Season 2 – Episode 1: Pure as the Driven
Feb 22 – 9:00PM – EST – BBC AMERICA
FEB 23 – 12:00AM – EST – BBC AMERICA
Writer/historian Damian Michael Barcroft talks exclusively with the actor/fight performer and choreographer, Aaron Ly who stars in tonight’s episode of RIPPER STREET…
Damian: Thank you very much for speaking with me Aaron. It’s a real privilege and I’m going to be very careful about what questions to ask because I’ve seen you in the first episode and you’re a bit scary – do you promise not to beat me up?
Aaron: Now that depends on what you ask, only kidding. It is a pleasure to speak with you too.
D: Aaron, you’ve already accumulated quite an impressive list of screen credits: Skyfall, World War Z and The Fast & Furious 6 to name but a few and you haven’t even been in the business that long have you?
A: No not long. Many of my credits have come from my ability as a fight performer. There are also not that many oriental actors who have trained in both acting and martial arts.
D: You were raised in a family of martial artists, what particular fighting styles do you practice?
A: I originally trained in traditional kung fu, and more westernised arts like boxing and kick boxing. But these days I practice no specific fighting style, when I train I practice non telegraphed striking from a relaxed state and interception using a wooden dummy.
D: Which martial artists have you found most inspiring, I believe there was a particularly significant encounter when you were seventeen?
A: I find inspiration from all styles of martial arts but I think it is up to the unique individual to find what is useful to them and make it theirs. Yes, in my teens I met an old Wing Chun teacher, he opened my eyes to a more scientific approach to martial arts. He taught me the forms but more importantly, he taught me how to forget the forms and make my movements instinctive.
D: Can you tell me about the influence Bruce Lee had on you as a child?
A: To the surprise of many, as a child, not much. It was only as a young adult did he really influence me after reading his literature. His training and philosophy on life really affected me. His books took me years to read because every time I came across an idea I applied it to my own training before I read any more.
D: I understand that you are very passionate about Hong Kong cinema – I was wondering which particular films and actors you admire?
A: There are so many, where do I start! I’m a great fan of early films of Chow Yun Fat, Leslie Cheung and Andy Lau. In terms of action films; Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Donnie Yen are my heroes.
D: On the subject of fighting, do you sometimes sit in a restaurant or bar and look round and think, “Yeah, I could take anyone of these guys”?
A: No, not like that. But I have a habit of visualizing people attacking me when I walk past them in the street. So it’s more like, “What if this guy strikes me at this distance, can I intercept?”
D: It must be cool though to know you could take care of yourself should you ever run into trouble?
A: Martial Arts is more of a way of life now, sounds cheesy I know. But there is an art in training, for striking or defending, and it is expressing this art which inspires me to train. So I never think of it like that.
D: Seriously though, there are many angry kids out there who have channelled their frustrations into things like martial arts and have found a real sense of peace and self worth. Have you found this to be the case in your experience?
A: To a certain extent, yes. When times are tough I always turn to my training, because your training will never betray you; whatever amount you put in, you get back in results.
D: Is it true that you were quite shy as a child yourself?
A: Yes, I was quite the introvert and didn’t have many friends. Spent most my time with martial arts and watching movies.
D: I believe your parents wanted you to get a regular job as oppose to pursuing a career in film and television?
A: Yes, I guess most Chinese parents of my generation were like that. They wanted me to be a doctor or accountant.
D: In 2010 you decided to pursue your dream of becoming an actor – what prompted such a drastic life change?
A: I always had a dream of becoming an actor, but that was almost shunned upon in my community. In 2010 I was at that point in my life where I needed to decide what I ultimately wanted in life; if I was to give up everything to pursue this dream or forever forget about it.
D: How did you come to be cast in Ripper Street?
A: I went to the audition and talked a lot about the character; where he came from, how he moved, what martial arts he learnt, his glory, his passions, his family, everything. Then, without being asked to, I got up and did a couple of moves in the auditioning room which was tiny, explaining how he should be fast with vigour but at the same time not flashy. I left the audition thinking maybe I was a bit too over-enthusiastic, soon later I was offered the part.
D: Without giving away too much of the plot, what can you tell us about your character Wong King-Fai in tonight’s episode?
A: Mmm… he’s on a mission and he’ll let no one stand in his way.
D: There is some pretty amazing and intense fighting in the opening episode – did you help to choreograph this?
A: Yes, along with an amazing stunt team. I did a lot of research on martial arts styles from Southern China during that time period, but a lot of the techniques were not used to keep the character more direct and gritty.
D: There’s a couple of fight scenes with Detective Sergeant Bennet Drake played by Jerome Flynn, well he’s getting on a bit now bless him, did you have to slow things down for him?
A: HAHA.. Jerome is great to work with and pretty swift with his billy club.
D: What can we look forward to seeing you in next?
A: I’m in talks about a British made martial arts movie at the moment, but it’s still early days. I really think we can do more for this genre and see more martial arts action on TV.
D: Aaron, you are brilliant in Ripper Street and it’s been great to talk to you – I wish you every success and happiness in the future.
A: It’s been a pleasure, Damian. Thank you for having me.
I’m very pleased to report that I survived the interview without a scratch. For more information about Aaron and his inspiring career, please visit his official website: www.aaronlyofficial.com
Also, please check out Aaron’s short film Handuken which was shortlisted in the Virgin Media shorts competition: