We spoke to Michael M. Foley , the man behind the collar in The Divine Enforcer!
With black belts in Jiu-Jitsu, Karate and Kempo Chuan Fa, Michael M. Foley is someone you don’t want to mess with, but he’s not just an actor and stuntman who has appeared in the likes of Lionheart (1990), Prison Planet (1992) and Intent to Kill (1992) and Desert Kickboxer (1992). Before he joined the movie business, Foley was also the U.S. Army Pacific Rim Heavyweight Kickboxing Champion for 9 years, until an injury forced him to stop fighting.
He still holds a 49-0 win record.
Today, he teaches martial arts at his Hand to Hand Combat Training Center in Idaho, where he train members of the US Army… but we wanted to talk to him about a specific movie from his past: THE DIVINE ENFORCER.
Professor Foley, thank you for talking to us. I’ve got loads of questions about the film, but first of all how did someone who had a 49-0 fight record in the army end up in the movie business?
Well, actually it’s 49 fights with 48 wins by first round knockouts…
I was in the Army Reserves at the time and they would call me to do some teaching. Then my wife at the time decided she had the hots for somebody in the gym and so she left and it broke my heart.
I thought “Maybe now is a good time to get away and get my head together” and I wanted to try this Hollywood thing and see if I could actually make a movie.
My first college degree was in theatre and I was doing stage plays back then, so I had the experience from that. I thought that all these martial arts movies with Jean-Claude (Van Damme) and Steven (Seagal) were popular, so I went to audition for a film that Jean-Claude was doing with his friends called Lionheart… and that started the ball rolling.
So how was your first film experience with Lionheart?
Well… the people on the crew and most of the cast, director and producers were great. Jean-Claude himself? An egotistical blankety-blank
You are not the first person to tell me that he has massive attitude problems.
Oh yeah. He does, he does. When I went to audition, I was at a training centre down there for Frank Dux (Jean-Claude Van Damme’s character in Bloodsport), the guy who the film is apparently patterned after.
So we go down there and I didn’t know Frank from anyone, so I got out on the floor to warm up a little and I start doing some kicks, some jump-spin kicks, scissor kicks and 360s and all that stuff and I was getting into it because it had been a while. So, I was having a good time and then I stopped and looked around and all the rest of the guys had just moved off the floor and were sitting there watching me!
I looked over at Jean-Claude’s best friend Michel Qissi, who was also watching with his arms crossed and big smile on his face, so then they motioned for me to come over and said, “We have a special request. We’d like to hire you to train Jean-Claude on the movie set in between takes to help him get better.”
So I said, “Sure. That would be fine. Can I get an acting position as well?” and they said, “Well, let’s just see.” So I started doing the training and it went well, except for the fact that Jean-Claude is the worst student in the world. He won’t listen, he thinks he knows everything and he’s actually not that good…
So I tried to help and a couple of times, I just had to tell him – “I’m being paid to teach you, so come here!” And then he’d give me attitude and I’d go, “I’m being paid to teach you, so you better drop that attitude or I’m going to knock you silly.” He finally realised that I was for real, so he actually started listening to me. Halfway through production, [the producers] said “We’ve written this character up for you” and so I was Video Fighter #1. So, it was something! I got my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card started, so that was good and I started doing low budget films after that.
Like Karate Cop and Cybernator?
[laughs] Oh, Cybernator! Oh man! That was a real… that’s a definite cult classic, that one!
Which brings us to The Divine Enforcer which is pretty much as cult as you can get. How did you get that role and how was the film pitched to you?
I found out about it through some friends. They had heard they were looking for a guy that could carry it, so I went to the audition and I told them, “I’ve got tons of stage experience and I’m just getting going in the movies and I’ve just done a film with Jean-Claude…” and so they bought me into it.
The first day on the set was the scene in the rectory where Jan-Michael Vincent, Judy Landers and Erik Estrada are sat at the table, so that was the first thing we did and Jan-Michael Vincent showed up stoned out of his mind.
I was going to ask about that. He’s clearly on something in the film because you can see his script taped to the inside of the newspaper. How drunk was he?
That’s exactly right! That’s exactly right, but he wasn’t drunk, he was stoned. Who knows what he was doing, but he was a druggie. It was miserable that first day, because we’re trying to get him to act and he couldn’t even read what was taped to the inside of the newspaper, because he could memorise anything. God, it was terrible.
So when you first got the script, and just to remind you it’s about a vigilante priest who’s hunting a vampire serial killer, did you think “this sounds insane, I have to be in it” or “any job’s a job”?
At that point, yeah – I was just trying to get some gigs under my belt and the opportunity to work with those names! They told me who they were getting and I thought “Well ,they’ve got a lot of experience and they’ve been around a long time and each one had their own TV series – so why not!”
The film also has Jim Brown, Erik Estrada and Robert Z’Dar in it, but their brief time on screen makes it feel like they were only there for one day. Can you confirm that?
Oh, it was a few days. With Erik, we had him for three days total.
In his scenes, he seems totally game considering the craziness of the script…
He was totally up for it. I was in the boat where I’ll take anything because I’m just starting out. He was in the boat of I need something, because I’m a has-been and I don’t want to be a has-been anymore. So, he was doing anything to get his face out there. He was doing pretty good in Mexico, mostly some Spanish cinema, but he hadn’t done much since CHIPs.
And was that the same case for Brown and Z’Dar? They’re in the same scene together, so was it just a day’s work for them?
Oh yeah. That was a couple of bucks job and then go home.
Professor Foley, I have to ask – are you a religious man and if so, what did you think of the subject matter or if not… again, what did you think of the subject matter?
I am a religious man. I’m Christian, I go to church every Sunday and I’m an ordained minister and went through seminary in my younger years.
Really? So you could literally be The Divine Enforcer?!
Yeah! [laughs] I could actually be.
So, as a religious man, what did you think of a film about a priest who is a vigilante and uses crucifix knives?
Well, if you’ve read any history of the Catholic Church and the organisations within it, it’s not that far-fetched. They’ve had these Catholic hit squads, for want of a better phrase, that most people have no idea exist but they do, and they answer to certain people at The Vatican, so it’s not that far out there really.
The idea that he’s doing vigilante work just because he sees injustice – that may be more of a stretch. These types of people always went after people who spoke ill of the church or were doing things that the pope or cardinal didn’t like and these guys would go after them and either rough them up or kill them.
That’s been going on for a very long time and the reason I know it is because of the things I did in the military. I was special forces and I had to do things around the world and meet different types of people. I actually met a guy that worked for the Catholic Church!
Really? Where did you meet him? What was he up to?
Well, I can’t really go into much detail about that. I still have a security clearance. I don’t want to ruin that.
Fair enough. So, a Catholic priest who fights crime is one thing, but then your character is also psychic.
Yeah….. The Sight! Yeah… it’s out there.
It IS out there…
I saw that, but what made me go ahead and do it was how many of these low budgets films do they use the worst swear words all the time or have the hero rolling around in bed with a buxom woman?
My character was a priest, so I didn’t have to say bad things. I did good things… until I went after someone and took care of them, but that’s been the other side of my life as a special forces guy, so I can relate to the whole spectrum of that character.
Your co-star Don Stroud appears to be in his own completely different movie.
[laughs] Yeah, he was in his own completely different part of the world I think. I live in World 1, he lives in World 2 someplace. That man is out there!
He is indeed in the film. Speaking of which, when was the last time you saw The Divine Enforcer?
Oh wow. Many years ago! Usually, I don’t sit down and watch any of the movies that I make. There’s lots of actors that do that, but you start to second guess yourself and once you get another job you’re now second guessing your choices and you can’t do that.
You’ve got to put yourself in the character, you’ve got to understand the character and then just become it and do it. That’s character acting!
You’re also in Desert Kickboxer which is directed by one of my favourite action directors Isaac Florentine.
Isaac Florentine! He’s an awesome guy!
He IS an awesome guy – he’s done some of my favourite DTV action movies. What was it like working with him on that film?
I had a great time. Isaac is great. At first, he really wasn’t sure of my full martial arts ability and so when I showed up, I said “I have four different black belts in different martial arts”, (Ed – for the record, Foley has trained in Koden kan Karate, Danzan-ryu Jujitsu, Kyokushinkai Karate, Shotokan Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Hwa Rang Do, Shorenji Kenpo and Muay Thai Kickboxing), but in Hollywood, you hear claims like that all the time.
He was a fourth degree black belt in traditional karate, so he had his own ideas and so when we started moving around and I started showing him how I would do a certain fight.
He realised that I knew what I was talking about and he let me choreograph my own fights instead of him doing it.
He seems to be a fighter’s director from his work with the likes of Scott Adkins (watch our interview with Scott here) and Michael Jai White. You run the Hand to Hand Combat Training Center – could you tell us a bit about that? I saw from your website that your students don’t wear gis, but civilian clothing…
Actually we wear army combat uniform. That’s our standard uniform. We wear that because I decided I didn’t want to promote some other culture or other country when I’m an American, and I think the real American culture is worth hanging on to for the students, so I train with English words, I don’t use Japanese terms and we have a Army combat uniform, because when they’re in an actual confrontation, we’re going to be wearing belts and shirts, not pyjamas when we’re walking around out there.
So that’s why I went with that, to make it more real so when we’re doing techniques, we can grab sleeves and belts. We don’t do judo, karate, akido, kickboxing – it’s all mixed into one style and that’s called Koden Kan Combined Martial Arts.
And do your students know about your movie past?
Some of them – the ones that have been there a while. They do a name search and find me on IMDB and go, “Oh my God, you’ve made movies!” Some have said they’ve had a Professor Foley Film Festival over the weekend!
So if there was one of your films that you’d recommend to your pupils, which would it be?
Probably Desert Kickboxer, yeah.
Not The Divine Enforcer? Shame. Does this happen often? People like me contacting you about your film past?
I still have quite a fanbase, not just from the movies, but from the WMAC-Masters TV series. We had a huge fanbase from that when it was actively playing and when we quit, we got letters, the production got phone calls – people were upset. So there are people that watch reruns on YouTube and then I get people calling me and asking questions and stuff like that!
Professor Foley, thank you for your time.
For more information on the Hand to Hand Combat Training Center, click here.