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Interview: Tito Ortiz reflects on his move from UFC to acting and his latest film release Trauma Centre

Mixed Martials Arts legend and UFC Hall of Famer “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz took time out of his busy schedule to discuss his transition into acting and his role in one of this month’s hottest releases Trauma Centre with Cult Faction’s Brett Summers.

Trauma Centre takes place in San Juan, Puerto Rico where “a young woman named Madison Taylor (Nicky Whelan) is injured when she’s caught in the crossfire of two corrupt cops, Detective Pierce (Ortiz) and Detective Tull (Texas Battle). She wakes up in the hospital and as a witness of one of their vicious crimes, she’s placed under the protection of respected police lieutenant Steve Wakes (Bruce Willis). Madison’s misfortune turns into a real nightmare when Pierce and Tull decide to finish the job, realizing she is the key to tracing them back to the crime. Trapped and hunted by Pierce and Tull inside the locked-down hospital, Madison desperately calls Lt. Wakes for help. But she must use her surroundings to fight back alone during this night of survival if there is any hope of making it out of the hospital alive…

TRAUMA CENTRE is available now on Digital Download and DVD. Order on Amazon now HERE.

Q: What kind of movies did a future UFC legend grow up watching? Who were your heroes growing up on the big screen?

So many to watch, I would say Arnold Schwarzenegger, him and Bruce Willis – and the Die Hards, those are the two guys I grew up watching when I was a kid.

Q: When you first entered the UFC did you have any idea it would grow to the size it is today?

I had a dream yeah, now it grew so fast in such a short amount of time. It’s so mainstream now. I had a dream but I didn’t imagine it would be as big as this big, it’s pretty much worldwide.

Q: Your role in that growth should definitely be highlighted. “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” brought a lot of eyes onto the product and led it to the mainstream. From your t-shirt slogans to your “grave digging” through to your “unique” comments on opponents it would seem that you had a flair for the entertainment side of the fight game? Where did that come from?

Watching WWE Hulk Hogan and watching Pro Boxing and Muhammad Ali – trying to find that happy medium between both character and fighter and I was able to do that in MMA, I was having a blast. I was just confident in fighting and I would just say what’s on my mind without thinking twice, or thinking the repercussions of it. I became a polished fighter and person in general. Did things and learned and learned and learned and just got great at them. I never held anything back and people loved it, I was honest and it came from the heart. I always had 3 rules I never lied, never talk about a person’s family or a person’s country. Those were the 3 rules I stuck to, and focus on what I do best which is compete. 

Q: Your influence is clear to see what you look at the UFC and MMA today. How does it feel to you when you look across the landscape nowadays compared to when you first got into the Octagon?

When I first got into it I had to find a way. Now there’s kids that start training at 6 years old and train for 15 years and they’re competing now. They’re young kids that a very well rounded. When I fought it was guys who did Kick Boxing, JiuJitsu and Wrestling, I never had the mix martial arts all together. It wasn’t until I came around and Frank Shamrock came around that we could add them all together. And other guys like George St. Pierre and Conor McGregor, all these guys starting mixing Wrestling and JiuJitsu, everything makes you a better fighter.

Q: When did your desire to act begin to creep into your life?

I did a film Cradle to the Grave, and it was with DMX and Jet Li and fight scene with Chuck Liddell and I would see the director would be like “And Action”…and they did this 15 times and I thought – This is what they do for films? And my interest peaked and I wanted to try it. 

I did my first film The Crow – Wicked Prayers. And I realise it’s not that easy, you have to do so much work and ground work before you can shoot out a film. Reacting to the other actors you’re working with, it’s really really important and it takes a lot of time and work. I wanna do more of this stuff. It’s fun and exciting and makes you work hard. 

Q: You mentioned Cradle 2 the Grave, did the experience live up to expectations?

That’s what got me into acting, and I did the fighting with Chuck Liddell. And there was a fight co-ordinator who said can we just try something – take the power off the punches and make it wider for the camera. We did it and all the extras who were watching it in the audience were asking “Were you really fighting?” It was so real they didn’t know if we were really fighting. But it was a great experience in general.

Q: Then came a role where you got to play a different character – Famine in The Crow: Wicked Prayer. How did that role come about?

The role came about  the director came looking for me. And they said they want this Tito Ortiz kid. At the time I was a US champion and I just got a great opportunity. He came to my house and said you’re perfect for it so we’re gonna use you. I was very green at that time, I didn’t understand how to read a script and over the years I’ve learnt to master it and I’ve been getting better and better.

Q: Alongside Yuji Okumoto, Marcus Chong and David Boreanaz as The Four Horsemen – you guys made an intimidating group. What was it like working with those guys?

I learned a lot, that was my second talking film I’d ever done. So I was learning each and every day. Danny Trejo was on that film as well. There’s a lot of down time where you’re just waiting, waiting and getting the right shot. Dave Boreanaz was a great part of the cast. It was a great learning experience for me. It was such a long time ago but I’ve learnt a lot since then.

Q: Having Ed Furlong and Danny Trejo around must of also been interesting for you?

Yeah coming from Terminator, and getting a chance of watching him do his craft was great. I’m still friends with Danny and the opportunity to meet them not just as characters but real people and see what makes them tick was a great experience for me. 

Q: You got to appear with them once again in Venice Underground in 2005. How was that experience?

Was great, the film in general was ok, you have to pick the films and you learn and build on the foundation as an actor. 

Q: The following year you appeared as Frank (alongside UFC vet Kimo as Ted) in The Dog Problem. At this point you had been exposed to a wide range of acting talent including Giovanni Ribisi and Mena Suvari. How was this impacting on Tito the actor? What lessons were you learning?

I learned a lot at the time, and just taking my time and not hurry up. Working with Giovanni, he was an amazing actor and got some pretty good parts. Just one of things, a learning experience and just keep adding to your repertoire. 

Q: TV roles followed in Numb3rs and CSI:NY. Did you find any differences in working on TV compared to movies? Did your preparation change at all?

My preparation did change, just because in movies you have a lot more time to shoot and TV less time to memorise lines. It’s a lot harder to do TV than films, but when you have one chance to get it right you do it, get it done and move on. In films they make sure they have to get it right no matter what every time. That’s why in films you have to work harder but TV faster and harder. 

Q: In 2018 you reunited with Danny Trejo once more alongside your former UFC rival Chuck Liddell in Silencer. What was it like working with someone you once battled against in the Octagon?

Well that was the thing, me and Chuck had never seen each other or shot together throughout the whole film. I think that might have been a stipulation the producers had. They didn’t want us to be in the same room as we were fighting each other that year. When you’re fighting 6 months later, I don’t wanna be in the same room with this guy and they made that possible. 

Q: In 2019 you were cast as Attila in Above The Shadows. The movie has become an underground hit for its originality in storytelling. What are you memories of working on it?

So I had neck surgery about 1 month before and disc replacement in my neck. I read the script and she said perfect can you come out to NY in a week we’re doing rehearsals. But they rehearsed for a week and it was brutal, we got the shots but came home and I was so sore and it was very physical. They loved it – it looks real and to a certain extent it is real. Working with Alan Richardson he was in great shape and was a quick learner. It was a lot of physical work but a great experience.

Q: Now comes Trauma Centre. What can you tell us about your role as Detective Pierce in the movie?

Well Detective Pierce is a guy trying to make ends meet, and been working in law enforcement for a long time and becomes a bad cop because he’s not getting enough money. He tries any possible way to get extra money, tries whatever he possibly can. He plays a cat and mouse game with his partner, chasing Nicky Whelan around for the whole film and comes to some near death scenes and catching her. But it’s very very vicious.

Q: What drew you to the role?

Actually being an officer I thought it was great, I realised how vicious he really was it made me dig deep to find the character. He was so damn vicious, he’d kill his own mother to get to this girl. 

Q: Once again you are alongside some esteemed names like Bruce Willis and Steve Guttenberg. How do you prepare for that?

I think preparation is everything, make sure I memorise my lines and know my character and working with those guys was an amazing opportunity. I try to add layers to the character and a person in general. Each time you want to get better and better – it’s a work in process. 

Q: How does preparing for a role differ from preparing for an opponent?

I think they’re pretty much the exact same thing except watching for a film on the fighter  and looking at the opponent – I look for their errors gaps and weaknesses. I trained every day for fighting. And for acting it’s about consistency and repetition. I put my heart and soul into it and was willing to die for it. I think that separates me I’m still learning and still young but when you learn something and repeat it, you don’t forget it. 

Q: What advice would Tito the actor today give Tito the fresh actor in 2003?

I would say if you go in go in at 100%. When I started out I did both fighting and acting at the same time. I think you have to give all of it 100% not half and half. Just be consistent of what your idea of acting or fighting is and it’s hard to do both. I tried to do it all and it pulled me down a few times and I had to rebuild myself. Just repetition doing over and over again. I got acting coaches helping to read a script the right way. 

Q: Good luck with Trauma Centre. What else do you have in the pipeline that you can discuss?

Nothing right now, I turned down a couple roles as the characters keep dying and I refuse to die anymore. I want to keep my character alive to be on bigger films.

Q: Where can fans keep up to date with all things Tito?

Everything is on Instagram – Tito Ortiz 1999Twitter & Facebook and at TitoOrtiz.com 

I live my life pretty transparent and I want people just to see where I came from, what I’ve done and what I’m doing and how I want to do things. Because I’m just like any other person, I work hard try to be an honest man and live my life.

 

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