From Alaska to Hollywood, he's now appearing at the Berlin VFD

Friday, September 2, 2011
Mark Ivie of Milltown is a fencing instructor and appears in movies as a double including his appearance in "By The Sword" for Eric Roberts (Julia Roberts' brother) as seen, above, with actor F. Murray Abraham and, in the background, director Jeremy Kagan.

Farmer, painter, merchant, nascent blacksmith, photographer, acting double and fencing instructor -- one who's taught swordsmanship to movie actors for "The Mask of Zorro" and "Pirates of the Caribbean" --Berlin volunteer firefighter Mark Ivie might be called a Renaissance man because of his varied career and experiences.

But now, in Marshall County, Ivie quietly contemplates his current employment.

"I don't know what I do," he said in his soft-spoken, self-deprecating and still sly humorous manner. "I'm confused."

He's done a lot of things. He's taught sword fighting to Johnny Depp and Catherine Zeta Jones for their respective appearances in "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "The Mask of Zorro." At DesignworksUSA he's been a project manager and/or director for trains, planes and automobiles - literally. Those projects included: Siemens Design-high speed trains and light rail vehicles; Gulfstream jets' interiors design and exterior graphics; and for the BMW E2 electric car; as well as John Deere-backhoes and crawlers; and a Chrysler Van show - all while working on films.

It's been cutting edge work for Ivie.

He's steeped in swordsmanship and while it began in school, the people he's met on the movie set taught him aspects of life from their perspective of experience.

"Fencing is more of a lifetime sport," he said. "My first coach was 82. My second coach, 75 - both in California.

"Age and treachery will beat youth and vigor any day," he said during an interview one Friday morning recently while selling vegetables at Lewisburg's Farmers Market in Rock Creek Park.

The softer side of Mark is that he's living in Tennessee because of a woman - his wife, Valerie, whose parents live in Wilson County. Her sister and brother live in Rutherford County. Mark and Valerie met in California. They moved to Wilson County because of her family, but wanted more land, which they found at Milltown, for their horses. They have a 22-month-old daughter, Lauren.

"Pirates of the Caribbean" is the movie Valerie cites as her favorite among those that have employed Mark. They met because Valerie's best friend was a caterer at a movie set. Valerie works full-time marketing IBM on the Internet.

Born in Eagle River, Alaska, on July 26, 1955, Ivie's life above the lower 48 states was an adventure in itself. His mother is from upstate New York, his father from Idaho. His father's family homesteaded "up there" in Alaska. His mother and aunt migrated there. His father, among other things was a volunteer fire department chief and a "Mr. Fix-It man," Ivie said. "Mr. Fix-It" also hunted for food and the family always had fresh meat, bread and berries.

"We had a freezer full of moose, rabbit, caribou," he recalls. "Blackberries, strawberries and cranberries - you can go out in the woods and have a feast for yourself.

"Dad died in a plane crash," he continued. "That happens a lot with bush pilots."

A family friend was piloting that plane in 1961. About three years later, "We were in the Alaska earthquake in 1964," said Ivie, then eight. "It seemed like the world was coming to an end.

"So we moved to California where it was safe," he said with another grin.

They got to Hollywood and faced a 100-degree heat wave. He'd never seen an air conditioner. They moved to the San Fernando Valley, but it seems that a movie bug bit him.

But Mark landed a job at DesignworksUSA, married, traveled a lot for work and then there was a break in his work when a movie was being filmed. He caught a job in the film "By The Sword" starring Eric Roberts.

"They were looking for Olympic-quality fencers... and I got hired as Eric Roberts' double," said Mark, who'd first learned fencing at California State University Northridge. "I did some competitive fencing. The first year, I ended up in the regional championship and the second year got into the nationals."

In the movie business, he learned from Bob Anderson, a British Olympic Swordmaster who worked with Errol Flynn, worked with Charlton Heston, choreographed "The Princess Bride" and doubled as Darth Vader.

"He liked the way I learned, so he had me train and used me as Eric's (Roberts' character's) father in flashback scenes. It was the first time I got to die in a film"

When they weren't shooting, they were sword fighting, a sport that he was drawn to "as a classic symbolic struggle between good and evil," he said. "It's a Zen thing. If you think about it, it's too late. It's like martial arts. You can't think. You have to be and do.

As a reward for his diligence, and perhaps his talent, "They gave me my SAG (Screen Actors Guild) card ... as a bonus" for working on "By The Sword."

He's since trained actors: Charlie Sheen, Chris O'Donnell, Oliver Platt and Kiefer Sutherland for "The Three Musketeers;" Richard Gere for "First Knight;" Jones and Antonio Banderas for Zorro; and Depp for Pirates. He's also worked with Madonna for one of her music videos and assisted with sword fighting for the James Bond film "Die Another Day."

He would do it all again "if the right thing came along," but now, the Ivies live on 44 acres in Marshall County and he dabbles in practically anything that appeals to him.

Last year, he photographed Civil War re-enactors at Nathan Bedford Forrest's boyhood home. He paints oil pictures from his photos.

"I'd like to teach sword fighting and fencing," he said. "The old school in Spring Hill has a good room to use."

Otherwise, he seems content to sell vegetables, ride horses, raise a daughter, be a husband and a volunteer firefighter. If you ask him what he is, or what he does, firefighter is what he says first.