Interviewer: Bruce, as a screen toughguy, you are going to have to suffer what all film heroes have to, that is, challenges from exhibitionists and nuts, to fight them. It’s already begun to happen, hasn’t it?
Bruce Lee: Yes, it has.
Interviewer: How do you deal with it?
Bruce Lee: When I first learnt martial arts, I too challenged many established instructors and some others challenged me also. And what I have learned is that challenging means one thing – what is your reaction to it? How does it get to you?
Now, if you’re secure within yourself, you treat it very, very lightly because you ask yourself, “Am I really afraid of that man? Do I have any doubt within me that that man is going to get me?” And I do not have so much fear. I would certainly treat it very lightly – just as today, the rain is going on strong but tomorrow maybe the sun is going to come out; it’s like that type of thing.
Interviewer: Of course, they can’t lose by challenging you: even if they lose, they get the publicity of being a guy who actually fought you.
Bruce Lee: But, let’s face it, in Hong Kong, can you have a fight, a no-holds barred fight? Is it a legal thing? It isn’t, is it? And to me, a lot of things like this challenging and all that… well, I am always the last to know, man.
I mean, I always find out from newspapers, from reporters, before I personally realise what the hell is happening.
Interviewer: Bruce, you are teaching martial arts in the States and two of your students are Steve McQueen and James Coburn. Do you find them tough people, the way they are portrayed on screen?
Bruce Lee: Well, first of all, James Coburn is definitely not a fighter; lover – yes! I mean, he is a really super guy, a very peaceful man. He learnt martial arts because he finds it very, very… well, it’s like a mirror to reflect himself, know what I mean? In fact, I personally believe that most types of knowledge, I don’t care what it is, ultimately mean self-knowledge, and that is what he is after.
Now, Steve is very uptight, very highly strung, y’know. Steve can be a very good martial artist, but I hope it would cool him down a little, make him a little more mellow and be more peaceful like Jim.
Interviewer: Did he achieve that in his time with you? Did you feel that perhaps he learnt something from you?
Bruce Lee: Eh! Definitely not yet. Firstly, because of shooting and all that, he could not have lessons on a regular basis and, secondly, he is on the level right now of enjoying it as an excitement; just like his motor-cycle and his sports car..: some form of release of his anger, or whatever.
Interviewer: Bruce, how much of your screen personality is really you? I mean, you teach martial arts and so you’re really good at it, but teachers are not always the best exponents or practitioners, of course.
Bruce Lee: Right.
Interviewer: Are you able to take care of yourself, would you say?
Bruce Lee: I will answer this first of all with a joke, if you don’t mind: All the time people will come and say, “Hey, Bruce, are you really that good?” I say, “Well, if I tell you that I’m good, you will probably say I’m boasting, but if I tell you that I’m no good, you’ll know I am lying”. But going back to being truthful with you, let’s just put it this way, I have no fear of an opponent in front of me, I am so self-sufficient that they do not bother me and should I fight, should I do anything, I have made up my mind – that’s it, baby, you should’ve killed me before!
Interviewer: Bruce, in the Big Boss you play a man who is slow to anger. He is shy and diffident and stays out of fights in the early scenes, is it because of a promise you made to your mother?
Bruce Lee: Yes.
Interviewer: Is that a little bit like you or is just your screen personality?
Bruce Lee: This is definitely a screen personality, because as a person one thing I have definitely learned in my life; it seems like it’s a life of self-examination and self-peeling of myself, bit by bit, day by day.
It’s that I do have a bad temper, a violent temper (Bruce laughs at this point…) so that is definitely some people I am portraying, you know, and not Bruce Lee as he is.
Interviewer: But as well as being exceptionally successful as a film, in terms of finance, it… um… grossed more than any other picture has ever done in Hong Kong. The Big Boss does show some explicit sex scenes, doesn’t it? What’s you reaction to being in bed with a lovely young movie star in front of the whole studio crew? Does it intimidate you, does it worry you at all?
Bruce Lee: Well, it would certainly not intimidate me I can tell you that! (Bruce laughs). Well, it’s all right as long as the script justifies it, but I definitely do not agree to put something in there just for the heck of it, because it is exploitation.
You know, like for instance when I was starting to shoot Big Boss, the first question asked was, “Hey, man, how many thousands of feet of film… of films (my English is getting terrible, you know…) is it going to be?” My reaction is that first of all why do I start fighting? You see what I am saying?
Bruce Lee: Oh, definitely, I mean… but it seems to be the thing now, they go for blood and sex, just merely for the shock of sex and mainly for the shock of blood.
Interviewer: May I ask you a question?
Bruce Lee: Sure, go, man.
Interviewer: There is something that’s been puzzling me’ since I saw the film… um… at the stage where you decide you are going to get revenge and obviously leading up to the climax, you suddenly decide to go and make love to a girlfriend in a Bordello, what’s the motivation for that?
Bruce Lee: Now, that… um… the way I look at it is that it was a suggestion of the Director and I accept it in such a way. That is, him being a very simple man, when all of a sudden he makes up his mind that he is to go and either die or kill or be killed, right?
So he walks past and it’s a kind of sudden thing, of human beings, that thought just occurs: well, doggone it, man… such is the basic need of human beings… I might as well enjoy it, man, before I kick the bucket! I like that kind of attitude, I mean, you cannot say it’s just an occurrence, you know.
Interviewer: I think you’d probably agree, Bruce, that the thing that has limited the appeal of Chinese films to western audiences is that it is very unusual to find a Chinese actor who can act.
When I say that, I mean act in a western style, in a manner that… er… would make non-Chinese pay money to go and see them… er… you seemed to have crossed that barrier.
How do you think you have achieved it? Do you think it has to do with your time in the United States? You studied there, didn’t you?
Bruce Lee: Yes, it definitely has, you know… When I first arrived, I did the Green Hornet television series back in ’65 and as I looked round, man, I saw a lot of human beings; as I looked at myself, I was the only robot there because I was not being myself and I am trying to accumulate external security, external technique, the way to move my arms, but never to ask – say, what would Bruce Lee have done if (the word if) such a thing happened to me?
When I look round I always learn something, and that is ‘To be yourself always’ and to express yourself and have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
Now that seems to me to be the prevalent thing happening in Hong Kong, like they always copy mannerisms but they never start from the very root of the being and that is, ‘How can I be Me?’.
I mean, you see I never perceive in the word ‘Style’, that’s an illusion, man, that’s something the public calls you: You see, when you become famous, it’s very, very easy to be blinded by all these happenings. Everybody comes up to you as Mr Lee, and when you have long hair they will say, “Hey, man, like that’s in man; baby, that’s the in-thing”.
But if you have no name they will say, “Oh, look at that disgusting juvenile delinquent”. I mean, too many people are “Yes, yes, yes” to you all the time, you see, so unless you really, at the time, have gone through quite a lot and understand what life is about – and right now, man, some game is happening and realising such that it’s a game – fine and dandy, then it’s all right.
But most people tended to be blinded by it because, I mean, if things are repeated too many times you believe in it, it becomes a habit.
Interviewer: The danger is believing the public impression of you.
Bruce Lee: That’s right.
Interviewer: Your father warned you about the bad things in show business, have you met them too, apart from the illusion?
Bruce Lee: Oh, of course, of course.
Interviewer: You seem to have come out of it remarkably well.
Bruce Lee: Well, let me put it this way, to be honest and all that, I am not as bad as some of them, but I am definitely not saying that I am a saint, okay?
Interviewer: Could we go back to fighting, because, like it or not, it’s the thing that you are mainly identified with at this moment. You know a number of styles of fighting – Karate, Judo, Chinese boxing – and it’s a question that you must have been asked hundreds of times before, Which do you think is the most effective?
Bruce Lee: You see, my answer to that is that there is no such thing as an effective segment of a totality. By that, I mean that I personally don’t believe in the word ‘Style’, and why?
Because, unless there are human beings with three arms and four legs and unless we have another group of beings on the earth who are structurally different from us, then there might be a different style of fighting. Now why is that? It’s because we have two arms and two legs; now the important thing is how we can use it… to the maximum in terms of path, well, straight lines, curved line, round lines.
They might be slow but, depending on the circumstances, sometimes that might not be slow, and in terms of legs, you can kick up straight, something like physical.
How can I be so well co-ordinated? That means you have to be an athlete; that means jogging, all this basic ingredient, right? And after all that, that’s what you’ve got to have. Then you ask yourself how can you honestly express yourself at that moment and be yourself when you punch; you really want to punch, trying to avoid not getting hit but to really be in with it and express yourself.
Now, that is, to me, the most important thing; that is, how can I be in the process of learning how to use my body in order to understand myself if I don’t?
Now, the unfortunate thing is that now there is boxing which uses hands; Judo which is a throwing style; now, I’m not putting them down, mind you, but I am saying one thing, the bad thing is that because of styles, people are separated, they are not united together because styles become law, man, but the original founder of the style started out and people who go into it, man, become the product of that.
It doesn’t matter how you are, who you are or how you are structured or how you are built; how you are made – it just doesn’t matter. You just go in there and be that product and that, to me, is not right!
Interviewer: Bruce Lee, thank you.
Bruce Lee: Ted, I thank you, man.
Reading this now, and knowing some about him, you can understand what he is saying and how he got to this point of his life, a man that he became. He went through so much, being rejected, heartbroken, betrayed by students and all that, he is a completely different person from the early years. Seeing him through the films you can build an image of a myth, a severe man with no time for fullying around. But learning about his youth, and seeing him in the interviews, you can see his human side, and it doesn’t diminish him. To me, it makes him look better because he fought many fights in life, enlighted himself, and have achieved so much by effort. I have recently fallen in love with him and I can not put any other idol above him now.