Last Updated on March 17, 2008 by Paulette Brown-Hinds


By Marci Casillas

You may recognize him from Blood Diamond, Amistad, or The Island; either way there is no doubt that the African native, Djimon Hounsou has made a name for himself in Hollywood. This two-time Academy Award nominee is taking on a new facet in his career as a sharp and demanding Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) mentor in the upcoming movie “Never Back Down” with co-stars Sean Faris and Cam Gigandet. 

Djimon Hounsou

Set against the action-packed world of Mixed Martial Arts, Never Back Down is the story of Jake Tyler, played by Sean Faris, who is the new tough kid in town with a troubled past. Pushed into a fight by bully Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet), Jake takes an interest in the fast growing combination of boxing, Judo, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and many more. Trained under the wing of the MMA mentor Jean Roqua, played by Djimon Hounsou, Jake must learn the patience, discipline and reason within him to succeed; a decision which will define who he is.  

Djimon Hounsou’s character, Jean Roqua, is a talented MMA teacher who whips Faris’ character, Jake into shape. But Jake wasn’t the only one getting a workout, all three stars of the movie spent weeks with stunt choreographer, Damon Caro. Hounsou trained one-on-one with two-time light heavy-weight champion Erik Paulson, learning leg locks, dive rolls, kicks, clinching, takedowns and throws. Hounsou’s long standing background in Kung Fu and boxing, diet of vegetables and fish and work-out regimen of stairs, running and cardio vascular helped him prepare for the grueling months of physical training for the movie.

MMA is a growing phenomenon, a new form of fighting whose combination of wrestling, kicks, judo and Brazilian jujitsu makes it irresistible to watch. This MMA aspect of “Never Back Down” is what attracted Hounsou to the script. “Mostly it had to do with the love of the sport, the sport was what I knew and what I have [known] for many years and I also have a background in Kung Fu and boxing myself, so it was good.” He was happy to take on a new role, so different than anything he’s done before. He believes that there is always a “constant struggle to redefine yourself through the work you do,” and when reading a script he always asks himself “What am I gaining out of this project?”

Djimon Hounsou is a Benin born actor, dancer and model. He lived in Benin, Africa until his immigration to Paris at the age of thirteen. Soon after dropping out of college, he was discovered by fashion designer Thierry Mugler, and was made as a model which led to small roles on television shows like Beverly Hills 90210 and ER. His first on-screen performance was in Janet Jackson’s video “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”. Later, he would receive a Golden Globe Award Nomination for his powerful role as the revolt leading Cinque, in Steven Spielberg’s film, “Amistad.” 

Even with his Academy Award Nominated roles in, “In America” and “Blood Diamond,” he still knows the challenge of an African native trying to make his way through Hollywood. “Once you’re accepted [in Hollywood] you still have to prove your existence.” He believes that there will always be challenges to be faced in this blockbuster community “in a sense that I have a skin tone, and that skin tone is not of the hour.” But once the director has said cut, it’s the “mental toughness” and “spiritual attribute as a result” from the film that he benefits from most.

Apart from “Never Back Down,” Djimon Hounsou just finished filming the upcoming film “Push” in Hong Kong with co-stars Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning. He is also in the talks about a comic book series that is to be made into a movie. “Never Back Down” is set to release on March 14th.