Interview with The Martial Arts Kid star Jansen Panettiere
by Bobby Blakey
For years Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock have been dominating the world of martial arts as two of the biggest names in both the martial arts industry as well as martial arts films. Recently they teamed up for a different kind of film with The Martial Arts Kid, that takes them away from the hardnosed killing they are known for and instead looking to bring a positive message to the world. Using Kickstarter they raised money to independently produce the film with a bright young cast to bring their anti-bullying message to life. I had the pleasure of sitting down with The Martial Arts Kid himself star Jansen Panettiere to discuss his time on the film and other ventures he is involved in.
Bobby: How did you get involved in The Martial Arts Kid?
Jansen: It was an audition like anything else. I literally went into the room and did my thing, but I ended up doing a backflip in the room and that kind of sealed the deal.
Bobby: Was that the reason that you did that at the end of the film as well?
Jansen: I don’t know if it was directly correlated it was just a good idea. One of the awesome things aspects about doing this film was that you have a certain amount of creative control and influence into what I really wanted to show. Mike was really cool about it because he understood about letting us create our own character and let me kind of do whatever so we really just synergized off of each other a little bit.
Bobby: Being a younger actor where you aware of Don “The Dragon” Wilson and Cynthia Rothrock prior to going into the audition?
Jansen: It was being dropped into a completely new world. I didn’t really have an idea about anybody that was working on this so that is why it was really cool to be immersed in this martial arts world. These guys are all the big guys in the martial arts world, but then you meet them and they are all such sweet people. They are so humble that you wouldn’t even know until they throw a kick or something and then you realize and see that other side.
Bobby: You have been in the industry for a bit now and with a film like this being initially a Kickstarter production, how is it different as an actor to not have as much at your disposal as you might have had with a bigger production?
Jansen: It’s actually kind of fun. You don’t have a lot of the nuances or maybe a ping pong table on set, but what you get is to be able to take what you have and create the scene. It kind of trained me in a certain way that it isn’t really about what you don’t have, but what can we use to express this idea. This kind of gorilla style was awesome. It made the set more relaxed and ran more smoothly. Some people may think it is kind of a pain in the butt, but I really enjoyed it. Having to have to do certain things yourself in the scene and because I was given so much range at controlling certain situations and how I went about it, it made your awareness go up.
Bobby: What kind of preparation did you do for this character?
Jansen: I had done Krav Maga for 4 or 5 years and before that was a gymnast. I did stunt work and stuff as well so it really came easy for me. There wasn’t a ton of preparation and I think a good amount of the reason they hired me was because they didn’t have to pay for me to have to go to training. They kind of just gave me the reigns and I knew what to do.
Bobby: Is this the first film that you got to showcase our martial arts training?
Jansen: It would probably be the second time. I did a movie called The Lost Medallion and there I played this island king and there was a couple of fight scenes. We got to go to Thailand and work with the top stunt guys they have there that are part of Tony Jaa’s team. It was pretty cool to be able to take things from that and bring it to The Martial Arts Kid.
Bobby: This film has a lot of layers from being a martial arts film, anti-bullying, traditional and MMA as well as the relationship side and growing up. How hard as an actor is it to balance out all these different aspects?
Jansen: It is a poetic dance. You never really know how it is going to come across on screen which is why it is always a risk when you take it. It was nothing I was controlling though. It was the fact that I had so many great people around me that new their part and what they were bringing to the story, which made it easier for me. I was more of a middleman that really just reacted to all that is going on. If anything I just kind of came into it kind of empty and not force anything and instead kind of let my character Robbie depict that on his own.
Bobby: This film has been winning a lot of awards and getting nominations as well as doing promos at a lot of conventions and things. Are you getting more involved in this new martial arts world now?
Jansen: Honestly I have been working on my jewelry company with my partner and we kind of just hid away for a while. I tend to not go to very many of the conventions because it’s not a world that I immerse myself in a lot. They are cool and everything and it’s cool to occasionally go to things like Dragonfest, which was cool experience but I am just not one to usually go out. I am more of a home body.
Bobby: With your sister doing her own thing these days, did you guys ever have any kind of sibling rivalry coming up?
Jansen: No we have always been completely 100% supportive of each other. She is one of my favorite actresses to watch and not because she is my sister, she is just good. She has always supported me and given me a lot of support lately getting me involved with that helps with me sharpening my skills a lot and it’s really worked out. We are very much a team.
Bobby: I know you have also done a lot of voice work. Do you have a different approach to that kind of thing as opposed to being in front of the camera?
Jansen: Because you have such a freedom to create these kinds of characters I love to take that and do so much more with it. I end up shouting in the room with my hands waving around and acting things out and just kind of staying in the moment with what I am trying to express. I feel like you are doing the same thing either way but it might take more energy when you are doing having to express everything through just your voice and you end up doing more exaggerated movement that helps prompt a certain tonality and style.
Bobby: With the way the film ends there is potential for a sequel. Are you planning to be involved with that as well or that something you’re not sure about yet?
Jansen: We will absolutely see. I am definitely open to it. We have become kind of a family so I don’t see why not.
Bobby: Do you have anything else you would like or can tell us about coming up?
Jansen: Abstract Charms is a jewelry company I have been working with for a while with my partner Rialle Rochelle. We create custom pieces that have compostitive healing stones and it is essentially creating a rosary style necklace that represents who you are including astronomical signs. We have others that go more in depth with energies and birthstones and really working on that as well as charitable aspects. A lot of our friends that tend to be influences in social media and just working in the business that design their own necklace and sell it. We recoup all that and donate it a 100% of that to charity.
Bobby: I have been involved in with promoting this film from the beginning so I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
Jansen: Thanks so much for your involvement and speaking with me.
For more information or to purchase your copy of The Martial Arts Kid, available now on Blu-ray and DVD, head over to http://www.martialartskidmovie.com/