Published here: 28th January 2008

Michael Sopkiw
Parsifal - 2019: After the Fall of New York
IMDb
Interview: 20th January 2000
Kindly donated by Mike Martinez
Probably one of the strangest cases in filmdom since James Dean, Sopkiw has the distinction of acting in a mere 4 films in his career, every time as the starring lead! This American actor worked in the Italian film industry in the early 80's and became an overnight major box-office draw for audiences in Europe and Hong Kong. For the last 15 years, however, there has been little or no sign of the long-lost action star. Fortunately, myself and a friend of mine in Sweden named Fred Anderson (also a low-budget filmmaker) were able to track him down and conduct a brief interview.

< Michael on the front of the US VHS

You did your first movie in 1983, After the fall of New York, and your last one in 1985.  Just four movies in a brief 3-year period. How did you start acting in these movies?

Excuse my memory, but your placement timewise of this work is probably better than I can do w/o looking on the jackets of videos for release dates.

Well, back in the '70's, I took up sailing yachts and later ships for about 7 years after a year of college in Miami. To make a long story shorter, I ended up in our Federal Correctional Institutes (seems my cargo of marijuana was frowned upon by the Drug Enforcement Agency) for 1 year of a 2 1/2 year sentence. When I got out in late '78 or '79 I wanted to go back to sea but my parole terms didn't allow for that kind or freedom. So I had to choose a new career and always fantasized (like most people I'm sure) about being an actor. I knew someone who was connected in New York somewhat so I moved to the city to start studying acting. To make ends meet, modeling was suggested to me since I'd never been a waiter or had any city experience of any kind, so I had some photos taken, went to the Ford Modeling Agency, and they signed me up.

The tricky part was I was sent to Europe to put a portfolio together but my parole officer wouldn't let me go overseas for very long. So I went back and forth a lot studying with a guy named Warren Robertson in NY while I was home.

Through an agent in Firenze, I was introduced in Rome to Sergio Martino and the Nuova Dania crew and screen tested for After the Fall.

I´ve heard rumors you´ve been an model before these movie, maybe also after, is that true? And if so, what kind of modeling was it?

Nothing too exciting, unless standing around or walking down a runway in nice clothes gets you going. The travel was great though and I got to go to places like Mauritius and Tunisia with some very beautiful and mostly very nice young ladies. That's how I met Eva Anderson from Uddavalla and ended up in Sweden on a couple of vacations with her family. I also fell in love with her grandfather's wooden fishing boat which was named Inga. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh..............

Anyway, once I got going with these films, I didn't model much anymore. I did make several commercials in NY but I don't remember exactly where they fell chronologically.


The best of your films is undoubtably 2019: After the fall of New York, your first one. It's been said to be practically a rip off on Escape from New York. How did you get that role?

I'm glad you liked it. I'm not sure it was supposed to be a comedy but at least that turns out to be a redeeming feature. I think I've covered how I got the role in my longwinded answer to the previous question.


Michael with Miss Italy 1977 - Anna Kanakis

You played in that movie, against George Eastman (the character Big Ape).  How was it working with him?

I have a hard time calling Big Ape George Eastman, but I guess there's humor to be found in that as well. His real name is Gigi Montefiori. Working with him was great although a bit straining on the neck muscles. It's no trick of the camera that makes him appear sooooooo tall.

Gigi is "multo multo simpatico"; an Italian expression I've always loved and completely appropriate in this case. He was the most hospitable member of any cast I worked with and I consider him still a good friend. Just off of Piazza Navonna, in Rome, he had a great restaurant which was frequented by all of his Italian film and TV cohorts. I was his guest there several times and will never forget the fabulous food. (Don't ask for specifics though!) I always rode a bicycle when in Rome and it really came in handy when trying to park around his restaurant. He drove me out to his beach club on days off and stands tall in my memory yet. A joy to both work and play with. I remember he really liked listening to Hank Williams Jr. cassettes when we filmed Blastfighter down in Georgia though I don't think he got much into the moonshine that was available.


George Eastman as Big Ape

As written above, After the Fall was allegedly a rip off on Escape from New York. How do you feel about that? Nowadays After the Fall remains a more affluent cult-movie than Escape? (Art imitating art?)

I think everyone should do his best work or not bother working. We call this genre of "rip offs" exploitation films. Not sexually of course, in this case, but exploiting concepts and ideas that have already been shown to attract interest and therefore money. Generally speaking, I don't find this a very attractive or noble motivation. If this is the best work these people can do then I thank them for their efforts, thank them for allowing me to be a part of it, and hope they are not just into it for the money. I also hope for them that they can do better in the future.

As for art imitating art (your English sure is good), that may be stretching the definition of art! And I haven't seen Escape from NY so I can't comment on that.


Michael with Romano Puppo

After the fall of New York you starred in Devil Fish (AKA Monster Shark and a couple of dozen other titles), this time with Lamberto Bava. If I should be honest, it was a bit of a let down, but is still a true cult-classic. How was it working with Lamberto Bava?

I would love to know the definition or formula for a "cult classic". Lamberto was a very nice, gentle guy as most of the Italians are. But you know, the budget on these films would prohibit a Ron Howard from making anything great! These directors are working with a cast from at least three different countries speaking diverse languages and a mixed crew of Italian /American production team on a very tight budget. Lamberto , like most of the foreign crew, loved coming to the States and drinking in as much of our culture as they could get. (The hills of Georgia have a unique personality somewhat portryed in this film.) We had a crisis one day as a holiday was approaching and the Iataian film crew wanted to get back to their families. We had been working for 13, I think, long consecutive days in freezing mountain water and adverse conditions and both the cast and Lamberto were wearing thin. The crew wanted to plow right through but I had a good talk with Lamberto and pointed out how the film suffered further if we just continued. He finally went to the producers and they gave us a day off (which they were contractually obliged to anyway). So he did have a heart and tried to do what he could with what he had.

Your last movie (that I know about) is the very entertaining cannibal/adventure/action/comedy Massacre in Dinosaur Valley. I think it´s one of your (lightest?) flicks. The violence is more cartoonish and the story is like a darker version of Indiana Jones. What do you remember about the shoot?

This is also the last movie that I know about too since the last movie I worked on never got finished that I know of. I remember Brazil......and a gorgeous variety of female costars! The director was a cousin of Sergio Martino as I recall; maybe a brother but I don't think so. Italian at any rate and related. He had some great magic moves (tricks) which he would entertain us with at dinner on occasion. About him I remember too that at the end of the film I went to Italy to do some dubbing and went to the production office, Nuova Dania, to get paid for the considerable overtime I put in on the shoot and the producer told me I agreed with the director to forgo the overtime in exchange for showing me how to do some magic tricks!!!!!! On top of that, he never even revealed how he did any of the tricks. So I said I wouldn't leave the office until I got paid which they did several hours later under the threat of not being asked to do any further work in the future! PLEASE!!!! Can you imagine what my life would be like if I wasn't asked to do any more of these films? LOL!!!! ROFL!!!! :-)))))))

I loved doing the work though, as cartoonish as I expected it to be. We worked mostly on location in Brazil for about 10 weeks and the Brazilians are wonderful people with a great attitude towards life for the most part. What's not to like paddling around unspoiled rivers for days in a dugout canoe with a sweet, beautiful woman and blasting off a shotgun once in a while? So the canoe leaks and sinks once in a while? They finally gave me a bucket to bail water with.

Remember that big python I saved a girl from? While photographing it earlier the snake bit the snake handler pretty good! Oh well! They were a little more careful with the rattlesnakes in a later scene but there was another disaster with them which was unbelievable. Two snakes were brought in a wooden box with tight mesh screens for air. The snakes were left in the box overnight at the camp in which we were filming. As the snake handler went to bring the snakes out the next day he was almost crying. Both snakes were dead and had been killed by an army of killer ants which completely covered them by the time we returned!! That was really a shame but there is often disregard for life in these low budget foreign films. (Even the actors..)

Another example of this is the scene where I'm supposed to blow away a bunch of natives after the guy with the grass dress takes some blood from my soon to be canoe mate. Well, I was randomly firing so as not to endanger the natives but all of a sudden a cut was called when it seemed to be going fine from my side of the smoke. This 12 gauge shotgun was loaded with blanks but there is a 2-3 centimeter cardboard plug which gets blasted out with each shot. One of these plugs hit the stomach of the camera man and left a perfectly round reddish/purple welt where it hit him and shocked the heck out of him!
I'll also never forget the natural tropical beauty of the landscape giving us some of the most incredible fresh fruits I've experienced. The generosity of the people stands out above all and their kicked back lifestyle puts California to shame!

Italian explotation-movies often includes lot´s of violence and gore, so did your four flicks. I like it, and most people today likes it, but when it came, these movies where critisised for that and hugely cut by the censors. What do you think about that?

Bummer dude! But, I get bored watching films like this unless they have a great sotryline to justify the violence. I really appreciate gore well done like in Saving Private Ryan recently or Reservoir Dogs several years ago. It takes more than gore to hold me in a film.

Do you own your movies on video? If so, do you to watch them regulary?

As you can tell by my not remembering how Blastfighter ends I don't watch them regularly at all. I do own a copy of each one though.



You seem to be somewhat of an athlete. Did you do your own stunts and fighting-scenes?

I did many of my own stunts & fight scenes which I enjoy doing very much.
How often do you get to be pulled out of the water by a helicopter when you're not really in trouble or cut another Scuba divers air hose while wrestling underwater with a knife!! This was a dream from my hours of watching Sea Hunt on television as a child. It was great fulfilling some of these fantasies. They never would let me smash any cars though. Oh well!

These films were often made on a very low budget, do you remember how much you got payed for each of them?

I don't remember precisely but consider that too personal anyways. I can tell you that I took the entire amount I made at the end of After the Fall and bought a Harley Davidson (used) from some bikers I met at a swap meet in Arizona where we finished the filming. So it was enough for that, but not to buy gas!

Have you given up your acting-career now, or are you interesting to work more as an actor if the right script comes along?

I've pretty well given it up. My girlfriend of 13 years is an opera singer and one artist in the house is really enough! My door is open for the right script or even of a promise of enough fun!


Would you tell me a little about what your doing today? What are you working with?

While I was living in Switzerland, around the time these films were being made, I went to some metaphysical study classes and met some very interesting folks. They developed a line of natural healing remedies based on sun energy and had to reinvent a special glass to maintain the vitality of these volatile products. I am introducing this type of glass bottle to the US to encourage the use of natural remedies. It keeps organic molecules active much longer therefore better results will be obtained and more people will be encouraged to get back to natural remedies here in our pharmaceutical oriented society. I love the mission.


MICHAEL SOPKIW'S FILMOGRAPHY:

2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK (1983)
DEVIL FISH (1984)
BLASTFIGHTER (1984)
MASSACRE IN DINOSAUR VALLEY (1985)