Actor & Stunt Performer

Sam Mak is an actor and an acclaimed Wushu and Martial Arts champion. He holds several World, European, and National titles in Wushu, Chinese Martial Arts and has gained over one hundred gold medals to date. Sam was an actor and stunt performer in the sci-fi epic The World’s End directed by Edgar Wright. Working alongside some of the best in the stunt industry, including Brad Allan and Damien Walters, Sam was part of the team behind the fight scenes that received widespread praise in the film.

Where are you from? What was life like growing up?

I was born in Matlock, Derbyshire. It’s a small town on the edge of the Peak District, picturesque, in the country side. We were probably one of two or three families in the town that were not white British! I had a great group of friends throughout school who I am still very close with now.

I spent a lot of my time training as a kid in Wushu. It was something that I innately had a passion for, even from the age of 3 or 4. I’d train two or three times a week after school, watch Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan films on repeat and swing swords and sticks around the house all the time. And if I wasn’t doing that, I was probably kicking a ball around the house.

Can you tell us a little more about your ethnic background?

I’m a proud BBC, British Born Chinese. Both my sister and I were born in the UK. My dad came over from HK to study and stayed after meeting my mum during university, who had come over to the UK from China (via HK) for a better life.

I went to Chinese school every Sunday to learn Cantonese. I learnt Chinese Lion Dance even before I started wushu, did demonstrations at Chinese New Year, Lunar Festivals etc. We still very much keep the Cantonese/ Chinese culture strong in our house, centering on quality family time.

What are some of your passions and hobbies?

As I mentioned before, Wushu is my biggest passion. I started when I was really young and began competing at 9 years old. A lot of my time outside of work is spent in the gym, training and conditioning.

Outside of Wushu, I enjoy watching movies (of course) and try to go see musicals and theatres in London as much as I can – Hamilton and Lion King are the best! I also occasionally pick up my guitar and am a big Liverpool FC fan.

But really, the wushu, acting training and day job (physiotherapy) takes up most of my time!

What has been your biggest accomplishment growing up?

    • Winning the 1st World Junior Wushu Championships in 2006

    • Graduating with a 1st class honors degree in BSc Physiotherapy from Birmingham University.

    • My family. My parents have sacrificed so much for both my sister and I that I can’t even begin to understand the hardships that they’ve been through to provide the best opportunities for us. I will never be able to repay them. I hope that one day, I can do the same for my family. I’m actually in the process of finding out more about my parents’ stories moving to the UK to put into a script or some creative project some way. To come to a new country and start a life at a time where opportunities were limited was such a brave decision to make. My mum in particular has had an amazingly fascinating and emotional journey. I think a lot of the first generation immigration families have incredible stories that need to be told.

    • Bruce Lee! Not just for what he did for martial arts, but for the impact he’s had on representation in film. The fact that almost everyone in the world still knows who he is 46 years after his death is a testament to his legacy. I don’t think cinema would be where it is now without his existence.

How did you get your start in the film industry?

I started off doing martial art roles, stunts in music videos, and small viral videos. My friends recommended me for certain roles and I also auditioned for a few. Then, in 2012, I was asked to do my first feature film in The World’s End.

Can you share more details about your remarkable Wushu career? What are some of the highlights and accomplishments?

I started training when I was really young, inspired by the tales of Wong Fei Hung and other HK cinema films. I quickly developed a passion for the sport and began competing at 9. I remember my first national championships, where I won two golds and nearly threw up after finishing the routine.

My highlights would include 1st World Junior Wushu Championships in 2006 where I won one gold and two silver medals as the sole representative from GB. I also won a bronze medal at the 2nd World Junior Championships two years later in Bali.

In 2010, I ruptured my ACL and tore my meniscus during a competition. It took almost 4 years and two rounds of surgery (during which I went to university) before I was able to compete again. Coming through that journey has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced and I will be forever grateful for what it has both shown and taught me.

This year, I have been invited to compete at the Chungju World Martial Arts Mastership Championships in Korea and I will also attend the 15th World Wushu Championships in Shanghai in October.

With several World and European Wushu titles under your belt, how did you get inspired to combine your talents with acting in the entertainment industry?

I fell in love with the old Kung-Fu/Wushu movies as a kid and for as long as I can remember, that’s what I’ve wanted to emulate. It’s been great that Wushu/HK style action has been getting more and more recognition in the industry, with productions like Game of Thrones and Star Wars bringing it to the wider audience. Hopefully there will be more and more exciting opportunities coming up in the future. Wushu lends itself so well to camera because of its style and movement – it’s an exciting time for sure!

What was your experience like working alongside some of the best stunt performers in the sci-fi film The World’s End

This was my first experience on a feature film, and I got to do it all with my friends. Damien Walters, who is one of the best stunt performers around now, used to train gymnastics next to our Wushu Club in Derby and we became friends. He asked me to be a part of the film alongside a few boys from his gymnastics and my wushu club.

Brad Allan, who was a member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team, was co-ordinator and also had a background in Wushu. It was incredible to work with him, and the quality of the action sequences in the film are testament to Brad and the whole team. They’ve gone on to do some iconic sequences such as the church scene in Kingsman.

Edgar Wright was also amazing to work with. His films are so cool and have a unique style about them. Baby Driver was one of my favourite films of 2017.

What has been the most rewarding experience in your career?

For me, Tomb Raider was by far and away the best experience so far. It was the first time I had landed a role purely based on acting and my ability to do stunts was secondary. It was during this experience that I was truly exposed to the art of acting, working opposite Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and Daniel Wu. Speaking and working with them was really inspirational.

When I came back from filming, I immediately began researching and attending classes around London. I quickly realized how much there was to the art and how little I knew. It was very humbling. Ever since, I have been inspired to continue improving my skills and pursuing the best version of myself.

Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?

Depending on whether my body allows it, I hope I will still be competing in wushu but even if I’m not, I will always be involved with the sport in some form or another. But most of all, I hope to continue my acting journey to wherever that goes. I’ve still only just started this path and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.

A nice big role with a fight scene with Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen or Jet Li would be the dream but also, to take on roles that don’t involve action. Although being in action films has always been my dream, it would be great to have the diversity to play different kinds of roles and push the boundaries as an actor.

I think there will be more and more roles for Asians and ethnic minorities generally following the successes of Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther so the opportunities will be there and hopefully we can all capitalize on that.

What inspires you or motivates you in life?

My family has always inspired me in my life, making them proud has always been a huge motivation in whatever I do in life.

Through my ups and downs in Wushu, I’ve learnt that comparing yourself to other people is not healthy. Without sounding too philosophical and cheesy, we are all on very different paths and journey. So, you should look at competing against yourself and becoming the best version of yourself in whatever situation you’re in, whether that’s in sport, acting, work or whatever. Having that in my mind motivates me to train, to go to class and to push myself through uncomfortable situations.

What advice do you have for other Asians or minorities who want to pursue a career in acting or stunt performing? 

Stick with it! If you truly believe and want something, you have to keep believing particularly in this industry. The rejections and auditions you never hear back from will definitely outweigh the good times, but you can’t let that deter you. Grow a thick skin and believe in your ability. Stay humble and work hard.