If you don’t know the name Dominiquie Vandenberg, then it’s time you did. A Belgian-born karate champion and former member of the French Foreign Legion, Vandenberg started his career as a stuntman who would later gain recognition for his work on Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, in which he played the role of Tommy and was responsible for the film’s fight scenes. In 2004, Vandenberg took the lead in Jesse V. Johnson’s Pit Fighter and as of late, worked with Johnson again as a member of the villainous mercenary team in Triple Threat. Now, Vandenberg takes center stage in Johnson’s The Mercenary, which comes to DVD and Digital on January 7.
WorldFilmGeek had the opportunity to talk with Vandenberg about his latest film.
Dominiquie, it is an honor to be talking with you about The Mercenary. This is a way to kick off the new year with its release as this was an excellent film with a story about redemption.
Thank you so much! I appreciate hearing and I am excited that you are able to promote the film and taking your time to talk to me about the film. Thank you!
What inspired you to take on the role of Maxx, the titular Mercenary?
Well, this is an interesting story. I created the character of Maxx over a decade ago. I was on the board of an AR/VR company called Magic Leap Studios. I was friends with the president who asked me to create a graphic novel. So I created this novel called Vive La Morte, which in French means “Live the Death”. The story was about a group of passengers who are soldiers. When they die, they can live other people’s lives and had all these time travel elements.
Then, Google and Alibaba invested in Magic Leap then DC Culture came in and it was then I learned that they didn’t want any projects that had excessive violence or sexual content. Unfortunately, my project had both so that was done for. I had to step back and think what to do. I did a film with David Lynch, then was executive producer on his son’s film Grey House. When my wife and I saw the screening, she turned to me and said, “You’re not going to get any of your back!” (laughs) So I said, “Consider it my donation to the arts.” (Laughs)
Well, I decided to bring back the character of Maxx and create a film around him. I wrote a few scripts and then after two scripts, I found a different director and had the film set in a Serbian death camp, so it would easier with the budget. We did a test scene, a dojo sequence, to see if he can shoot action. I have respect for the director on a creative and technical level. Unfortunately, he can’t shoot action fast enough. So, I went back to the drawing board and it was then I learned Jesse [V. Johnson] was available.
We came up with different ideas of the film and worked on a synopsis together. We then told David Filmore, the screenwriter, what we wanted to do and David really filled it all in and fleshed out the characters. We did shoot the Mosque sequence first, where Maxx killed a group of Jihadis and then Jesse was given the offer to do Triple Threat in Thailand. He asked me to join him for a small part rather than wait in Los Angeles. So, I went ahead and joined him and did this small part. When we finished, we went back and began work on Legion Maxx, which is now The Mercenary. We did a 16-day shoot plus an additional 2 to 3 for pickup shots.
You have worked with Jesse V. Johnson on both Pit Fighter and Triple Threat. It’s clear you two work well together, so that bonding must have helped this production go smooth for the most part I imagine.
We are definitely family. We met on the set of Mortal Kombat many years ago. He was an assistant director on the film and I had a small part. What we had in common was our love for the cinema. Jesse is one of the best action directors to work with because he knows how to shoot quality action on practically any budget. We worked together for many years, we did a short film, Death Row the Tournament followed by a feature film, The Honorable. That would be interesting because we would be shooting guerilla style at the time. We would be in the middle of Hollywood at 2am shooting guns during production and as soon as we heard the police helicopters, we would bolt out of there (Laughs).
But Jesse is a wonderful supporter. I had done so many small parts that I really wanted to delve into the character of Maxx, so I was inspired by two iconic figures while I was attending acting school. The first was Tatsuya Nakadai in Sword of Doom. His posture before he is ready to fight really took to me as well as Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo. I was inspired to take their styles and incorporate them in my martial arts action scenes. I also told Sean Miller, our score composer, to listen to some old Ennio Morricone and Japanese traditional music and find a way to infuse the two to bring Maxx’s theme before the action is set and I thought he did an amazing job on it.
One of my favorite actors these days is Louis Mandylor and like you, he has worked with Jesse before on The Debt Collector and Avengement. With you as the hero and Mandylor as the lead villain, what was he like on the set? You two clearly had great chemistry in the film as these arch-rivals who seem to have respect for each other.
I’ve also known Louis a long time. When I moved to Los Angeles, I lived in the YMCA in Hollywood and I was teaching kickboxing and judo. There, I met Louis and his brother Costas, who are such amazing actors and have been great friends. Louis was very gracious and has been for a long time. When we were on set, he would let me do my thing as did Carmen Argenziano. These are two veterans that I have high respect for. I wanted Maxx to have minimal dialogue, like Clint Eastwood in the Sergio Leone films and Louis gave me this high compliment that I reminded him of Steve McQueen in Papillon. I think Louis is an underrated actor. Carmen was really great to work with too. We felt like this had to be a team effort and I think we all did a great job. [Ed note: Carmen Argenziano passed away in February 2019.]
The action scenes are both brutal and really stellar, especially when we get to see you unleash some amazing spinning kicks and that knife fight was a delight to watch. It reminded me of your work in Gangs of New York. Did you have a hand in helping Malay Kim with the fight choreography?
I brought in Malay, this young kid and together with myself and stunt coordinator Luke LaFontaine, we all collaborated on the fight scenes. Luke and I would coordinate the set up and Malay would join in and bring his style of choreography to the table. We actually began rehearsing the fight scenes three weeks before shooting and then we would show our cinematographer, Casey Devitt, where to shoot and everything and he did a good job on those.
When I am doing fight choreography, like in Gangs of New York, I base my style on reality. Stuff I have seen because I know these days, choreography has been very creative, but I like to bring that realistic grounded style to the action. It may not always be pretty or gorgeous. However, it does bring a sense of reality to an otherwise fictional film so that’s what I like to use in my style.
I have to say this was a great action film and I think it’s one of your best, if not your best film to date. Do you think if the film does well enough, we could see the return of Maxx?
Oh, thank you so much for saying that! I will say I am developing a sequel right now. The sequel would have Maxx going to Chechnya, where he is working at an orphanage. There, a band of terrorists would take over the place, kidnap and murder some of these young children, especially those with handicaps. It then would be a revenge piece for Maxx. I hope we can get it off the ground and begin production next summer.
Finally, are there any new projects in the works that you are going to work on next?
I can’t say much about this, but Jesse and I are developing a series about the French Foreign Legion. I have had experience being a former member and this is an elite group, consisting of soldiers from over 150 countries. We’ve had guys from U.S. Special Forces, SAS soldiers from Britain, Spetznaz from Russia, I mean these are the best of the best. So, we’ll see how this series will go and we hope to get an international cast.
The Mercenary comes to DVD and Digital on January 7. This is not only a must-see for any fans of director Jesse V. Johnson, but any action film fans in general, who will get to see your amazing talents on-screen again in both the acting and action department and I hope the film is a success. And again, Dominiquie, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about the film.
I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about the film and thank you so much for talking to me! Thank you!
A Special Thank You goes to October Coast and Dominiquie Vandenberg for making this interview possible.