TMAN Freelance writer Ben Smith had a chance to sit down and talk one on one with Martial Arts Superstar Cynthia Rothrock. It's an amazing story about a very together woman whose attitude and strong will allowed her to travel half way around the world to become one of the best known martial arts film stars in Hong Kong and other Asian countries. With nearly 25 films under her belt in 12 years, a feat not many actors can imitate, Cynthia is very relaxed and together. She knows where she wants to go and does it with the attitude and excitement that placed her in that position in the first place. When she began her career in martial arts instruction she already had goals but no one really expects to become a famous movie star...or do they?
BS-Where did you begin your martial arts training?
CR-I started at the Scranton Karate School which was a TangSooDo school.
BS-You then went on to dabble in other arts especially Chinese Kung Fu. As a matter of fact you, yourself had a martial arts school in the Scranton PA area and taught there daily for a while. You trained first in Tang Soo Do but where did you get your Chinese Kung Fu training?
CR-Well, I was competing at that time and I saw Benson Lee doing Eagle Claw Kung Fu...I really liked the weapons and the forms so I began commuting each week studying Eagle Claw with Sifu Sheum Leung of New York City. I trained with him for about four or five years. I enjoyed that style and began competing with Eagle Claw.
BS-You were one of the best forms competitors out there and many people would have loved to parlay that talent into a lucrative seminar or teaching career. How does someone from a small Northeast PA community become a major film star in Hong Kong?
CR-It really doesn't matter where you're from. You need motivation, drive and talent. I think that my martial arts training always gave me a positive attitude to strive for goals and don't stop until you accomplish those goals.
BS-It's been a while since your competitive days..Do you ever miss that?
CR-Sometimes. I went to a tournament five years ago and missed it. I wanted to do my forms. I had a goal to be five times number one and then quit so when I got to that point I felt that's was the time to retire. I saw many of my friends get to number one and then the next year they would fall down in ranking then retire. I did not want to do that. I really wanted to go out undefeated number 1 and when I got to that point of five times #1 I was beginning my movie career so there were times when I would go to Hong Kong, do a movie, come back to the states to compete then back to Hong Kong to film again. That was too hectic and I'm glad I was able to balance it properly and get to the goal so I did not have to forfeit my number 1 status.
BS- Let's talk about the film career. I remember a Kentucky Fried Chicken Commercial where you were the star performer. How did that come about?
CR- Well, I was on the cover of a Martial Arts magazine and the KFC agency called a sports talent agency. They then called me and told me KFC was looking for a sports figure for the commercial. The talent agency actually had a boxing client they wanted to get for the commercial so I sent my tape directly to KFC and I got the job. That was my first professional on camera job.
BS-Was that the beginning of the martial arts career? Did someone discover you out of that commercial?
CR- Actually that came about when I moved to California and I was on the West Coast Demo team traveling across the country doing martial arts demos. Paul Mazlack who was the Editor of Inside Kung Fu at the time told us that a Hong Kong Company needed a male to be a Caucasian Bruce Lee. I went down to the casting call as well and did a weapons demo, a few forms, sparring and self defense techniques and they signed me to a contract and did my first film in June of 1985.
BS-Your Hong Kong films look tough...the directors must have wanted a lot out of you.
CR- They were brutal.. It was fun doing them but the first film I did lasted 71/2 months and I ended up so bruised cause I didn't know anything about filmaking. For my first fight scene I came on the set wearing a short sleeve shirt. I didn't know I should have worn long sleeve so I can place pads on my elbows. At one point my arms were solid black from the bruises. Each film was harder because they wanted more out of me. They wanted me to top the last film with various fighting techniques. I probably got hurt in every film. Over the course of time there were points in my career where I really did not want to go on because of the serious injuries that could occur but then I'd get on the set and feel the excitement and I was ready to roll. I guess I just love the filming business!
BS-Do you find yourself using one style more than another when developing a fight scene?
CR- No it's really a collaboration of styles depending on what the situation is. I may do a combination of styles similar to what would happen in a real altercation.
BS-Your new film is Sworn to Justice. Can you tell us about that film?
CR-This is probably a breakthrough film for me because it has more of a challenging acting role. It's the story of a Psychiatrist who's sister gets killed and through this I find I have psychic abilities and I track down the killers. It was probably the finest cast I have worked with it was a little challenge.
BS-Can you tell us some of the cast member's names?
CR-Brad Dorf was in it. I've always wanted to work with him. Tony LoBianco, Walter Koenig from Star Trek plays my Psychotherapy teacher. Kurt Mckinney plays the lead and he was very good. This was a great experience to work with these super people.
BS-What do you look for in a script now?
CR-I look for a good script. When you first start out, you do anything that comes along because you really want to get into film work. You don't have a choice. Once you get a lot more work you can make choices. I need to like my character now. The fighting is secondary. Usually if it is an all out fighting movie with not a lot of depth I'd probably turn that script down now.
BS-Do you have a goal for your film career similar to what you did in your competitive years?
CR-I'd like to get into a big budget film or do a TV series. That's where my mind is focused at now.
BS-Do you find women's groups coming to you to maybe speak about women's self defense?
CR-Well a long time ago I used to teach women's self defense but I think now what happens is that women will be watching the film and they see a woman hero and they see that I can do the martial arts and they feel that well if she can do that maybe I can learn too. I think I might have opened up some women's eyes to get some self defense training.
BS-Do you still train the same?
CR-When I taught martial arts that's all I did was martial arts. When I retired from competition I wanted to do other things. I use to just eat, drink and sleep martial arts but now I like to practice other arts like Tennis, Mt. Bike riding, Yoga. It's a mixture of as many endurance exercises as I can do.
BS-Thank you for the interview and best of luck to your future with filmwork.
CR-My pleasure and good luck to you as well as the Martial Arts Network.
You can contact Cynthia Rothrock by sending a self addressed stamped envelope to her fan club:
2633 Lincoln Blvd.
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Information on fan club, t-shirts, posters again send a self addressed stamped envelope.
About the Author: Ben Smith is a 20 year veteran of the martial arts having trained in Wing Chun as well as Washin-Ryu
Karate. He is also a radio personality and freelance journalist.
About the Author: Ben Smith is a 20 year veteran of the martial arts having trained in Wing Chun as well as Washin-Ryu Karate. He is also a radio personality and freelance journalist.
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