If you’ve watched The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Austin Powers in Goldmember, or We Were Soldiers, then you have probably seen actor Brian Tee. This year, he has a lot of exciting upcoming projects including The Wolverine starring Hugh Jackman and Mortal Kombat: Legacy Season 2. I had a really fun interview with Brian as we talked about his role as Shaolin monk Liu Kang in the second season of the Mortal Kombat: Legacy web series.
Note: Jonathan, Brian Tee’s friend, joins the interview.
John “Spartan” Nguyen: So you’re doing a bunch of exciting “nerdy” projects. You’ve got The Wolverine and you’ve got the second season for Mortal Kombat: Legacy.
Brian Tee: Totally. Trust me. I was a nerd and still am a nerd, myself. So it’s just as good to be a part of it as fans are to see it. So it’s all good man.
Jonathan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Do not let Brian fool you. This guy’s popped more quarters into that MK machine than like Ed Boon did. (laughter)
Yeah. Ed Boon is a pretty cool cat.
Brian Tee: Totally dude, totally. He’s awesome.
When does the first episode come out?
Jonathan: I believe early May is what they said. There’s no official date yet. It’s when they feel comfortable about blasting them out. I’m pretty sure they want to time the release of the finale to the start of Comic-Con.
Brian Tee: I would assume they would do it during, just so they can go down there and be like, “No. We have the season finale of Mortal Kombat coming in.”
And that includes you coming down to Comic-Con too, right?
Brian Tee: Yeah, I’ll definitely have a presence at Comic-Con because I’ll be there for Mortal Kombat and for The Wolverine.
So you played Mortal Kombat before?
Brian Tee: Hell yeah!
Out of all the character, who is your favorite?
Brian Tee: My favorite character was Sub-Zero. I ain’t gonna lie. It wasn’t Liu Kang.
When I got offered the part, I was like, “Dude, I’m the last guy you want to play Liu Kang. Seriously, there are other guys out there that are kind of Bruce Lee-esque. They searched through my background and my acting, and things that I’ve done in the past and what I really like to do – you know, get into characters and really have an encompassing feel for all this other stuff.” Liu Kang in the video game, to me, when I was a kid coming up, I thought, “That’s like a wannabe Bruce Lee.” He was this one note caricature of a martial artist/kung fu guy. I wanted someone with a lot more depth and a lot more feeling and character struggle.
When the offer came in, I was like, “No,” but they were like, “No, read it. Read it!” I got a great buddy of mine who’s playing Scorpion in the first series and in the second series. [Ian Anthony Dale] gave me a call and he goes, “No, dude. Read it.” So I read it, and it blew my mind. It’s pretty much the Liu Kang saga where he’s the anti-hero of the series. And you see why he’s so angry and frustrated with Kung Lao and why he’s riding the lines between different worlds and realms, whether it’s Outworld or Earthrealm, no one really knows for sure where he wants to go. There’s just so much pain and agony and hatred towards all the elements, that he just wants to lash out upon others in a sense too.
Brian Tee: So the character was rad, and again, everything is justified. You can see his back story and seeing the reasons why he’s going through this anguish. And that’s what really drew me to the character. As soon as I read it, I was like, “I’m in.”
It’s definitely a new take on the character.
Brian Tee: I feel it is. I think it’s a much more rounded, better, surreal, and visceral take on it, instead of what you’re used to when playing the video game. And so that’s why when I was growing up, Sub-Zero was my favorite character. He’s much more dynamic than Liu Kang, in my eyes. Doing the web series, they’ve completely flipped Liu Kang upside down and I freaking love it. He’s got to be one of my favorite characters I’ve ever played.
I’ve seen photos of Sub-Zero on the set. I’m going to have to admit that I’m not particularly fond of his new outfit. He kind of looks like a dirt bike rider.
Brian Tee: (laughter) I got nothing to do with that, but, you know, I think, production-wise, it being a web series, I couldn’t tell the difference. I’ve done huge movies and large television shows and all this other stuff, and when you say “web series” everyone thinks “smaller budget.” Man, what Kevin Tancharoen was able to do with this budget is literally in comparison to a large studio feature. It was awesome, phenomenal. Despite some of the choices that fans may or may not like, what you’re going to see on screen is something epic. Little things here and there, due to the scope of the series, will add up, and that’s why I think you guys will be blown away.
How did you get attached to the project in the first place?
Brian Tee: Well firstly, I knew that the Mortal Kombat series was happening. And then I gave my buddy Ian a call because he did the first series, and he’s always talked about if there’s ever something to get involved in, it’s this. It being a web series, we’re not really looking out for that, but because Kevin did what he did, like with the first teaser and then the first season after that, it really blew me away. That completely piqued my interest. I didn’t know what character I was going to do, and then the Liu Kang role came up and Kevin actually gave me a call about the characters. Like I said before, I was on the fence and wanted to talk to him about it. We hit it off and were really on the same page on every level in where he and I wanted to take the character.
I think it’s interesting that Kevin Tancharoen did a musical before doing a violent video game adaptation.
Brian Tee: Kevin, admittedly is a big fanboy himself. It’s why he took it upon himself to do the full-on trailer, just to show his chops, to make sure that there was no doubt he could do it. He freaking knocked it out of the park. That’s why whatever he had done in the past was the furthest from my mind and that it didn’t have a reflection on what he would do with Mortal Kombat. I think Mortal Kombat, and everyone around it is fortunate to have Kevin direct it.
Is the web series gonna be episodic again? I was also wondering if it’s going to be one story to the next, or is each episode going to be self contained?
Brian Tee: I would say both. There are definitely some episodes that are kind of linear and connected. Then there are ones that kind of separate themselves. It’s not solidified for me that they’re in order of which episode or storyline is going to come through, but it’ll definitely be almost seamless in a sense – even when you jump storyline to storyline. It’ll all intermingle towards the tournament. So I think it’s both elements that you were talking about in particular.
You’ve seen all of the episodes for season one, and I was wondering if that plays into season two or if it’s a separate thing.
Brian Tee: I think it’s just a continuation of. I think what season two does is really go deeper into the characters, their stories and their struggles. Sure it’s establishing the characters who may not have been established in the past, but it really follows more in-depth of their situation and the reasons they’re going to the tournament. There’s more of a story-level base, but then it’s also action-packed, and fans will totally love everything that’s going on in the tournament, the action and the fighting. We had some of the best stunt guys in the world. Garrett Warren, who is the stunt coordinator for Avatar, Larnell Stovall, who choreographed the whole thing has done some epic movies. My stunt double, Kim Do, was the stunt double for me. So we had the most legit of legit stunt guys there. So the action for Mortal Kombat obviously has to be straight up legit, and you’re going to have even more, I want to say, badasses in season two than you did I season one, for sure.
Brian, you don’t need a stunt double!
Brian Tee: (laughter) I’ll tell you this much, man. I give those stunt guys all the respect in the world. Respect is earned, you know what I’m saying? I had to literally earn my way into doing my own stunts. I’m not gonna say I did them all, but I know I can guarantee you that everything you’ll see in episode one was all me. Then again, I want to make the project the best that it can be. I will step down for a stunt guy who will maybe be able to do a certain kick or move that’s just much more legitimate than anything I can do. Me being a perfectionist, I want to learn all those things and do them myself as much as possible to make it that much more authentic. So I think what you’ll see with this series, and especially my character Liu Kang, I did a majority of my stunts with the help of the stunt coordinator, Garrett Warren, with the help of the choreographer, Larnell Stovall, with the help of my stunt double, Kim Do, all in collaboration to make Liu Kang what he needs to be. You guys all know what that is. I was actually quite happy with it.
I was wondering if, when you’re on set, you’ve ever had that moment where you go, “All right. I can’t do that. You guys just take it over.”
Brian Tee: I don’t know man. I’m the first one to try everything. Or the first guy to learn everything. But there are just certain things that you can’t do, in the business. It may be too dangerous or may be they need you for something else, or it just looks better when someone else does it. There are a lot of elements like that, and I would probably respectfully give way, absolutely, in certain occasions, because I don’t want my ego to get in the way if it’s going to be a detriment to the end product.
We really do have the best stunt guys in the world on this shoot. I’m not telling them how to act. I gotta bow down to, and respect their creativity, their mastery and the work that they put into it. But it was a complete collaboration. I grew up as an athletic dude, always wanting to do certain things here and there, so we mix the best of both worlds and I think the fans will totally enjoy, not just my scenes, but all the action sequences through the entire series.
Do you know how many episodes you’re going to be in, in the series?
Brian Tee: If I had to count, dude, I would say at least more than half of the episodes. There’s a lot of other episodes that have to establish other characters and establish different story lines. But I feel within the core of this next series, it’s really going to go in depth with a lot of the characters and with Liu Kang being almost the poster child, per se, of Mortal Kombat, from inception. I think they really want to focus on him, but they also want to really feel that they can connect to him, in my eyes. I feel like they can in different ways than maybe they’re used to.
Can you reveal who you’re going to be fighting?
Brian Tee: If I could reveal who I’m going to be fighting…I don’t know if I can reveal that, but I can tell you I will be fighting. (laughter)
Jonathan: Even in the trailer, I can tell one of the guys you’re fighting.
Brian Tee: Yeah, totally. If you guys all check out the trailer, please do. I think it’s one of the sickest trailers I’ve ever seen. You can tell right there who I’m fighting, but we’re all going towards the tournament and everybody’s fighting everybody. So I’m definitely fighting certain characters that people will come to see and know.
You have Cary, who plays Shang Tsung. He’s returning. You must have been excited about that.
Brian Tee: Totally. To have one of the OGs come back and play the original Shang Tsung was awesome, for all of us. It really brought the whole Mortal Kombat world (as far as the web series and the feature films, and all of that) together. I’ve always grown up watching him, and really enjoyed and respected his work. He’s one of those guys who really paved the way, especially for Asian-American actors within the industry. To share the screen with him, to have him on the set is really an honor. But also, it’s really fitting for Mortal Kombat Legacy II.
Other than Liu Kang, what other character do you think fans should be looking out for, in terms of being a badass?
Brian Tee: I honestly think, as far as being a badass, all the characters are badasses in their own right. Every fan out there will just want to root for or relate to the one that they actually play with in the game. What Kevin’s done is created this world and these elements and characters that everyone can kind of relate to, connect to and kind of borrow, especially through the character development that he’s discovered and created. Probably the one guy who is one of the biggest poster children for Mortal Kombat is Ian Anthony Dale. He brought me onto this project, and he did the teaser, he did season one, and he re-established himself in season two. Even before the trailer even starts, there’s his face, and rightfully so. I definitely think everyone should look out for Scorpion. 1 – Because he killed it. 2 – Because he’s a dear friend of mine. And 3 – Because he deserves it, and rightfully so.
Scorpion does kill Sub-Zero, in the game, so I’m not sure how you feel about that. Is it a betrayal? After all, Sub-Zero’s your favorite character.
Brian Tee: (laughter) I hear what you’re saying. I understand. Personally, and now that I’ve gotten older, I’m Liu Kang, man. I’m freaking Liu Kang, dude. Back in the day, I felt like we’ve basically rebuffed Liu Kang and we created what we created. The fact I was able to be a part of it and play him – Liu Kang is like my guy. And vice versa. Whatever Scorpion did to Sub-Zero is all good.
End of Interview
Also check out our other interviews with the MK Legacy II cast and crew.