When director Simon McQuoid signed on to make Mortal Kombat he was sure of one thing. It was something that eventually trickled down to almost everything else in the video game adaptation. “I knew I wanted Joe [Taslim] as Sub-Zero,” the director told io9. “He was the first picture to go to on my pin-up wall of ‘That’s who I want.’ And so he was cast first.”
Best known to American audiences for his work in The Raid, Fast and Furious 6, and Star Trek Beyond, Taslim was a long-time Mortal Kombat fan and jumped at the chance to join the franchise. “I grew up playing a game,” the actor told io9. “I’m a huge fan of Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Kung Lao. Those three characters I played the most when I was a kid.”
But there was also another reason McQuoid wanted to cast him too. Yes, he was a good actor with plenty of experience, but he also gave the entire film legitimacy. “I wanted someone who was going to inform the other people I wanted in the film,” the director said, “I wanted them to look and go, ‘Oh, shit. They’re serious about this.’ So there was a bit of methodology to that.”
The casting paid off, according to Mortal Kombat’s lead actor, Lewis Tan. Tan was handpicked to play the role of newcomer Cole Young but at first, was a bit hesitant about the project. “I wasn’t sure what tone they were going to go with, where they were going to go with this project and who was going to do it,” Tan told io9. But then he heard one name and it all clicked. “I knew that Joe Taslim was the first person cast and I was very familiar with his work,” Tan said. “Having worked with Iko Uwais, who was the star of The Raid on Wu Assassins...he spoke very highly of Joe. And I know that Joe is a real martial artist with a Judo background. I was excited that they had someone like that.”
Not that Tan would have taken that much convincing though. A lifelong martial artist himself, Tan has vivid memories of Mortal Kombat, both as a game and a movie, from throughout his childhood. “I remember playing the game [at the arcade] and I think I had the initial response that everybody else had,” he said. “I was kind of freaked out. Like I can’t believe this is actually allowed to be here. How is this here? This has got to be illegal. And then, of course, I’ve been training martial arts my whole life, so it was cool to play a fighting game that was that violent and that crazy at the time.”
Being a fan, Tan felt an added pressure coming on board because he was playing a new character. Cole Young, an MMA fighter with a mysterious past, is basically the audience’s proxy into this new world of Mortal Kombat. But the star wisely points out while building a Mortal Kombat character from the ground up was daunting, it’s pretty common.
“Mortal Kombat has introduced new characters many times in the games before,” he said. “It started with seven and now we’re at like 80 different characters. So I thought I had some leeway there. It’s not out of character for Mortal Kombat to be introducing something new. At the same time, we’re showing the audience all of the iconic things that we know that they want to see in the film as well.”
One of those things is the character of Sub-Zero himself, a character Taslim found by utilizing much of the experience he’s gained through previous projects. “I like to play with pain,” he said. “In a lot of movies I’ve done, pain is very important. People need to feel that you’re in pain when you fight back. All those energies need to be there rather than just showing a fight that’s badass, cool, and stylish.”
And while Taslim could pull those motivations from years of experience, there was one place, in particular, he didn’t find a whole lot of inspiration. “It’s hard really to take anything from the game and use it,” he said. “I cannot walk like Sub-Zero walks in the game because that would be just copy-paste. So for me [the games] are to just absorb the energy.”
The energy that both Tan and Taslim bring to Mortal Kombat, not just as martial artists but leaders of Earth Realm and Outworld respectively, is everything the story and the movie is about.
“Both guys just have a screen presence and martial arts ability and that combination was really important,” McQuoid said of his actors. “And they have a power to them, which I think is really important.”
See all that and more in Mortal Kombat, which premieres in theaters and on HBO Max on April 23. Check back next week for more from Taslim, Tan, and McQuoid.
For more, make sure you’re following us on our Instagram @io9dotcom.