There’s an upcoming film in the summer you may have heard of called The Wolverine and I luckily got to chat with one of the actors in it, Brian Tee. You’ll recognise Brian Tee from an array of projects that are completely diverse and eclectic but his highest profile role to date is as DK of the Fast and Furious franchise. He gave up his time to chat with us about some of his future projects – there are a lot of them and a lot to talk about because he loves what he’s doing. His foray into acting is almost accidental too by being in an acting class in college before then turning to major in theatre. He is a wonderful guy to chat to who is a fanboy when it comes to films, television and his childhood loves of videogames and comics. We got to chat with him about most of his work set for release over the next few months – The Wolverine, Mortal Kombat: Legacy – and icons he’d love to work with.
You’re in the new Wolverine film which is one of the most anticipated summer blockbuster but there’s a bit of scepticism after the previous one, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, do you think it’s better than that one and will surpass it?
I’m bias so yes! [laughs] To be honest, I’m a huge X-Men and Wolverine fan, I mean ever since I was a kid I grew up reading the comic books so I’m kind of a self-proclaimed fanboy. I thoroughly enjoy all of the movies and especially me being a part of this one was just an honour and a blessing; the kid who had his dream come true feeling for me. I think what sets this one apart from the others for me is the addition of James Mangold as a director, him bringing so much character and depth to the Wolverine character and to the storylines. Along with the amazing action that is above and beyond anything I’ve ever seen or ever been a part of. I think the fans will be pleasantly surprised when they come out and watch this one.
Are you a big comic book fan?
I am a comic book fan, more so as a kid than I am as of recent. X-Men were my favourite team and Wolverine was my guy. As a kid growing up here in the States, we’d celebrate Hallowe’en and I would be Wolverine! I would build these adamantium claws out of cardboard and aluminium foil. [laughs] So yeah I was definitely into comic books.
Is there a comic book that you’d love to see be made into a film?
Oooh! Good question! I was a huge Punisher War Journal fan – though they’ve made Punishers before. The War Journals saga and story was really, really impressive to me. What I like is when the comic book figures cross-over and clash; like you have Wolverine vs. Spider-Man, or Wolverine vs. The Incredible Hulk and they’re doing that with The Avengers but The Avengers are all a part of The Avengers [laughs], I’d love to see – and I’m sure there’s going to be a day – where you’ll see Spider-Man join with Wolverine to go talk to Iron Man. I loved when they crossed over because I was always a fan of them individually but I loved the stories when they actually meet up.
Back to The Wolverine, can you tell us a bit about your character or are you bound to not give anything away?
Yeah I guess what I can share is that I play Noburo Mori, he’s considered the politician of Japan or the up-and-rising politician, and he kind of rides the line between good and evil, per se. I guess all politicians kind of do that [laughs] and in this kind of storyline, The Wolverine’s origin, I’m arranged to be married to Mariko [Yashida, played by Tao Okamoto] who Wolverine – actually I should say Logan – has some interest in. There’s a bit of a combative love triangle between the three, that’s a part of the whole Wolverine movie in general. It’s a fun, fun character; one that I thoroughly enjoyed and I tried to bring to life what was on the page and hopefully the fans will enjoy it too.
How did you get the part for this?
It was an interesting thing because The Wolverine has started and stopped, started and stopped, throughout two, almost two and a half years and was auditioning for all that time. I would go in and they’d put a hold on Wolverine, I would go in again and something else would happen. Interestingly enough, for this character, it went down to the eleventh hour and I had really no idea where they were with the movie and really didn’t think twice about it because I’d gone in and come out so many times and I’d just left it be. Suddenly I got a phone call that they wanted to see me again and when they saw me it was actually for a completely different character, not for a character that I’d read for the first time and subsequently that character was Noburo Mori. I thank the, what I call, the film gods or the powers that be were creative enough to say ‘yeah, Brian can play this guy!’
Who did you originally audition for if it wasn’t Noburo Mori?
I’m unfortunately not allowed to say! To be quite honest, that old character I don’t believe is… I wanna say he’s a part of this… I’ll just say this: the script has changed and gone in a few different directions where the characters I did audition for may not necessarily be in this one.[laughs]
The film has gone through so many drafts and redrafts and directors and so on but there’s one standout director that was attached that did step away. It’s weird that he did but were you originally attached when Darren Aronofsky was?
I don’t think anyone was attached, obviously besides Hugh Jackman [laughs] but when Darren Aronofsky was attached in the beginning, I did go in and audition. Down the line he had to step away and I lived through the saga of going in and auditioning and going back in for different times and different casting directors. I was fortunate enough to get it in the end.
I can imagine it being quite a tense set because of the budget and time constraints, it’s one of the summer blockbusters which is most anticipated especially because of its predecessor and the fact it’s one of Marvel’s biggest characters. Was it a lot of fun on set or was the atmosphere of expense and importance too much?
There’s a lot of pressure going into a giant movie like this because everyone expects for it to be great but then again the captain of our ship was James Mangold and he, to me, is a very fun and genuine guy. The feeling on set was very professional and very serious, we have high expectations, but everyone still had a lot of fun. I had a blast being on set especially to work with this cast that was completely, completely amazing; Hiroyuki Sanada and everyone across the board and I’d be ashamed if I didn’t mention Hugh Jackman who is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. Both of them setting the tone, especially with James Mangold at the head. It was a very fun set, for me a very light set. Though we’re doing some very serious, amazing work, I think all in all we got the best of both worlds. The experience was so fun and so amazing but the work I felt we did was that as well and is something to be seen.
You’ve also been doing the follow up season to Mortal Kombat: Legacy which is available on the Machinima channel on YouTube, what can you tell us about that?
Mortal Kombat: Legacy is in its second season helmed by Kevin Tancharoen and I play the character Liu Kang. At first, to be completely honest, I didn’t necessarily want the character of Liu Kang. Growing up as a kid I played Mortal Kombat the videogame and I never played as the character Liu Kang because I felt he was almost a cliché of Bruce Lee. [laughs] I didn’t want to emulate that character as an actor. But a good dear friend of mine – Ian Anthony Dale, who plays Scorpion – told me that I had to read the script and it was kind of tailor made for me. I did and he was absolutely right. They completely flipped the character on its head; made him much more human, someone I feel the audience could connect to and he has a darker side to him. He himself is riding the line between Earth realm and Outworld which are the two worlds that are in battle in the Mortal Kombat series.
I feel there’s so much depth, character and character arc to this story that as soon as I read that I just had to be a part of it, especially after talking to Kevin Tancharoen who’s, I feel, this genius of sorts to really humanise this fantasy world of Mortal Kombat and have that as an element where the audience can actually relate to these characters; all of us being fanboys and fangirls ourselves playing them to even love them even more. Then having the amazing action and all of that stuff rolled into one. I really think Kevin is taking to a whole new level and I’m just happy to be a part of it.
It’s a very unusual style of doing it as well because it’s been done as a web series but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the production values.
Yeah, from what I’ve been told, season one is the most watched scripted web series ever in history. So they have very high hopes for season two which will be on the Machinima channel across the States but I’m not sure the UK will get it but I hope you do.
I’ve watched a few so I think we do have it thankfully.
Oh fantastic, fantastic!
I watched the season 2 trailer as well.
That’s one of the best trailers I’ve seen, it certainly got me pumped. [laughs]
It reminded me a bit of the original Mortal Kombat film by Paul WS Anderson, not the second one thankfully because that was all new levels of awful.
[laughs] I know Kevin was really hoping to redefine Mortal Kombat and put his stamp on it. Growing up himself he was a huge fanboy, admittedly so, and he wanted to bring the Mortal Kombat “legacy” to the forefront. Him allowing the audience to really see what it can be and what it is, the audience has responded. I think his trailer [Mortal Kombat: Rebirth] got 20m+ views and the same with the whole entire series being the most watched in history. I’m really, really excited to be a part of it, really excited for the fans to see it and to see the Liu Kang story come to life in season 2.
I’m a big fan of Mortal Kombat as well and I must say I enjoyed it. Growing up it was a staple part of my childhood so it’s quite important haha.
Definitely, me too. Who did you play? That’s what I’m curious about. [laughs]
It was either Scorpion or Sub-Zero, I actually dressed up as them on my 18th birthday, me and my brother did when went on a night out.
[laughs] I love it! [laughs] Those two guys were the guys I played … everyone likes the bad guys! They just seemed much darker than the other characters but still have this soul to them. Both of those guys are very popular in the Mortal Kombat world.
I think it’s more Scorpion’s line when he whips them and brings them in, that “GET OVER HERE!” line is iconic.
There’s a possible future project, you’re working with Michael Rooker on a film called He Who Dares.
Yeah, He Who Dares actually came up as of quite recent. It’s basically a story pre-9/11 and about the conspiracy theories of the American government, the CIA actually selling weapons to Al Qaeda, it’s that story, that journey. I will be playing a CIA agent a part of that storyline. I’m excited about that, we haven’t fine tuned the details of this story or me being a part of it or when we’re actually going to shoot it but I’m really excited and hopefully it’ll happen very soon.
You have obviously had the big role as DK (Drift King) in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, what are your thoughts on the film and how the sequels have messed with the chronology?
The experience I had on the film was amazing, I got to work with my friends, made some friends and happy I got to work especially with Justin Lin. It was one of the most gratifying and amazing film experiences of my life. I would say if there was any movie that put me on the map or at least on the radar then it would be that movie. I’m just blessed to be a part of that whole franchise. The fact they’ve made subsequent ones I think is great, I think it’s awesome! I was a fan before I was even a part of it and the movies just seem to be getting better and better. Justin is so incredible as a director and what he visualises is so spot-on with this franchise and bringing the original characters back, having their connections, following through with their storylines, their journey and being a part of their lives as the sequels continue. It really brings the best of both worlds together. I feel Justin is such a genius in doing that and is really what propels more and more to come. I hope the new one, Fast Six, comes out and will be a huge blockbuster hit and I’m looking forward to watching it. Because I have nothing but admiration and respect for Justin Lin; for bringing me on board for Tokyo Drift and everything he’s doing with the franchise and continuing above and beyond the expectations of everybody.
If they somehow managed to write you in, in some miracle of a way, would you return to the franchise?
[laughs] No question. If the storyline is somehow that I’m back I would jump at the opportunity. One of the favourite characters I’ve ever played is DK. For them to bring him back and be a part of the franchise once again – DK will always be in my heart and I would just love to be able to play him again and play with the other characters as well. Ab-so-lutely!
I’ll start the petition.
Yes! Please do! [laughs] Start the petition! That’d be great!
You got to learn how to drift while making The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, didn’t you? That sounds like so much fun.
I learned, not that I was a huge racer as a kid by any means, I felt comfortable in a car. Drifting was a whole new world, a whole new element of car racing. They were able to train us quite a bit with the drifting. I feel technically I’m able to do it but physically… I mean you’ve got the best stunt drivers in the world who’ve been doing it for 15-20 years who can literally hit a mark – a piece of tape on the floor, or wherever the camera is you’re supposed to hit a mark to play towards the camera – they could do that with their car better than I can do with my feet. [laughs] I have nothing but respect for those guys and bow down to their drifting ability. What you see in that particular movie is what you get. I want to say 95% of the stunts you see in that movie were really done. That’s what I feel sets Tokyo Drift apart. Those stunts were really done by real drivers who were really drifting. That’s why I love the movie so much too because the stuff on the screen is the real deal.
You’ve been quite prolific in recent years and in a lot of diverse roles, do you have any other future projects that we haven’t already spoken about?
I just finished this pilot called Anatomy of Violence and it’s from the creators of Homeland. Homeland is one of my favourite shows and a huge hit out here in the States. To be able to work with those creators and a whole new television series pilot is a blessing. There aren’t any promises, especially during pilot season, about what the studios and channels might pick up but if this does get picked then I’ll hope to rejoin the cast. It stars Amber Tamblyn and Skeet Ulrich. In the future, I’m just looking for the next thing. I want to put my hands into producing elements again. I have a couple of television stories and feature projects that I want to put together from the ground up and see what I can do with those. Acting is my first and foremost so if something comes on along the way that I really enjoy or connect with then there’s no stopping me.
Is there much you can tell us about Anatomy of Violence because the title and the creators alone pique an interest, never mind the addition of Skeet Ulrich and Amber Tamblyn.
What can I say about Anatomy of Violence… If I’m allowed, I guess I could say that… Sorry, I’m just biting my tongue a bit and I hate doing that. [laughs]
I don’t want to get you in trouble haha.
[laughs] I know, I know. Anatomy of Violence centres around a criminal psychologist and his expertise is in sociopaths. He partners with this FBI detective played by Amber Tamblyn, they share in their qualities and talents to solve complicated crimes. There’s also this twist; a conflicting twist of their past that isn’t quite revealed. Audiences will, as they watch, slowly peel some of the layers away and then you’ll have to watch and see! Hopefully it does get picked up and audiences can really connect because it’s by far one of the best pilot scripts I’ve ever read. I’m really, really, really excited for it and I’m really rooting for it to come to fruition.
That sounds interesting. It’ll be nice to see Skeet Ulrich again.
Yeah! I did an episode of Skeet’s show, Jericho. It had this huge cult following and it was sad to see it end. I hope the best for him and I hope that it comes together for him. He’s a true and genuine human being, thoroughly enjoyed working with him, I think the audience will love him in this character if they get to see it.
My final question now. Is there a director or an actor that you’d love to work with?
If I could only pick one? [laughs]
Haha no, you can list however many people you like but one standout would be great.
Gosh… As far as actors, along with my peers, there are so many. Off the top of my head, I want to work with the people at the highest level and respect truly as artists. I really enjoyed everything Tom Hardy is doing, especially got to throw in the Leonardo DiCaprios, Ryan Goslings of the world’s greats. Then the legends of the world… I’d be honored to share some screen time with the De Niros, the Pacinos, the Hanks, the Denzels, the Streeps of the world. And you can’t not add the Depps, the Robert Downey Jr.s, the Pitts and their greatness to the list too. I feel if there was one that I’d thoroughly enjoy and literally just learn from it would have to be Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s, I feel, one who exudes and completely embodies a character like no one else I’ve ever seen. He’s the pinnacle. If I can share screen time with him that’d be great. Just being able to work with him and watch his idiosyncrasies, his methods, his craft would be unbelievable. If there was one person who I’d be completely in awe of but wanting to share my talents with as well and obviously learn from it’d have to be Daniel Day-Lewis.
Gosh on the directing side… Phew… Jeez. I’d go with the most recent ‘wow, I really enjoyed this film!’ his name is David Ayers and he just did this film called End of Watch. I actually watched it way later in a small movie theatre, it was almost a surprise to me. Everyone had talked about it. It was on a mid-afternoon in summer time, I had to kill time, I walked into this theatre and thought ‘I’ll check this out’ and it just moved me so much. He was one of the guys who I thought ‘I have to, have to, have to, have to work with this guy!’ With that, I can’t go without saying some of the greats: the Spielbergs of the world, Scorseses of the world, the Finchers.
I’m so glad you named Fincher then because he’s my favourite director of all time.
Absolutely, 100,000%! Gosh, I hate to pick just one like Daniel Day-Lewis but on the directors side… Gosh it’s so hard… To be a part of a Christopher Nolan movie would be unbelievable – I just want to know how he works. All of his movies are huge and epic but you get involved with the characters, he also has this thematic throughline that’s not a punch in the face, the way he kind of tells the story is really amazing. There’s so much more! I don’t know if you ever saw the movie Warrior. It’s one of my faves of 2011. It’s one of those, I don’t know if I should say smaller movies, but it was less on the radar; when I watched that thing I was just like ‘wow…’ The subject matter is very particular but after watching the movie it’s like a backdrop to what the real movie is about. That’s what I loved he [Gavin O’Connor] did with that movie. There are more I’d absolutely love to work with. Off the top of my head, those are the ones. But I’d be ashamed if I didn’t mention Tarantino, I grew up watching his movies with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, but he also wrote True Romance and Natural Born Killers and in those early 90’s he has to be the director that influenced me the most. So I would love to work with him one day.
I sincerely appreciate you guys having me, I don’t think I’ve done any press personally overseas and throughout the UK. I thank you for allowing me to do this and hopefully we can do it again and even work in movies out there I’d love to be a part of.
You can catch Brian Tee in The Wolverine which is released in the UK and US on the 26th of July. As well as that there’s Mortal Kombat: Legacy season 2 ready to be released on the Machinima channel but catch up on the first season as it is available for UK viewers also. There’s plenty of ways to catch him and, if our discussion is anything to go by, you can see there will be plenty more in the future too.
In the meantime, we’ll leave you with the international trailer for The Wolverine.
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