Matt Hannon went from being Sylvester Stallone’s body guard to movie star in just 27 years. The star of the unlikely cult hit “Samurai Cop” talks about waiting 20 years to become an overnight sensation.
In 2004, a film canister containing an unreleased 1991 movie was discovered. “Samurai Cop,” a “Lethal Weapon” rip off, was plagued with terrible dialogue, bad acting, and questionable continuity. Scenes from the movie went viral followed by sold-out midnight screenings across the nation. I talked to the star of the film. It might not have brought the fame Matt Hannon was looking for, but 27 years after he shot this notorious film, he’s become a legend in the cult movie world.
I first saw the movie like most people, off a bootlegged VHS at someone’s house. “This will blow your mind!” the person with the tape told a half-full living room. Within minutes there was a chase scene where the close-ups of the title character had him in a brown female wig and a hat, while in the other shots was his natural hair. Even though the movie didn’t make any sense, it was so much fun to watch. I loved it. I’ve seen the movie many times since. Each time I see the movie I think, “They must know how bad this is, right.”
I finally got my answer and so much more when the “Samurai Cop” himself agreed to come to my apartment for an interview. (Click here to listen) Matt Hannon’s still a striking guy. With his long hair, he looks almost the same he did in his infamous movie debut. Matt talked about the movie’s many unintentionally funny moments, discovering his fame and his short-lived life of crime.
How would you describe “Samurai Cop” to someone who hasn’t seen it?
What it was supposed to be was a buddy, action cop movie, loosely based on the “Lethal Weapon” type of genre and what it’s become is this an unintentional comedic masterpiece experience and it’s not what you expect. Once you get into it and realize what it is and it just becomes a farce, where everyone really just has a fun time with it.
It is lore that you were Sylvester Stallone’s bodyguard, is that true?
Yeah, I think I started with him in April of ‘88 and then I stopped around November ‘89 and started to work with (“Samurai Cop” director) Amir Shervan in 1990.
How did that come about?
Another one of Sly’s bodyguards wanted to act too and he apparently had worked with Amir Shervan and he said: “Man, as a young actor, you need to see this director, you need to get tape.”
And so I just went to his office and then the minute I walked in Amir said,“You’re perfect. You’re exactly what I’m looking for.” And I was flattered. As an actor, I was like, “Really, I get the whole movie? I was just looking for a line, a line there. Basically, he gave me the script and told me to take a look at it. We were going to shoot, I think a week later.
Did you have any acting experience?
“No, I mean I’ve done stuff in high school and of course that at age 27, I thought I could do anything in the world. And that was the worst acting performance ever. That should have been an apprentice learning experience, but to carry a whole film, and obviously, there were problems with the dialogue.
Was it one take? Was that part of the problem?
Yeah! I mean hats off to Amir. He had a very, very low budget he just didn’t have the film to do it again so that’s why all we were focused on was just making sure we knew our lines. You can kinda see that a lot of movies. So I’m more or less reading lines or Amir is coaching me how to say them. Just because later in looping he didn’t want to go “I don’t remember what you said that day and we gotta try to match.”
Sometimes he would run out of lav microphones and I would have to yell. Cause sometimes he would have stuff mic’d.We were stealing a lot of shots.
What shots did you steal?
The opening sequence when you first see me with a hat on and the wig in front of the police station, it was stolen and there was a cop standing right there. The magic of Amir,
is he would tell them, “Oh, we are here with ‘Hunter” (popular TV series) production we’re second unit and we’re filming.” And they will say, “Ok. No problem.” He just knew what was going on around him. He was a master at bluffing his way out of situations. We got stopped out in the wilderness doing fight scenes by park rangers. He’d just always had an answer. Sometimes they would shut him down, but they would never take his footage.
I am obsessed with the wig part. So you had long hair in the movie, but sometimes the camera will do a close-up and you’re wearing a woman’s wig. Then it would cut back to you with your real hair. What happened?
I think around November, Amir represented that the film was done. My agent said, “Ok, you’ve done that look now. I can’t keep sending you out with that look and the long hair.” So I cut my hair, took some new photos and life was going on.
Three months went by and then he called me in January of ‘91, “Matt, I need to see you.”
I go see him and he flips out. “What have you done? You fucked up my film.” I say, “What are you talking about? You said we were done.” He says, “Well, we’re not.” He immediately throws me in his car and drives me to Hollywood and Vine and he went to a wig shop, and he picked out what he thought was the closest to my hair. So at the time, I thought maybe he just wants to do a couple of long distance pick up shots. But if you see the movie, I mean Jesus, that’s the opening shot is me with a hat and a wig. And all the way through the movie every other shot, maybe it’s my hair in one close up, then cut to a reaction shot, it’s the wig.
Why do you think he used the wig shots?
I don’t know. That’s why I really wish he was alive. I understand his anger and outrage “You fucked up my film.” but on the other hand, you did tell me we were done. Then I started to think, “Wow look at all this footage there was. He was either ill-prepared on shot selections or he was just obsessed with close-ups. If you watch that film, there’s a ton of close-ups with me with that wig on.
Did you have issues with the dialogue?
Yeah, there’s a couple of monologues that I have like “I’m telling you, you son a-bitches.” That was a big issue and I told Amir this is not the way we would say it. He was Iranian, and it was all his words. And I would say “We wouldn’t say that we would say ‘I’m telling you sons of bitches” He’d say, “No, no, no.” I’d say, “I’m just telling you it doesn’t translate right. Just say it the way I say it!” Of course, you want to be respectful. You don’t want to be the primadonna on set. So we all on set just surrendered. “Whatever you want us to do we will do.” I, of course, started to get immature and started to do visual things during the filming.
Hand signals. If you watch me goin up in a helicopter you can see me doing an Elvis Presley “Oh, I’ll see you later…” Then it was like “Let’s just get this movie done.” I mean it’s almost a year later and we’re still shooting.
Sometime I’d go through a monologue real rigid. Or If Amir ran out of body mics and he wanted me to speak at a [louder] level. It was horrible acting.
So he can pick you up on another mic?
Well, yeah. But as an actor you are fluctuating, it was horrible acting. I’m not saying it wasn’t horrible acting, it just enhanced it.
You didn’t need any help.
Yeah, exactly. I would get more pissed off. But it was what it was. But look, never look a gift horse in the mouth. Who would ever have thought when I came out to LA that this movie 25 years later could possibly open up some doors? We’ve heard that Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez are fans of grindhouse movies and “Samurai Cop” is in their top five. If a guy like him sees it and is like “Oh my God, I want to give him a bit part!” So that I’m open to. But I don’t think I can be considered to be able to carry an A-lister or a big movie, but a character actor, fine.
What happens to the movie? Does it get released?
No, it never gets released. I don’t know what happened. I actually wasn’t upset about it. It’s only because of the internet that people had a copy of an old VHS. There were a lot of urban myths for a while like they found a print in a castle in Germany or something.
It turns out that Greg Gregory Hatanaka from Cine Epic was doing a totally different film in a studio in Hollywood it was like a storage facility. His lead actress had come across old cans of footage that said “Samurai Cop” on it. She said, “Hey, look at this.” There were some posters that had some water damage. So apparently when Amir passed, he had just put all five films he’s done in some storage vault and left them. So Greg just happened upon them.
There’s a famous scene all over YouTube where you’re at a hospital and out of nowhere you just start a dirty and way out dialogue with a hot nurse. How did the “Horny Nurse Scene” come about?
That was one of those scenes where Amir said, “If you don’t like the lines, we can change it.” It’s kind of ridiculous dialogue. “Do you like what you see? Do you want to touch it?” I was like, “Are we really going to do this?” And he said, “Oh, no, no, no. This is funny.” He really thought this was funny. So it’s not just the verbiage, but what he thought was American funny. I think Amir was exposed to a lot of the older American movies. Maybe he thought that was funny American dialogue. That was verbatim. We had to play it straight.I can’t act like I was saying something stupid.So we just went through it and it just became a classic, ridiculous par for the course scene in that movie.
I remember I auditioned with that girl in Amir’s office. He told us to go off and work on the scene. When we went to this other room and we were reading it and when we got the point when she says, “Well, let me see what you got,” she literally touched me and I was like, “This is going to be a great shoot.”
When did you first realize this movie was out there on the internet?
I think when my daughter was 10, YouTube first came about, I just googled it and all of a sudden, there was the horny nurse scene and all the stuff you still see up now. And I’d read the comments.
What were the comments?
Either “What a great movie” or they were mocking it.
What was your feeling when you read that all the mean comments?
I loved it because they were accurate. It was hilarious.”Man, this lead actor looks like Stallone with Down syndrome.” And I’m thinking, “That is perfect.” They talk about my crazy faces and the eyes that I made. Amir would say, “Be really intense.” And if I’m not seeing a playback… I don’t know what I look like.
What was it like the first time you were in the audience and you heard people make fun of the movie you starred in?
By then it didn’t matter, I had seen so many things from 2009 to now that I was in on the joke. When I first finished the movie, it was supposed to be an action movie, but I know it was horrible.
I didn’t think it was funny, except for a couple of things I did. I didn’t notice all the production flaws, the bad edits that everyone else does. Film students have this in their class on how to not make a movie. Because of the quick cuts, the random cuts, the color’s off. I’m just thinking the dialogue is ridiculous.
What did you end up doing since the movie?
I just stayed in the executive protection industry. I ended up traveling down a wrong path. Hanging around with the wrong guys.
Can you talk about that?
Yeah, it was just stupid decisions.The one key incident, one of the guys I worked for asked me to set a team of 20 guys to work security for his establishment. We worked for him for 6 months and then he decided that we all cost too much. And he fired everybody. Well, me being young and an idiot was pissed off and asked, “Who are you going to hire?” He said he was just going to set up some janitors he hired to watch the place. It was a vicious cycle and concocted a plan to take one of his most valuable possessions, which is a painting. And I don’t know if my mind I made it like a movie, besides it being some revengeful shit. But looking back at it, who really gives a shit? Go get another job.
After you got caught, what happened?
I basically plead guilty from day one. I’m not trying to hide anything. It was a stupid idea. I feel bad I convinced this guy to do it with me.
They sent us up to Wasco State Prison for a 90-day op. That’s basically a procedure where they decide whether or not you are going to be a career criminal. Or if this is a one-time stupid thing. It was almost three months we were there.
20 years later I ended up getting into trouble again. So that obviously wasn’t that accurate.
What happened 20 years later?
That was just a stupid thing. What’s now known as identity theft in ‘98, ‘99 and I had a guy who was like “Hey, I got a way to make some quick cash. Can I use your name and open some things? And I knew what was going on. He was doing some day trading and maybe taking some money and investing it under my name and that kind of shit. I ended up having to serve up to two years on that one.
That was in my 30’s. The first one was in my 20’s. The second one was in my 30’s. Now in my 50’s, I’m fine. All I got to deal with is “Samurai Cop,” but ahh,
Your honesty is amazing. Why is it important to be open about it?
It’s not in a braggadocious point of view, it’s to let people know that life is what it is.
Are you still insecurity?
No, I met a guy while I was in prison who said if you want to get into the convention industry, the guys who put in the trade shows? I had also worked as a grip. The problem I had with that job, was i spent my time on stages. I likened it to an alcoholic that serves drinks. He’d rather be pounding them down and getting drunk. Seeing people on stage, reminded me of what I wanted to do. So I switched over to that convention union in 2001.
To hear the entire conversation go to Proudlyresents.com/MH. To hear more cult movie interviews and reviews check out the podcast “Proudly Resents” on iTunes.
Check out Matt Hannon’s movies “Samurai Cop” and “Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance.” (https://www.amazon.com/Samurai-Cop-Deadly-Vengeance-Blu-ray/dp/B014K32G8Q)
Oh, and that guy kept leaning back on my dining room chair and broke it. DAMN YOU SAMURAI COP!