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Chuck Norris Fights to Be a Better Actor in 'Hero and the Terror' Role

September 02, 1988|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG

Clean-shaven and wearing a mauve linen-look blazer, Chuck Norris welcomes yet another interviewer into his mauve office on the edge of Beverly Hills. He is all smiles and wants you to know right off the bat that he is not an inarticulate jock who goes around kicking men in the abdomen.

His new movie should help him get the message across. Norris plays a sensitive police detective who is in love with a pregnant psychologist and on the trail of a serial killer. "Hero and the Terror" is a departure for Norris. None of his past movies have allowed the actor such breadth of character or dramatic range.

"This role was a little more challenging because I had to stretch as an actor," he says, leaning back in a swivel chair. "I probably wouldn't have attempted this five or six years ago, but I've been in the business 12 years now and have 17 films under my belt. Now was the time."

Norris is one of those celebrities who never would have been pegged for stardom by his grade school teachers.

Slightly built, non-athletic and formerly shy to the point of being neurotic, the 47-year-old actor, who has lived in North Tustin for two years, has not had an easy time of it. Every phase of his life has been an uphill battle, from his birth in Oklahoma as a "blue baby" with an alcoholic father, to his years as a shy and insecure teen-ager in Torrance, to his efforts in becoming a karate champion. His autobiography, published last year by Little, Brown and Co., begins: "Nothing ever came easy for me, not even being born."

So it was a rough childhood. But then he became a world champion karate star, a successful actor, an author and a wealthy family man who has been married to the same woman for nearly 30 years. This is tough?

"That's one of the reasons I wrote the book," he says. "A lot of people think it was easy. Most people see a person in his success mode and they say, 'Boy, was he lucky. He was a karate star. Then he did movies.' But it was extremely difficult. Extremely difficult."

Norris leans forward, clasps his hands together and pounds them on his desk for emphasis. All the while making constant eye contact. Yes, this guy is earnest.

"Remember I was a non-athlete. I jumped into the karate world, but I didn't have the natural attributes that so many of the fighters had. And because I didn't have those natural attributes, I had to train a lot harder than anybody else. But I knew I had to in order to win."

He lives in a large house in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, surrounded by lakes and trees. His life is rich, but he bristles at the notion that he has been lucky or destined for fame and fortune. He wants others who have faced adversity to know the road to his rich life was filled with hurdles.

Overcoming obstacles and thinking positively have been Norris' co-pilots his whole life. They are the lessons he inherited from his mother and are the themes of his book. Each chapter ends with a set of encouraging remarks or guidelines: Do what has to be done without complaint and think only positively. Don't allow yourself to think negatively.

Norris had first dreamed of becoming a policeman. But upon graduating from North Torrance High School, was too young to join the police department. He enlisted in the Air Force to join the Military Police.

While in the service, he was sent to South Korea, where he opted to study the martial arts rather than, as he says in his book, "hang around the barracks and play cards, booze it up or enroll in an academic class." Soon, many of his insecurities and his lack of confidence subsided. He became strong.

It took about six months but as I became more proficient . . . many of the psychological insecurities started to subside. I was becoming more communicative and assertive, and I had a better self-image. My attitude toward others began to change.

After a year of daily practice, Norris earned his black belt.

" For the first time in my life, I had accomplished something difficult on my own. I had belief in myself and the strength to accomplish more. I also found that working toward a goal was more rewarding than achieving it.

Norris spent the late 1960s and early 1970s teaching karate, competing and opening schools that grew with the popularity of the martial arts. In the mid-'70s, financial problems threatened to close the schools at a time when he had decided to retire from competition. After winning nearly every major title possible, including that of world professional middleweight champion, Norris officially left the ring in 1974.

Soon, he grew bored and restless. Then one of his heroes made a ludicrous suggestion. Steve McQueen, who had learned karate from the champ, suggested he try acting. Forget it, Norris said, unable to imagine himself on the screen. Then McQueen reminded him of the positive-thinking credo that had guided his life.

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