Chilean Martial-Arts Star Marko Zaror Discusses His Latest Film, Kicking Dudes in the Face

Amidst the hordes of Slave Leias, Spider-Women and Imperial Stormtroopers at New York Comic-Con it was easy to miss Marko Zaror, Chile's only martial-arts star, in town to promote his upcoming film, Mirage Man, due in theaters this fall. Taught karate by his mother, Zaror made his action debut in 2006's Kiltro, a martial-arts flick that rocked the Chilean box office. In Mirage Man, already a cult hit in Chile, he plays a tightly wound bouncer who decides to become a superhero (watch the trailer here). Zaror spoke to Vulture about his days as a Hollywood stuntman, his fans back home, and working without a net.

How did you wind up making Chile’s first martial-arts film?
I started as a martial artist, but at 19 I left Chile and went to Mexico. In Mexico, I started doing low-budget films, gangster films, and decided I wanted to do this for my life, so I moved to L.A. I worked as a dishwasher, then a waiter, then I taught in a martial-arts school, and little by little I got into the industry as a stunt double in real movies, small movies. That’s how I ended up doing stunts in The Rundown for "the Rock," and that’s the movie where I won the World Stunt Award.

Private investors raised cash for you to shoot a movie in L.A, but you and director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza ran off to Chile to make Kiltro.
We had to transform everything I learned from The Rundown, working with all this money and equipment, into something we could do with no money and no equipment. Instead of automatic remote-control pulls, we had to do hand pulls using a wire and a pulley. We tie a guy to one end of a wire, have some people climb a staircase and grab the other end, then when I kick the guy they jump down the stairs and he just flies through the air. We had some accidents, a few falls, a couple of guys hit their heads a couple of times. The ambulance was on the set, but nothing went out of hand.

Did people in Chile think you were crazy for doing this?
Everybody. You can see a little bit of the spirit of my country in Mirage Man in the way they put down the superhero, saying “Oh, you’re a clown, you’re a creep.” They were really like that to us. In Chile, when you do something new, everyone’s first reaction is to put you down. You really need to make it big for them to recognize you. First, the whole world has to say you’re the best and then my country will say, “Okay, maybe you are awesome.”

You held an open call in Chile to build your stunt team. Who’d you get?
Four hundred people showed up. Wrestlers, martial artists, people that had regular daytime jobs and they just trained as a hobby, they all came. There were a lot of good martial artists, but that’s not all you need to be a good stuntman. You need to be humble enough to receive an impact and understand it’s not personal. And you need to have a good pain tolerance.

How’s Mirage Man doing in Chile?
It’s still in theaters right now, and doing really good. We beat Rambo at the box office, and we beat Jumper. We are committed to making people go, “Wow!” with just two people fighting. Like when the guy jumps at me and I stop him in the air with a kick in the face and make him change direction. It’s not a trick.

Is he okay?
Well, he was kind of dizzy for a little bit, but he was fine later.
—Grady Hendrix