Known for his action roles in such films as Karate Kid, Rambo, and the television series Cagney & Lacey, Martin Kove is no stranger to the limelight. Having been in the industry since the early ’70s, Martin has made a name for himself as an accomplished character actor, most notably as the sociopathic sensei John Kreese in the Karate Kid film series. However, recently, Kove found himself up against a horde of drug-addicted punk mutants in Joe Begos’ latest film, VFW. Starring alongside veteran actors such as Stephen Lang, William Sadler, David Patrick Kelly, and Fred Williamson, this gang of war veterans must fight their way out of a VFW with any means necessary if they hope to survive the night.
Prior to the release of the film, I had the opportunity to chat with Martin Kove where we discussed everything from what inspired him to take on the role of Lou, what separates his character from the rest of the group, as well as his experience working with Joe Begos and the FANGORIA team.
What was it about the character of Lou that attracted you to the role?
Martin Kove: Well, actually, what attracted me to the movie wasn’t just the character it was the fact that I liked the commodore that was established between all of us [the other characters] as it was written. I liked Lou because he was the only one who really made something of himself [after Vietnam]. He doesn’t live [in that mindset] like the rest of his friends. He has something going for him, he was successful in the used car business and he progressed from the time Vietnam came. His life was a little more productive than the rest even though he was wild and crazy and did all those things that he talked about in the movie regarding Vietnam and basic training. For me, it wasn’t so much the character of Lou but Lou’s relationship to the other people – they all really loved each other and would maintain a friendship and care about each other throughout their lives and that’s why they all basically decide to do the wild bunch to prove that they can still handle it. They aren’t really happy people, they just love each other and they don’t want people to take advantage of other people. I think the sanest person is Lou because he does have something going for him but he still would sacrifice that for what’s right and what’s just.
Did you find that you had a lot of similarities between yourself and Lou?
Martin Kove: In the past, I think early on in my career, I thought about how I could get myself in and out of trouble by talking. I remember going to school and always figuring that I could go to the edge with something, the very edge, to see how far that edge was. I would push the envelope to the point of almost no return and then talk my way or charm my way out of it. I remember that I took physics in, I think it was Queensborough Community College, and I couldn’t get the information out, I just couldn’t digest any of the facts. I missed the final and then I got a copy of it and I memorized the answers and the questions. Then I took the makeup test only to find out that the teacher had changed the questions. So what I did was I changed his questions back to what I memorized and I put the answer in there. It was the right answers to the questions that I had changed on his exam. When the teacher called me up, he said, “Kove, I’m giving you a D. I’m passing you in this course but I never want to see you ever again.” I asked him why and he said, “In 20 years of teaching, I’ve never met anybody who changed my questions to suit their answers on any exam I’ve ever given.” I know that’s a long answer to your question but that’s the kind of thing Lou would do.
What was your experience like working with director Joe Begos? Were you and the rest of the cast allowed to improvise at all?
Martin Kove: We did more improv than we did line reading. We were riddled with improv and he [Joe Begos] was gracious enough to let us go. William Sadler, myself, Fred Williamson, Stephen Lang, we’ve all done 100+ movies. I’ve been in the business forever and have done lots of theater as well. So between all of us, we probably had 500 movies and this was Joe’s third. He was smart enough to let us go run with the ball and we liked improvising. We just did it and he bought it all and filmed it all. He was a good technician and he knew what he wanted. He also loves gore.
I love that your character wears a suit throughout the entire film, as it separates him from the rest of the group. Can you elaborate more on that?
Martin Kove: That was the character, he stopped into the bar but he doesn’t live there daily. He stops in there maybe twice a week. He’s got girls, he’s got a private life, but he loves these guys. I have a lot of friends that are traditional friends that I know from so long ago and sometimes they’re interesting and sometimes they’re not but they’re a habit. You have friends that are habits – that you went through college with, that are not as astute whether it’s politics or film or books – they don’t have the same interests. They may run a gas station and that’s okay because you still love them and you still have that commodore with them. [Lou] was a little more astute, dressed a little bit better because he had to, he had a lot more going for him and I liked that choice because everyone else is pretty much down and out. He was emotionally down and out but not to the same extent. He loved those guys but he had another life. So his outfit, his suit, constitutes what he does for a living, which is basically selling cars to people. He does very well at it because he’s always pushing the envelope selling cars, giving buyers angles, giving them pitches, just like he did when he gave the bad guy outside a pitch. That’s how glib and how confident he is as a salesman.
Along with yourself, the cast is filled with accomplished character actors (some of which you had worked with prior). What was that experience like working together on the film as well as working with the folks at Fangoria?
Martin Kove: You look at David Patrick Kelly who was in Warriors, you got Stephen Lang who was in Tombstone and Avatar, you got Fred Williamson who was in From Dusk Till Dawn, William Sadler who was in Shawshank Redemption and I did Karate Kid and Rambo. You have five actors on there that have been doing this for a long time and who are decent. All we did was talk about movies on the set, that’s all we did. We exchanged ideas about Westerns because I’m trying to rejuvenate Westerns – that’s my dream, to get it as popular as it was years ago and it’s very exciting. We talked a lot about Tombstone, about this director and that director, and I think anyone that sat in with us was kind of overwhelmed. Stephen’s talking about James Cameron and I’m talking about John Hamilton and all this other stuff. I had just finished Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood so it was really cool talking about Tarantino.
Producers Dallas Sonnier and Amanda Presmyk were great and really classy. They really treat projects respectfully and tastefully. For a young company, they do what they have to do. Bone Tomahawk was a terrific movie and I think the story went down that [director S. Craig Zahler] wouldn’t cut the ending of the movie, which was gory at the end, because he wanted to keep his vision. He never got an American distribution deal in theaters because he did stick to his vision, which I thought was fantastic and I’m sure Dallas was part of that as well. That said, hopefully, I’ll work with these guys again and maybe even do a Western together soon.
VFW is now available in theaters, VOD & Digital HD. For more on the film, check out our review here.