Interview MichaelNevermind

Betty Ting Pei, MichaelNevermind

By Ismary Munet

In addition to his study in various styles of martial arts (i.e. Tibetan White Crane, Choi Lei Fut, Hung Gar, Eagle Claw, and Wu Shu), MichaelNevermind has worked on world tours and music videos with MADONNA, MICHAEL JACKSON, JANET JACKSON, DIANA ROSS, PRINCE, CHAYANNE, and many others. He was featured in the Grammy and Tony Award winning Cy Coleman musical, “THE LIFE”, and was seen as JIA KENMEIN on the HBO TV drama series “OZ”. He was also featured with Kevin Costner and Peter Buffett TV special and music tour of “SPIRIT”: A collaboration with the Native American Indians of The Oneida Nation. Currently, Michael is producing and directing a documentary based on the mistress of Bruce Lee, Ms. Betty Ting Pei

1. Tell me about yourself, your background. What is your childhood story?

I was born in San Francisco, California and grew up in an all Irish Catholic neighborhood. My best friends last names were Devlin, McNulty, Duffy, McCormack and McCarthy. Needless to say, I was the only Asiatic person in the neighborhood. For “All Saints Day,” everyone was supposed to dress up as their favorite saint. I came as The Monkey King.

My parents divorced when I was 6 years old, and it didn’t go over too well for everyone. There was lots of anger, lots of court dates, and lots of abuse that followed. In between all the chaos though, I discovered “The Wu Shu Martial Arts Workbook” written by Donnie Yen’s mother: Master Bow Sim Mark. It was my introduction into the martial arts and to the magic of movies. I remember vividly after finishing martial arts class, I would go to The Great Star Movie Theatre around the corner in Chinatown to see the latest martial arts action movies starring Fu Sheng, David Chiang, and Gordon Liu. Those movies were so ahead of their time. One of the strongest sense memory impressions I have to this day is the music that would introduce those “Shaw Brothers” movies. It still strikes a strong chord in me.

One time when I snuck into another movie. I looked up and saw it was one of those famous B-porn movies from China. Curiosity got the best of me, so I stayed and watched it.

I’ve studied the martial arts off and on throughout my life, but I’ve never stuck to just one style. I tell people I wanted to develop “the style that can do all styles.” I guess I wanted to see all sides of myself. I remember while performing with a martial arts political activist group for Asian Rights (which I didn’t know this at the time), I was asked to perform for Shih Kien, famously known for playing “Han” in the movie “Enter the Dragon.” It was a big deal for everyone.

After those early martial arts years, I went to an all boys boarding school and got into musical theater. But really, it was just an excuse to avoid going home. Little did I know it would be my training ground for what was to come later in my life working on stage and video with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Prince, Diana Ross, and Chayanne. Ironically, I never planned on doing any of these things. No thought, no dream, and really no plan. Fate took a hold of me, and I went along for the ride.

Many years later on a visit to New York to meet one of my best friends, Jimmy Wong Ga Lok, I ended up meeting Donnie Yen at an event in Manhattan. I told him my story of how I was introduced to the martial arts and asked him to tell his mother thank you for giving me such a great gift. After saying that, he introduced me to his sister Chris and I quickly forgot about the martial arts. She was a fox!

2. Who do you have to support you in your life and career?

Not sure anymore. I left home when I was 16 years old, so I have always supported myself. Emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I had to become my own driver (and my own accountant). I wrote my mother a goodbye letter explaining the reasons why I was leaving, and never looked back. That story was finished.

3. What inspired you to pursue your career?

Diversity. I never really pursued any career to be honest. The career found me, but I later realized that if I wanted to test my “style that could do all styles,” I’d have to have diversity to do it. It completes my style. Often times, it leaves me exposed and vulnerable, but it also gives my style more substance and less judgement.

4. Who do you look up to?

When I think about it, I’ve never really looked up to anyone. It’s never been a good policy for me. Although, there are people who’s work I’ve admired. One that comes to mind is Jean- Paul Goode, the French art director. I remember someone showing me a video of a Bastille Day celebration in France that he choreographed and directed, then I saw his work on Grace Jones, and then his work as artistic director for Esquire magazine, his ad campaigns, etc. His work has always moved me. There’s a reason why he’s a national treasure in France.

I got a chance to meet Jean-Paul one night while I was performing in the original company of the Broadway musical: “The Life.” Some of our choreography was actually inspired by some of his images in the 70′s and 80′s. He had come to the show with a friend that used to work with him at Esquire. Ironically, that friend used to be the ex-husband of my best friend that was actually meeting me there after the show.

What a coincidence! We all went to dinner after, and I’ll never forget Jean- Paul telling me about how he put together The Bastille Day parade I had seen on that video. I was talking to a master.

The other would be the 1940′s Italian artist Nino Za. I saw a sketch he drew of the French film director, Francois Truffaut. I’ve never had a sketch impact me the way that one did. I’m always on the search for more of his work.

Betty Ting Pei, MichaelNevermind

5. Why did you decide to pursue a documentary w/ Betty Ting Pei?

I think subconsciously I’ve always wanted to be a detective in a good mystery movie, so I thought this would be a good chance to do that, but once I got to know Betty on a deeper level that’s when her story began to flourish. All of my significant relationships have been strong spiritual connections, and Betty is one of them. Everyone knows her story, but little know of the aftermath that followed: the threats, the allegations, and the labels. Her survival is compelling, but it’s her realizations and insights of that time that moved me to want to share her story. Her wisdom is truly a treasure.

6. How did your past experiences help with producing and directing this documentary?

It showed that I’m ready. In many ways that process of self examination is the heart of what my documentary is all about. I think that’s what Betty and I have in common. When I worked on “OZ” on HBO, that was my master class in filmmaking. The pace in which we worked was impressive and the actors were always on top of their game. Whether it’s film, stage, or television, the New York experience is a once in a lifetime education. It is like no other machine in the world. That’s why everyone wants to work here.

MichaelNevermind, Madonna

7. What kind of work did you do while you were on tours and in music videos, and how has that helped you w/ your career?

I was mainly a dancer and I got a chance to work with some of the most talented directors and choreographers in the world. I learned many styles of dance from jazz, modern, hip hop, and tap.

I actually got a chance to meet and work with Gene Kelly right before he died. Madonna brought him in one day to rehearse with us. We were all so nervous. It’s funny, because the first time I met Madonna, I didn’t know who she was, so the next day she sent a box full of all her cd’s to the front desk of the hotel I was staying at the time. Needless to say, I listened.

One night, after another performance of “The Life,” I was told there were some people waiting to meet me. One was Fayard Nicholas of The Nicholas Brothers, and the other was Savion Glover. As they were leaving, Fayard looked me straight in the eye and said, “Just be yourself.” It was unforgettable.

Without any real background in dance, I had to work hard. My “style that could do all styles” was really challenged, but again I relied on my martial arts to get me through and my love to perform. There are dancers and there are performers. I was definitely a performer.

During rehearsals and sometimes in the development process, I got a chance to contribute conceptual ideas or choreography, and then a lot of those other times I was learning and watching as much as I could.

Rehearsals were long intense hours, and a lot of pressure to perform at a high level. You either delivered, or you went home. It was that simple. Good wasn’t good enough. You had to be great!

I knew one day I would use what I learned from this experience and apply it to my work. Otherwise, it would’ve been a wasted experience. Even if it’s non-work related, I find I still use those experiences as a reference point. It’s all about creating and capturing moments for me.

To this day I still try to surround myself with greatness. It’s the circle I’m the most comfortable in.

8. Are there any other projects you are working on? What should the Asian American community look forward to?

Yes, I was asked to put together fight choreography for a new video game called Rogue Agent . It will debut in Macau 2014. I’m also developing an idea for television with my writing partner here in New York. It’s based on the 1980′s New York City. When we tell people our idea, it seems to get people excited, so I’m really happy how things are going with that.

I’m in talks of producing a fitness dvd based on my dance – based cardio martial arts workout called “ROGUE HK : Where You Train As If You’re Preparing For A Fight Scene In A Movie.” I developed the idea while living in The New Territories in Hong Kong. It’s a cardio blast! I’ve taught “ROGUE HK” at all the major fitness brands in New York, and continue to share my workouts with private clients. I enjoy helping people live healthy and active lifestyles.

I just uploaded some music for download. It’s called “NevermindTheMegaMix” at Its a music project I’m looking to produce maybe independently. Just look for MichaelNevermind.

And lastly, “The Narrow Road.” My documentary based on the mistress of Bruce Lee. This is her story, so hopefully we’ll be able to release it soon.

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