'Chinese Zodiac' Director-Star Jackie Chan: 'I'm an Actor, Not Just an Action Star'

Jackie Chan in "Chinese Zodiac"

Chan, who wrote, directed and starred in his latest film, talks to THR about wearing multiple hats on set and reveals the only role in an American drama he was ever offered.

At the Huading Awards show in China in early October, Jackie Chan met Nicole Kidman and told her that there was once a chance they could have starred in a film together.

While Chan, one of the most well known action stars in the wold, has accomplished a lot in his career, starring in more than 100 films, he says he's only offered action roles because of his past work. Now that he says he wants to slow down on doing his own stunts, he says he'd love to do more drama or comedy. However, in the U.S., he isn't offered those types of roles.

Chan can only remember one time a drama script came to his desk -- for The Interpreter, the thriller that was directed by Sydney Pollack and starred Kidman and Sean Penn.

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"I got the script, but I told my manager, 'No -- [there's] too much dialogue,' " he says.

At that time, he didn't know it was going to star Kidman, but he let her know about their almost-collaboration when he met her earlier this month.

"I told her, 'I almost made a movie with you! One, I'm glad I didn't make the movie, but two, I'm sad I didn't make the movie -- because of you.' "

Chan said at that time his English wasn't strong enough to handle such a dialogue-heavy role. And while he doesn't get the offers from the American film industry, he is able to flex his drama and comedy muscles in films made in China.

"I want to prove to my audience that I'm an actor -- I'm not just an action star," he says.

What Chan has proven is that he can wear multiple hats and succeed. For his latest film, Chinese Zodiac, Chan wrote the script, co-produced, directed and starred. The film, which hits theaters in the U.S. on Oct. 18, opened in China and around the world this past December and January and has already broken several box-office records. It's earned $138 million at the Chinese box office, making it the highest-grossing action film and the second-highest-grossing Chinese film ever in that market.

Chan spent six years writing the script, doing so while he shot other movies including Rush Hour 3 and The Forbidden Kingdom. The film, which follows a group of treasure hunters as they travel the world to collect 12 bronze animal heads representing each sign of the Chinese zodiac, displays Chan's skills as an action star who does his own stunts, combined with some lighter comedy moments.

"I want to show the audience, yes, I'm not young anymore, but I still move faster than you," says the 59-year-old actor with a smile.

Chan has always been wearing more than one hat it seems. Often employed as the fight choreographer or stunt coordinator on his films, he had a lot of input even when he wasn't the director.

When he was shooting 1998's Rush Hour, he was also the stunt coordinator and said that at one point he almost got in a fight with a crewmember during a scene because he was insisting that a black gun be switched out for a silver one.

"I said, 'Change [to] the silver gun,' but they said, 'No, we can't because of continuity,' " he says. But Chan knew that because both he and Chris Tucker were wearing black clothing, the gun wouldn't be visible in the shot.

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Convinced, Chan took the gun and sprayed over it with silver spray paint, winning the argument when the gun sparkled as it flew through the air.

Now, 15 years later, Chan says he focuses on using his massive worldwide popularity to spread his message to his many young fans.

"When I was young, I didn't know. But now that I've grown up -- as a producer, director, actor -- we have a responsibility to society," he says.

Looking back on films like 1994's The Legend of Drunken Master, Chan says he wasn't happy with the glorification of drinking and violence. He uses the film Jackie Chan's First Strike as an example of a time he was able to make a small change to the film in order to share an important life lesson.

In the film, his character is at one point unaware that he's a wanted man. Then he sees a woman reading a newspaper with an article about Chan's character being a fugitive. She leaves, dropping the paper. Instead of just picking up the paper to look at it, Chan's character then walks over and puts the paper in the garbage can. "I wanted to teach the young people that if you're walking on the street and you see something, you pick it up," he says. "If everyone just picked up one piece of paper, the city would be so clean."

"Young children learn so quick, from computers, from movies, from video games -- we do have a responsibility," he says.

Chinese Zodiac opens in the U.S. on Oct. 18.

E-mail: Rebecca.Ford@THR.com
Twitter: @Beccamford