The last time I met Vanessa Campos, we were at Bellator London in 2019. Back then she was a budding young interviewer hoping to catch a break in the MMA media.
Three years, and one global pandemic, later, Campos is now a credited actor with a notable role in a martial arts movie and big dreams for the future.
“To be honest with you, it’s been crazy,” she told me.
“Basically, because of the pandemic, I decided, ‘OK, why not try something new? I don’t know, let’s try modeling or something. Or acting.’
“Then a friend was like, ‘Hey, they’re actually casting for a fighter who’s Asian. And, because of the pandemic, all the auditions were done on Zoom. That opened this crazy door, which I would have never done, because usually they just pass actors through agencies, and I didn’t have an agency.
“So then I auditioned for it – I just had to film it with my iPhone – and I get a call saying, ‘You’ve got the role!’ I said, ‘You’re joking! You’re actually joking!'”
That role was of the fighter Mali in Never Back Down: Revolt, the latest in a series of martial arts-based movies that has recently been released on Amazon Prime Video.
Campos, who has trained at SBG Ireland and has a background in kickboxing and Muay Thai, said her training and competitive experience proved useful in landing the part.
“To be honest, that’s what helped me get the role, because I didn’t have any acting experience,” she explained.
“I fought before, so I think that really helped. But then, with the action scenes, I injured my arm on set. But a lot of my acting got into the movie, which was so surprising.
“It’s so good for me as a starting actor, because now people can see me as an actor rather than a fighter, because that’s a completely different industry and I have so much respect for them. So an accident became a blessing in disguise.”
The movie focuses on a group of oppressed female fighters who are forced to fight for their lives. Campos said she was happy to be in a movie with a positive female message, and said she hopes we see women get more positive roles in action genres moving forward.
“What I appreciate about MMA, and martial arts in general, is there’s no real inequality,” she explained.
“I feel like when you train at the gym you are pretty equal. Yes, there are physical attributes that, you know, there’s a huge difference between us and men in those aspects. But when you train, you train. There’s so much respect.
“And the female fighters nowadays, Joanna, (Jedrzejczyk), (Rose) Namajunas, all of them have so much of a fanbase and so much respect, it’s just not comparable to any other sport. And now that MMA is becoming more mainstream – even in movies – I think it means women are more empowered than ever before.
“I think more movies should be more about female empowerment. And it doesn’t have to be all females because, you know, it’s gotta be a mix of both. But it shouldn’t show us as small and belittled. That’s not how we are now as women, you know.
“I think Hollywood still has a lot of catching up to do, compared with MMA. So hopefully, I’ll be part of the movement with this movie. I’m going to take a lot of time, but hey, we’re here. I’m gonna take a lot of time. But hey, we’re here! It’s small steps at a time.”
The role also saw Campos work alongside former UFC middleweight champion and UFC Hall of Famer Michael Bisping. Campos said he was great to work with… once she’d recovered from being starstruck!
“Yeah, I got to work with him on quite a few scenes actually. He was really nice. I was, of course intimidated, like ‘Oh my god, you’re Mike Bisping! You’re The Count!’
“I didn’t actually know what to say, and I was just like, ‘Oh, you’re super tall!’ I was like, ‘Come on, Vanessa, get it together!’
“But he was really kind. He gave me some CBD oil when I was injured onset and we still had to keep filming. He was really nice.”
It’s still very early for Campos in her newfound acting career. But that hasn’t stopped her from setting her sights sky-high when discussing her professional ambitions.
“I really want to get into Marvel, or DC. I think that is the goal,” she enthused.
“I think it’s a very far-fetched goal, but I think there’s a possibility that maybe, with sheer luck, we can get to it.
“Because of my fighting background, I’d love to be a female superhero one day. Why not?!”
Never Back Down: Revolt is available to buy or rent on Amazon Prime Video.