with such a stellar career to look back on, including this one you both did together. If you would be willing, share with us your experience with him while working on this project.
MZ: Darren was an incredible martial artist as well as an amazing person. We did spend a good amount of time talking after the day was over, discussing work, philosophy, life, etc. We shared great levity between us. He was a good friend, and we had a great time working together, and those memories will always stay with me.
FCSyndicate: One other question I've wanted to ask pertains to the possibility of working with Scott Adkins again after Undispited 3: Redemption - the best of all three by far with a fourth on the way. Are you and Scott in touch? And can we expect to see you guys throwing down again soon in another film maybe?
MZ: Yes, we talk sometimes. It would be great to fight again in another movie, and I hope the fourth film does great for Scott.
FCSyndicate: Me too, and on both ends! I think your face-to-face reunion with him in Texas back in 2013 was one of the most exciting moments ever snapped on camera! [laughs]..Looking ahead, now that you've wrapped The Green Ghost and the verdict awaits for Zambo Dende, what is next for Marko Zaror?
MZ: I'm working on a new project called Torus 64 which is currently in development and there are no shooting dates or names set just yet. It's really a  personal project of mine and I can't speak too much about it at this time, but I will keep you posted as soon as I have more news to share. For now though, I'm just training and getting ready for whatever is next!
FCSyndicate: Torus 64 already sounds awesome! I have just a few more questions, and this next one pertains to what you said earlier about the industry in places like Mexico and Chilé. Given what you know, your experience on Redeemer and in your honest opinion, how closer are the film industries in Chilè and Mexico to having more resources? How would you rate the current state of industrial progress in those terriories today?
MZ: There's not really an industry in Chilé, per se. We are a small country and there are really small chances on making a movie that can do good business to keep it going. That's why we try and make movies that can appeal to audiences beyond our borders and be distributed around the world. 
In terms of production, Chile is a great place to shoot. You have different landscapes to make any type of movies you want, from deserts and oceans to mountains,  everything within only a two-hour drive, and I think we're starting to see that message get across with more people looking to film here, little by little. Nicolas Lopez is a producer and filmmaker who's been teaming up with Eli Roth and they have been doing a really good job on making films with a good budgets that can appeal to markets overseas, but we still need more. We really only ever see ONE film like this per year. It forces people to have to find different jobs because they can't fully commit to a career in this business as much as they would love to. 
Mexico has a bit more of a leg up in film production than Chilé and they do have a somewhat bigger industry, but nowhere near the level of what you can see in the U.S.. They have really good tax incentives like those in Colombia who are also coming up, and I think Chilé could use this kind of momentum to really have the chance to grow a lucrative industry here so people can pay their bills and build their livelihoods through film.
FCSyndicate: I think that's one of the most informed answers I've learned about the film industry at large, particuarly when it comes to action. There is truly a resounding will among people that ressonates and there just needs to be a WAY to do achieve it.

What advice can you offer to people looking to get into martial arts on film, stunts and acting?

MZ: Just do it! Get a camera and go play! I believe that it's all about passion first and foremost. Start small, make good videos and use the internet to your advantage, build your audience as you continue to improve your craft. And also, you have to dream - Not just dream for the sake of dreaming, but dream every step of the way and enjoy that thing that  you can do every day to make that dream come true.
FCSyndicate: One last question which I thought was a fun one to come up with for the fans: You're in a room locked in the heat of battle with four of your movie characters - MirageMan, Zami from Kiltro, Dolor from Undisputed 3 and Pardo from Redeemer. Who would win in a fight with Marko Zaror?
MZ: Marko Zaror! [laughs] I know all their weaknesses points!
FCSyndicate: [laughs] Excellent answer! Marko, I have to say, I know you're one of the most busiest people in the industry today, and busy is an excellent thing. You were especially busy many years back when you were in New York City promotng Kiltro, and I'm not sure which event it was (think it was New York Comic-Con). Anyway, I regret not having the opportunity to meet you then, but I am especially glad to share a dialogue with you about your career and where you are going in the world of movies. Thank you so much for your time for this interview and your words of wisdom and some of your stories, and I really hope to share another chat with you in good time. You and your family have my best wishes for all of 2015 and from here on out. Good luck amigo!
MZ: Great!! Thanks for all the support my friend! Stay in touch, I will keep you posted! Take care!
There are a few titles out there that still need updates, and those might not get around for a while as some of these things take time. As for now, Redeemer is just days away from its limited theatrical and digital release on June 12 from Dark Sky Films. And by all means, for tutorials and all things Marko Zaror-related, follow him on Youtube!

*For more essential info on the recent events pertaining to the late Darren Shahlavi, click here.

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