Profile: Taimak

Posted in Profiles by - March 05, 2018
Profile: Taimak

Date of birth: June 27, 1964 (Los Angeles, US)

Full name: Taimak Guarriello

Other names: Taimak Guari

Occupation: Actor, martial artist, stunt performer, director, writer, producer.

Style: Aikido, Karate, taekwondo, kickboxing, kung fu, Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

Biography: Taimak is an actor and martial artist famous for his role as ‘Bruce’ Leroy Green in the cult, Motown-produced martial arts film, The Last Dragon (1985). Taimak was born in Los Angeles to an Italian singing father, Cosmo Guarriello, and a New York mother, Laurita Guarriello, who had worked at the famous Apollo Theatre. The family had relocated to Hollywood in order for his father to pursue a professional singing career. Taimak’s family includes two step-brothers, Lande and Sharif, from his mother’s previous marriage, an older brother, Meishan, and two younger sisters, Naria and Taiesha.

To combat growing tensions and racism in Los Angeles, the family relocated to London, UK, when Taimak was seven years old. Taimak’s mother opened a restaurant, called Laurita’s, which was celebrated as the first soul food restaurant in London. It became a popular celebrity hang-out in the early 1970s, and was frequented by the likes of David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Liza Minnelli. During this time, Taimak’s father spent time in prison for theft and upon his release, he spent time in the company of Christine Keller – the famous showgirl at the heart of the infamous Profumo scandal which rocked British politics in 1963.

Taimak’s parents separated when he was 10. His mother moved with his sisters to Paris and Taimak relocated to Rome with his father and older brother. In 1976, the Guarriello boys would finally relocate again to their father’s home town of New York, living in Manhattan. Taimak went to Brandeis High School and took up wrestling and fencing, becoming the captain of the school fencing team. Taimak also developed a love of comic books and kung fu films, predominantly those produced by the Shaw Brothers studio in Hong Kong, which were screened in dive cinemas on 42nd Street on Times Square.

Taimak’s first martial art was Karate, before taking up Aikido and competing in taekwondo under Richard Chun. He later enrolled at the New York karate school of the martial artist and film star, Ron Van Clief, who would become a lifelong teacher and friend. As well as winning kickboxing titles, Taimak worked as a bouncer at some of New York’s most famous nightclubs, including Bonds International and 1080, where celebrity guests included Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Madonna and Andy Warhol.

When producers started scouring New York for a young black lead to star in an upcoming martial arts film called The Last Dragon, Ron Van Clief encouraged Taimak to audition. Through a family friend – the dance choreographer, Lester Wilson – Taimak secured an audition with the casting director, Jeremy Ritzer. Having never acted before, the audition didn’t go well. However, Taimak was given a month to work on the lines and, following an audition in front of the film’s producer, the legendary music executive and founder of the Motown record label, Berry Gordy, he secured the lead role. He was 19 years old. The film was directed by Michael Schultz for the Tri-Star studio with fight choreography by Ron Van Clief and Ernie Reyes Snr.

In The Last Dragon, Taimak played the lead role of a Bruce Lee-obsessed teenager, living in the same multicultural neighbourhoods of New York where he lived in real life. The film featured martial arts and music, and co-starred the singer, Vanity. Despite its cross-cultural appeal, Tri-Star marketed the film exclusively to an African-American audience. Upon its release in 1985, it reached number two in the box office and, despite its success, was seen as something of a critical disappointment. Taimak was offered a film contract with Berry Gordy and Motown, but he refused to sign following disagreements over payment.

Following The Last Dragon, Taimak continued to work in show-business, traveling between New York and Hollywood. He appeared in TV shows, commercials, music videos (including a video opposite Janet Jackson in the ‘Let’s Wait Awhile’ video), and featured in the 1990 film, The White Girl. He also worked as a model and, for a short time, a stand-up comedian. He also taught martial arts, with one of his students being Robert De Niro’s son, Raphael. During this time, he met and became friends with many high-profile fans of The Last Dragon, which was quickly acquiring a cult following. These fans included Eddie Murphy, Rick James and Mike Tyson. Taimak was also offered the role to replace Steve James in the American Ninja series starring Michael Dudikoff, but he refused as a protest against working in South Africa during apartheid.

In the early 2000s, Taimak relocated permanently to New York where he enrolled in acting classes. In 2004, he starred in an off-Broadway production of the Patrick Swayze film, Road House. He also worked for a time as a pro-wrestler. In 2016, Taimak published his autobiography, Taimak, The Last Dragon. In 2017, Taimak directed, wrote, and starred in his own short film, called I’ve Seen Things. In 2018, he launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund his own production, called Master, a follow-up to The Last Dragon.

Speech! On The Last Dragon: “When I think back on this film, it was an unforgettable experience. To be able to work with so many talented people in one movie, to work hands-on with Motown legend Berry Gordy and director Michael Schultz, to make an impact on all of these fans, to even shoot the movie in the neighbourhoods I grew up in around New York City… in a word, it was extraordinary.” From Taimak, The Last Dragon (2016).

Click here to listen to KFMG Podcast S03 Episode 24 with Taimak.

Filmography: 1985  The Last Dragon; 1989 A Different World (TV); 1990 The White Girl; 1993 No More Dirty Deals; 1996 WMAC Masters (TV); 1996 Red Shoe Diaries (TV); 1998 Malcolm and Eddie (TV); 1999 Dreamers; Beverly Hills, 90210 (TV); 2000 Masquerade; 2001 Night Class; 2004 Third Watch (TV); 2006 They’re Just My Friends; The System Within; 2007 Book of Swords; 2008 Fight the Panda Syndicate; 2011 Repeat Offenders: Jamais Vu; 2013 The Tale of Timmy Two Chins (short); Transporter (short); 2016 Fury of the Fist and the Golden Fleece; 2017 I’ve Seen Things (short) (+ dir, scr.).

This post was written by
Hi there. I'm the editor of Kung Fu Movie Guide. Be sure to visit regularly for the latest analysis, interviews, profiles, podcasts and reviews on martial arts movies made around the world.

Leave Your Comment