Interview: Todd Senofonte talks about work on Robert Tai's Iron Bodyguards, stuntwork on Van Damme films, and current roles
David KnightView all articles by David Knight
Todd Senofonte is perhaps best known as being one of the best main stunt doubles for action star Jean Claude Van Damme for the better part of a decade. In that capacity he won the respect of Jean Claude Van Damme's fans. He developed his own fan following not long after beginning stunt double work, when he was cast as one of the stars of Iron Bodyguards: Fists Of Legends II (1996).
Iron Bodyguards: Fists Of Legends II was directed by Chang Cheh protege Robert Tai, with assistant/action direction by martial arts legend Alexander Lo Rei. It was produced by Toby Russell, George Tan, and executive produced by Roy McRee, from a script by George Tan. These were some of the top tier of the martial arts film industry that Senofonte worked with for his first lead role.
As Jean Claude Van Damme films used Senofonte less for stuntwork (unwisely, because fans notice these things), he sought out other work as an actor in both support and lead roles, in comedy and drama, in features and independant films. His recent roles, particularly the dramatic ones, have shown growth and intense refinement from that pivotal first acting role as the Russian martial artist in Iron Bodyguards: Fists Of Legends II, though the knack for comedy is clearly there as shown in one of the funniest parts of Kung Phooey! (2003) from writer/director Darryl Fong.
Knight: Todd, how did you start on the path of the martial arts?
Senofonte: I have always been an athlete. Martial arts and my military experience has helped me with my acting and stunt career. When you have that innate ability, you have to use it. I am considered one of the best, if not THE best athletic actor in the business... Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday. Not too many guys can hit a baseball 375 ft, throw a football 60 yds, drive a golf ball 300 yds, make 20 free throws in a row, bowl a 200 game. Athletes and actors are born, not made...
Knight: What martial arts styles are you currently practicing -- is it mainly Tang Soo Do?
Senofonte: Tang Soo Do and Sambo. I like to workout alone and if there is a bag available, I will do some kicking and punching. I am an avid person of push ups. Most guys will not keep up with me or they will just stop and complain that it's too much... Hahaha.
Knight: Your first film in a lead role was Robert Tai's film, Fist Of Legends II: Iron Bodyguards (1996). How did that come about?
Senofonte: After I finished my second film The Quest (1996), I received a call from George Tan (a producer in N.Y.) and told me that Chang Ching Peng Chaplin (he played Master Tchi in The Quest) gave him my name and said you need to use this guy in your films. And so it was that I flew to N.Y.
Knight: How familiar were you with Robert Tai's work at the time -- did you have a favourite film of his?
Senofonte: Oh, I was pumped knowing that I would be working for one of the greatest action directors... Who doesn't know Five Deadly Venoms? My other favorite of his is Mantis Fist Fighter (one of the best old school kung fu flicks).
Knight: Alexander Lo Rei was one of the action director's on the film. How much of the fights were Tai's vision, or Lo Rei's?
Senofonte: Alexander and Robert both put together a great choreographed fight for us. Who knows, one day maybe it will be up there with the best fight scenes in film? It really came out nice. Hahaha... Van Damme's double fights Jet Li's double...
Knight: You had Robert Tai, who was mentored by the great Chang Cheh, and then Alexander Lo Rei who was mentored by Tai and starting to action/assistant direct. Was it a bit of a shock to be working with people that some film fans consider legends?
Senofonte: It wasn't a shock, but an honor, knowing that this was a great opportunity to show the best in the business what I had and to learn from them. I always made sure that I was doing what they told me. My goal was for them to give me a thumbs up after I did what they told me... And I got a lot of them...
Knight: You also had one of Chang Cheh's 'Five Deadly Venoms', The Centipede, Lu Feng cast in the film as your Russian character's interpreter/guide. What can you tell us about working with him?
Senofonte: He was a great guy, quiet, and we enjoyed each others company on set. Again, an honor to be around these great people. I enjoyed my workout scene with him.
Todd Senofonte and Lu Feng in their roles as visiting Russian martial artist and guide.
Senofonte as Letov advances for combat; a North American DVD release of the film. These images used from the collection of Todd Senofonte with kind permission.