As if launching a new television series isn’t difficult enough, to do so with a connection to not one of martial arts biggest stars, but one of pop culture’s biggest icons in Bruce Lee, had the potential to make things even more challenging. Cinemax’s “Warrior” took on that challenge, and following critical and fan support for its first season, the show is set to return for season two on Oct. 2.
Speaking with MMAWeekly.com shortly before the season two premier of “Warrior,” series co-creator and writer Jonathan Tropper discussed the series’ first season, the breakout performance of lead Andrew Koji, and how he and his team approached the upcoming season two.
MMAWeekly.com: Firstly, Jonathan, were you more nervous prior to the season one debut of “Warrior” or after its premiere to see how people would react to it?
Jonathan Tropper: When you make a show, you’re really in a bubble for so long where you’re surrounded by people who understand it the way you do and who are as passionate about as you are, so joined and united in the desire for success. You live with for so long, you love it for so long, then the day comes along where people who don’t have that investment have to react to it. It’s still frightening.
There’s an excitement; we’re proud of it and are so excited to have it out there, and we think it’s great, so we’re confident, but at the same time you want it to be understood. You hope people watching will appreciate and understand the intent and what you were doing, and it will translate.
Once it came out and it was well-received critically and by the fans, then it was just exciting with each subsequent episode to watch how people reacted to what happens next. You get a great sense of satisfaction that you’ve created this piece of entertainment that is actually generating the entertainment, discussion, and excitement you wanted. It’s a very fulfilling experience.
MMAWeekly.com: Can you just sit back and relax and watch something you’ve worked on or are you always going to see it through a critical eye?
Jonathan Tropper: It’s definitely hard when you watch your own stuff because you see all the holes. In a lot of cases you know what was intended and had to change because of the physical limitations of your set, your production time, or the notes you got.
By the time you see an episode on TV, I’ve watched it to death in post-production. I’ve edited every scene over and over again; worked on specific sound effects for two hours, or that particular punch that doesn’t look like it landed for two hours; so by the time you see it on TV, it’s very hard to see as a whole episode, you see it as all the little bits you struggled with.
The dramatic scenes are the ones that will surprise you. Things that didn’t require that level of work; scenes where you can sit back and suddenly see a scene you sort of forgot about and watch the two actors nail it and feel good about it. It’s sort of a mixed bag.
MMAWeekly.com: What was it like to see series lead, Andrew Koji, grow over the course of the season and really have a breakout performance as Ah Sahm?
Jonathan Tropper: What Koji did was pretty much super human. He spent the months between when he was cast and when he reported for production getting himself in incredible physical condition. He took the training very seriously. He not only wanted in some ways to emulate the physical precision that Bruce Lee was famous for, but at the same time he wanted the martial arts to really work.
He studied with a number of martial arts teachers. He studied with Korean teachers for kicking, he studied with Chinese teachers for the Wing Chun, he threw himself into it to such an incredible degree he transformed himself physically.
I think he also kind of through that process also made himself that character. If you spend time with Andrew off screen, he’s nothing like his character on it. I think what he did was transformative and probably in some ways career-defining for him. I know he’s going to go on to much bigger things.
MMAWeekly.com: Now that season two is set to premier on Oct. 2 on Cinemax, what are some of the differences or challenges you face from one season to the next?
Jonathan Tropper: Season one is all about building the world. That’s what the narrative is doing. It’s defining the characters, it’s building the world, and is setting everything in motion. When it comes to season two, you don’t have to do the heavy lifting of building the world.
We have the luxury of 10 episodes of exploration without having to add that much more world building. So it becomes a much more character-intense process. We really study each character and try to figure out what the arc is for this character and what’s going to further complicate this character and give us these revelations about the character.
For shows like this then the question is: How do we intertwine all these story arcs. How do we make what’s happening in the Mayor’s office in San Francisco affect what’s going on in the Tong Boss’ office in Chinatown, affect what’s going on in the brothel , affect what’s going on in wine country, and the fun of expanding the world by finding new ways to connect all the characters.
MMAWeekly.com: When it comes to the action, what can we expect from the upcoming season?
Jonathan Tropper: One of my stated objectives as soon as we got to season two was: This show is inspired by the work of Bruce Lee. This show is inspired by the spirit of Bruce Lee. We also want to capture the iconography of Bruce Lee. As a kid, one of the first things I saw Bruce Lee do was in Way of the Dragon pull out the nunchucks. Everyone in the 70’s was obsessed with nunchaku because of Bruce Lee. It sounds like a small thing, but it’s exciting to bring in new iconography of Bruce Lee to the show.
That’s one thing I think martial arts fans can look forward to. Another thing martial arts fans can look forward to is we got (former UFC champion) Michael Bisping to be on the show. I’ve worked in my past with MMA fighters, but nobody the caliber of Michael Bisping. It’s very exciting to get somebody in that league come do an episode of the show.
MMAWeeklly.com: Thanks for taking time out for us, Jonathan. Is there anything you want to say in closing?
Jonathan Tropper: Everyone involved with the show is very proud of it. In our second season we made it our goal to ratchet up the tension, ratchet up the writing, and also ratchet up the martial arts, and I think we really accomplished all of that. So I think for whatever you’re into the show for you’re not going to be disappointed.
Warrior Season 2 Official Trailer
(Video courtesy of Cinemax)