Darren Shahlavi is known primarily for playing bad guys in martial arts films such as Ip Man 2, Bloodmoon and Yuen Woo-ping’s Tai Chi Boxer along with Jacky Wu. Now he’s been cast as Kano in Mortal Kombat: Legacy, the wildly successful web series backed by Warner Brothers and written, directed and edited by Fame’s Kevin Tancharoen. The first two episodes are included in this interview..
Darren has starred in the Asian film series The Techno Warriors, and American films Hostile Environment, Sometimes a Hero, Legion of the Dead and the cult classic Beyond the Limits, for German Horror master Olaf Ittenbach. Recently Shahlavi appeared opposite Eddie Murphy in Columbia pictures big screen remake of I-Spy directed by Betty Thomas, and independent features The Final Cut with Robin Williams and the notorious Uwe Boll’s film BloodRayne with Kristanna Loken and Sir Ben Kingsley.
MORTAL KOMBAT: Legacy Part 1
HOW DID YOU RESEARCH THE ROLE FOR KANO? DID YOU PLAY THE GAME?
Yes, I did play it but to be honest not that much. When I played I wanted to be Liu Kang because he was like Bruce Lee. When I saw Trevor Goddard play Kano in the first movie, I loved it!. My best friend and I used to greet each other the way Liu Kang greeted Sonya Blade in the movie – ‘Hello Baby, did you miss me?” It was a running joke for a number of years when I was a teenager. I loved that character and I loved what Trevor did with him. What I did was look at the different appearances of Kano throughout the video game, as well as Trevor Goddard’s character, and tried to be different. He played it a bit more comical and over the top, and I played that down a little bit. And I also added one line when I walked away from Sonya Blade…”I’m gonna miss you Baby.” I put that in as a nod to Trevor, because I thought he was fantastic, when someone’s done a performance before you, the worse thing you can do is try to emulate it, or think you can be better than him. You have to do something a little different.
MORTAL KOMBAT: LEGACY IS AT THE FOREFRONT OF A MOVEMENT FOR HIGHER QUALITY WEB SERIES…AND SOME PEOPLE HAVE COMMENTED THAT THE WEB PLATFORM LENDS ITSELF MORE TO CREATIVITY BECAUSE THERE’S LESS STUDIO INVOLVEMENT. BUT WARNER BROTHERS IS BEHIND THIS SO HOW DOES THIS DIFFER FROM THE LARGER MOVIE SETS YOU’VE BEEN ON?
Well, I worked on Mission Impossible IV not so long ago. Everything was changing, everything was top secret. I was going to have a big fight scene with Tom Cruise. There was a lot of waiting around, and the running joke on that set was “They’re having a meeting about when the next meeting is gonna be.” Now with something like Mortal Kombat: Legacy, Kevin was given respect from the studios and from everybody to do his thing, he’s the captain of the ship. Because of Mortal Kombat: Rebirth they had faith in his creative vision. But we had a limited budget and time, so everybody had to be on top of their game and be ready. One of my favorite sayings that is applicable to filmmaking, is “Art lives on constraint and dies of freedom.” When you are making low-budget, you really have to be on your game, and the creativity comes out when you push for it. A lot of the movies I’ve been on, right at the end of the day, all of a sudden magically we’re all able to pull something out of the hat and make it work.
Those big budget movies, they have too much time, and too much money and the end result creatively can often be hurt by that. In a bigger movie some of the creative ideas are suggested by people in a board room that don’t understand the logistics of being on a set. The problem with the bigger movies is you have these really creative, energetic and fascinating directors that come in and pitch their idea for a movie, it gets a green light, they start shooting, and all of a sudden you have studio involvement. Then the director throws his hands up in the air and just wants to walk away. There’s been a couple of big pictures recently that have had directors attached and then it didn’t happen. I think there’s less of that on a lower budget because you just need to get it made.
SO YOU THINK THERE’S MORE COOPERATION?
Yes, for something like Mortal Kombat: Legacy, we were all thrilled to be there because we’d seen “Rebirth,” and we’re all just really excited. The only thing I was disappointed in was the lack of time we had for the fights, for the action. We were shooting stuff during the day and we only had an hour to do the fight between me and Michael Jai White. We just had to prepare and do the best we could.
SO I AM ASSUMING YOU DID ALL YOUR OWN STUNTS?
Yes. And that’s the thing I loved about Kevin. They wanted to have people playing those roles who were believable as those characters. And Jerry Ryan, for the little action she had, she did it herself and she did a terrific job.
MORTAL KOMBAT: Legacy Part 2
WHAT’S THE CRAZIEST OR FUNNIEST THING THAT’S EVER HAPPENED ON SET IN A FIGHT SCENE? ANY MOVIE, NOT JUST MORTAL KOMBAT.
There’s plenty. I was in Wilmington NC shooting a movie called Blood Moon with Gary Daniels. There was a scene during the fights where we both had to drop down in the splits and do some wing chun hand techniques while we were down there. We were warming ourselves up, and Gary had some Ben Gay or Icy Hot that he was putting on the back of his legs, on his hamstrings so he could stay warm and flexible for the fight scene. I’ve never used any of that stuff and I wasn’t exactly sure what it was but I put it on my legs, and…I also …I probably shouldn’t tell this story!
UH OH, AND?
I went to the washroom and I got it a little too close to my family jewels and I couldn’t do anything, perform any action for about half an hour because I was on fire between my legs.
It held up the shoot for quite a while. They were passing me baby wipes so I could clean myself up. That’s one of the hazards of shooting fight scenes, your body is like an elastic band and you must stay warm or you wil pull something.
Unfortunately, Michael Jai White did just that on the Mortal Kombat set. He pulled his hamstring during a fight with me, because we were so pushed for time. It was like “hurry hurry hurry” no time to warm up for the kicking scenes.
MY NEXT QUESTION WAS HOW DO YOU HANDLE SAFETY ON THE SET BUT I GUESS THE ANSWER WOULD BE TO HAVE LOTS OF BABY WIPES ON HAND.
The funny thing about doing action and fight scenes it can be a little bizarre, with fake guns and knives. I take it very seriously. I spent quite a few years just being a stuntman I learned you never let your adrenalin take over, it’s not about that. You kind of have to play it completely opposite to how an actor does it.
I did a movie about ten years ago with an actor where he was holding an ice skate up to my throat. I was pushing down and he was pushing up. It was a scene where he’s trying to stab me in the throat. This actor, he was trying so hard to push this ice skate up towards my throat, and I started pushing down to protect myself. He was getting into character so much his face went completely red, he cut off the oxygen. I saw his eyes roll back and he collapsed right in front of me. And me, coming from a stunt background to becoming an actor, I realized that everything is about control. It’s a controlled chaos when we do fight scenes.
It’s a lot different from acting. With acting you get into character. With action, you need just your face and body to be in character but your mind has to be thinking very practically. I know we deviated away from funny things that happened on set, but it’s kind of a serious business when your face is your business, and you don’t want to hurt anybody or get into any accidents.
So it’s quite different. A lot of actors will hit the stunt guys, and they don’t mean to. Now that I’ve come from a stunt background to being an actor, I see it in a much different way.
SO YOU’RE HAVING TO ACT EVEN HARDER BECAUSE WHAT’S GOING ON IN YOUR HEAD IS NOT WHAT’S GOING ON IN YOUR FACIAL EXPRESSIONS, YOU HAVE TO BALANCE THIS?
Yes, but ever since I was a kid, I’ve been emulating Bruce Lee, throwing kicks and looking in the mirrors. So it’s second nature, no it’s not even second nature, it IS my nature when I’m doing action to be in character and I don’t even think about that. A lot of actors who aren’t use to it would have to. You can see this when they are performing action. They forget about the character, they’re trying to remember choreography.
At one point during Ip Man 2, I did have Donnie Yen point out that I was doing that. He said “You are thinking too much about Sammo’s choreography,” I mean this is the amazing legend Sammo Hung, I wanted to make sure I got the choreography down so perfectly every time. At one point Donnie says to me “Remember your character.” I realized he was right, I was making that mistake myself, remembering the choreography perfectly but forgetting about who I was playing. That was the first time I did it myself, I slipped out of my character and became that guy.
SO IT HAPPENED TO YOU TOO AND NOW YOU WON’T BE SO HARD ON THE OTHER GUYS.
YOU JUST MOVED TO HOLLYWOOD, RIGHT?
I am in Vancouver right now but I am making the move. The position that I”m in, is a very strange place in my career right now. The meetings that I have been having today are for a movie that I am planning on directing. So I’m at a crossroads in my career, at a point where I’m still not getting offered the type of films that I want to be doing.
I had a script that I wrote and a film that I planned on directing about two years ago, and it was borne out of the frustration of not having the career that I wanted, being offered the kind of roles that could show what I can do. So I came up with this script and planned on putting all my money into this movie.
GOOD FOR YOU!
Then I got Ip Man 2, and Aladdin, a Steven Seagal movie, and a whole bunch of things started happening. Now I’m in a position of well, I Could make this movie and now and sell it and sell it well, it’s not like two years ago where I was making it out of frustration. Now we can make it and get a reasonable budget. But do I want to put my career on hold to spend a year making my own movie? So that’s the question now. Is it viable for me to put all my money in a film where I am the writer, producer, director, fight choreographer, and lead?
IT WOULD BE MORE SATISFYING TO DO YOUR OWN THING, WOULDN’T IT?
Yeah, but then again there are a few things coming up, we’re not sure what’s coming up for Mortal Kombat with a sequel to another movie I did. There’s a lot of figuring things out right now. You know what it’s like you are in production too. You want to be creative and make your own things. A lot of the movies I’ve been in recently, I wanted to do more in the fight scenes. For example, I haven’t really had a chance to throw a kick in anything I’ve been in recently, and that’s sort of what I used to be known for. So I am just creating a vehicle for myself out of frustration, and making the gamble that I can shoot it myself, put my own money in it, and that it’s going to pay off, so we’ll see. I think I’ve got a good film in me. My hope with this picture is I can get it into Fantastic Fest, and some other festivals. It’s a pretty crazy movie, east meets west. I want to get some well known Hong Kong performers. It will entail taking time off from my other roles to commit to this. But there’s a creative fire burning inside. As an actor, you’re servicing a director’s vision, and I just have different characters I want to play.
WHERE ARE YOU SHOOTING?
London, Hong Kong, Vancouver and LA.
YOU ALWAYS SEEM TO BE CAST AS THE BAD GUY, DO YOU WANT TO SWITCH THAT UP AND BE CAST AS THE HERO?
Well I have a movie coming up soon on the SyFy Channel called Aladdin: The Curse of the Jinn. I play a more mature Aladdin trying to get the “evil genie” this time. It’s my first American starring role. It’s not a big budget, it’s a SyFy original movie, and I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. They’re in post production doing the visual effects right now. Hopefully I’ll know something by Comic-Con as far as a release date. Aladdin is definitely a departure for me. The producer, Angela Mancuso, has made some great movies before. I said to her “honestly, I’m quite surprised you hired me, I am just known for playing bad guys.” She took a chance on me and gave me this really good role. So you’ll be seeing the bad guy from Ip Man 2 playing Aladdin.
OH EVERYONE REALLY KNOWS YOU”RE A NICE GUY THOUGH
I do get recognized in the street from playing these roles, I SPY, Ip Man 2, Mortal Kombat but people don’t even want to talk to me they just give me a nod, especially in Asia.
I hope this Aladdin movie changes this, and gives me a chance to play different types of characters.
WELL IS THERE ANY HUMOR IN THIS OR IS IT A STRAIGHT ROLE?
I asked the director that, is this played tongue in cheek or serious? It’s very serious, as if it’s real. That’s why I can hardly wait to see the genie in this movie, see how menacing it is.
THANK YOU DARREN.