When we think about big blockbuster films and movies, it’s not very often we see ourselves in the credits. As you recall from our article sharing the Caribbean’s representation within the Black Panther movie, we were keen to sit down with one of the actors and stunt performers who were on that set. A native of New Providence, Nassau, Bahamas, Jason Hanna spent his early years on the island attending Primary, Junior High and Secondary schools as well as College. Choosing to follow a career path that is not typically promoted by Caribbean parents and family members, Jason is beginning to reap the benefits of the seeds he sowed when he first decided to become a stunt performer. Learn what it has been like for Jason Hanna to move from the small screen to the big screen in this exclusive interview for the Karibbean Kollective
What sort of things were you doing as an actor and stuntman to begin to get noticed by movie executives?
The very nature of the business is network based. When I say I traveled the world to train, it was really also to network. Let me give you an example, there are several workshops in L.A. with some really big name actors and martial artists. What we call training is really a chance for you to show off what you can do. Aaron Tony is a big stunt guy who would host workshops at his place. We would go to his workshop and while everything he is teaching I may already know, I would still go out there show my respect and introduce myself. Ultimately, I would showcase what I can do with the goal that he [Aaron Tony] would notice my skill and recognize me at some point down the line as a talented and skilled stunt performer.
As a stunt performer, what is the number one thing you have learned?
To be a stunt performer you have to be a Jack of all Trades. The more that you know helps you so much more. For me, I love martial arts. That’s why I got into all of this. I love to perform, too. There is something called XMH Tricking. It’s a lot of high flying kicks, flips, and gymnastics that you would do. You would have a mixture of fight, flips and ‘Cirque de Soleil’ type moves. The more I got into stunt work, I realized that knowing martial arts as well other sports and activities, such as pool, helped me to stand out stunt coordinators. These coordinators checked my credentials but knowing that I had something else to offer allowed for them to expand their creative process based on what I knew.
Have you had to overcome any push-back from family or friends for choosing a non-traditional career?
You know that right? Like you know! [laughs] With the exception of my brother-in-law, all of my family members were totally against it. They were like, “it’s not going to work, you’re wasting your time.” It took me about 10 – 12 years to get to this point. Every year I would save money to fly out to train and work with these guys [Zanshin Action Team, etc.] It was nothing to call a career yet. No one thought it would work out. But I never accepted that. I did not want to believe that I couldn’t do something.
You had a lead role in The Magic Run Short as B’rabbi. Tell us about that experience. How did it help you prepare for roles that you later obtained?
Magic Run holds a special place in my heart. It was produced partly by the Bahamian Government and private investors. They hired a British director to make a short about the Bahamas. The goal was to use the short to market the Bahamas as well as showcase that film-making was possible to do in the Bahamas. This film holds a special place in my heart because the directory Sunny Midha contacted me directly. She knew me from my work with the Zanshin group. The short was about eight (8) years ago and it was the first time I had someone call me out of nowhere for a role. This was a prime example of the little work I did previously that went a long way. Sunny and I sat down to hammer out details for the action scenes as well as the story-line. I love how the overall project turned out.
In 2016, you had a role in the film Cargo which was written and directed by Bahamian Kareem Mortimer. That film was centered around human trafficking in the Caribbean. How did you feel to be apart of that film by a fellow Bahamian creative?
My focus has always been stunt work. I have always felt that if I did do acting projects, I wanted to do it for projects that I can truly connect [with]. I know it may sound kind of corny because you often hear a lot of the big actors say it. But that’s truly how I felt about this project. If you know Kareem, he is known for doing a lot of shorts and independent films that are politically fiery. He tries to push the limit, I will say that. Over the years with some of the jobs I had, there were times when I dealt with human trafficking firsthand. It was important for me to be apart of Cargo because I want to be on projects that have a message specifically when it comes to acting. But when it comes to action, I will do all the stunt work, throw the punches, crash into the cars, all of that type of stuff. As far as my acting, I want to have a softer approach. I’d like to portray characters that can deliver a bigger message. I believe film has the most potential to deliver messages most efficiently.
Let’s talk about the current state of the Caribbean Film Industry. Give us your opinions and recommendations for the future of it.
That is a complex question as I have seen both sides. Maybe I’ll break my answer up into two parts. First, I’ll talk about where the Caribbean film industry is right now. Then, where I think the Caribbean film industry needs to be and what needs to happen to really see some good stuff being pushed out of the region. Right now, I am seeing a lot of passion. I don’t really see the determination. Metaphorically speaking, the creatives are throwing darts in the dark trying to hit the mark [to get the exposure] but they are not focused. Not as focused as I have seen in other places around the world. There are some good reasons for that. Let’s take Los Angeles for example, [one of] the biggest movie capital in the world. There is a lot of money that goes into California for movies and they didn’t get there overnight. It started way back in the 1900s. If you research Caribbean filmmaking in the 1900s, you would see a lot of crossover [between our work and the work done overseas]. A lot of trial and error within the Caribbean market to mimic and imitate what is being done in other places with the same equipment. [It should be noted] the most successful movies and actors get help from outside.
The second part to that, what needs to happen for the Caribbean to make really big splashes in the world [of film] is more experience. I’m hoping that people like myself, Winston Duke, and Letitia Wright can use our success to get Caribbean investors excited about taking risks [within the Caribbean film industry] and that there is money to be made. Unfortunately, the only way that can happen is for more Caribbean people to get involved in filming. It’s a circular type of logic. The first step is for more Caribbean people to make short films. Go in your backyard, act out a scene and put it on YouTube. [In] the action of doing it, you learn new things. Such as lighting, camera, etc. Take comedy, for example, I should see 100 results of comedy shorts from a particular Caribbean country. Once we start to see more content, we will start to see people improving. With improvement, investors will begin to take notice and think of ways to make something longer that can be marketed around the world.
We truly agree and we’d like to see that happen for our region as well. Before we talk specifically about your big features, let’s talk about the Marvel franchise. Are you a true Marvel fan? Who are some of your favorite comic book characters?
Of course! I’m a huge comic book fan! But, why’d you go there? [laughs] I love Spider-Man. I love the concept of the character. His humility and his humanity. I definitely have to give a shout out to Black Panther. He is a really smart guy in the comics. Gambit. He is a really cool, suave guy. The entire X-Men team. They are all just so iconic. Venom. I love the concept of an anti-villain.
Let’s talk about the Black Panther movie. Tell us about what it was like being on set. Did you expect the film to get as much coverage as it did?
Yeah. I never had a doubt in my mind that it would blow the lid off of the box office. I did my own numbers. The United States has about 13% blacks. If every single black person bought a ticket that alone would make it a billion dollar movie. And I know those people would probably see it twice. If you take into account all the black people in the world that are in the situation to be able to purchase a movie ticket that would at least make it close to breaking a record opening weekend. Two weeks later, a billion dollars [happened].
When I was on set, the producers didn’t have that much faith in it [the movie]. The initial budget for Black Panther wasn’t really that high. They had no faith in China and Japan. I’m glad to say that China has a really successful opening weekend. I can definitely tell you that Ryan Coogler he knew where this was going. The energy on the set with the other stunt guys was that we knew this would make history and that we would break records.
How has your career changed since the movie’s release?
I’m doing pretty well. I gathered a lot of momentum from this. For instance, normal moviegoers are experiencing the effects of Black Panther right now. For me, the effects of being cast in Black Panther were already in motion for about a year now. We’re like two years ahead of everyone else. It puts me in a place where people are starting to stand up and notice me. I was cast [for] Infinity Wars because of Black Panther. It has gotten me to a point where I am interested in acting as well.
You have credited work in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War film. Tell me about the types of stunts you had to do in Infinity War versus Black Panther. How do you prepare for a film as a stunt performer?
Pretty much. I do what the boss tells me to do. [laughs] In Black Panther, the action that I did was predominate with the Dora. The female warriors. They are super strong and super agile. We wanted to put a lot of focus on them. The Jabari tribe, you know, they are guys with swords. They get hit. They die. Like, I died in Black Panther like ten (10) times. There were a lot of falls on Black Panther.
In Infinity War, it’s a little different because there are a lot more explosions. There are a lot of things that are not from earth happening. In Black Panther they had energy weapons, in this one [Infinity War] there are a lot of fire and explosive weapons. There is a feeling of being overwhelmed. The type of stuff we had was a lot of pyrotechnics and wirework. Where you would get pulled into the air. There is a lot of that.
Now that we are back on the Black Panther topic. We did talk about earlier that there were other West Indians on the set with you. Did that stand out to you being a part of that project? Did you notice an instant connection with the other Caribbean nationals that most of us have when we are around other West Indian nationalities?
There are a few interesting things about that. When you get on a big set like that, you realize that there are people from all over the world on the set. It’s not really surprising. On Black Panther, we had people from the Caribbean, from South America, from mainland Africa that spoke the [native] language. We had people from London, just all around the world. It didn’t become a big deal. I will say that when you are on set you are more focused on work, I guess.
Shuri [Letitia Wright] I could definitely tell she was from the Caribbean. And I can tell you why I noticed that Caribbean people just smile more. We’re just happier people. There were a few other stunt performers that were of Caribbean descent, their parents from the Caribbean but they were born/raised outside of the region.
With the first quarter and now second quarter of 2018 almost over, what goals and plans do you have for the rest of the year that we can look out for?
In my head, I’m continually thinking how I can push further. There is always another level. For 2018, I want to experiment with the acting a little bit. I may try out for one or two acting roles. They probably won’t be anything major. I’m trying to land a good agent and see where we go with that. Career-wise, stunt-wise, I’m constantly pushing. We’re finishing up Avengers 4. I’ll be on that for about a month or so. Luke Cage comes out this year [as well]. I’m just excited. Generally speaking, I just want to see how everything turns out. In Luke Cage, I had a pretty good feature and I want to see how my country responds to that. From that, maybe I can do some stuff, make some plans to get other people involved. To get things moving in the Caribbean. If not this year or next year, definitely the year after! Whenever I’m fortunate to get a role or a part of something, I just trying to push for more.
You can connect with Jason on Instagram