You might last remember Vladimir Kozlov parading around the ring with Santino Marella in 2011 while playing the air trombone. That ain’t the Vladimir Kozlov you see in “Wolf Warrior II.” The former WWE Tag Team Champion went from a tough if lovable Russian brawler to a lean, mean mercenary machine for the film, which obliterated Chinese box office records, left “Avatar” in its dust and, according to Forbes, has now become the second-highest grossing single-territory movie of all time, behind the North American haul of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
WWE.com caught up with Kozlov, who acts under his real name of Oleg Prudius, to find out how he got involved in the film, why audiences are taking to it and how he got his start in Hollywood without an agent.
WWE.COM: Tell us a little bit about this movie. How did you get involved?
VLADIMIR KOZLOV: They tried to find a strong character for this and saw my training video. The director, who also has the main part in this movie, he chose me from about 100 people. They tried to find somebody who can fight, who can shoot, who can do lots of stunts, who can fit for the character.
This movie is good action. It’s a good combination of Asian style and Western style ... And when you see this movie, you can tell, 'Wow, this looks amazing.'
WWE.COM: It’s obviously a very action-heavy movie, what kind of stunts did you need to perform?
KOZLOV: I was supposed to do a lot of stuff for this movie. It’s supposed to be art. Lots of carrying guns, lots of stuff. It was a combination of a different type of skills. Plus, I did lots of stunts, too. WWE helped me a lot because I need to know how to react in different situations.
WWE.COM: Tell us a little bit about the character you play.
KOZLOV: My character’s name is Bear. He’s very strong, heavy, machine-gun-and-muscles [on a] mercenary team. It’s all big action fight scenes, different type of situations; this character is supposed to take care of it. It’s like a killing machine.
WWE.COM: You mentioned in your “Where Are They Now?” video that you train your body specifically to fit the role you’re about to play. What kind of training did you undergo for this movie?
KOZLOV: For this movie, I was taking lots of tactical shooting classics because it’s a military movie. To carry a gun, you need to be more professional. So, I was taking classes with a SWAT team from Miami. I was taking some tactical classes in China with a gun instructor. It’s very important that [you put] safety first and you know what you’re doing. I was [also] taking lots of jiu-jitsu classes and sambo classes because, in this movie, I do lots of different type of throws, so it had to fit with this character.
WWE.COM: You have a mixed martial arts background. Did you help coordinate the fights at all?
KOZLOV: Basically, all the stunt team was from Hong Kong and Jackie Chan [films]. And, also, it was stunt team from “Captain America.” I’m a big strong guy, and all these fights are supposed to make some sense. Of course, I helped them a lot. Because everybody has different skills, everybody has different type of body and it has to look good on TV. Lots of throws I took from sambo, from jiu-jitsu and MMA, and some throws I took from my WWE style. Which looks good on TV. [Laughs]
WWE.COM: Was it hard to transition from your hand-to-hand style to the tactical, SWAT-style fighting?
They brought in stunt team from the United States for “Captain America.” ... They’re so professional. A bad-ass stunt team working hard.
KOZLOV: No, it wasn’t hard. I still have an MMA background. When you feel comfortable with the fight and you’re comfortable with gun technique, you put stuff together. And, plus, all the time you have professional people around you. It’s easier.
WWE.COM: You have your own production company. As a producer, what do you make of this movie’s success in China and what it might mean for Hollywood to start taking notice of these Chinese productions?
KOZLOV: It’s very interesting situation. I think, in particular, this movie is good action. It’s a good combination of Asian style and Western style. Plus, because it’s a military movie, it was a very good combination of combat fights and tactical stuff, like “John Wick”-style. So, it looks very good on TV [because] it’s unusual. And when you see this movie, you can tell, “Wow, this looks amazing.” They put in some tank fights. It looks like “Fast & Furious” but with a tank. Nobody made that before!
This movie is so great, and plus there’s so many big actors’ names — Frank Grillo is a very nice person, and plus, he’s a very good actor — and lots of regular guys. And it’s interesting because a movie like that made almost one billion dollars, and the budget was like $25 million.
WWE.COM: The original "Wolf Warrior" was a success but it didn’t make nearly as much money. What do you think changed?
KOZLOV: It was different stunts. It was very high-level stunts. They brought in stunt team from the United States for “Captain America.” That’s why. They’re doing “The Avengers” right now in Atlanta. They’re so professional. A bad-ass stunt team working hard.
WWE.COM: What was it like watching them work?
KOZLOV: [Director/star] Wu Jing and [second unit director] Sam Hangrave put a good movie together. All this crew is working so hard, 24/7, during the daytime, during the nighttime, and they did lots of shooting. If something goes wrong, they shoot it again. They took so much energy and time to make it happen.
WWE.COM: Looking through your profile, it’s been a big year for you. You were in “John Wick,” you did “The Fate of the Furious,” and now this. Do you think we’ll see you in any more movies down the line?
[I HAVE] EXPERIENCE AND BACKGROUND, [AND] DESIRE TO LEARN AND MOVE FORWARD.
KOZLOV: Yes. I am working on it right now. I can’t tell you yet, but it looks like after this movie I will have more projects coming. Hopefully, one day I’ll do some movies with WWE, which would be fun. You never know! I’m still looking for a good agent who can bring my career to the next level.
WWE.COM: That’s impressive! How do you get cast in these movies without an agent?
KOZLOV: I got all my movies based on luck; was in the right time in the right place. And the company 87Eleven introduced me to movie action world. Everything started from “John Wick 2.” All the stunts and directors were from 87Eleven, and JJ Perry and Sam Hangrave chose me for those movies.
WWE.COM: And they hired you from seeing your previous work?
KOZLOV: Yes. I sent them training video, photo, interview and a sizzle reel. There was worldwide recognition on the basis of WWE. Good performance onstage, professional handling of weapons. I was a WWE champion and a sambo world champion. Size and look. Unusual style of male combat, and fast style for a big man. Experience and background, [and] desire to learn and move forward. They said I have potential, and they are helping me to develop my potential.