Sixteen-year-old Aramis Knight plays the young warrior with hidden Hulk-like super strength on AMC’s Into the Badlands. He talked to us about being a total badass.

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As you can imagine, training to be on a martial arts show is hard as hell—especially when you have zero experience, like Knight and most of the cast did. Knight says he and the other cast members got their butts kicked at a six-week training boot camp before shooting began. It’s like he was a real-life Colt! Except for, y’know, not having to pledge his young life to a murderous near-dictator who treats his minions like the disposable pawns they are.

Instead, the cast was turning into real-life martial arts masters, as we see in the show’s never-ending, hypnotizing fight scenes. (Though Daniel Wu, who plays main character Sunny, has an extensive martial arts background from years of starring in Chinese action films.)

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“While we were training, I was burning 1,500 calories a day, working from nine to three,” Knight told me over the phone this week. It was especially tough in the swampy Louisiana heat, which hit triple digit temperatures and 100 percent humidity. “I don’t envy Daniel having to run around in that leather jacket.”

Badlands is a pretty big departure from Knight’s other work, which includes 2013’s Ender’s Game, as well as guest roles on Dexter, Psych, and General Hospital.

“Not only were we getting stronger and becoming more flexible, but we were each developing our fighting styles,” Knight told me. The boot camp was led by expert fight choreographer Huan-Chiu Ku, who’s worked on Kill Bill and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

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“Emily [Beecham, who plays the Widow] is very good with daggers, I’m very good at hand-to-hand combat, and Ally [Ioannides, Tilda] is very good all around.”

Speaking of Tilda—she and M.K. gonna hook up, or what? Or at least join forces with Sunny and Veil to overthrow their respective evil “parents,” the Widow and Quinn?

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“They are [like] forbidden lovers,” he says of the Badlands’ other teen killing machine. “I think they trust each other. Maybe M.K. trusts her more than he trusts Sunny. It’s also very likely that Tilda is the first girl M.K. has ever met, and that M.K. is the first boy Tilda has ever met.”

While Tilda’s background is cloudier, M.K.’s is a focal point of the show, and the pilot dives right into it. Knight says that a challenge with M.K. is balancing being a cool fighter while showing vulnerability. “There’s a very, very fine line between vulnerability and whininess,” he says, and staying on the right side of that line can be tricky for an actor with this kind of young warrior role.

Finally, Knight praised AMC for casting young people in roles of real power—in this case, power in both the dramatic and physical sense. From Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka to Knight and Ioannides, Knight said it’s a network that doesn’t patronize child actors or minimize their talents.

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He also spoke positively of the network for casting two Asian leads: Wu, a Chinese-American, and Knight himself, who’s Pakistani, Eastern Indian, and German.

“They’re breaking down barriers that should have been broken down a long time ago,” he says. “It’s proving that to other networks, who were too scared to cast an Asian man or an Asian 16-year-old boy.”

Well said, Aramis. He also mentioned that this Sunday’s episode of Into the Badlands is his favorite of the season so far. Last week’s was my personal favorite, so I’m hoping his tops it. The new episode airs Sunday at 10 p.m. EST on AMC.

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Photo: James Minchin III/AMC


Email the author at bryan@gizmodo.com, or follow him on Twitter.