Nicole Powers: This is the second movie in the District 13 franchise. How did it come about?David Belle: Luc Besson called me to see if I was interested in doing a follow up adventure. As far as I was concerned there were no problems at all.NP:The screenplay was written by Luc Besson, who also wrote The Fifth Element and The Transporter. What did you like about this particular script?DB:I liked the storyline in general. I thought it was a good action film. The character is a little like me, not in everything, but I felt pretty close to that character, and I was willing to embark on this adventure.NP:Obviously it’s an action-based film. Did you work with Besson in the construction of the action scenes at the writing stage or was it more of a case of collaborating with the film’s director, Patrick Alessandrin, at the point when you were preparing to shoot?DB:As a matter of fact when Luc writes the action he doesn’t write that much detail. He leaves us some room for maneuver and he allows us to make some proposals on the action. Then he picks what the best solution is and we move forward like that.NP:Which was the hardest scene to shoot?DB:The whole shooting was difficult. Keep in mind we were in top form so in the beginning you do one of these stunts and it’s pretty easy. You do the scouting of these scenes and you say, “Ah, that’s going to be easy,” and you say, “I’m going to do this during the shooting.” Then it turns out that something that was initially anticipated as something that was going to be easy turns out to be quite difficult. You’ve got to be very careful because at the end of the shoot you’re exhausted. But we’re under the same amount of pressure throughout the whole shoot, however, I should say, since we rehearsed in advance there weren’t as many problems as one might have expected.NP:I guess the issue of physical tiredness is compounded if you have to do multiple takes.DB:Well yes, that is true. I should add that we tried to spare our forces, save our energy, as much as possible. When we had a stunt scene, we would rehearse the scene two or three times in advance — everything but the stunt itself. Then we would do the shooting in just one take. We would rehearse it two or three times, when we were all psyched and we were ready, we would hit it and we would just do it. That was our policy for stunts which were really dangerous.NP:Were there any injuries on set?DB:I injured my lower arm. We were doing a chase scene in the Gypsy Quarter and there was a police car chasing me. So I’m running and I made a sudden turn and my arm got caught on a doorknob. The doorknob went into my arm. I needed five stitches. The doctor told me I had to rest for a week, but the next day it seemed like the stitches were holding so we started on the roof again.
The thing is, that door was supposed to be closed, but someone has left it half open. So when I was running, just like you might get your bag caught on something that’s sticking out, that’s what happened with my arm.NP:Where were the rooftop scenes shot?DB:On the roofs of Serbia.NP:Were there any wires or other safety equipment used in those scenes?DB:There were certain scenes, the scenes that were truly dangerous. Sometimes we had a cable, sometime we had a safety net, because sometimes we would have to rehearse or shoot a scene a couple of times until we got it right. With fatigue setting in you just don’t know how you might react, and you’re 20 meters up in the air, so sometimes we would shoot with a safety net. But generally speaking, we were free, our movements were free.NP:The way the action scenes are cut together to pumping techno music, they very much have the feel of a music video. Were you happy with the way everything turned out?DB:Generally speaking I like the film. As far as the music’s concerned, if I’m watching the film and I don’t like the music I just turn off the sound and put on a music track that I like. But I would have to say I generally like the music. It really meshes well with the pace of the film I believe.NP:Going back to how you first started parkour, I know you had military and martial arts training, but how did a type of movement you used to run across town become something that you realized was a stylized thing of its self, something you could make a career out of?DB:Of course, I was very active in sports when I was small, but it was because of my father that I discovered parkour. It was he who transmitted to me this art though his experience in the army and later as a fireman. He had worked on his own physical conditioning and I realized that the movement has a useful side to it. That you can move around to help people, to aid people, and not just to be an artist or to perform acrobatic tricks. There’s a more profound side to parkour.NP:With parkour there also seems to be a connection to your inner child. If you look at the way a child walks along a pavement, the last thing they want to do is walk in a straight line. They want to jump across cracks in the pavement or play stepping stones, and if there’s something to jump up on, instinctively they’ll want to jump up on it. Parkour seems to be very much about getting in touch with your inner child and taking the interesting way, rather than the easiest route.DB:I think you summed it up in a nutshell. That’s what it is exactly. That’s the first time anybody has given me the proper definition of parkour. Bravo Nicole!NP:Merci beaucoup! How has it changed since you started doing it? How has the art progressed?DB:It’s sort of like life. Initially the obstacles aren’t too high, and as you gradually gain increasing self-assurance and greater amounts of confidence the obstacles are higher, and when you fall it hurts more. So you learn through good technique not to take stupid risks. I didn’t ever want to give the impression that practicing this movement is crazy. I wanted to show that there’s a method that allows you to overcome obstacles, to navigate obstacles without taking major risks.NP:What do you do to train on a daily basis?DB:I’ve worked on the foundations so much, it’s similar to martial arts. When you practice a jump thousands of times for eight hours a day straight, your body develops a memory of it. You don’t have to be practicing that everyday from a 20 meter high rooftop. The question for me now is to maintain this physical conditioning. Now I train less. I do it more by feeling. I don’t have the same perspective anymore. My goal is to last vis-à-vis my age. I want to make sure that whatever my age is I feel good inside my body, and that I don’t have the impression of destroying myself.NP:Right, you don’t want to over-train.DB:That’s right. I don’t think it’s worthwhile. It’s not worth it to over-train. You know, we all have a certain lifespan. It’s not like we’re going to live 150 or 200 years and I could say, alright, I have 50 years to progress. Life goes by and it’s full of things to do, and I don’t want to get stagnated and be like an old karate professor who’s 70-years old and keeps repeating the same movement. Today I do parkour, tomorrow I might play the piano, maybe the next day I might go fishing. I don’t want to feel anchored. I want to continue to move, and of course I want to continue to practice my sport. But I’m trying to listen to my body and I try to always be interested in other things. I don’t want to deprive myself of those other things just for the sake of parkour.NP:I guess part of that goes back to maintaining the enjoyment by nurturing your inner child. It’s something that gets forgotten as we get older, but it’s important and intrinsic to the discipline too.DB:Well you know I think everyone has a trigger in their lives and that’s what parkour was for me. It’s like someone who plays music as a kid, and then, through music, discovers art in general, and beauty. He may not play music [anymore] but he may go on to other things, but the trigger, the detonating influence was music. Well that’s what parkour was for me. We all have something that when we’re young we discover, and that something will lead us to a world of other discoveries. That’s what parkour has done for me. .NP:So can you see yourself down the line taking acting roles where the physicality is less important? Perhaps even roles that don’t requite parkour?DB:Well if movies give me that opportunity, I would take it up with the greatest of pleasure.NP:Finally, I know you originally took up parkour with very practical, perhaps even lifesaving applications in mind. Are you doing anything to teach the next generation this skill and the practical applications too?DB:You’re completely right, we’re already working with the firemen of Paris imparting parkour techniques, and we’ve set up a program with the city council of Lisses to set up a place where soldiers, policemen, young people — anybody engaged in high risk professions — can come and get training. It’s not enough to just train in a gym. There we can move around a bit. We really can’t explain the sport in such situations, so these special places we’re setting up are much better for that.NP:Thank you for taking the time out to chat, and good luck with the movie in America.DB:Merci Nicole.