November 15, 2023
PHNOM PENH – Against the gritty backdrop of Expend4bles, the latest adrenaline-fuelled addition to the Expendables franchise, the stakes are higher than ever as the team, led by stalwarts like Barney Ross and Lee Christmas, race against time to thwart a nuclear threat orchestrated by a terrorist codenamed Ocelot.
Among the new recruits is a figure whose real-life story is as compelling as the action that unfolds on screen — Nop Daren, a French-Cambodian stuntman who steps into the fray as the formidable right-hand man to the film’s antagonist.
“In Expendables 4, I served as an action actor. The movie employed a Chinese stunt team for its action sequences but the director requested that I choreograph my own fight scenes,” Daren says.
His ascent to the role is a narrative replete with intense preparation and artistic challenge. With only a month to prepare for the role, where he would flaunt his ‘guns’ in a tank top on the big screen, Daren, alongside his brother and stunt double, Nop David, embarked on a rigorous physical training regimen.
“Tony Jaa and I choreographed the first part of our fight, ensuring that we didn’t replicate the same styles of Muay Thai and Kun Lbokator. Instead, I incorporated some trick moves. The stunt team completed the rest,” he says.
His hard work translates seamlessly into explosive gun battles and high-speed chases, one standout sequence being where he pursues Jason Statham’s character with an arsenal of explosive weaponry.
The main cast of Expend4bles features at least 11 notable stars, including Statham, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Megan Fox, Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Jacob Scipio, Levy Tran, Andy Garcia and Nop Daren.
The array of actors brings together a multitude of nationalities ranging from British, American and Swedish, to Thai, Indonesian, Cambodian and even American-Vietnamese.
Daren shares some scenes in the film with A-class stars, including Stallone, Statham and Lundgre.
He says his favourite part of filming was a boat chase he has with Statham, because of the extensive pyrotechnics involved.
However, other combat scenes with Jaa and a gunfight with Statham were left on the cutting room floor – a decision that disappointed him deeply.
“I was so sad when the movie came out because they cut a lot of my acting moments and really good fight scenes,” he tells The Post.
Nonetheless, Daren’s contribution to the film’s action has not gone unnoticed by the franchise’s fervent fan base.
He has been lauded for his acting skills, despite the trimmed scenes.
“All those compliments push me forward,” he says.
Although his performance in Expend4bles was abbreviated in the final cut, it has undeniably broadened his horizons, setting the stage for his transition from fight choreographer and stunt performer to an action actor.
Daren noted that, unfortunately, the movie’s release was poorly timed, as it inadvertently coincided with a film industry strike. Because of this, he says that additional opportunities have not yet had a chance to materialise.
Previous experiences and future goals
Daren wishes to continue being an action actor rather than just a performer or fight choreographer.
“My dream is to become the 1st French-Cambodian action star,” he says.
Born in Paris to Cambodian refugee parents, the 37-year-old has made a name for himself with his dedication to crafting exhilarating car chases and fight scenes, recently working on the Fast X film with a French stunt team.
Daren’s role there involved training actors and arranging scenes that were both intense and visually stunning.
He faced significant challenges on the set, particularly in tailoring action sequences to fit the distinct styles of a diverse cast. Nevertheless, his work has contributed to the film’s action-packed success.
His career began with a short action film, Shadow of 13, which garnered attention in Asia and the US, and has since worked on various projects, including an Emmy-nominated performance as a stunt double in the TV series Moon Knight.
Daren’s commitment to his craft is deeply rooted in his Cambodian heritage, which he honors through traditional gestures of respect in his professional environment.
Even with his rising fame, he remains grounded and is eager to contribute to his country’s film industry, hoping to bring a fresh, stereotype-free perspective to the screen.
Reflecting on his career trajectory, he credits a significant part of his success to Brad Allan from the Jackie Chan stunt team, whom he fondly remembers as both a brotherly figure and a mentor.
Allan’s faith in Daren’s potential granted him substantial opportunities in the industry, shaping the course of his career.
“He was the man who trusted me and gave me opportunities. He was like the big brother I never had,” says Daren.
This trajectory has since seen his talents showcased in John Wick 4 and as a fight choreographer in the anticipated Star Wars: Acolyte series.
As Daren looks ahead to future endeavors, he carries with him the hopes of making his country proud and the ambition to shatter stereotypes in Hollywood.
He expresses gratitude to his fans, urging them to enjoy Expend4bles and appreciate the hard work that went into his role, regardless of the edits.
“I just want to say ‘enjoy the movie and I hope you like my acting. I would like to say thank you for your continued support and encouragement’,” he says.
His journey, from the middle child of refugee parents in Paris to sharing screen space with Hollywood icons, is not just a personal victory but also a beacon of inspiration for talents aiming for the silver screen.
With each performance and each stunt, Daren is not just executing a well-choreographed move – he’s rewriting the narrative for what a Cambodian actor can achieve in Hollywood.