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Feature
Chuck Norris: In His Own Words
It’s Chuck’s world – we just live in it

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Back in May 2007, Empire’s Nick de Semlyen travelled to Texas to interview the man, the legend, that is Chuck Norris. As he once again invades cinemas in The Expendables 2, as a character known simply as Booker, we have the full interview for your enjoyment. Warning: contains roundhouse kicks to the head.

This feature was first published in the May 2007 issue of Empire magazine. Subscribe today.

WORDS NICK DE SEMLYEN
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Chuck Norris

WITHIN THE CAVERNOUS BOWELS OF THE FRANK ERWIN CENTER, an indoor arena in central Austin, Texas, there’s a charge of anticipation. As the furious beats of The Prodigy’s Firestarter dim to nothing on the stadium’s sound system, the assembled audience, much of it made up of US military personnel, crane their necks forward. Onto the stage marches a solitary figure sporting a dark suit, buffed boots and ginger beard. He’s a man who’s dealt out justice, decimated armies and taken no shit for nearly half a century. And he’s familiar to everyone in the room, not least because his face adorns huge screens along with slogans like, “Any references to Chuck Norris without express permission will result in a roundhouse kick to the face.” He lifts up his microphone, grins, and the crowd goes berserk.

By all rights, Chuck Norris should have been forgotten long ago. His most revered movie is also his first, the 1972 chopsocky classic Way Of The Dragon, in which he brawled with Bruce Lee. Since then, the martial arts master has put out a succession of deadly earnest one-man-army actioners whose very titles — A Force Of One, An Eye For An Eye, Lone Wolf McQuade — reek of undistilled machismo and stiff-necked silliness. Watching him cut through endless swathes of evildoers, the critics have often been unkind. Of 1982’s Silent Rage, The New York Times wrote, “He has no screen presence to speak of, but nothing terribly offensive working against him, either. He is just sort of there.”

But his movies, often directed by his brother Aaron, kept on making money. And as the years went by and Norris stuck doggedly to his loner persona — an invincible, patriotic shitkicker of few words and fewer expressions — something strange happened. He slowly became a myth, a legend, a cult figure who transcends his questionable filmography. His movies began to be reappraised as comedy, lapped up by a new army of fans who have filled YouTube with homemade highlight reels — clips full of overblown violence and po-faced one-liners such as, “I’m gonna hit you with so many rights, you’ll beg for a left. ”

And pop culture started to embrace him. In 2004, he popped up in Frat Pack comedy Dodgeball. In 2006, Adult Swim, home of cult TV shows like Robot Chicken, began airing repeats of his ill-fated ’80s cartoon show, Karate Kommandos. Most entertainingly, a series of Paul Bunyanesque one-liners, labelled “Chuck Norris Facts”, spread around the internet like grassfire, riffing on his mystique. To wit: “When God said, ‘Let there be light,’ Chuck Norris said, ‘Say please.’”

And pop culture started to embrace him. In 2004, he popped up in Frat Pack comedy Dodgeball. In 2006, Adult Swim, home of cult TV shows like Robot Chicken, began airing repeats of his ill-fated ’80s cartoon show, Karate Kommandos. Most entertainingly, a series of Paul Bunyanesque one-liners, labelled “Chuck Norris Facts”, spread around the internet like grassfire, riffing on his mystique. To wit: “When God said, ‘Let there be light,’ Chuck Norris said, ‘Say please.’”

The Dark Knight

(Clockwise from top) Staring down Bruce Lee in Way Of The Dragon. Taking names in Delta Force 2. Going full throttle in The Delta Force

HAVING FEASTED ON A MARATHON OF NORRIS DVDS BEFORE THE FLIGHT, Empire is more than a little nervous about the prospect of meeting the six-time karate world champion. There’s not a lot of small-talk, or indeed big-talk, in his canon — Norris concludes most of his on-screen chats by kicking the other fellow through a window or setting them on fire. It’s the day before the WCL event and the violent churning in Empire’s stomach isn’t alleviated by waiting in the sombre lobby of The Driskill, a grand hotel built by a 19th century cattle baron, or the fact that two poker-faced Texas state troopers suddenly materialise, summoning us to the Lone Wolf’s suite.

Happily, when Norris appears with his wife and two youngest kids, it’s quickly clear that he’s nothing like his badass, virtually mute screen self. Dressed down in a grey short-sleeved shirt and a good deal shorter than he looks onscreen, he’s instantly warm and talkative, gripping Empire’s hand in what turns out to be a handshake and not the first stage of a death-move. After settling down in the suite’s plush sofa, the 67 year-old gives a recap of a Christmas holiday that only he could have.

“The troops in Iraq have been pestering their commanders to get me over there,” he grins. “A general called and I said, ‘I’d be glad to, but I want to go to where they don’t get celebrities.’ So I went to 11 places no-one’s heard of, slept in the hooch with the troops, with the latrine 50 yards down the road. It was great. In fact, one of the tanks had my name on the barrel. They got me in the tank and I fired off a shell at an insurgent group!”

Presumably it killed the lot of them?

He laughs loudly. “Well, I don’t know — that shell goes ten miles...”

Chuck Norris in Top Dog
"Violence is not the answer - the answer is love."
Chuck Norris
It was the Chuck Norris Facts that got him out to the war zone in the first place, being particularly popular within the ranks of the US army. Norris admits he was shocked when he found he was the subject of this cult veneration. “I suddenly started getting emailed all these Facts from Africa and everywhere you can think of. I was surprised, but as I’m reading them I’m going, ‘These are pretty funny...’ I called the guy who started it, a freshman in Rhode Island, and invited him to come meet me. He was a nice young man, and called me four months later to say he’d had over 300 million hits on the Facts. It’s incredible! I take it as a great compliment from the young people.”

If you want to find the roots of Norris’ steel-skinned, morals-enforcing onscreen persona, you have to look back to his troubled childhood in Wilson, Oklahoma, living in poverty and the shadow of an alcoholic father. “He was negligent, abusive, exactly the kind of person I didn’t want to be. So I would spend my Saturdays at the movie theatre, escaping into another world.” The heroes of ’50s Westerns were surrogate fathers, and he became determined to be the good role model his pa never was. “When I got into the film business, my aim was to adopt a positive persona, of a guy who fights against injustice. And it saved me, because my acting was atrocious to say the least!”

NORRIS HAS ONLY PLAYED A BADDIE TWICE – in Way Of The Dragon (even there Bruce Lee pays respects to his felled corpse) and an Asian film called Yellow Faced Tiger: “I played a drug lord who smokes a cigar and tries to rape his brother’s girlfriend. It wasn’t supposed to play outside of China.” But he admits he would have relished playing the Terminator. “It fit Arnold’s persona more than mine, though. We’ve been friends now for 35 years, Arnold and I — in his bodybuilding days he used to come down to my karate school and shoot the breeze. He told me in 1967 he was going to be a movie star and I was thinking, ‘A movie star? You can hardly speak English!’”

Norris has other powerful friends — a staunch Republican, he’s chummy with both Presidents Bush and is a regular visitor to the White House, where several of his gun-heavy flicks have run through the Presidential projector. Would he consider following his pal the Governator into politics? “That’s a very good question,” he says, leaning back on the sofa and touching his trademark beard. “There’s a lot to be done, I just see a total moral decay in our society. But I think I can achieve more outside the political arena. People have approached me and I’ve said, ‘Let me think about this — I’m debating my opponent on TV and they start attacking my character, I leap over the desk and shake them unconscious. Is that gonna help my campaign?’” He erupts in laughter again, grabbing Empire’s arm. “They go, ‘I don’t think so...’”

It proves impossible to dislike Chuck Norris. Instead of the humourless, lunk-headed reactionary you might expect, he’s turned out to be humble, self-aware and bemused by his sudden ascent to cultdom. He offers Empire a ride to the WCL weigh-in in his Ford people-carrier, animatedly discussing which kick he’s used most on-screen. The next evening, just before fighting commences at the event itself, he takes a break from bear-hugging war veterans to come over. This is his home turf — in Texas Chuck Norris is more popular than ribs, with no side order of irony — and everyone in the stadium wants a chance to meet him.

“I’m a people’s actor, not a critics’ actor, and I always have been,” he says, as he prepares to hit the stage. “Truthfully, I’m proud of each of my films in a certain way.” And, true, the world of movies is a funnier, sillier, somehow better one thanks to the presence of one Carlos Ray Norris — although maybe we could all have done without that one where he teams up with a dog to tackle neo-Nazis. Seeing as we’re in the presence of the most deadly feet in show business, though, Empire decides not to nit-pick. And with that, Chuck Norris strides away, towards the screaming hordes.

Click onto the next page for Norris' thoughts on his films.

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Have Your Say
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Your Comments

1
Anyone remember his movie "Sidekicks"? I loved that when I was a kid More

Posted by shaunoc on Wednesday August 15, 2012, 19:35

2
The local video rental store where I grew up had a separate section for Chuck Norris. So amid the sections for Horror, Action, Thriller etc.... was a section called Chuck Norris. Such is the impact he's had! More

Posted by mikebish on Wednesday August 15, 2012, 14:15

3 Is Chuck Norris my distant uncle?
According to my nan, I'm distantly related to Chuck Norris. Apparently her side of the family moved to America (i believe they were originally irish) and that somehow Chuck and I are distantly related. I've never been able to kick anyone with my chin, but if Chuck is reading, would be interested to find out. It's a pretty random thing for my nan to make up if not! More

Posted by makeminemedia on Wednesday August 15, 2012, 13:48

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