After making his debut playing Mike Tyson in HBO’s 1995 Tyson, Michael Jai White — an accomplished martial artist who holds seven black belts — became the first black actor to play a major super hero in New Line’s Spawn. Since then, White has gone toe-to-toe with some of the biggest action stars of the past three decades, including Jean-Claude Van Damme (Universal Soldier: The Return), Steven Seagal (Exit Wounds), and Christian Bale (The Dark Knight). White can now be seen on the big screen in Skin Trade, an action flick starring Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa and Peter Weller. He can also be heard as the title character in the Black Dynamite and will strip down for Chocolate City — also known as the “black Magic Mike. The martial artist explains how UFC has impacted action movies like Skin Trade and reveals how hindsight is 20/20 when it comes to thinking a pimped-out Gremlin is a cool car in this exclusive interview.
What are your thoughts on the action movies of today?
A lot of action movies have devolved. I particularly like action movies from the ‘70s a bit more where Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee did their stuff on screen. It wasn’t a bunch of camera tricks and wires and all that CG stuff. I’m not crazy about that part of moviemaking. I like good old-fashioned, character-driven action movies. Skin Trade is kind of a throwback to the ‘70s and ‘80s. It’s a real guy’s movie. We got Ron Perlman, Peter Weller, Dolph Lundgren, myself…I feel like everybody belongs together.
As a martial artist yourself, what are your thoughts on what someone Tony Jaa can do?
Tony Jaa can do stuff that it seems like only Tony Jaa can do. He’s amazing and he’s the epitome of a martial artist, as well.
What did you do for fun while you guys were filming over in Thailand?
Everything. I mean truly I don’t know how much more fun filming could be. It’s a guilty pleasure, but Tony and I spent quite a bit of time together, so we’d hang out, choreograph, go eat. We just had a ball.
How have you seen the popularity of mixed martial arts over the last decade impact action movies?
Because the audience has now been indoctrinated with what real fighting looks like, they demand that fight scenes be more believable, which I love. I like when people forget that they’re watching a movie. So I really want my fight scenes and action scenes to look like they’re real, because they’re very close to real as I shoot them.
What’s it like to be animated in the Black Dynamite TV show?
It’s fun for the most part. It’s great that I learned another skill, which is the animation side. I knew very little about what good animation took and all the work it took, but it’s great that I learned that.
And you took it off for Chocolate City…
It’s like the urban Magic Mike and so I played the Matthew McConaughey role. It was a fun project and we had fun doing it. I think there’s going to be some great performances to look forward to.
What was your first exposure to Playboy magazine?
They were in the naughty magazines that you were lucky to get — somebody’s older brother had it or something like that.
What movie scared you the most when you were a kid?
The movie that scared me the most was The Exorcist. And then it was absolutely hilarious looking at it as an adult. It’s the only movie I can think of that was a horror movie and a comedy.
Heaven forbid you ever end up on death row, what would your last meal be?
Boy, fried rice with everything in it…probably chicken, shrimp and little pieces of pork.
What do you consider your favorite mistake?
Well, I’m glad I didn’t play professional football because I was really good at it. I think I could have been one of the best, but my career could have hindered on one play and I really don’t like how professional football players have fared over the years, so I got to say I’m happy that I didn’t go that route. Because I was an overgrown champion track god and football was easy for me, but I’m glad I didn’t play it.
What was your first car?
It was an antique Gremlin that had mag wheels. I had a pimped-out Gremlin. And all I can think of is how stupid I must have looked at my size in that damn car. I’m not proud of it. I had a rearview mirror that went across the whole windshield and I had racing tires on the damn thing. And I really thought I was cool as hell. I must have looked like a fool.
Did the ladies dig that car?
I don’t think so. I think people were too scared to laugh at me. But after I got rid of it everybody told me how stupid I looked…something nobody told me while I was driving it.
What’s your pop culture blind spot?
Social media. I’m retarded, social media-wise. Like I just can’t wrap my head around sharing my daily activities with the world and I can’t wrap my head around why they give a damn. And I don’t play any video games. I know less about video games than social media.