For his 26 years, Phi Huynh already has a vast amount of experience in both acting and stunt work. Phi started at the age of 14 in Asia Entertainment, a Vietnamese variety show. He has also done shows like Heroes Reborn, Total Recall and Warehouse 13. Phi is also the founder of X Limit Entertainment. A group of stuntmen who put on entertaining stunt shows around the world. Recently I had the opportunity to talk with Phi about his life as an actor and stuntman. Read part 1 of interview below.
How did you get into acting and stunt work?
It’s a little bit of a long story and it’s a very indirect correlation that happened at a young age. I didn’t realize I wanted to go into acting or stunt performing until later on when I was a teenager.
When I was a kid in elementary school I didn’t know what I was doing. Does anyone remember what they were doing at that age? No. (laughs). So pretty much it all grew from bullying. I was the unique kid from my elementary school and I got picked on numerously. So I got into fights. Stuff like that. Which is a pretty high topic in elementary school because I was the only minority in my area at that time. Every day I got bullied and I would come home with bumps and bruises. I know it sounds pretty harsh for elementary school but that’s what I grew up with. A tough neighborhood.
So what ended up happening was at 12 years old I begged my parents to put me in some sort of martial arts because I couldn’t stand lying to my parents. “Oh I fell, I slipped” or “Oh I bumped my head into a pole.” Something like that. So I got very, very fed up with fighting back and not winning. My dad ended up putting me in karate. When I was in karate I was led by a Shorin-Ryu karate master. Which was good for me because I was really a minority in Mississauga, Ontario and that was my first language here.
What eventually spurred from that was I had an opportunity for two years to perform on stage and it happened to be on the most famous Vietnamese variety pop show. It’s like the MTV Awards or Juno Awards but a little toned down and it happens very regularly in the Vietnamese community.
So I had the opportunity to be on my very first professional stage set where I worked as a stunt performer. I ended up working with a very famous singer from Vietnam and Los Angeles. I fell in love with all the applause, the rehearsals, the cameras, lights, the costuming, the make-up. Everything to do with performing. That is what inspired me to get into what I’m doing today.
That’s pretty much in a nutshell how I got there and from then on I went to university for acting and then took more acting classes. I started auditioning, getting an agent, and then filming, and then booking some work on TV and films and movies and then that’s pretty much where it spurred from.
How did you get involved with Asia Entertainment and what was that experience like for you?
My karate master said to me, “You’re a pretty good actor and you’re the right height, the right weight, and also your look is good.” They were looking for people who were taller or a little bit more mature looking and wanted to be stunt soldiers and evil henchmen for a scene that they needed So they picked me to go along with a lot of other martial artists in my club. I kind of remember vaguely how I got picked but I started excelling in martial arts tricking, small little flips here and there. My master picked me to be a part of the group. At that time I was pretty excited but also I didn’t want to do a bad job because it was my first time on a professional stage set.
Usually some people get some sort of prior performance or prior practice on a small stage but I just had to do it. (laughs). Luckily it went off really, really good. So that’s how I got into it.
You are part of a stunt group called X Limit. X Limit has done performances based on both The Expendables and Marvel Vs. Capcom. How do you decide what influences you are going to use for your performances?
I was the founder of the group back in 2006. To be honest with you originally I thought it was going to be a stunt team. I started performing Street Fighter shows, cosplay, and stuff like that because it related to martial arts. As we grew older I know our name is around, especially in the Toronto, Ontario area, as just X Limit but in 2013 I revamped it. I included new members and new talents in the group and revamped it to call it X Limit Entertainment. We cover a wide variety of entertainment. Such as live shows, theatrical shows, film, TV, and we also do stage productions such as Expendables 3 and Marvel Vs. Capcom as you mentioned.
I have a client base and I usually pitch them ideas and concepts on what to do and sometimes they comment directly because they need entertainment. Right now in Toronto we’re one of the only crews that actually do that. So we provide entertainment catering to all of our skills. We don’t do a wide variety range of performances. We wouldn’t go do a burlesque thing. We wouldn’t go do a circus show. We wouldn’t do that. We do only specific skills that we know we’re really, really good at.
So again my forte is martial arts. So when E1 called me to put on the Expendables show I was like, “Ok, before I agree let me see what I can do.” I looked at all of my rosters to see if I had someone who looked like each character. I have someone who looks like Ronda Rousey. I resemble Jet Li. I have someone who vaguely reminds me of Terry Crews. So we have that. Let’s try some other characters and they were generous to provide me the budget and pretty much we cosplayed the characters. I led the choreography and by watching the movie, Expendables, I was able to choreograph the fight scenes according to the movies. We obviously put our own little twist to it with acrobatics and originality when it comes to choreography. I didn’t want to put on a show that copies the exact choreography because that’s what the movie is for. I want people to get a taste of what the movie is about while really highlighting what we have to do in terms of storytelling and also by choreography on stage. I just don’t want to put on a mindless, fighting show on stage without a story and without a theme. So I had to make sure I was really portraying the right message on stage and it wasn’t just violence because I’ve seen shows where people just fight on stage and it looks cool but really from an actor’s point of view you need a backstory, you need characters to successfully portray a good message or even a bad message.
If I’m getting characters from anime, for example, like Street Fighter or a video game then I will try to put that together where it makes sense to perform it on stage without it looking ridiculous. I know a lot of people who are very, very keen on detail when it comes to putting on live action shows. Like, “Oh this costume’s not right” or “This guys does not kick like that… How come that girl’s wearing this?” You have to be very precise putting on shows. That’s the type of pride and expectations I have when it comes to putting a show together. Otherwise I would reject the show.
Can people watch this in 30 seconds and understand this? It’s like a commercial. Whenever I get booked for a commercial I’m selling this product for 30 seconds. If I come on-screen for the first 5 seconds does everyone understand who I am, what I’m portraying, what I’m doing, and what I’m selling. You have 30 seconds to portray the product you’re advertising in a commercial. If they don’t get it in 30 seconds then you fail as an actor on-screen or the commercial fails by itself. So that’s the same mentality I have when putting on a show.
If people like you don’t understand what I’m doing on stage in the 5 or 6 minutes I have to do on stage then I’ve failed as a director to put my vision together because everyone ultimately has to know what’s going on on stage in that amount of time.
It’s very important for a stunt performer to stay in shape. What kind of conditioning do you do to keep your body in shape?
From my foundation as a martial arts it’s always going to be karate. It’s about long stances, it’s always about punching and kicking, also doing a lot of these forms called Kata. So we do that to kind of body discipline. It’s something to go back to. When I was younger I got taught these forms. It’s almost like a choreographed dance but in a different type of genre.
When I was younger I didn’t really know why I did that. I just followed what my master was saying because with me having no knowledge of karate or martial arts I kind of questioned often when I was young “Why do I keep getting stuff like this? What was the point of it?” As I grew older it became a foundation. It’s a foundation of how I walk, how I run, how I recover if I trip or slip or fall or something like that. So I always go back to doing forms.
I do katas every now and then. I do resistance training, weight training. I also do a lot of acrobatics and gymnastics training because a lot of stunts in the film industry are different skills at different times. You can get a call from your agent or a stunt coordinator saying, “I need you to practice doing a couple flips. This flip right here for next week. Can you audition?” And I’ll be like, “Ok I can do it” and then my training starts right away and I’m focused on the task. Another thing would be “You’re going to be playing a boxer today. Get your character ready.” Then my training will switch over.
I have my own specific set of training every week. I typically like to go to the gym for weight training about 4 to 5 times a week. I know a lot of people say, “I go every single day.” I don’t like to go every day. I like to go 4 to 5 times a week. Sometimes if I can’t I go 4. That’s it. I’m happy with that.
I do 1 or 2 days of gymnastics training and then the rest of the week I just stay active. Whenever I’m not training in the gym I’m usually practicing with my team, X Limit Entertainment. We are a performance group. We do a lot of B Boy, ballet, martial arts tricking, gymnastics, or acrobatics. We are always in rehearsals together so that’s kind of like another training session for me. That’s usually my week to week basis.
Part 2 coming soon!