Ray Park is the man behind many, many masks. The Glasgow-born, London-raised actor has portrayed, among others, a Raptor warrior in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Toad in Bryan Singer's X-Men, Snake Eyes in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and, perhaps most notably, Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Park has brought his extensive training in martial arts to bear in nearly all of his film and television work, to great effect.
At Emerald City Comicon, fans were treated to a nearly hour-long conversation between Park and CBS Radio producer and co-host of The Danny Bonaduce Show, Mike Jones. The actor regaled the audience with stories of his early training, his struggles with acting and the joy of wielding a lightsaber.
The conversation began with Jones asking Park about his upbringing, and what led to the actor's interest in martial arts.
"I was beaten as a child and left in a box," joked Park.
Park went on to describe his early childhood, watching action and kung fu films. "Especially Bruce Lee," said Park. "My wallpaper was Bruce Lee posters and Jackie Chan posters. I was idolizing these guys, and Superman and Batman -- anything to do with super heroes. I grew up fantasizing and wanting to be like these guys."
At the age of 7, Park began his training in martial arts, inspired in part by Luke Skywalker's training, at the hands of Yoda, in The Empire Strikes Back. He began with Shaolin kung fu.
"Not really to be able to defend myself, but really just to be like a superhero," said Park. "Everyone in the movies they could do these phenomenal things -- jump out of pits and fly in the clouds and beat the bad guys, and I wanted to be like those guys."
"My brother had pictures of cars and women in his bedroom and I had pictures of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan," said Park. "I remember when I was 14, crying to Bruce Lee and asking him to come back from the dead and give me special powers -- not a lot of people know that."
Park began training in the art of wushu.
"Wushu is a non-contact sport, and it's more artistic," said Park. "But I practiced wushu because I was told: 'If you do wushu, Jackie Chan will notice you, and you'll get to work with Jet Li. I'm 14, don't know anything about wushu, no one knew anything about Jet Li back in England...The only experience I got of the masters was seeing them competing, so my goal was to compete, compete, compete and try and be the best I could be...Wushu wasn't a violent sport, wasn't like kick boxing, wasn't like, 'I'm going to beat you up because I do martial arts and it's aggressive' -- there's more art behind it."
Park first began working in the film industry as a stuntman, doubling for actors on Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
"When I was 21 I got on Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and it was just when I was getting sick of competing," said Park. "It was like, 'Okay, I want something more' -- ready to move on with the next stage of my life. I just got lucky that I was the kid that was bouncing off walls and jumpin' off my head and doing all these crazy things."
When Park auditioned for Phantom Menace, he found himself atypically nervous.
"I didn't get my hopes up at all. I didn't think, in a million years, that I'd ever get to be the guy that gets to be the guy, you know?"
Despite knowing, from the outset that the dialogue spoken by the character Darth Maul would be dubbed, Park challenged himself to deliver the lines as well as he could. Park demonstrated, to the audience's delight, delivering the character's lines in his thick, Cockney-tinged accent.
Jones asked Park what he felt drew fans to Darth Maul as a character.
"Darth Maul came out with a double-blade lightsaber, and he was different from any other bad guys -- you could see his face," said Park. "There was more character there, swagger and confidence, and it might have tapped in to what you already wanted a it."
In pursuing the role of Snake Eyes, Park set aside, for a moment, his efforts to pursue broader speaking roles in pursuit of the joy of playing the character. "I'm someone who tells the story with my body," Park said.
"It was just something inside me. As I get older, I don't mind playing great, abstract characters where I can just -- where that imagination is, I can just let that loose on my characters, you know...as long as I get to do a flip here and there, and a twirl … With Snake Eyes, I knew the history, I knew what I wanted to be with Snake Eyes. I wanted to be true to what I remember reading as a kid and growing up with, and true to the fans, as well."
When it came time for Singer's X-Men, Park said he was originally under consideration for the role of the flame-wielding Pyro.
"Then Bryan came back to me and said, 'We want you to be Toad.' Toad!"
Park hesitated to take the role, worried he'd again find himself buried under prosthetics and special effects, and not have the chance to carry the character. Singer and Park eventually, of course, found a compromise, and even worked a Darth Maul Easter egg into the film in one of Toad's action sequences.
Several audience members were able to ask questions of Park following Jones' conversation. One very young man stepped up to the mike to ask Park what his favorite part of playing Darth Maul was.
"One of the finest moments was when we filmed the final fight scene, and you get to see me, and the doors open -- I remember walking on set...and I remember the crew looking at me," said Park. "I had just listened to some Prodigy music -- I'm psyching myself up … and I remember these people just staring, and I'm like, 'They see me every day, why are they staring like that?' It was the first time they saw me in the make-up, so, I was like, 'Yeah, I'm ready for this.'"
As the allotted time ran out, Park indulged the audience's request for a reprisal of his Cockney Darth Maul: "I will fin' them quickly my mastuh -- Tatooine is sparsely po'ulated. No' a lo' o' people, yeah?"
Photos by Andre Tan