Joe Taslim talks being Mortal Kombat’s ‘Sub Zero’

A quarter through 2021 and it’s already proving to be one of the biggest years in the career of actor Joe Taslim. Earlier in the year, “Warrior”, the series Taslim co-stars in based off the writings of martial arts legend Bruce Lee, moved from Cinemax to HBO Max with great success and was recently renewed for a third season. Then in what could prove to be Taslim’s breakout role, his turn as Sub Zero in the Mortal Kombat reboot this April has helped propel him to bigger stardom in what’s becoming one of 2021’s biggest hit movies.

Speaking to from Jakarta, Indonesia, Taslim spoke about “Warrior”, Mortal Kombat, and what it took to bring one of video games’ most recognizable figures to life both physically and mentally. Firstly, Joe, tell us your thoughts on the recent renewal of “Warrior” on HBO Max and how it feels to know it will continue for at least another season.

Joe Taslim: When I heard about it we had a good chat with everybody, the cast, the producers, and everybody went crazy. We worked so hard to continue the story.

After we finished the second season, a lot of fans asked about a third season but we couldn’t really answer because we didn’t know what was going to happen. Cinemax (ceased production on original series) and then the show is on HBO Max and it all depends on HBO and the creative there and if they wanted to continue the story. The fans pushed (for a renewal). It took a while then (series writer and co-creator) Jonathan Tropper called me that HBO really loved the show and it was playing really good on the (HBO Max) platform and now we were going to have a Season 3.

So we were super delighted, excited, and we did the video saying we’re back. The show is not just a job for us, it’s very important to all of us. It’s very rare. It’s beautiful. We believe in the show, we love the characters, the story and the message. We’re very proud, happy, and thankful that we’ll have more than two seasons. Along with “Warrior” you went on to make Mortal Kombat playing Sub Zero, and series star Andrew Koji shot the G.I. Joe reboot as Storm Shadow. So who would win in a fight, your Sub Zero or Koji’s Storm Shadow?

Joe Taslim: [Laughs] Storm Shadow, he is a badass. Sub Zero, he is as well. The only upside of Sub Zero is that he is quite eternal, he’s 400 years old, the life expectancy is higher than human. I would say maybe there’s a chance Sub Zero could freeze Storm Shadow and take advantage. When I spoke to you last September there wasn’t a lot of media out about Mortal Kombat, and then the trailer dropped and people went crazy for it. What was that like for you to see peoples’ reactions to the trailer?

Joe Taslim: It was unreal. When they released the trailer and then all the reactions, all the fans celebrated it, we were so happy because we did it right. The fans have been very responsive, very supportive.

The movie has been out in Asia for two weeks, and the response here is super crazy. In Russia we made a lot of fans there. So now let’s see how far we can go because now the real fight is in the US market and see if it’s going to do good or if we’re going to get a chance to continue the story. Sub Zero is one of the most recognizable characters not only in the Mortal Kombat universe but in video games as a whole and even in pop culture. Was there a lot of pressure on you in bringing him to life in this film?

Joe Taslim: It came with responsibility I have to say. When I said yes to the role I knew that it’s huge. The character is iconic. He has been for 30 years since they released the game. But I was so sure about it, because I grew up playing the game I knew Sub Zero, he was my favorite character, so what I knew what I had to do was dive deeper to give him soul and make him not just badass, but to give him more soul, emotions, all that stuff.

So far the response is pretty delightful. All the fans have said “thank you” and that “you bring justice to Sub Zero” and that’s the reward to me. For the fans to say they love the delivery for me it’s like job accomplished, mission accomplished, so I’m happy. It was quite a pressure but now I’m in relief. One of the central themes throughout adaptations of Mortal Kombat has been the rivalry between the rivalry between Sub Zero and Scorpion. What was it like creating that dynamic with Scorpion actor Hiroyuki Sanada?

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Joe Taslim: I respect Hiroyuki so much. I’m a huge fan of him. The first time we met in training we discussed where wanted to go, what kind of vibe we wanted to bring. I believe acting is reacting. I told him my approach. He told me his approach. Somehow the director (Simon McQuoid) agreed with where we wanted to go with it.

From my perspective, in the fight scenes, especially with someone so legendary like Hiroyuki it’s all about trust. Even though we’re enemies, Scorpion and Sub Zero, the fight scenes are so dangerous you need to have the trust that we’re going to go all-out, I’m going to go all-out, but the last thing I want to do is to hurt him. I have to believe he’s going to do the same thing so we can go 100% in all the action stuff.

Technically for that, trust is very important, but in terms of character, I told him that Sub Zero’s here is actually based on our rivalry. Chemistry-wise in the characters we have to agree first, and then the next step and you have to have chemistry in the fights and trust each other, so it quite a process. It was not easy but we did it and enjoy it. Speaking of the fight scenes, what was it like making those scenes for Mortal Kombat where not everything you’re interacting with is there on set with you?

Joe Taslim: Mortal Kombat was my first time shooting a process where I have to imagine stuff. I have to imagine everything. Somehow (the filmmakers) could see it, somehow they need to understand where I want to go, because I need to perform everything and believe in my mind like it’s there. So they need to capture that message so they can work with the VFX. When I saw the results I told them that it was exactly what I imagined. If people haven’t had a chance to check out Mortal Kombat yet, tell them why they should check it out.

Joe Taslim: If you’re a fan of Mortal Kombat you’re going to have a lot of fun. Because with the technology today the visuals are super beautiful and super cool. For people who don’t, or haven’t played the game, this movie is a fantasy action movie about protecting the earth. It’s not hard to digest. It’s a movie you can have fun with your friends or family and get entertained with all the action, VFX, sound, music by Benjamin Wallfisch.

I think the thing that is very cool is that they get to see the back story of Scorpion and Sub Zero when they were not Scorpion and Sub Zero. I think that’s the cool part that the fans want to see, want to know, and after they watch the movie they will want to play the game.

Sub Zero is an important character in the movie, but I think you’ll see this story is about Cole (Young), it’s a story about these fighters finding their arcana. It’s a story about him and his connection with Scorpion.

He’s probably the eyes of people who don’t know Mortal Kombat. He’s representing the people who don’t know Mortal Kombat because he is a new character. I believe he’s the part that people who want to know more about Mortal Kombat because the fans already know everything already. Thanks for taking time out for us, Joe. Is there anything you can tell us about what you’re up to or what you’ve got upcoming next?

Joe Taslim: I’m excited for Season 3 (of “Warrior”) next year. This year I’ve received a couple of offers, but I think me and my agents, my team here, we want to be very careful about what we want to do next. I need to believe in the scrip. Now we’re still looking for the right gem. Nothing’s fixed yet, it’s still in the grey area, but one thing’s for sure that next year’s going to be exciting.