Lewis Tan understands his “Mortal Kombat” character Cole Young, who gets knocked down in the MMA ring often before transforming into one of Earth’s greatest champion fighters.
Tan, 35, has taken his own knocks in Hollywood. The actor was even in a career funk after losing out on two major roles back-to-back before his fortunes changed suddenly with his career-altering “Mortal Kombat” showcase.
“I would get to the top of that mountain. And I’d just roll back down the hill somehow. I didn’t know how this kept happening,” says Tan. “But those moments of pressure, those moments of loss can transform into something really beautiful. They can make you great. That’s what Cole Young goes through, too. What we both experienced, it’s really phenomenal.”
Now Tan is on top of the world with his “Mortal Kombat” role playing the Earth-saving warrior. Director Simon McQuoid raves about his leading man, who can stand out in an ensemble that includes martial arts actor Joe Taslim as villain Sub-Zero.
“Lewis is a gifted martial arts fighter. He has the physicality and the screen presence,” says McQuoid. “And, he’s quite a good looking fella.”
Tan’s trajectory almost seems as predestined as Cole’s. The half-Chinese, half-British son of fashion model Joanne Cassidy and Philip Tan, a martial arts expert stuntman, Tan was born blessed with leading-man looks, a fighting skills mentor and a foot in the show business door. His father guided his eager son along in his career.
“He opened up a lot of doors for me and he opened up my eyes to the world of filmmaking,” says Tan, whose first movie role was at age 2 in 1990’s “China Cry: A True Story.”
“I was literally a baby playing a baby, my best acting,” he says. “They paid me in toys.”
After decades of paying his dues in the business, Tan didn’t hit the big breakthrough, earning parts such as the Prison Guard in “The Hangover Part III” and a commando in “Olympus Has Fallen.” He initially thought landing the role of Marvel mutant superhero Shatterstar in 2018’s “Deadpool 2” would be a major break-out.
“When I found out I was like, this character has got this crazy backstory. He’s awesome, this alien from Mojoworld. He has this Gladiator-meets-Mad Max-Blade-Runner type of vibe,” says Tan, “I was sold.”
Sold, until he found out that all of Deadpool’s (Ryan Reynolds) X-Force assembled team of superheroes — including Brad Pitt’s Vanisher — would die horrific, hilarious and quick film deaths. Shatterstar was ingloriously sucked into helicopter blades.
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“To meet a demise like the one that he met, it was very unfortunate,” says Tan.
The career climb resumed until Tan was hit with the dreaded double-denial on the movie roles. He retreated to the Japanese mountain town of Hakone to meditate and get his grounding again.
“I was super upset that I lost this part,” says Tan. “I thought, I’m just going to let the universe kind of take control, to not try to impose my timing, and continue to pursue good work.”
Two weeks later, the universe informed Tan that he was signed on for the starring role in “Mortal Kombat.”
“It was just a weird kind of synchronicity,” he says. “I thought, ‘Now is my time to prove myself.'”
During the Australian “Mortal Kombat” shoot, Tan believes he did his best career work, with the bruising results evident on the screen.
“As someone who’s been performing his own fights my entire career, to do it on this level, with this caliber of actors, with this franchise, I’m most proud of that,” he says.
Bringing his family influence full circle, Tan was able to fly his proud father out to the “Mortal Kombat” set to watch him during the last week of filming. “That was a beautiful moment,” he says.
Next, Tan will star in the December’s Netflix martial arts film “Fistful of Vengeance” and has signed on to star as a Chinese-American CIA officer in TV’s “Quantum Spy.” He also has hopes of returning to “Mortal Kombat” in a sequel teased at the end of the film.
Tan hasn’t given up on his Marvel character Shatterstar, either.
“The Marvel Universe is like the ‘Mortal Kombat’ world, there’s many different timelines and many things can happen,” says Tan. “The Marvel Universe could easily bring (Shatterstar) back or I could try my hand at a different character. So ultimately, that was a good experience.”