This past Saturday, Josh Barnett won his latest match at Metamoris 6, submitting Ryron Gracie via toe hold in the main event. This coming weekend, however, you won't see him on the mat or inside the Octagon, because he will be on the big screen in his latest movie, Absolution.
The Lionsgate film, starring Steven Seagal and Vinnie Jones, will be available on-demand and released in select theaters nationwide on Friday, May 15, 2015. Seagal plays a contract killer, who goes against the government agency he is employed by in order to protect a girl on the run from a mob boss (Jones).
Barnett, 37, plays Colt, one of the menacing henchmen, working for the boss and trying to recover the missing girl. The No. 5-ranked UFC heavyweight spoke to MMAmania.com this week about stepping out of the cage and in front of the camera, which was a new and exciting undertaking for the veteran martial artist.
"I had done some shorts and some things here and there, but I had never been on a full-blown, full production movie set like that," said Barnett, who is scheduled to fight Roy Nelson at UFC Fight Night Japan on Sept. 27, 2015. "So, it was a whole new experience. Plus, I'd never been to Eastern Europe. Every day for me was new territory. I was loving it. I was loving it. It was completely new to me."
*Note: This interview took place prior to the Fight Night Japan announcement.
Barnett described the set locations -- which were in Bucharest, Romania and surrounding areas -- as "amazing," saying, "you would almost think you hit the jackpot, if you found a spot like that in L.A., where you could shoot so many scenes to have everything look so perfect."
The acting novice has a strong on-screen presence and the majority of his scenes were dialogue driven. He wasn't just spewing out one-liners before throwing a haymaker. He looked the part and carried over some of his charisma and personality that he has showcased throughout his MMA career. Simply put, the camera likes him.
"I did the best that I could," said a modest Barnett, who is 33-7 in MMA and 1-1 since returning to the UFC. "I know that acting is not the kind of thing that you can approach in the same manner as fighting. You can't just go out there and do more and try harder and push harder. It doesn't work that way. There is a lot more subtlety to it. And, of all things, I've actually learned about subtlety and feel from doing martial arts my whole life.
"I'll say as an athlete, though, we are always more concerned about the result-oriented aspect of training and competition. Acting isn't that way. Sometimes you deliver a performance that is exactly what is needed, but you don't know... You can't feel, 'oh, I just won right now.' There isn't any sort of feedback in that way. It's new and I like the fact that it's a challenge."
When asked if learning acting was comparable to being a white belt, he agreed and said, "Definitely, and I am absolutely okay with that. I enjoy that ability to be able to grow and learn," which, he did a lot of on set, not only by acting, but by observing all aspects of the process and talking with director Keoni Waxman.
"I had a lot of help on set," he explained. "Keoni was a fantastic director who was really, really easy for me to work with and also very approachable and understanding with so many of the questions that I would have. If I wasn't in a scene I would often be hanging around set, taking a look, seeing how he is setting things up, asking his opinion on things, and picking his mind.
"Not to say I want a job, but if I understand more of what he is trying to capture, then I feel like it will give me more understanding of what the boundaries are of what I am trying to accomplish in those scenes and hopefully be able to give him the performance that he needs. Or potentially do something that nobody had really considered and have that, 'Oh wow, that's cool man. We wouldn't have thought of doing it that way, but I'm glad you did.'"
"The Warmaster" said he didn't get a lot of time on screen with Seagal, but he "was able to take little cues away from the experience of working with all of them." He called Jones a "great character study," and is well aware that the actor was once a professional athlete who made the transition into acting.
"I know it's possible," said Barnett, on a steady career in movies. "I don't think the fact that I am an athlete should be too much of a hindrance to my being able to be an actor. Vinnie has made a pretty good career for himself out of it."
With Absolution set for release, Barnett revealed he will be headed to Thailand for the duration of June to shoot his next film, Never Back Down 3, in which he will be a co-star.
"The stars will be Michael Jai-White, and I will be trying to make him look good," Barnett joked. "I am a co-star. Which is great. And again, there will be fighting, but mostly dialogue -- which for some folks might seem daunting -- but, to me it is preferred. It allows to give more depth to who this character is so that when the fighting happens hopefully you are more invested."
Around three years ago, it was Jai-White -- who is a friend of Barnett's -- who pushed for the fighter to pursue opportunities in acting.
"He is an excellent person on and off the screen," Barnett said. "Surprisingly... Well maybe not surprisingly, but most people don't know is that he has been a really big endorser of mine for acting before I even had my first role. He's been very positive. And it's a real honor and a privilege to be able to go out there and to make a great film with him, and share this thing with him and watch him work and also give, hopefully, the credence to his support of me to begin with. I'm excited to do that."
Barnett said he will also be "making a little guest cameo of sorts," in Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!, which is due out this summer. "You know what, anything that can go that overboard has a soft spot in my heart," he said.
In addition to fighting, grappling and acting, Barnett also calls the action for New Japan Pro Wrestling alongside veteran combat sports broadcaster, Mauro Ranallo on AXSTV and he also competes in IGF, a Japanese pro wrestling promotion. He has a "pretty full schedule. Not just with the movie, but the UFC has some big plans here in the future," he said.
Those plans Barnett was foreshadowing were, of course, Wednesday's announcement that Barnett and Nelson will be on a new UFC reality program called UFC: Road to Japan, which will air in Japan, leading up to their Sept 27th fight. That fight will be Barnett's first fight since losing to Travis Browne in December of 2013.
The UFC's controversial Reebok sponsorship deal will be fully in place when Barnett steps back into the Octagon, but he didn't offer much of an opinion on it.
"I will just have to cross that bridge when I get there," he said. "Hopefully they will have pro wrestling shorts in my size."
As for a future match in Metamoris, where he has won two matches in a row, Barnett said should his schedule permit he would be "more than happy to step up for Metamoris again," and mentioned, "I am still the heavyweight champion."
The former UFC heavyweight champion is proud of his toe hold submission over Gracie at Metamoris 6 and to be showcasing the art of catch wrestling, that he has been training in throughout his 18-year career.
"Every time I get out there be it the UFC gigs or Metamoris mat, or the IGF Pro wrestling ring, it's important to me to showcase the skills and concepts and the lineage of training in 'catch as catch can' wrestling," Barnett said. "I love it. I love being able to go out there and show people what can be when you put your mind to it and if you put the time and effort into it."
Ever the huge fan of metal music, Barnett said lately he's been revisiting one of favorite records by Toxic Holocaust called "Chemistry of Consciousness." He is excited about Absolution and the rest of his very busy 2015. He may be busy with new endeavors and enjoying what he is doing outside of fighting, but the "Warmaster" is far from done with his athletic career.
"I still got a lot left in the tank as far as being an athlete, but I have the chance to do new things and to keep growing, not just as an athlete, but just as an individual. The experiences, the fun that I've been able to have and the people I've met, there's no way I would pass up the chance to do all these great things."