An interview with Alex Reid (Thorne) by Gary Turner
On the 12th May 2002 Alex Reid (Click here for a fighter's profile) completed the latest chapter of his unusual career - he became WMTO British Thai boxing champion, defeating Amir Subasic with a hard-fought points victory. Many within the Thai boxing world had not heard of Alex, or had had him written off as just a 'pretty boy', and not really a fighter. He proved his critics wrong, as he has done many times in his career.
Alex has competed as a points, light continuous and full contact kickboxer. He competed in the WAKO Full Contact World Championships in Poland 1998 as a British Team member. In 1996 he competed in West Virginia at the ISJA World Championships as part of the British Ju-jitsu Squad. He is well known within the mixed martial arts community being an accomplished Vale Tudo competitor. Now he has turned his sights on Thai boxing, and once again is achieving success.
What makes this more extraordinary is that all the time Alex has been competing he has been a successful model and actor. Acting has proved to be tougher than martial arts for Alex to succeed in, but now his hard work and perseverance are starting to pay off. Alex recently was the envy of males around the country when he played Jason Cunnliffe in Hollyoaks, eventually becoming married to the very desirable Geri. Soon to be seen as an Irish Superhero in the new series of TV comedy My Hero, Alex is on the edge of breaking the big time.
Taking time out from auditions and recovering from his British Title win, Alex gives us all some insight into his career to date. I say 'to date', as there is much more that he will achieve....
Alex doing what he does best - fighting and looking good at the same time!
Alex, is it correct that you started your martial arts with Kevin Brewerton
doing Lau Gar? What made you take up the martial arts as an activity?
AR: As a young tear away, I often found myself in many scrapes. I wasnít so much a bully, but having grown up with Star Wars, He-Man and Action Force(Man), in my imagination I was a kind of super hero, and so big, small, tough, weak, all found themselves challenged by my incredible ego. Pre-puberty I was pretty much the toughest kid around, (so I thought!) My rude awakening came at about 13-14 at senior school where all of a sudden the kids got tougher and my usual high status was threatened. I had lost the title and didnít like it one bit. Having got a bit chubby and seeing my brother (you went to college with him Gaz) start bodybuilding, I to was inspired to work out. Sylvester Stallone was my hero at the time. The next logical step was to start a deadly martial art, so I could again regain my status. A friend of mine I was in the scouts with wanted to check out a local kung fu class. When we went along I was in total awe, the instructor was none other than the Jedi himself, Kevin Brewerton. Being a novice I had flicked through several M.A. mags and seen his face all over them, hailed as the most amazing thing to martial arts in Britain since Bruce. Thus began my transformation to Jedihood.
Alex and Superfoot
Why with Kevin?
AR: I know you know, but for everyone else's benefit, basically feeling fantastic. We felt invincible with our Lau Gar skills. Kevin was totally inspiring, he didnít often train much, but when he did it was mind blowing. I didnít need drugs I had Kung Fu! Kevin was and is a fantastic role model, yeah we had a false sense of security (and I donít even have to go into the semi contact thing!), but as a motivator and competitive elite sports athlete he was among the best. He lived his teachings and had not only the physique and charisma of a champion, but some kind of magical aura - factor X.
What are your memories of training at Farnham?
AR: Training so hard I blacked out. Getting knocked down by black sashes week after week. Going through walking kick and punch drills for hours on end and wanting to cry but not being allowed to as not to show weakness. Looking back, other than having to learn complicated forms the training was pretty basic, but bloody hard! Kevin always said that you need to concentrate hard on your beginning/basic techniques so as to have a strong foundation in which to build a big house. I some times got frustrated at my lack of progress, but I now realise his lesson more than anything.
Alex with original instructor, 5 x World Champion Kevin Brewerton
GT: I remember back then you always were saying you wanted to be an actor - what's it like now thinking back, at all the negative comments you've received, as now you're on the verge of hitting it big?
AR: Believe it or not I still get negative comments, the difference being the people saying them donít realise. Itís like their own self-limiting belief structure. They canít grasp the reality Iím creating because there is no textbook way to go about what Iím doing. You could be the best actor in the world, but that doesnít guarantee an ounce of work. Itís being in the right place at the right time, but you have to keep pushing. Iíve had to develop a thick skin and tough attitude, and fall back on the belief that I will succeed eventually. Iím constantly rejected at auditions, and when you've been down to the last two out of twenty it can be demoralizing and frustrating. "Why not me", too fat, too tall, wrong attitude, acting stinks - who knows? What I do know is, you've gotta be in it to win it! Got that from you Gaz. The negativity I received when I was younger helped make me. Yeah, I have down days when all hope seems to have gone out the window, but then I remember that the line of work Iím in isnít a sprint, its a marathon, and I WILL WIN THE RACE!
GT: You've trained in Lau Gar Kung Fu, boxing, kickboxing, vale tudo, sport ju-jitsu, Thai boxing - which do you prefer and why?
AR: Dead or Alive 2, on the Play Station 2. The moves you can pull off are unreal even after only a couple of hours training! Seriously though, as a martial artist Iím always interested in a better way to do things, primarily combat. At the moment Iím really interested in Russian Martial Arts. It to me has an excellent scope on things, not just on being a supreme fighter, but on living the life of a warrior. By that I donít mean going around killing people, but living a full and healthy life in balance with nature. (Itís the new ninjitsu). As far as the sporting side goes, for me Vale Tudo. Itís as near as you can get to total mayhem in a controlled environment and test your skills to the limit. The fear you have is unreal, and to control that, the feeling is ecstatic. Full contact kickboxing will always have a special place in my heart. I would still like to win the Amateur WAKO World Title, something I believe is harder to get than the Pro title. I envy and salute you Turner!
GT: What do you feel is best for street fighting? You worked the doors for a number of years - what's your opinion on street brawling?
AR: My honest opinion,.......being very, very rich, dressed in a smart Armani suit. When trouble comes your way you wont even know about it, your bodyguards sort it! At worst you may have to click your fingers! (Laughs away Ė definitely dreaming! GT) I donít miss door work one bit. It served its purpose; I was lucky (sensible) to have avoided many fights, although I could bore you with how tough I am in the scraps I have had, which I wont. Street brawling, I just donít understand it. Iíve done it myself, its just stupid, and no one really wins. Repercussions? Hearsay? Pride? Police? etc
A young Alex posing in the gym
GT: For many years you were a Territorial Army member of 10 para - did this help or hinder your fighting and your pursuit of acting?
AR: It only helped. We referred to ourselves as "The Tenth Jedi Knights". My life now took on a new meaning; I was part of Britain elite infantry regiment. Enough said. As for acting, it helped no end. Just think how many films, T.V. shows there are about or using soldiers. Whether it was being a Roman Centurion, a medieval Knight or a WWII US Ranger, film producers want authenticity, so ex, reserves or regular forces, are regularly used in such productions.
GT: Why did you decide to leave the paras?
AR: My ideals changed. When I first joined I was all Gung-ho, green and keen. I wanted to do every thing, even go regular SAS. I was fighting for democracy, for good. My problem is Iím to sensitive, I never showed it, but things do effect me. Not that I couldnít handle the Para mentality, I lived and breathed it, I was a true Para nut. But I think too much, and so in a way began to not fit in. Iím not saying Para's are stupid, far from it, you have to be highly intelligent to serve with them, but itís a way of thinking, a social conditioning. And I believe you need it to do the job. Someone has to do the nasty stuff. But killing for freedom for all that is right is one thing, but I became disillusioned with us here in the west's actual morale stand. After three years of being involved in everything, my attendance started to dwindle. Then in 1999, 10 Para was disbanded and made 10-company part of 4Para. So those who were seen as non-regular attendeeís or not essential for the new role went. This was also a scary period because Serbia was kicking off again. Thank god it all calmed down, but this being pre-disbandment, 10 Para was on standby. It could have been an interesting year. To sum up, other things in my life became more important. My mission on earth became clearer. Change this world we live in to a better place through educating rather than killing, or telling stories through acting.
On the catwalk with Storm model agency
GT: You gave up your job and started the 'fame game'. You entered a Kiss FM competition and ended up winning a Storm modeling contract!! Tell us about what it was like being a male model - what sort of contracts did you undertake?
AR: Well I was already a model with a smaller agency, but things werenít really happening. Then I won that contract and decided to get serious, giving up my crummy jobs as a furniture deliverer and general labourer. It was scary but exciting. I had to learn about signing on and being really skint. I had casting after casting, commuting all over London. What little money I had earned soon went. As for jobs, a few catwalk fashion shows, girly magazines, in the two years I gave it my all I didnít really amount to much, but I did gain experience and the knowledge that I didnít want to be a model any more.
GT: About this time you appeared on the television show 'Man O Man', you got thrown in the pool right at the end, just before you had to do some exercises with that fella in the booties. Did they get rid of you so you didn't show him up?
AR: I'd really like to believe that, but in hindsight maybe my singing wasnít to great? I just donít know, its true I could do most of the stuff "Dulph Lundgrenís" double could do, but I think the audience grew a little hostile to me. Still it was great fun and I did have a lot of admirers as well, so my ego wasnít to bashed. Did you know Nell McAndrew was one of the girls?!
GT: She's come a lot further, and your career is following! You worked as film and television extra for a while after this. I've spotted you in Sliding Doors, Judge Dredd - where else can we see you if we know where to look?
AR: Jonathon Creek, I was Diet Coke man for an episode. Tomorrow Never Dies, I was Dutch police man who lets Pierce/ Bond out of car and into casino party. Merlin, Arthurian TV adaptation with Rutger Haur. The Saint with Val Kilmer, played a Russian soldier and in the Magic of Movies an American G.I. as well. Eyes Wide Shut, this was real fun to film, for anyone who's seen the film, I'll let you use your imagination!! I could really go on forever, as for two years I worked pretty solidly. I started off like most extras trying to get seen in front of the camera, and I would proudly tell every one to watch this or that. After a short period, the novelty ran off. If you blinked, half the time you'd miss me. That wasnít fame, I wanted more, and I want even more now! I was beginning to get fed up; I was going to be the star! On the other hand I do remember one really cool occasion. I had stayed in one evening with a new girlfriend just hopping from channel to channel, when I came across an interesting drama on ITV about lesbians in the army. Who pops up....."Sven"!! I was watching it and totally forgotten I was in it. That was cool.
GT: Obviously you started to stand out, becoming a regular on Soldier Soldier - what was it like getting a taste of regular work?
AR: Yeah the assistant directors and production coordinators began to know me. I made myself work by hanging around the director when I saw him wanting an extra to do something in particular. Iíd be hovering around just at the right moment. "Hey Alex, do you wanna drive through here?", "Sven, jump over that wall into that stream!". I got the nickname Sven for being the biggest pervert. While I was on Soldier Soldier I couldnít do wrong, if I fell over in shit, I'd get up smelling of roses. I think because I friends with everyone, inlcuding the other extras because most were real soldiers, the actors because thatís what I wanted to do, and the crew because I was cheeky but always reliable.
GT: Some big names have taken an interest in you - that's how you ended up as Tom Hank's stunt double for Saving Private Ryan for the beach landing scenes. How much of the film is actually you?
AR: I have to put the record straight, I wasnít Hank's stunt double, I was just his standing. When the media interviewed me I let them exaggerate. I hope the real stunt double isnít to angry. Although I was actually used in the film, you can see my bum and feet several times, and when Tom didnít want to run up a hill twenty times to get it right for the cameras, it would be me busting a gut!
On the set of Saving Private Ryan and smiling in a group shot with Tom Hanks
GT: What was Spielberg like to work with on such a huge production?
AR: Having worked on many films up to that point, I had seen many different production styles, some very good, but painstakingly slow (Stanley Kubrick, three weeks for couple of shots!), to the not so good almost amateurish, "Does anyone know whatís going on here?". But DreamWorks, Spielbergís team were the best, and still are in experience. Professional and economic, things get done. Steven doesnít have to get riled if something isn't working which it some time does, every one around him does the huffing and puffing. People just worked harder, like it was there reputation or honour. It may sound like a horrible atmosphere but on the contrary, it was really cool.
Self explanatory headline!
GT: All the time you were
competing in the martial arts as your career progressed. Tell us about your
AR: Well when I first
started training, looking at Kevin fight in events such as Clash of the Titans,
I really thought competing was beyond me. Then four or so years later there I
am, with you, and I faced against the guy you were worried about fighting,
Nathan Lewis, the Megatron (World Champion Lau Gar squad). I remember thinking,
f**k, oh well here we go. Yet I thought with total abandonment for my
preservation. Back then I seemed to be wilder (probably the Para thing).
Although I lost I was really happy with my performance. I took the fight to him,
which I feel frustrated him; he knocked all his other opponents out. It was at
this point I began to realise my potential, and really believe in my self. That
was a funny night, after I had fought it was your turn - who could the Lau Gar
squad bring out after Megatron? Well they found someone pretty scary, Faisal
Mohamed (now doing well as a pro boxer). He must have been on gear, because he
was massive. Wow that was a fight. On the way home we were both concussed to
hell, talking gibberish in the back of the car. I think we both threw up at
least a couple of times. Fond memories huh! It was also that night I was down to
face Buster Reeves, from the Warriors. This was our first meeting, again not the
usual way two now best mates would like to have met! I think I said a nervous
hello after having sized him up. Iím glad we didnít fight, and couldnít
now. Still we have plenty of wars in the gym (oh and by the way, thanks for that
split lip a week before I was supposed to fight for the WAKO English Title!
Cheers mate, donít worry, you got yours coming!)
Clash of the Titans against Nathan 'Megatron' Lewis 1995
GT: What have you have done differently about these early competitions with the benefit of hindsight?
AR: My training has evolved to the point where although I still plan my training, with certain goals to attain and schedules to carry out, I now allow myself the freedom to change, cut short, or completely skip training if it doesnít feel right. Where as before I would aimlessly plod through workouts, whether I was seeing results or not, just because I didnít know any better. I also know my body and mind better now, trusting more in my instinct.
Alex as a Gladiator contender
GT: You succeeded in entering two of the largest competitions in the World. First, you came along as a member of the British Ju-Jitsu Squad to the 1996 ISJA World Championships in West Virginia - narrowly missing out on winning. What went so right, only to get pipped at the end?
AR: I fought five top guys that day. To sum it up, lack of martial arts technology. My willpower and self-belief got me so far, but back then I feel the GB team lagged behind the U.S.A. in regards to the grappling thing. For instance here in Britain we had only just got to UFC 3-4, yet they were on no.14. America had a big head start with this new influx of martial arts ideas. If we had the same tools, we would have wiped out everyone. Still we did do well, no other country could match us in fitness and determination.
Alex, Gary Turner and Buster Reeves, West Virginia, World Ju-jitsu Championships
GT: That was a great trip Ė some of us went white water rafting, whilst the rest of the team went with some friendly policemen to fire their guns on the police range Ė what did you get to fire, and how different was it from your army experience?
AR: We fired everything from M16's, to Uzi's to Kalashnikovs and all manner of handguns. But my favourite was firing the pump action shotguns. That was a crazy day! We'd just finished the Championships, we were celebrating, me and some of the guys had been in a strip bar all night! I remember getting pulled out of the strip bar by Andy Jardine to go shooting, but I was happy where I was! Even in my army experience, I never had the opportunity to play with such a variety of weapons. Some scary moments - Ian Morgan got carried away, turned round the wrong way off the firing range with a fully loaded M16! That's on tape too! We all shouted...and ran!!
British Ju-jitsu Squad training with Buster Reid and Phil Norman
GT: We went to the WAKO World Championships in Poland in 1998. You didnít get a medal, but came away with a great lesson if I remember!
AR: Yeah! Up until that point I thought I was invincible, being cock sure as a fighter - its good to be confident, but I beleved in myself to much! I had over confidence, and that was my down fall. I didn't prepare correctly. In my fight against the Slovakian champion I did amazingly well, dropping him with a left hook at the start of the fight. But then, rather than finishing the job it went to my young head. I proceeded to do flashy techniques which weren't appropriate. He recovered and dropped me with a right cross. Looking back on the video, I believe I could have carried on, but I wasn't allowed to. The lesson I learnt was not to be over confident. It's my belief that the Eastern Block countries didn't like my over-zealousness and at he first opportunity used what had happened to get me out the competition. From here on now, I am a more focused fighter, trying to be less flashy and more to the point. This is business.
GT: Its always easy to look back after an event with the benefit of hindsight! What did you think of the overall event, in sense of its scale and the level of participation?
AR:I believe that the WAKO Amateur World Championships are the best in the world, having seen other organisations in practice. The way I compare them, is to the Olympics, and te boxing event there. The only downside is that you do see, especially in Eastern Block countries professional fighters entering an amateur event. Still, this appeals to me greatly, knowing what a real challenge it is to fight such calibre. Every country enters a champion of that country adn so you may find yourself, to win gold fighting up to five different national champions. That takes some going!
Barrington walks off in disgust at Alex and Gary's cheese! Poland '98.
GT: From here you had several fights at Vale Tudo, and have an impressive record. How has your Vale Tudo and Mixed Martial Arts progressed?
AR: From competing in sport ju-jitsu Vale Tudo was a natural progression, being a full contact fighter and the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Worldwide. it seems more lucrative to a professional martial artist such as myself to be involved in such a sport. I've had some terrific fights against some A1 opponents, and for several years I was building myself up to being one of the best fighters in my weight class, but unfortunately several fights with big name opponents fell through. The same was happening with many fighters in this country. My Vale Tudo has taken a back seat as a result of this. Not a month goes by where don't get an offer of a no-holds-barred style fight, but I've proved myself, and unless the financial reward is there, or the opponent is of progressive quality there is no interest to me as a professional fighter.
GT: Your efforts to compete as a professional kickboxer keep being thwarted at the last moment. You were billed to fight Matt Winsper for a WAKO-PRO English Title on the Lords of the Ring show this year. What happened?
AR: I mentioned earlier - Buster Reeves!! Buster fights very similar to Matt Winsper, a big semi-contact background and is an exceptional kicker. He was the perfect training partner for building up to the fight with Matt. Everything was going to plan - this was my first fight back after a year out filming, so although rusty, I was feeling and looking great! Then I did one training session too many. Forget the fight with Matt, this was a battle of egos with me and Buster! A week before the fight I got caught out with an injury - Buster caught me and split my lip badly! If I wasn't an actor I may have considered fighting despite the injury, but again this was a fight more for fun than monetary reward or furthering my fighting career. So I didn't want to make the injury worsen into what could have become a permanently disfiguring injury. I'd still like to fight Matt as he's a worthy opponent.
GT: I saw the injury Ė it was quite nasty! Youíve been doing quite a bit of Thai Boxing recently. At last you managed a professional debut, and it was for the WMTO British Title, against Amir Subasic at the Equinox Show on 12th May 02. Quite a debut!! Many people though you were just a pretty boy Ė you sure proved them wrong! What happened during the fight?
AR: Again, these Eastern block countries are tough! The fight went the distance, much to my displeasure!! I'd set my heart and my whole psyche around a knockout. Unfortunately it didn't come. I wasn't happy with my performance but it got the rust off and got me back in the swing of things. But at least I go the win!
GT: Back to acting, you took a year out and returned to acting school. Why?
AR: I was fed up with being the guy in the background. Ever since a little boy I'd dreamed of being a star in one form or another. As I was getting a bit older, having drifted from different jobs and not really with any direction or prospects, I decided it was time to get serious with my dream. Acting school was the most logical step to being taken seriously in that profession - but a tough one! Harder and tougher than preparing for any fight! But just as rewarding!
GT: It seemed to have worked, with you performing in Hollyoaks as a major character, Jason Cunnliffe, who had Geri as his girlfriend! Shame!! How did you get the part?
AR: I auditioned for the part of Dan the mechanic, who's now a regular. But wasn't found appropriate. There were over a hundred people at the audition, and when I didn't get the job I thought so be it. Three weeks later I got the call to audition for the part of Jason. I'd nearly not actually bothered going thinking it'd be a waste of time and money. On the train home on the way back I got the call with the good news.
GT: The part gave you much recognition both as an actor and on the street. How has your life changed, as you are now often recognised as you go about your daily life?
AR: I feel in limbo now - I'm not as famous as if I'm continually recognised, but famous enough for it to stop me doing certain activities, or do them and be bothered. It can be really nice to be approached politely by people for pictures and autographs, but drunk fools are never welcome!
Alex as Jason Cunliffe in Hollyoaks
GT: I remember her (Joanna Taylor) sticking up for you on the Chris Moyles show on Radio 1 Ė did you feel like kicking his fat butt?
AR: Yeah! The guy had called me a pillock, referring to my character and saying I must be like that in real life. I remember texting him mentioning some of my martial arts abilities. I didn't get a reply! It was all tongue on cheek.
GT: Now that the Hollyoaks contract has ended, what else do you have coming up?
AR: Things have been a bit quiet recently, but I'm always getting auditions - I'm confident I'll get the right role soon. Saying that, I have had work this year. I've been a Captain in the army, a rugby player performing the Hakka on BBC (the link between programmes, Buster is in it as well!). One of the more fun things I've done is being an 'ultronian super hero' - Thermoman! This was on the Friday night comedy show 'My Hero'.
GT: Which direction do you see your acting career taking?
AR: Hollywood!! Films! Brad Pitt and Wesley Snipes watch out! I'm coming! I'd love to play James Bond - why not? But the ultimate role - going back to Brewerton - Jedi Knight! When I first joined my agency I told my agent that's what I wanted to be!
GT: What about your fighting?
AR: I still want the WAKO World Title! I'd love to be in the UFC too.
GT: Do you feel your martial arts have helped or hindered your acting?
AR: I feel they've helped tremendously, in respect to giving me confidence, self esteem, a fit and active body, and most importantly discipline. But on the downside, my love and passion for fighting is a big hindrance. This is because when I don't have a fight to prepare for and I'm not in heavy training I feel I'm not a real man! And then on the other side, when I'm always training and focusing on fighting I feel I should spend more time and energy on my acting. I don't want to be the next Jean Claude Van Damme - let me make that clear! As great as he is...!
GT: Youíve got incredible fitness, what kind of routine developed this, and what maintains it?
AR: I saw the most noticeable increase in fitness when passing out of P company of the paras - that set me up with good heart and lungs to build the basis for all my other physical attributes. The army mentality is great for making tough and gritty people but not necessarily great for athletes. I now train like an athlete, with specific fitness goals, cycling up to a competition to reach peak performance.
GT: Do you take supplements?
AR: Is the Pope Catholic? Does Popeye eat spinach? There was a point in my life where it seemed I lived off them! I've tried every pill, potion, and magic tablet that's existed. It seems now that I've come back to what real people eat, much to the delight of my nagging mum, who's always provided me with good wholesome food! I still believe that supplements play a vital role in any top athlete's arsenal. They're great for an actor on the go when I can't find a meal as I rush around auditions - just add water to the powder in my flask and I have a great nutritious meal!
GT: Thanks for taking the time to do this interview - I know it's going to open some peoples eyes as to just how much you've achieved, as well as providing inspiration. Thanks again for your time, and good luck with your efforts!
AR: May the force be with you, G-man!
GT: God help me....