Richard Norton’s big screen appeal was undeniable when he debuted as the menacing assassin Kyo in “The Octagon” (1980), even though the character remained cloaked by a ninja mask. In the recent “Under a Red Moon” (2008), the Melbourne native plays a hardline judge who unravels when his son succumbs to drug addiction. The formidable Kyo of “The Octagon” and the emotional father of “Red Moon” provide contrasts in the portrait of an actor who defies any notion of categories or limitations on his talents. With a vast resume of international films and television series as an actor, a producer and a stunt choreographer, Richard does not rest in the comfort of past achievements. He looks for the next challenge.
Richard took an unconventional path to stardom. He began a lifelong study of the martial arts at age 14. By 17, the accomplished martial artist worked security at night clubs and taught karate in 500 schools throughout Australia. He became a bodyguard for touring rock stars such as Mick Jagger, James Taylor, and ABBA. With encouragement from Linda Ronstadt, Richard went to Hollywood where Chuck Norris offered him work in the movies, beginning with “The Octagon” (1980). His next starring role in “Force Five” (1981) caught the attention of Jackie Chan.
Jackie Chan has cast Richard as the star heavy in three of his highly charged Hong Kong action epics, still a record for a western actor. In “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Stars” (1985) and “City Hunter” (1993), Richard displayed his talent for physical comedy and proved his ability to fill the shoes of Chan’s screen adversaries. Director Sammo Hung unleashed Richard to depict the villain of “Mr. Nice Guy” (1997) with eccentric edginess, adding more intensity than usual to one of Chan’s comedies. “USA Today” took notice and declared Richard as one of the best evildoers in all the Chan films.
During the production of Hung’s “Millionaires’ Express” (1986) in Asia, Richard bonded with cast member and fellow martial arts star Cynthia Rothrock. Afterwards Norton and Rothrock became a renowned marquee partnership for action films around the world, prompting a British magazine to acclaim them as the “Fred and Ginger of martial arts movies.” Together Richard and Cynthia produced the entertaining “Rage and Honor” (1992) series while Richard developed his individual screen persona as both a lead actor and valued ensemble player.
Richard’s unique style of magnetic screen villainy attracts cult support for “Gymkata” (1985) today. He introduced audiences for martial arts films to another unique concept: the multi-dimensional hero. His lead performances in overseas action productions of the Eighties with limited budgets, notably “Not Another Mistake” (1988) and “Sword of Bushido” (1989) enabled these movies to rise above their financial constraints and excel dramatically. Richard’s heroes are consistently burdened with consciences that make them vulnerable. He also uses vulnerability as a trait to reduce his screen villains to their comeuppances, as exemplified by the reckless narcissism of the drug tycoon in “Road House 2: Last Call” (2006).
“Under The Gun” (1995) may be considered a defining movie for Richard Norton as both actor and craftsman. Again under the stress of a low budget, Richard guided the film to dramatic success as its star, producer, and fight choreographer. “Under The Gun” depicts one harrowing night in the life of its flawed hero with the humor and intelligence rarely accomplished even in big budget action films with expansive sets. The movie also reflects another effective collaboration of the star with an able supporting cast.
Collaboration has been a cornerstone theme of Richard’s ever-expanding career. As he continues to create memorable characters on screen, Richard contributes his diverse skills behind the camera to worldwide productions. He was the fight coordinator for “The Condemned” (2007) and “Nomad” (2005). His talents and work ethic won the applause of a capacity crowd of fans and friends who assembled at the Hotel Bel-Air in 2005 to celebrate his twenty-fifth year in the movies. The milestone is only a first chapter for the martial artist from Melbourne who once told a reporter, “When I look back on my own evolution and journey, I can only get excited at what the future holds.”