It’s been quite a few years since French filmmaker Xavier Gens (Hitman) made a feature film that got a significant release in U.S. theaters. His latest, Mayhem!, is the type of movie that probably will play better to American audiences than some of his others.
Mayhem! is a revenge thriller starring Nassim Lyes as Sam, an ex-convict and fighter who has to flee France for Thailand when he accidentally kills a criminal trying to drag him back into a life of crime. Once he gets to Thailand, Sam takes part in kickboxing matches to help support his pregnant girlfriend Mia (Loryn Nounay) and her young daughter Dara (Chananticha Chaipa). He soon realizes that in order to pursue their dreams of a better life, he needs to deal with a corrupt crime boss named Narong (Olivier Gourmet), who also wants Sam to use his job at an airport to move goods. When that plan goes awry, Sam finds himself having to find Narong after his men take the young Dara away for nefarious purposes.
It’s an exciting revenge thriller that shows off Lyes’ abilities as a fighter but also that he has the skills to handle all the drama involved with such a tense, emotional story that also showcases the beauty (and horrors) of Thailand.
Above the Line had a chance to speak with Lyes over Zoom last week, to talk about working with Gens in Thailand and his aspirations to make more of an impact in Hollywood doing action, as well as doing more comedy.
Above the Line: This movie was a really fun way to start the year, though I’m guessing it came out in France last year?
Nassim Lyes: Not last year, like six months ago. It was out last summer.
ATL: I’m not that familiar with your previous work. You’ve done a lot of French films that I haven’t seen. Did you have an MMA background before you started acting, or have you always done the two things together?
Lyes: No, I had MMA and kickboxing backgrounds way back when I was a kid. I started kickboxing when I was 15, and I was a kickboxing former French Champion in 2010, so my kickboxing background was before acting.
ATL: I also don’t know a lot about MMA either, unless someone goes over to WWE. So did that lead to you to doing more action movies, because you have that background to do more physical roles? Was there always a desire to do more action stuff?
Lyes: Of course. That’s why I’m super excited about the movie being released in the US, because in America, you have a lot of great action movie directors. If I get the chance to work with some of them, that’d be amazing for me. Even if the movie was released in France lasts summer, we don’t have a lot of directors who are able to do great action movies. One of them, thank God, is Xavier Gens. Except for Xavier, we have some, like Louis Letterier, but they’re already working here [in the States], so for me, they’re American directors.
ATL: Was Mayhem your first project with Xavier or had you worked with him on something else before?
Lyes: This was my very first project with Xavier, but straight away, we shot another one together. It’s coming out in 2024.
ATL: How did you first hear about the project? Did you see a script first, or did Xavier approach you?
Lyes: I was in New York, and I had to send a self-tape for Gangs of London Season Two. I realized that with Xavier, we had a lot of common friends on Instagram, so was I was like, “I’m gonna give it a try and send him my tape to see if he’d give me some feedback and help me to be on the scene, too.” Xavier answered me, and was like, “I’m sorry, you won’t be part of Season Two, but let’s have a drink in Paris when you’re back. We had that drink, he pitched me Mayhem!, and I said, “I’d love to do that movie,” but unfortunately, the second bad news, there was already another actor on it. Then the universe worked out for me because a month and a half before shooting, the actor was not available anymore, so Xavier was like, “Are you willing to do the movie?” Of course, I said “No”…. no, I’m kidding. [laughs] I jumped on it, and the rest is history.
ATL: I assumed that he wrote it with you in mind, since the character seems so well suited for you in the way it combines action and drama. I thought maybe he already knew you and had you in mind for the role.
Lyes: Not even. That’s the greatest thing. It was written for a Thai boxer, and the first actor that he had, was not a Thai boxer. He used to do boxing, but only real boxing with the hands, so I thought it would not be a problem, but he would have been doubled a lot for the kicks.
ATL: What kind of prep do you do for a movie like this? This being your first movie with Xavier, how does have you prepare differently from any other movie?
Lyes: For that movie, yeah, because obviously, there are a lot of action scenes. I’ve managed to work with Jude Poyer. I was a huge fan of his work, because Jude is one of the best in the industry. He has a very high level of demand, so I’ve learned so much working with Jude. The hardest part was to remember and work on all the choreography. The corridor was a very big part, and the elevator scene also. I was working with the French on the lake of Jude’s, his name is Olivier Sa. I was learning the choreography in France, because it was COVID back then, so I couldn’t go back and forth to England with Jude. So I worked on the scene with Olivier, and once Jude was happy — Olivier was filming the choreography — and we were working on another action design. We did that, and the other most challenging part for me on that movie was the diets I had to go through, because obviously, I want to be ripped. Usually,l I’m in shape, but for that movie I wanted to have the six-pack, so for that, I had a very low calorie diet. It was hard, but in the end, it was great, because that helped me to be in Sam’s shoes. He’s a man of few words. He’s introverted, low-key, and I think the fact I couldn’t eat… when you don’t eat sugar, you’re not happy. I used my diet to help me be in Sam’s shoes, so it was cool.
ATL: That elevator fight was pretty amazing, so did Xavier try to shoot that in one take, or was it all broken up?
Lyes: Not at all. Xavier and Jude, you can think that it’s a [one-shot sequence], but in fact, there are 100 shots in the elevator scene. It was obviously the hardest part, and we were in this elevator for four days and the temperature was so high. We had to do it again and again and again to make it looks like a sequence shot. Xavier and Jude, they really wanted that part to be the finale, the biggest thing in the movie, so we took our time. I think the result is amazing. Jude’s work method is that he’s editing the scene live on set, so it’s so rewarding for an actor, because you put in the effort for that scene, but at the end of the week, you have the scene, and you’re able to watch the scene with Xavier and Jude, and we’re like, “Wow, I think we did a good job.”
ATL: What was it like shooting in Thailand? I’m not sure if Xavier had worked there before, or if you had either, but was it very different shooting there?
Lyes: Me, I went to Thailand twice, one for training camp back in the day when I was still fighting and another time for writing, but that time, I stayed there for almost three months, and I loved it there. When you have the chance to shoot in Thailand, you’re so lucky, because back then, it was winter in France, and it was summer in Thailand. So I was so grateful to be there. The Thai people, they are so welcoming. They are genuinely so happy to work with you. They are available 24/7, and they love their job, so I fell in love with the Thai people and Thailand. It was amazing to work there.
ATL: You mentioned before that you’d like to do more Hollywood movies. Are there any Hollywood actors or action stars, you look up to or try to emulate?
Lyes: Because I love action, and I also love comedy. My last comedy was released on Netflix a month ago, it’s called All-Time High. It’s an action comedy, it’s very funny – you should watch it. To look up to, I love the kind of career that Mark Wahlberg did, because you can see him like in a James Grey movie, being really great at it, and you can also see him in a big comedy. If I could do both, I’d be the happiest. I would love to do big Hollywood action movies because I know that I got all the skills required for that. That’s why I’m super excited for the American release, because if there’s some big Hollywood directors out there who want to work with me, you can tell them I’m ready.
ATL: Did you say you shot another movie with Xavier already?
Lyes: Right after [this], straight-away we did another movie. It’s a shark movie, it’s going to be released 2024 on Netflix. It’s going to be a big one. It talks about global warming with a backdrop of sharks, and I co-star with Berenice Bejo, who did The Artist, and it’s going to be huge.
Mayhem! is now playing in select theaters and on digital.