While many may know actor Adrian Paul from his six seasons on the hit television show Highlander and from his leading roles in the Highlander movies, as well as in the recent The Immortal Voyage of Captain Drake, many may not realize that he is also a dedicated humanitarian. Adrian heads The PEACE Fund, a registered 501(c)(3) not for profit’ charity he founded that focuses on small, under-funded and hard-working charities who are determined to make a positive difference to the lives of children living in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
I recently sat down with Adrian to discuss his career and how he made the decision to form his own charity.
Will Given: So I wanted to start by focusing not exactly on what people are known for, but maybe where they came from, and I know that you started off in dancing. When did you start dancing?
Adrian Paul: Oh gosh, I did it backwards in a sense. I used to love to dance for myself in clubs and then I started doing fashion shows. I went to Paris and I got involved in a group that did touring shows through Europe and then I started studying dance. So I kind of did it backwards. You know, I started to study and it was much harder because I was like twenty-one or twenty-two by that point. For the stretches and the discipline you really want to start when you’re fourteen, thirteen, or ten, you know.
AP: But it gave me a good background, it gave me a better stance. Then I got into choreography. I just love movement and I’ve always been physical so it kind of just fell into place.
WG: Now did that lead into your martial arts or had you studied that previously?
AP: I had studied before I had started doing Highlander. I had started doing some martial arts, some kickboxing. I studied with a guy that was an ex ‘Nam vet and he started teaching me the sword for about a few months, just basics on the sword, but I wouldn’t say it was very formalized. It was just basically to get a handle on it, if you pardon the pun. But then I got on the show, and I learned with Bob Anderson a lot of the positions of fencing, and in between the first and second seasons, I started taking Chinese sword work and I started doing Hung-Gar Kung Fu. And that was back in 1990 or 1991, sometime around then. And from that point on, I was studying all the time. When I was on the show, I kind of do homework as an actor, so that’s part of my bit, homework, and I loved it because I had already been doing it for three or four years before that, but this really gave me a chance to sort of do it every day. I learned different styles, I was dealing with different people and martial artists, so I learned some of the Korean stuff from a karate guy that was a good friend of mine, a guy called Rick Feraci, who at one point, I don’t know if he still holds it, held the ice breaking record.
AP: You know, he’s a Canadian, big guy. He’s broken a bunch of records before. And he had a Korean style which is much more linear in its form.
AP: Whereas the Chinese is much more flowing. So I kind of thought that was something good for the character I was playing because you know he was an artist. You know, an artist doesn’t use only one color paint, he uses several colors, and a martial artist should do the same.
AP: He should use different things that he’s able to do and I actually really learned that from my first sifu, Vernon Rieta, whom I spent many years with, even through Highlander: Endgame, working with him on stuff and his philosophy. He’s Chinese-Hawaiian and he was a very, very good teacher, very simple in what he believed, and had amazing abilities, but was very honorable in what he presented. It wasn’t about fighting to a degree.
AP: It was about learning how to move and the concepts behind it and that type of stuff. That sort of then took me to wanting to learn more about the Chinese arts in a sense. And about three or four years ago I started studying Shaolin Kung Fu.
WG: Oh, that’s great.
AP: I studied with a Shaolin monk in LA and also one out of New York, but I was there very briefly, his style is very different, much more energetic. So I just started learning that and that has taken me into the more, how should I say, exercise orientated Tai Chi and Chi Gung interior, internal stuff. So it’s been a really interesting progress for me because actually as I get older, I find things don’t work as well, and to stretch out and to keep the mobility gives you the ability to actually be able to run as far as you did when you were like twenty-five years-old. As long as you keep your mobility, as you get older, you can do that for longer. As well as going to the gym and lifting weights for 30 minutes or so. I think they work hand in hand.
WG: Completely. Are you still studying Shaolin then?
AP: I still study Shaolin Kung Fu.
WG: That’s great. Having such a physical background in dance and in martial arts, how did you find that translated into being an actor?
AP: Well as an actor you have to have several facets. Any acting school will teach you movement. They’ll teach you speech. They’ll teach you acting, but acting as a character development. They’ll teach you script analysis, and story analysis, depending on which school you go to. Like RADA for instance will teach you fencing and teach you stage combat. All of those things I actually got practically. I was actually very lucky that I didn’t have to spend five years in a school doing it. I actually did it physically, so I was very lucky. I did go and do voice privately and obviously I did movement through the dance and through the choreography and stage combat through the fighting I did. Acting I studied through many different teachers, through some very, very good teachers that I had and I still do. I still study, I still work at it because it’s like a knife, you’ve got to keep it sharpened.
WG: Absolutely. And then going on to doing a character like Duncan that has this huge cult following behind it, what did you learn the most, not only as an actor, but also as an individual?
AP: You know, I’ll give you a really, really good statement on that because a teacher told me this one time. He said, “as you change as a human being, you’ll change as an actor and as you change as an actor, you’ll change as a human being.” And it’s very true. See there’s an essence in Highlander that I think was shown in the series that didn’t necessarily get translated to the films, and that was what’s the essence of being immortal? It’s not just about chopping people’s heads off. That’s the external look of what the show was about. That was what it was, you know, cool to see and all that, but the message within it was that there was somebody there that could understand the way we felt, what we had to do here on this planet. And therefore it’s giving it back. It’s actually being able to be there for other people and I figured that out as a human being, through learning that as an actor. And that’s what pushed me into having my own charity set up twelve to thirteen years ago.
WG: Tell me how PEACE came about originally.
AP: When Highlander was on air back in the 90s, I would be in Italy, be in France, be in Germany and I would have mobs of kids following me everywhere, especially in France. They’d be screaming and it would be like, “wow, I can have this type of influence on kids?” And kids, the way society has changed, they have such a hard time some of them, actually growing up into whole adults. They have so much to struggle with, whether it’s hunger, whether it’s abuse, whether it’s not having the father influence. I thought maybe there’s a way to bring celebrities and give them some sort of inspiration. And that’s where PEACE came from because PEACE stands for: “Protect Educate Aid Children Everywhere.” I didn’t care whether they were black, white, Chinese, what religion they came from, it didn’t matter because I believe that everybody is the same. It’s just that human beings tend to put the barriers on societies and groups and say they are better than those people and I just don’t believe that. I believe that everyone is pretty much the same. And whatever your culture is, I accept that culture, it’s the same, you’re just bringing it up with a different set of values than my set of values. It doesn’t make us different, it makes us the same, although we don’t believe the same things, if that makes sense.
AP: So to me that’s why it was “children everywhere.” I thought that children everywhere would struggle the same way. You still have cerebral palsy, in America, in Africa, in China, in South Asia, in South America, everywhere. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t distinguish against race or color. Neither does poverty. It doesn’t distinguish. It doesn’t say “well okay, you’re black, you’re white, you’re Chinese,” it happens to everybody. It doesn’t matter what culture you come from, that still happens. Even though we say someone is different, in the real essence, when we take it down to the base level, no, we’re not. We’re all very, very much alike. That’s why PEACE is important to me. That’s why what we do now is try to take money and put it to charities that deal with kids in different countries and different aspects as long as they meet The PEACE Fund mission statement. A charity like the Krabi Relief Fund we have that looks after kids who lost all their parents, or one of them, in the tsunami, that falls under “Protect.” We make sure that the money we give them goes directly to them, not to somebody’s salary, not to somebody’s administration costs. It goes to what they’re doing. We do the same thing with the relief fund for Romania. That comes under the “Protect and Aid Children” because these kids live in sewers. They don’t have food; they don’t have shoes on their feet. So I want to be able to give them $20,000 or $50,000 and say, “okay, look after these kids.” I know that that money is going to go to them. So each of these charities we do due diligence on. Now we’ve been trying to focus on different charities that do those things, that we necessarily might not have the time to do ourselves. I did do a program prior that was called “School Makes a Difference,” which was a fantastic program, but to run that you need an organization. We did it to a certain degree and it just was so time consuming; I had so much to do, I just couldn’t spend all of my time doing that. So this way I know that I can help without having to spend every day of my life on it. I can spend you know a day a week, or two days a week making sure things progress.
WG: Completely. Do you guys have a goal that you aim for? How much actually goes to the charity percentage wise?
AP: Of the money that what we raise, 94% of what we get goes to them.
WG: That’s fantastic.
AP: So what you’re talking about, I’m mean you’re talking about minor costs, we’re talking about like postage and such. That’s all, that’s all we look for. Because if we do auctions for instance, we have to send the stuff out to people, we have to get someone to do that. So we have a very, very high percentage of the money that goes out to them, and we make sure on our site people can see where the money is going. We make sure to get feedback from the charity. Like for instance we just had it from “Teachers Across Borders” who are out in Cambodia. Cambodia was totally destroyed, the schooling system was totally destroyed in the Khmer Rouge, and so now they take teachers there to teach the teachers to recreate the education system. So we have helped that organization, that are out of Australia I believe, go there and do that. So they’ve affected hundreds, if not thousands of children by doing that, and that money went directly to them and we know that that money is going to go to a specific job. So that’s what we do.
WG: And then this led you to winning Worldwide Charitable Alliances’ Peacemaker Award in 2006 for the charity.
AP: Yeah, I was actually taken to Russia. They brought in some very big name figures to highlight the plight of Russian children, because there are a lot of Russian children that don’t have homes, they’re into drugs. The simple thing, which we did, was to give blood. You know, I went in and gave blood and showed that you could give blood and help, so it was a way to actually highlight that. So that was one of the reasons I actually went there for. And for them to give me this award, but it was also to help highlight the plight of Russian children.
WG: That’s fantastic. What have you found to be your biggest challenges with the charity so far?
AP: Time. Because everybody’s time is valuable, and since no one in my organization gets paid, it’s hard to get people to contribute their time, or who have the knowledge that could help us further. And we’re trying to do that right now. We’re trying to organize. To get more people that can help us in different areas and grow. We’re just starting to move forward now to get a little bit more visibility and fundraising efforts. We’re trying to grow. But to have somebody’s time, they have jobs, everybody’s got jobs. My criteria on The PEACE Fund has always been, “I want you to do just one thing.” Whether it’s just to take care of the inventory, or just do the mailing, or just do the liaison between the charities, or just do the liaison between the celebrities. They just have one job to do. But I want to keep growing that so we have a network. A network is much stronger than just having a few people doing the whole thing.
Adrian Paul is currently at work on his next film while still dedicating himself to the global efforts of The PEACE Fund. To read more about his charity, and to find out what you can do to help them make a difference, please visit the PEACE Fund at: www.thepeacefund.org