Actor David Chokachi
As lifeguard Cody Madison on TV's hugely successful Baywatch, actor David Chokachi risked his life to save others, while his Witchblade character of Detective Jake McCartey did the same trying to expose police corruption. In the upcoming Syfy Saturday Original Movie, Rage of the Yeti (airing November 12 @ 9:00pm EST/PST) the actor throws caution to the wind once again and, as Jonas, is part of a group fighting for survival in the Arctic against invisible snow creatures. Oddly enough, it was Chokachi’s prior battle with some nocturnal baddies in Syfy’s Bats: Human Harvest that helped secure him the role in Rage of the Yeti.
“Luckily I’d worked for this production company [UFO Films] as well as Syfy before,” says the actor. “I had done a movie for them four or five years ago called Bats: Human Harvest, which did really well and they [Syfy] are cool in the sense that I think they tend to keep you in mind for upcoming projects if they like working with you as well as if you’re good on-set and know the drill as it were.
“Someone had actually told me that there was this script floating around called Rage of the Yeti involving these two brothers who are sort of Indiana Jones-ish. I got a copy of the script and as soon as I read it I called my manager and got him heavily involved in order to book me an audition. So I was on Syfy’s list for a little bit, which was followed, I believe, by a couple of persuasive phone conversations, and then I got the [job] offer. It was awesome because the character of Jonas is almost an exaggerated version of me. It’s one of those roles that as an actor you know you can hit out of the ball park if you get the opportunity to play it, so I was thrilled.”
Although he is no stranger to fantastical storylines, especially having worked in the aforementioned TV series Witchblade, playing Jonas in Rage of the Yeti still presented one or two acting challenges for Chokachi.
“In this story there’s an actor named Matthew Kevin Anderson who plays my younger brother [Jace], and our two characters are treasure hunters in that they’ll do almost anything for the right price,” he explains. “Matthew’s character is this very straight-laced, almost semi-nerdy type of guy who takes everything literally and prefers to take limited risks. My character, however, is the exact opposite. Jonas is like a gunslinger from the Old West who doesn’t think before he acts. He tends to be a loose cannon who typically gets himself along with Jace into more trouble than they ever bargain for.
“That part of the performance was fairly easy for me. However, we had this entire script involving invisible Arctic monsters that we’re trying to stop from killing us. My character is notorious for making light of a situation and out of everyone in the group is usually the one who makes a wise-ass remark. That can be difficult to play because as an actor you can’t throw away the reality of the situation, otherwise the audience is going to lose their belief in the whole thing. David Hewlett [Dr. Rodney McKay of Stargate Atlantis] was the director, and he’s also an actor/director, so he could immediately tell when things were or were not working. If it was the latter, David could quickly make adjustments and give us all notes so we could then move forward. Right from the beginning I said to him, ‘David, you’ve got to watch my back as far as these wise-ass remarks because they can either work famously or they can blow up in my face.’
“He was really cool about keeping an eye on those specific lines and making sure I played them correctly. Sure enough, when I watched the movie I was really pleased with how those scenes came off and how well they lent themselves to my character. Jonas really is a guy who does not give a crap and loves being in situations where the odds are stacked against him. The more dangerous a situation, the more fun he has.
“There are lots of moments of heaviness in the story, and obviously those are played more seriously. It was neat for me, though, because all the other characters are surrounded by this reality of, ‘We’re being torn apart one-by-one by these monsters,’ whereas Jonas’ attitude is, ‘Yeah, we’re in a crappy situation, but what else can we do about it.’ Again, I think it fits, and I’m really proud of my work and grateful that David let me run with the material and have some fun with it. It’s a good balance for the film. If everyone played the same note of, ‘We’re scared out of our minds,’ it would make for a boring story. Jonas’ reactions allow the audience a chance to laugh at certain moments as well as be scared by others.”
Like a number of Syfy’s Saturday Original Movies, Rage of the Yeti was shot overseas, in this instance Bulgaria. The exterior filming proved to be memorable in more ways than one for the cast and crew.
“We spent a week shooting on location on the top of Mount Vitosha, this huge mountain with a ski resort that towers above the city of Sofia [Bulgaria’s capital],” says Chokachi. “It had been snowing for 24 hours straight, and on our first day of work there was a blizzard still going on. They came to pick us up in a van to take us to base camp. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a four-wheel drive van, and an hour-and-a-half into the drive we were slipping and sliding all over the road.
“At one point we got stuck trying to make it up a section of this hill, so they had to send out a Range Rover to pick us up. We finally got to base camp, and then to get from there to the actual set we had to take snow machines. Well, it didn’t stop snowing that entire week, and it wasn’t like we could go work in the studio that week and then go back out to the mountain the following week.
“So we just had to grin and bear it. Cameras were locking up because of the cold and everyone was freezing. It was a hard few days, but luckily everyone there had signed up to do ‘battle’ and no one complained. This could have turned into a nightmare if any of the actors or the director hadn’t been seasoned pros because it was unlike any set I’d been on before in terms of the harsh elements. At the end of the day we all managed to laugh it off, and a week later we made it into the studio to continue working. The thing is, though, the story is set in a remote Arctic outpost, so visually everything we were able to pull off on top of the mountain worked beautifully.”
From a filming standpoint are there any scenes that were especially challenging for Chokachi and his fellow actors? “I think the challenge with these types of films is the CGI [computer-generated image] that will be added in later on,” notes the actor. “There was one scene I shot on the mountain where the only thing I had to go on was a sketch of this snow monster that David had done for me. With something like that you just have to let your imagination run wild and try to visualize what your reaction would be because there’s nothing there. In a scene where there are two actors, you’re reacting off the other actor, which is very natural. However, it’s tough to react to thin air when you’re supposed to be seeing a 15-foot Arctic monster with giant teeth that is spitting and growling at you.
“So those types of scenes were the hardest to do, and there are a lot of them in this movie. On top of that, you also have to trust that the people in the VFX [visual effects] department are going to do a good job of adding in these creatures that you’re looking at and fighting.”
Besides the frigid temperatures and imaginary monsters, Rage of the Yeti also proved to be a bit of a trip down memory lane for the actor as it reunited him with former Witchblade costar Yancy Butler. “It was awesome to work with Yancy again,” he enthuses. “We needed a really strong female to pull off this character [of Villers], otherwise the movie wasn’t going to work, and she was the perfect choice for the role. Yancy has a presence on camera that you definitely believe in.
“It’s great to have certain [acting] pillars within these scenes that you know are going to kick ass, and actually we had an amazing acting ensemble for this movie. Matthew Anderson was phenomenal, as was James Patrick Moran, who played a veterinarian [Ted] who signs up for this expedition. We also had Jonas Armstrong, who played Robin Hood on the BBC series, and he was fantastic. Everyone was just really, really good. They stuck to their guns as well as their instincts and played the reality of the situation. In the end we’re being chased by invisible monsters and the audience is watching this as entertainment and nothing anything else but. We’re not out there trying to sell this as Shakespeare in the Park. It’s fun and there’s something, I think, in it for everyone.”
A native of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Chokachi holds a degree in political science and once served as legislative aid to Senator Gerry Studds prior to pursuing work in modeling and commercials. It was not long before he began booking acting work on the big and small screens. The actor’s feature film credits include Psycho Beach Party, 12 Bucks, The Putt Putt Syndrome and Soul Surfer. On TV, he has starred in several made-for-TV movies including Roger Corman’s The Unspeakable as well as guest-starred on such series as Suddenly Susan, Sabrina, The Teenage Witch and She Spies. Chokachi’s big break came when he was cast in Baywatch, which was then followed shortly after by Witchblade.
“My character of Cody on Baywatch was an Olympic hopeful from the Midwest and a sort of wide-eyed rookie stepping into this whole scene of Southern California lifeguards,” says the actor. “Playing that type of role allowed me time to grow, study and learn as an actor. Obviously being new to the TV world I worked my butt off with my acting coach and tried to prepare as best I could, and they [the show’s executive producers] were awesome to me. Initially I was only booked for seven out of 24 episodes, and if I proved myself and was doing good work, they would up the ante. After my first two episodes they upped me right away to 18 or 19 episodes.
“It was great because the character matched where I was in my life at the time. Like me, Cody was new to California. I’d been there for a year and a half, but I was new to being on a film set and Cody was new to that environment, too. So it all kind of lined up and allowed me the room to grow, and the character itself was such a blast. Cody just loved life. Here was this Midwesterner who was seeing Southern California for the first time. It was like Pandora’s box; you open it up and are like, ‘Wow, what have I been missing.’ Cody eventually ended up with Pam Anderson’s [C.J. Parker] as well as Carmen Electra’s [Lani McKenzie] characters, so he became a bit of a lady charmer.
"Baywatch was its own thing, and to this day when I hear some people speak ill of the show and try to say it was their worst job ever it really bothers me,” continues Chokachi. “I don’t understand why they do that. The show was a huge break for all of us in the sense that it was famous worldwide and it opened up so many doors for everyone. It was my most fun job ever. I love the outdoors, there was tons of action, it was on a beach in Southern California and we were playing lifeguards. How many people get to work on the beach every day, you know? So I’ve always been very respectful of the fact that I had that opportunity and that they were so cool to me.
“As for Witchblade, in terms of creativity it was probably the best thing I’ve ever been a part of. [Series creator/executive producer] Ralph Hemecker and everyone else who wrote for that show were amazing. As an actor, the work was effortless, and by that I mean you could digest the material and just do your job. The writing was that good. When it comes to my character of Jake, again, he was kind of a newbie in the sense that on the surface he was a new detective. However, it turned out that he was actually an undercover federal agent who was there to bust this huge ring of bad cops. They flipped the story line and made it probably one of the best arcs I’ve ever had the chance to play.”
Along with his acting work, Chokachi also serves as host of the Spike TV/Comedy Central series Action, which gives viewers a very different look at some of today’s hottest movies. “The show is very ‘anti’ interview in that the actors can swear and just have fun,” he says. “We’re not looking to find out what your method of acting is, do you know what I mean? It’s not that type of show, and as soon as people see how I sort of guide the interview, they open up with this barrage of really interesting behind-the-scenes stuff. Creatively it’s something else I love and has been a massive home run for me.”
Please note, all Rage of the Yeti photos above copyright of Syfy, above color photo of David Chokachi is by/copyright of Charles Bracca and photo of David Chokachi from Baywatch is copyright of All-American Television.