Exclusive Interview: 80’s Action Legend Michael Dudikoff talks Cannon Films and NAVY SEALS VS. ZOMBIES

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Cannon Films legend Michael Dudikoff talks to SHOCK about his career, family and making a comeback in NAVY SEALS VS. ZOMBIES.

Now on DVD and VOD is first-time director and former NASCAR driver Stanton Barrett’s testosterone heavy NAVY SEALS VS. ZOMBIES, a tough-as-nails romp about a muscle-bound troupe of battle-scarred vets facing off against a horde of flesh-eating zombies.

Sure it’s all low-budget hokum, but there’s nothing wrong with low-budget hokum when it’s executed with this much earnestness. This straight-faced approach to shoot-em-up genre fare suited the Go-Go Boys, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus of the lamented Cannon Films, remarkably well in the 1980’s and that spirit is alive and well here. In fact, with its steel-jawed leads, urgent score and endless gun battles, NAVY SEALS VS. ZOMBIES indeed feels like a long lost Cannon flick. And the fact that Cannon legend Michael Dudikoff is in it, further hammers that vibe home…

Dudikoff, as most serious scholars of cult 80’s action cinema are well aware, was the golden boy of Cannon, having starred in scores of hit flicks for the studio, including the popular AMERICAN NINJA films, the scrappy AVENGING FORCE and the underrated ‘Nam drama PLATOON LEADER. But really, those credits only scratch the surface in what has been a long, varied and prolific career pretending to be other people in from of an ever vigilant lens.

In NAVY SEALS VS. ZOMBIES, Dudikoff takes a break from kicking-ass to play the rigid Col. Sheer, a roughneck military man whose guidance helps the heroes navigate the zombie apocalypse. For those of us raised on the actor’s presence, it’s comforting to see him back where he belongs, making unpretentious, escapist fantasies for those folks just looking for 90 minutes of fun, fantasy violence and maybe even a dose of morality.

SHOCK caught up with Dudikoff to talk about his work with the now defunct Cannon Films, his return to cinema with NAVY SEALS VS. ZOMBIES and, most poignantly, passing on the wisdom of his beloved father to his own children.

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SHOCK: There’s a moment in Mark Hartley’s Cannon Films documentary ELECTRIC BOOGALOO, where you get pretty emotional discussing your feelings about Golan and Globus. It really must have been a wild time back then…

DUDIKOFF: Oh, man, you have no idea. I mean, where would you find such colorful characters today? These guys, well, they did deals on napkins and Menaham Golan, well, he truly was a little boy; he just loved the movie industry and being around that was captivating. He made me want to be part of this crazy business. He inspired me and just being part of the Cannon family was exciting. I never knew what I was going to do until I got the script and then, bang, I was doing it. And man, there were so many things I was told I was going to be; I was going to be SUPERMAN; I was going to be SPIDERMAN. At one point they said they were going to put me together with Charlie Bronson in a picture and that’s what I really wanted to do. That never did happen. But they were working on it…

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SHOCK: Looking over your filmography, there is one title that I always grooved on as kid and that’s 1988’s PLATOON LEADER; I saw PLATOON LEADER before I saw PLATOON and I always preferred it. Do fans ever approach you about that picture?

DUDIKOFF: They sure do. That was based on a true story, a book. I loved that movie. We filmed it in South Africa. Playing that role was really exciting because a lot of the actors in that show, well, they really wanted to do some real acting. We all tried to make it better than it was written and we really collaborated. Thinking back on that, gosh, it was an exciting time. A lot of my fans wanted a sequel, in fact and strangely I heard that at one point the military was using it as a recruiting requirement to show to new recruits!

SHOCK: It’s a decent picture. I think any negative critical response wasn’t to the film, but rather the level of graphic violence in the picture which was extreme for its time.

DUDIKOFF: Yeah, I agree and that’s too bad, because war is that way and it is violent and you have to be ready for it. But I loved making PLATOON LEADER…

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SHOCK: You’ve worked with so many directors over the years but never a race-car driver turned director. How did your NAVY SEALS VS. ZOMBIES boss measure up?

DUDIKOFF: Trust me, he was totally together. I enjoyed working with Stanton and I just hope he does more work and remembers to call me! You know, I think now we are craving the kind of no-nonsense movies we used to make in the 1980’s. It’s nostalgia, sure, but it’s also the fact that these were good, straight up genre movies. Stanton really wants to make these kind of quality genre movies. He wants to do good work. He’s very serious minded.

SHOCK: You play a grizzled military man in the film. Not a physical role but you are the anchor of the film…

DUDIKOFF: Yes. I based the character, Col. Sheer, on my father. My father was a military man and I tried to channel him, to capture what he represented to me. My dad was a man of no wasted words. He valued strength, integrity. He believed in getting the job done. Don’t quit. Just do it. He taught me to think before you speak. And that’s important. He was something else, let me tell you…

SHOCK: Am I correct in assuming he is no longer with us?

DUDIKOFF: Correct, my father has passed on.

SHOCK: Did he live to see your work during the Cannon years?

DUDIKOFF: Oh, my gosh, you wouldn’t believe how proud he was. See, my father was an artist too. He painted a mural in the house I grew up in and one time, when I came back home from doing AMERICAN NINJA and a few other pictures, on top of the painting on the wall was NINJA and three other movie posters of mine up there. I said ‘Why, dad? Why are you covering you art? You painted that!’ He said ‘Mikey, that is what it’s about. Look at that poster. Look at you and that flag behind you. This is what matters.’ Knowing he was that proud of me, that was the best feeling in the world. Because growing up, I was so very proud of him.

SHOCK: Do you have children of your own?

DUDIKOFF: I do, yes. In fact, recently I was talking to my kids about goals and dreams and telling them how important it is to follow your passions and dreams. My son says ‘Daddy what is your dream?’ I told him that I was an actor and I wanted to keep working and he said ‘But Daddy, when are you doing this? When are you going to follow your dream?’ See, he’s young and he never saw me go to work? So when I got the job to do NAVY SEALS VS. ZOMBIES, he saw me pack my bags and get ready to leave for the job and he met me at the door and he said ‘I’ll miss you daddy,’ and I saw it in his face that he really would miss me. And it was great because my son saw that it wasn’t just talk; he saw I was following my dreams, my passion. That it wasn’t just talk…

 

SHOCK: Are you enjoying this chapter of your career?

DUDIKOFF: I’ll tell you something. I enjoy every moment of the business. I work hard. I am always willing and wanting to do good work. I’d like to work a little more but I’m here, doors are opening. I’m a fortunate guy and I have lots of versatility in my credits; I’ve tackled every genre and, gosh, these horror films are really big. I’d like to do more. But the point is, if you’re an actor, you just go out and work and do the job right. No ego. Just be humble and enjoy the ride…

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-D1AmPwgKU

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