Taking on a beloved franchise like Mortal Kombat is no easy feat. And Lewis Tan is doing something even more unprecedented as the film’s lead. He’s playing a character that didn’t exist prior to the film. It was a choice that many fans feared until that red band trailer dropped and Tan showcased the charm, fight, and talent that’s made him the star of shows like Into the Badlands and Wu Assassins. During a visit to the Adelaide set of the movie, Nerdist joined a group of journalists to chat with Tan about martial arts, Mortal Kombat, and legacy.
Cole Young is an ex-MMA fighter who gets drawn into the brutal interdimensional tournament. And Tan was excited to share his take on the hero, and what made him so excited to bring him to life. “He’s a cool character because he’s a grounded entry point into the story, he’s down on his luck, he’s a father, he’s a husband. But he’s a man who’s kind of missed his opportunity and his time. And I think that’s a really interesting character to play. So that’s where he’s coming from. He’s a martial artist and he’s very capable, but he just never got his shot. And that’s where he starts out. And so he became intertwined with the Mortal Kombat world.”
While the film is staying true to the wild roots of its source material, Tan feels like he gets to bring something new. “Mortal Kombat is interesting because it’s a fantasy. There’s a lot of fantasy elements to it, but my character is a really solid perspective throughout the picture so it’s nice to be involved in this fantasy world but get to play a really grounded point.”
Warner Bros, Mackenzie Schepman
Adding a new character was controversial but Tan sees it as a smart choice for the film. “I think it’s a really interesting way to show audiences that don’t know the game a new perspective. It’s also good to create a cinematic experience that’s going to honor the game and what people are used to but also give them something fresh and new when they go to the theaters and watch it. So that’s what I like about the character. But it’s a tricky character to play because there’s a lot of pressure because there’s not an established fan base.”
So where do we meet EarthRealm’s champion? And what drives him to embark on his own hero’s journey? “Cole won his championship young and from that point on never progressed,” Tan explained. “He lost it immediately. And his daughter is his coach, so him and his daughter have a unique bond. She’s obsessed with mixed martial arts. She’s always checking YouTube and learning different skills for him. It’s not a gimmick, she loves MMA.”
That father figure dynamic in Cole’s storyline is an aspect that holds a particular personal resonance for the actor. “For me, that’s amazing because my father is the same. My father Philip Tan, he’s a fight coordinator and stunt coordinator,” Tan explained. “He did Indiana Jones. He did Batman with Tim Burton. That was actually the first film that brought us to America, which is crazy full circle for me because my father came here with Warner Bros. and now I’m leading a film with Warner Bros. It’s a trip for me. I’m very proud to take my shot.”
And that isn’t something that the actor and martial artist is taking lightly. “I’ve turned down so much stuff,” Tan told us. “I was getting to the point where I was like, ‘Oh, should I just start taking things? Where’s the one, the one that’s calling my name? I’ll feel it when I see it.’ And it came, but it came at the end of a long year. One where I was getting to that point where you have to trust your instinct as an actor when you read stuff. ‘But the money’s good.’ You know, that has never been a thing for me. It’s all about legacy. It’s all about creating a legacy.”
Legacy is at the core of everything that Tan does, whether in this movie or his many other projects. “We want to take Mortal Kombat to new heights,” Tan shared. “But we also want to take the action to new heights, and the drama and everything on every single level. How can we take this even further? It’s very important to me as an actor, for myself and as a martial artist, to continue my father’s legacy. To continue to deliver on that front and not to take steps back.”
Mortal Kombat hits HBO Max and select theaters on April 16, 2021.
Featured Image: Warner Bros