When the announcement came that a TV series would be based off the works of Bruce Lee, the attention turned to who would be playing the main character and if he’d be an imitation of his inspiration. When Andrew Koji was cast as Warrior lead, Ah Sahm, it became clear that while he’d homage Lee, he would by no means be a copy, but instead rather make the character his own.
In anticipation of Friday’s season two premier of Warrior on Cinemax, Koji spoke to MMAWeekly.com about landing the project of his career so far, the way his experience on the series has changed him, and getting to kick a former UFC champion in the face several times in the process.
MMAWeekly.com: Firstly, Andrew, how did you get involved with Warrior and become the series’ lead, Ah Sahm?
Andrew Koji: I didn’t know what it would turn into. I didn’t know it would be as well written and clever as it is. I had no idea. I’d been a struggling actor for 10 years, working a part-time job and auditioning, so I didn’t have much time watching American TV. At the time, I had been thinking about leaving acting for a while, and my mom basically convinced me to audition.
I did it and I met the guys (behind the series); it was a gradual process to realizing what it was. At the time, it was just auditioning for a job, giving my take on this character, and what I was going to do with it. Then I started to see the writing, see the world that Jonathan Tropper had created, and then it became something (more).
MMAWeekly.com: What is it like taking on the lead in a series based on Bruce Lee’s works, and how does his influence impact the series?
Andrew Koji: It was a feeling of this role has been given to me for a reason and at least people will see that I’m right for it, even though I didn’t think I was. It was kind of stepping up to the plate and being like they put me in this role, I’ve got to do my absolute best, because this kind of opportunity doesn’t happen to many people.
It’s part that, then along the way we start seeing on set, then production offices, Bruce Lee banners and logos, quotes plastered everywhere, it was kind of a gradual process. At first I didn’t really know the significance of it, and then it was something… (Warrior castmate) Dean Jagger and I were going for a walk, going through lines and stuff, we kind of realized we are part of his legacy. We wouldn’t be working or had met if it wasn’t for him.
He inspired all these people, like Jonathan Tropper, growing up, and we had this huge feeling that this is a part of his legacy, a vision he had, and if it weren’t for that vision my life wouldn’t have changed. It became a personal feeling of gratitude towards him for how it has impacted me, and the impact he’s had on the whole world.
MMAWeekly.com: The role of Ah Sahm is extremely physical, with lots of fight scenes throughout the series. What was that training like and how has it impacted you?
Andrew Koji: When I was younger I trained in martial arts from like 10 to 20 years old. I had a very different relationship with martial arts when I was young. I was competitive. I was hot-headed. I trained unhealthily. I had an unhealthy relationship with martial arts. I wanted to be the best and this and that. I got injured quite early on and that changed my whole outlook.
Coming back to it after 10 years away from it and trying to push it away, coming back to it was such a – especially with the philosophy of Bruce Lee – it impacted my life that’s still here, now, even after we’ve wrapped and finished (filming) and all that. I think just from fitness, to mentality and mindset, I managed to train harder and reach things that I didn’t think I’d be able to do or ever thought I would be in a position to do.
MMAWeekly.com: Tell us a bit how Ah’s journey from season one leads into season two, and what can we look forward to from him in this upcoming season?
Andrew Koji: He’s been this stranger, this person on the outside, figuring out what he can be in this world; what his personal status is and position. In season two, he’s figured out the rules of the game, the laws of the land, and is trying to make that work.
What I’m excited for (fans) to see, in season two, we found the show. I remember talking to (castmate) Hoon Lee about this, he was saying season one of any TV show you’re finding the tone, the world building, finding where your performance should land and be, who the characters are; I wanted to prove him wrong. I was like, in season one we’ll find it by the end of episode one, but I think in season two we’ve really found it, and (my character) found himself in the show.
It’s going to get more complex. The relationships are going to get more complex. I think exploring that, especially towards the end of the season, when it all builds up to those last two episodes, I’m really excited for (fans) to see those last two episodes in particular.
MMAWeekly.com: In terms of action, what is it like on season two with everything elevated? And what was it like to have former UFC middleweight champion Michael Bisping guest on the show?
Andrew Koji: I think the action, just like the rest of the show, we’ve found out how to work together and communication, and pull off shots that just wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the great team and the trust we have for each other.
In terms of the characters, they’re fighting for a lot more; there’s more at stake. I think we’re having more fun and manage to pull off more technical, difficult shots than season one. It’s bigger, better, brutal, flashier, and the characters are starting to evolve and I think maybe become more brutal.
Michael Bisping comes along, helping us. He did a great job with his role. He’s a good sport. He’s such a cool guy. I get to kick him in the face, multiple times, as well. When he’s running up to me in the fight, Andrew is bricking himself, but (in character) staying calm and cool.
MMAWeekly.com: Thanks for taking time out for us, Andrew. Is there anything you would like to add in closing?
Andrew Koji: I think this show is not only important in terms of representation, but it has this eerie kind of relevance to attitudes at the time to the current day. I think also, for Bruce Lee’s legacy, as somebody who has made an impact on so many people’s lives, I think we had to try to tell this story. I think that this is more than a TV show, like entertainment, this is like an important (thing). It feels like it’s becoming something bigger than a TV show. If people want more, please be vocal about it and we’ll try to get it done.
Warrior Season 2 Official Trailer
(Video courtesy of Cinemax)