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Playing master assassin
St. John's-born Mike Rowe's newest acting role is that of master assassin Ninjak in Valiant's new web series, "Ninjak vs the Valiant Universe." It's a role for which he's been training his whole life, he jokes.
There’s something about Mike Rowe, when he speaks in interviews about his work, that’s unlike most other actors.
The trailer for the new "Ninjak" series. (Warning: video contains scenes with violence.)
Ask him a question and he’ll answer it, but his passion and conviction is evident. He’ll think before he speaks, and he’ll go almost inside himself to find the best, truest answer he can give.
He’s not concerned with bowing to the Hollywood machine, even though he’s been living there for the past couple of years, making a living. He tells everything like it is, no bones about it, and he admits he’s not quite comfortable in L.A.
“Hollywood’s in such a weird state. It’s like they’re trying to use some kind of math equation or they’re going off of test audiences or whatever has worked before. How do you do that to art? You’re suffocating it,” Rowe says. “It’s not science. When it comes to art, it’s something else that’s intangible. You’ve just got to do what means something to you, and it will inevitably mean something to someone else.
That’s the beauty of art but Hollywood is squishing that out right now, unfortunately.”
Born in St. John’s — first known locally as the drummer for punk band Bucket Truck — Rowe has been playing DC Comics villain Deadshot in CW’s TV series “Arrow” since 2012. Maybe. The character was presumed killed in an explosion on the TV show last season, just as the “Suicide Squad” movie, featuring Will Smith as Deadshot, was about to hit cinemas.
Since then, Rowe returned to “Arrow” for an episode, but it was a dream sequence type of storyline that saw the show’s main character imagining his nemesis in a jail cell with him. Rowe won’t, or can’t, say if Deadshot will be back.
“I don’t know the answer to that, and I’m being honest,” he says. “The situation with the show is the type of thing where I could get a call at any point in time and I could be on set 10 days later. Sometimes it’s very last-minute. But I think in everybody’s mind who creates the show, Deadshot did not die in the episode where you see the building blow up. I feel like they left it vague on purpose. Will the business of DC Comics and Warner Brothers, because they have all this money invested in the movies, let us do it and bring him back to life? Who knows?”
After Bucket Truck moved to Halifax and later split up, Rowe moved to Vancouver to be closer to his little brother Andrew, a filmmaker. He started acting in some short comedies created by Andrew and some friends (including fellow Bucket Truck member Matt Wells), and eventually took some acting classes. “Arrow” was only his sixth acting audition, and resulted in Rowe becoming a celebrity among the comic book fan set, with his own action figure.
Rowe kept making short comedies with Andrew and his pals, and their films have been screened at film festivals across the continent.
As of late, Rowe’s got a new project, still in the superhero realm: he plays master assassin Colin King, a.k.a. Ninjak, in Valiant’s upcoming live-action web series “Ninjak vs the Valiant Universe.” Rowe landed the role after being introduced to the series’ directors, Aaron and Sean Schoenke, the co-creators behind the successful YouTube series “Super Power Beat Down.” He says filming the series has a collaborative feel; the kind of process he craves.
Ninjak is a role for which Rowe has practically been training his whole life.
“My parents came to Comic Con in New York where we announced “Ninjak” (in October) and my mom told a story to the CEO of Valiant Comics about how when I was a kid I became obsessed with Bruce Lee and I used to watch all his movies,” Rowe says. “I made myself a ninja mask and I used to watch all these cheesy ‘80s martial arts movies, too. My grandfather owned a hardware store in Heart’s Content and they had a tinsmith there, and I gave him designs I had cut out of cardboard and asked him to cut them out of metal for me, for ninja stars. He did, and he didn’t tell my parents. Next thing, he brings me in a box of my homemade ninja star designs. I used to go in the backyard and throw them into trees and boxes. I was around nine or 10 years old.
“The CEO told the story on stage when we debuted the trailer (for “Ninjak”) and it kind of caught me off guard, but I was like, Oh yeah! Maybe I’ve always been a ninja in my head and now I’m just getting a chance to do it.”
Rowe, who’ll be doing many of his own fight scenes, had some basic martial arts training in the past, and has found a natural proficiency for it, thanks to his musical past. Like drumming, he says, it has a lot to do with rhythm.
Two episodes of “Ninjak” are in the can, with a goal of six to be filmed in total. Rowe’s not sure what the plan for the series is yet; whether it will be remain in episodes or cut into an online movie.
Locally shot feature
Before “Ninjak” is released, Rowe’s latest film project with Andrew and Wells may see its premiere: a locally shot feature-length movie called “Crown and Anchor,” which wrapped up in November and Rowe says may be released in the spring. Written by Andrew based on a script by Wells, the film is the story of two cousins: James Downey (Rowe) and Danny Power (Wells), who grew up together in a family of hard cases and criminals in St. John’s. James moved away from Newfoundland and became a cop, while Danny stayed in St. John’s. The pair are forced back together due to a family event, and must deal with their pasts.
“Crown and Anchor” stars some big local names like Robert Joy and Andy Jones, but the three filmmakers were adamant about giving regular local people who had always wanted to act but never had the chance an opportunity to audition as well, and found some gems who also play parts in the movie.
“I feel like we found a good team of people,” Rowe says “It felt good making this film with people who weren’t there for the money; they were there because they wanted the thing to be good and they went above and beyond. We’ve got a nice movie in there, and I just can’t wait to see it evolve from this point and then set it free and let everyone else see it.”
Creating his own content — without the approval of Hollywood — is Rowe’s main goal, and “Crown and Anchor” is the first step, he says.
“It gives me the same feeling I got from playing my own songs and touring with Bucket Truck,” he explains. “I didn’t really care if you liked or hated it, I just had to do it. It’s the same thing with the film and TV industry. I want to work with people I care about, create my own stuff and have that true collaborative energy in the project. Something to stand behind, then release it into the world and you can take it or leave it. I’m ok with either, I just enjoy the process.”