by Paul O'Mahony
"I think the film business has changed a great deal and it's all determined now on a list", claims Jeffrey Meek, on the phone from California. "The big Hollywood studios will not green light a project until they have someone they know will guarantee their money back, so they have a list of actors - a very small list - that will green light a picture. There aren't a lot of opportunities for young actors, up and coming actors, or actors that are solid and talented, and right for the part. I don't even get cracks at big films because of that. Maybe if Raven had been a big hit here in the States, but it's only a hit over there in Europe. We did twenty-two episodes, and it's run six times in France already and at least twice in Britain."
For those of you who haven't seen Raven, it centers around Meek ('Jonathan Raven') who was an American raised in Japan until his parents were killed by the infamous Black Dragons. Vowing revenge, Raven joins the Dragons and learns their martial arts techniques and secrets, only to wreak havoc on the day of his vengeance. Pursued endlessly, he settles in Hawaii only to find they have located him there also. "I would've liked to have taken it in a darker direction as the series progressed", explains Meek, "but we were getting flak from the network who wanted this and that, and also wanted us to stay away from the Japanese stuff. It's kind of hard to tell a story of about a martial arts guy raised in Japan without anything Japanese in it! I guess they wanted Magnum P.I., but we weren't doing Magnum".
It is Meek's explosive fight sequences that really catch the eye, however. "I choreographed most of them", admits Meek, a black belt in TKD and Aikido exponent. "I tried to keep them as simple as possible, yet explosive as possible, because I think that's much more interesting than a lot of dancing. I do think though, that Raven was probably one of the most physical parts ever on television, because I had to fight at least three times an episode, which is a good ten hours per fight sequence. The fight scenes were the most time-consuming part of the show, and I was constantly warming up, stretching, fighting, sweating, cooling down, and stretching. All day long for three or four days a week".
Meek's fight sequences are a notable achievement, especially when one considers that, while acting since twelve years of age, he had never done martial arts on film prior to Raven. "As an actor, I had been doing martial arts to keep in shape, flexible, loose", he says. "They are a wonderful way for an actor to stay fit. On film or television, though, a great martial artist does not necessarily translate well, even as a martial artist. Very few martial artists understand the concept of choreography and how to 'act' a performance. The martial arts sequences only work if they are scene extended, so the choreography has to relate to that somehow. It has to be in context of the opponent and, at the same time, be relative to the situation".
The breakthrough concept of Raven, however, was that violence and aggression were a last resort, and therefore true to the founding principles of the arts, unlike so many big films of the silver screen. "It's not about being able to create violence, it's about living your life around it and not having to dip into it. I always believed Raven himself failed when he had to get physical, and he thought so. There was a sense of loss every time he got into a confrontation. Personally, I wanted to get more into the head of the character, into what he was really thinking, how he was actually perceiving situations and people".
Although Meek has had smaller parts in films like Winter People (with Kurt Russell), Heart Condition (with Denzel Washington) and Johnny Handsome (with Mickey Rourke), in addition to a lead in another television series called The Exile, his energies are currently focused on his latest project.
"I'm putting together this pilot I want to produce myself, called Grand Master, which is based on a Warren Murphy novel", he explains. "It centers around these Hindu monks who believe the main character to be the reincarnation of their deity, so they find him in Paris, where he is for a junior chess competition. His father, who writes really bad novels and is an alcoholic, has brought his son over to help publicize his bad novels, but he gets into a fight in a bar and gets killed. The monks save the boy and take him back to the Himalayas where they prove, by a series of rituals, that he is the reincarnation of this spirit. He goes and infiltrates different countries by virtue of his prowess on the chess-board, and he's the Grand Master chess player who, at the same time, is this chosen deity who has been trained by these monks. It's got a dark, mystical side to it".
What does Meek, then, think of Walker, Texas Ranger, also showing on Sky television. "Chuck Norris is doing great, and God bless him but his fight sequences are pretty stale. If you're going to do it, do it! Let it be full and aggressive, exciting. I don't like just one little heel kick and that's it!"