Meek makes it authentic
By Scott Williams
NEW YORK - Jeffrey Meek, star of CBS's summer series "Raven," had just shot a scene in which his character, the ninja ex-Special Forces assassin Jonathan Raven, levels two thugs for locking a dog in an overheated car.
Something was wrong, though. "A guy had thrown a punch at me and I eliminated them," Meek recalled, frowning. He knew it just wasn't something that Raven, a martial arts master and kick-bootie street fighter, would do.
"Raven can suss an opponent instantly, and he realizes these guys should not be fighting him," said Meek. He got the segment reshot so that Raven's opponent first threatens him with a deadly weapon - a butterfly knife.
"I remove the weapon. I close it in front of his face, then put it back in his pocket," he said. "So the idea is, 'It's not the time to fight. Fight another day.' So THEN the guy is idiot enough to throw a punch at me."
And THEN Raven kicks serious bootie. "I put them in their place," he concedes. Which, in this case, is the trunk of their car. Raven takes the dog to its rightful owner, of course, but that's just the kind of guy he is.
Meek's commitment to his craft is one reason CBS's six-episode series has caught on with the occasional TV critic as well as martial arts fans. It may return at midseason in place of a series like, say, "Freshman Dorm."
Meek resists the idea that "Raven" is strictly an action-adventure series about a near-mythic character embarked on a quest to find his long-lost son before the boy can be found and destroyed by Raven's evil, former masters.
"I don't want it to be another action show or a Hollywood version of the Japanese perspective," he said. "I want to pay homage to the culture. I want to be accurate. I want Japanese people to listen to my Japanese and go, 'Wow! He doesn't have an accent!' I've been working on these things."
Raven embodies "bushido," a Japanese term that embraces warrior spirit, noblesse oblige and Zen consciousness. And as an actor, he's trying to convey the human conflicts of a superhuman character.
"He's at that pinnacle, that turning point. Metaphorically, he's reaching out for that little boy, that lost, estranged son of his," he said. "But it's also in his heart, that pure innocence that he's looking for."
At 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, Jeffrey Meek has that whippy, lean physique associated with black belt karatekas, world-class street fighters, and SEAL team leaders. Does he have a martial arts background?
"I do now," he says. Big grin. "I'm in training with the great Billy Blanks - who's a seven-time world champion in tae kwon do - one-on-one, five hours a day."
He's also been working with Rev. Kensho Furuya, a Buddhist monk who runs the Aikido Center of Los Angeles. Furuya is a Japanese history scholar, master of the sword and a movie buff who's turned Meek on to samurai legends.
Meek said he settled on tae kwon do, the Korean karate style, for Raven "because there's something quite spectacular about it, cinematically. It's a very strong style.
"But at the same time I wanted to give it a street quality. The man can handle himself on the street and it doesn't look so choreographed that it looks like ballet.
"That's one of the things I don't like about a lot of these Van Damme pictures. They have a lot of double cuts and its like they're glorifying the violence. I don't want to glorify the violence.
"It shouldn't be beautiful. It should be ugly and violent and mean and passionate, and angry and dangerous. I don't want it to be a cartoon," he said. That wouldn't suit Raven, and it wouldn't suit Meek.
"I want it to be ... What journey did he explore? What did he learn that we all sort of grasp onto and question?
"It doesn't have to be answers, just interesting questions."