Bobby Lento

Bobby Lento has trained Karl Urban from
Lord of the Rings, Kevin Sorbo and Lucy Lawless from Xena, Ron Howard, and countless others in the art of theatrical combat. Bobby has a school called Swords in Burbank, California where he is Swordmaster. He also trains sports stars at Langton Boxing Gym in Burbank. Darren Rea caught up with him to discuss his new sci-fi show, Have Sword Will Travel which Bobby is currently in the process of filming a pilot for...

Darren Rea: How did you get into this career? Is it something that you stumbled into by mistake? Or are you one of those people who always knew that acting was something you wanted to do from an early age?

Bobby Lento: I started when I was around five years old. I was on a couple of TV shows. I grew up in a show business atmosphere with Ron Howard - his mother and my mother were best friends. As a little boy I was dragged to all the play practices and I was saying: "No! No! I want to play sports!" And they would say: "No! No! You're going to play rehearsal!" So I went to watch plays since I was a small boy.

Bobby as Talon Hawk in Have Sword Will Travel.

Then I went to Japan for a while with my father and developed a trade. I learned the art of the sword... and I was hooked. All through my life I was trying to work out how I could apply this to show business. At a very young age I started teaching stage combat. I taught Chris Barnes (Tanner Boyle in Bad News Bears) and Manuel Padilla from Tarzan. As I got older the sword seemed to go out of style, until the '90s when Xena came out. Then I made a lot of money, because everybody wanted to be Xena.

Swords started to become fashionable again - and they started cropping up in movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, Master and Commander and I started getting calls to choreograph fight scenes. I have an extensive sword background, whereas the majority of other instructors have a fencing background.

In the last few years I've been climbing the ranks as a choreographer and a lot of the major stars come to me for their training. I've worked with Rachel Hunter, Lucy Lawless and Kevin Sorbo. I can show them how the real art of fighting and how to fake it.

DR: Even though they're faking it, I assume it's still quite dangerous...

BL: Yes. I've got a few scars. I've been rammed through the thigh and have had my face cut - it's a daily occurrence here. I try to fight at least three hours a day. As far as talent goes I'd say I'm probably in the top five choreographers in the United States... I hear there are a lot of excellent swordsmen in London, so I'll just say I'm in the top five in the United States [Laughs].

DR: Would you say that you could teach anyone how to sword fight? Or have you ever given up on anyone?

Bobby playing an enemy of the three Musketeers in a commercial for Miranda Soda

BL: No, I haven't. Once they've touched the sword, they're hooked. I'd say that 50% of them want to do it the rest of their lives, while the rest of them want to learn it as a trade to put on their resume. Stage combat is almost a prerequisite to get a job because most of the shows are action based.

DR: Why do you think that sword fighting is so popular in TV and films at present?

BL: I think that there are so many shows at the moment that are about the police, hospital and detectives and people want to leave reality and fantasise about drinking loads of wine and rescuing the girl. It's seen as romantic to be a swordsman.

Also Xena showed how the sword can be used for good or evil and the strength doesn't come from the sword, but the person who yields it.

DR: You're currently in the process of producing a pilot for a new show called Have Sword Will Travel. Can you tell us about that?

BL: I had this ideas years ago that was based around a bounty hunter who didn't have to carry a gun all the time. I started writing a fantasy script about what I would really like out of life. What would it be like to go back in time and change things? And what would it be like to carry a sword for protection and have the ability to travel through time?

Have Sword Will Travel started out as a live performance group of stage combatants who had a lot of places to learn to use the sword but no place to show their skill. I developed the idea as a TV show and in the next few years we sold thousands of dollars worth of merchandise promoting a show that had never been on TV. We've now developed a trailer and I collaborated with a few of my friends in the business and we have the basis for a TV show that is romantic, sad, exciting and pure fantasy. We travel through time and try to right the evil doers.

DR: What time period are the main character from?

BL: Talon Hawk comes from another world - a comet hits earth and he's found as a small boy in a forest with a crystal round his neck. He's raised by these ancient warriors around Conan time. And when he comes of age he is sent out to find his destiny. He joins forces with a professor from modern day and the two travel through time and the professor knows the history of that time period and will know how to correct the timeline.

Talon also travels with a couple of beautiful women in scantily clad costumes [laughs] to keep him in line.

We have this great actress called Kelli Bell [pictured right] who has this gorgeous girl next door appearance. She travels with Talon and he teaches her what is right from wrong in life. She gets into mischief.

Vernon Wells is our bad guy. He was in Mad Max 2: Road Warrior. He's basically a blood thirsty greedy little man in the show. I had to cast a bad guy who could portray that. I wouldn't have chosen anyone other than Vernon Wells. He has this face that you just want to punch [laughs]. He is the womaniser in the show. His character is very sexual. Every girl is his. He's the character that is trying to ruin things for Talon Hawk. He travels through time and changes history to benefit him.

The stories aren't for geniuses. They are simply told tales that combine elements of Quantum Leap, Back to the Future, Highlander and Sliders with a little bit of the darkness of The Crow thrown in.

DR: If you could travel to any time period, where would you choose to go?

BL: I love the 1800's because of the Native American Indian. They were simple, family oriented people and then the white man came and ruined everything out of greed. I find it a very simple, yet brutal period.

And if I could choose a second time period it would have to be the medieval times. It's a little more romantic but it's also a lot more brutal. It's almost a turn on to ride a horse and find a damsel in distress. In reality I'm sure it was a lot more filthy and nothing like we picture it, but I'd love to go back there - not that I look good in tights or anything... But I love the style of clothes and things they ate.

DR: Nothing seems certain in that industry at the moment. Bankable TV show creators, like Joss Whedon and Chris Carter have seen failures with their new shows. How are you going to ensure that those in charge sit up and take notice?

BL: I'm aggressive - but a polite aggressive. I'll say: "Please can I run over you to get to the top." Success is not really my goal - the TV show is my goal. I've worked my entire life trying to blend something I do well, like the sport of swords, with telling shows. I think I've really got a hit. I hate to say that, but I really think this could really go, judging by what others have said. By summer we should be on TV, so you'll be able to judge for yourselves. We've got the funding for the pilot which we will probably start filming in March. So we could have that on the Sci-Fi Channel by the summer.

Kelli Bell, Vernon Wells [pictured right] and myself, I have to stress, make a really good team because we are not really mainstream actors. We're likeable and I think that people can relate to that. I don't look like a big buffed superhero, Kelli isn't a supermodel and Vernon isn't the best looking villain. We're not beating the audience with the old Hollywood spiel: "Wow his haircut's perfect and her make-up and the way she walks is out of this world". I hit the audience with real people.

Every show here that I see, every guy looks the same. Short blonde or brown hair spiked up and they are all trying to look like Brad Pit. There's not one long haired guy in there - not even as the dopey characters. I think it's about time that we came back down to reality because people just don't look like this.

DR: It also seems that the bad guys are always British or Australian.

BL: Isn't that weird? You guys are terrible! God! So every time I meet a guy from London he's going to take my wallet [laughs]. I find the accent fascinating. I have an audition this week where they want me to sound British. Why not hire an English guy to play the part?

There is a big call for English and Australian actors over here now. I think they're breaking out of the bad guy mould and letting them show their stuff.

DR: You recently worked on two Stephen King projects. Can you tell us a little bit about those?

BL: One was called Desperation, which they are editing now, and one called Gotham Café the movie.

Kelli Bell has just worked on Fear Factor and she also worked on the Stephen King projects. They're clamouring to get to her in Hollywood at the moment. She's not your typical glamorous model type. She's small, big breasted with dark hair and a smile that will cut you in two.

DR: You worked with Walter Koenig a few years ago. What was that like?

BL: I played Fenrir [pictured left] a drug toting guy in a bar in The Privateers. Walter Koenig was a bad guy too and Karl Urban played Captain Aran Dravyk the good guy. The movie was about space pirates.

Walter was great. He realised, I'm sure a long time ago, that no matter what he's done ever since he'll still be best remembered as Chekov from Star Trek. I think he's accepted that. He was very polite and patient when I worked with him.

For a guy like me whose up and coming working with a professional like him was great. He didn't say: "Come on get it right!" I had my scenes with him and Karl Urban and they were very supportive. They helped me and their advice will stay with me for the rest of my life. They were gentlemen, scholars and leaders. When I didn't do something right they'd go: "Let's try it again this way and see if that works."

DR: If you could cast your own life story who would play you?

BL: Iggy Pop. I don't know. It would have to be somebody with a little pizzazz, with an energy for life - probably Sean Penn. I think we look alike and he could play me. He has the intensity to be mean when he wants, but he can be soft also.

DR: Thank you for your time.

Return to...

banner ad