Josh Lawson on “Mortal Kombat”
Academy award-nominated screenwriter, director, producer and actor, Josh Lawson, stars as a rogue mercenary, Kano, in the upcoming film, Mortal Kombat. He plays opposite Lewis Tan who portrays Cole Young, a young MMA fighter who embarks on a journey to unlock his supernatural abilities to save his family and stop the evil powers of the Outworld. Josh will next star opposite Simon Baker and Yael Stone in the upcoming drama, Blaze, released later this year. He also wrote, directed and stars in the comedy indie feature, Long Story Short, which follows a man who wakes up the morning after his wedding to discover that every few minutes he jumps forward to the next year of his life. An accomplished writer and director, in 2018 Lawson was nominated for his first Academy Award in the Best Live Action Short Film category for The Eleven O’clock. The Australian-born actor was also regularly seen in the TV shows: House of Lies, and Superstore.
What was the process like in landing the role of Kano?
I auditioned for it in Los Angeles and many, many, many months later, I’d forgotten all about it, of course. I was in pre-production on my film that I wrote and directed Long Story Short, and then I received a call and they said, ‘Hey, buckle up, you got Kano!’ I was like, ‘Oh, shit! Okay!’
Was it the first time you had to delve into the world of Martial Arts?
I’ve certainly done the occasional fight or stunt, but this is next level. This is very heavy fight stuff, a brand-new ballgame. But it was brilliant, and I love all that stuff. I’m just a big kid, so when they tell me I get to make believe that I look like a badass, I was like, ‘Sure, yeah let’s do it!’ And my stunt double Ben, who looks so much like me it’s crazy, was brilliant. I was really lucky to have an awesome stunt team making me look as good as possible.
Could you defend yourself in a dark alley if necessary?
(laughs) Probably not against fireballs or robotic arms like in Mortal Kombat. But look, if I couldn’t do it physically, I’d certainly write a strongly worded letter to my opponent and see if we could work it out like civilized people. (laughs)
A strongly worded letter can go a long way. Can you tell me a bit about Kano? In what ways are you like him?
He’s got a smart mouth, he’s a bit of a motor mouth, and I’ve probably been accused of that. He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, that’s probably true for me as well, to be honest (laughs). I’m an acquired taste. But in (some) ways I am not like him. He’s really unhinged, he’s psychotic in a lot of ways and he’s a mercenary, so he’s utterly greedy, ruthless, a pig. So, he’s blunt and aggressive and he’s got anger issues, so I hope I am less like him than I am more like him. But hell, maybe I am just deluded. Maybe I am exactly like Kano and I just don’t realize it, because nor would Kano!
What was it like coming off your own project to being an actor for hire again?
Oh, it was honestly like taking a vacation. (laughs) Being an actor, I am here to tell you, is a thousand times easier than writing and directing your own feature film. So, I came off the back of that and I felt like, ‘Oh, this is so relaxing!’ Even though I had to fight every day, and I was in makeup for hours I am telling you, by comparison, it was a walk in the park.
You received an Academy Award nomination for The Eleven O’Clock – did life change after that? I imagine it must have, career-wise?
Oh, not at all. I would say that it didn’t change at all and I say that completely dispassionately. It was an amazing experience and I am so glad I got a chance to go through it but after the Academy Awards, the next day, Monday, you have got to go to work, and that’s life. In a month’s time, most people couldn’t tell you who won Best Picture and if I had ever deluded myself into thinking an Oscar nomination was where it all ended and after that, it would just be beer and skittles, well, I was disabused of that in a beautiful way. Now I just focus on the work and I don’t care about the accolades, I honestly don’t. I am grateful to the Academy for that because it taught me that the work is everything and the relationships that you form along the way is the most important thing, not a trophy, not even a nomination or a trophy.
Russell Crowe said that coming to Hollywood from New Zealand or Australia you benefit from having an outsider’s perspective. Has that been your experience as well?
Yeah, look, I think there’s a lot of truth to that. We are similar in so many ways, the Americans and the Australians, but we are very different as well, really fundamentally different in a lot of ways. Here’s a great way I describe the difference on a level that I wonder if a lot of people can understand in Australia. When I was a kid going to school and I got brand new sneakers, the first thing you’d do, is dirty them up, right? You had to dirty them up because you didn’t want anyone to know that you had new sneakers. But in America, they clean them. Not only do they not dirty them, they clean them daily! That is the difference between Australia and America. Australians want to blend in, but Americans have this fundamental cultural difference where they’ve been told that they are number one, that they are the best, and to stand out. And I think that’s where I think we culturally differ. Here’s another one. In Australia, to be a ‘try hard’ is an insult, but in America, trying hard is the greatest thing you can do.
Onto something different – I read an interview where you were talking about not wanting to compete with the likes of Chris Hemsworth. What were you referring to?
Ok, this is the best way to describe it. If you look back at the leading men of the 70s, you look at Gene Hackman, Walter Matthau and Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman, those men couldn’t be leading men today because you have to look beautiful. (laughs) You have to be The Rock; you have to be Chris Hemsworth. (laughs) Now, there’s nothing against those actors, it’s just that we have culturally shifted in a huge way from what would be an acceptable leading man or woman on screen. And I got very tired of feeling the pressure of that expectation. I spent too many years of my life trying to look pretty or handsome or whatever and frankly being miserable because it’s a pointless exercise. I am not saying, ‘Woe is me; Chris Hemsworth is so beautiful and I’m not,’ that’s not the issue at all. It’s just that I just realized that that’s a game where not only I can’t win, it’s a game that I don’t even feel like playing anymore. I just want to tell stories. If I don’t get work because I don’t look leading man enough or I am getting older, I have got gray in my beard and smile lines around my eyes, I don’t give a shit anymore. And that’s a relief. And I feel so much happier telling you because it’s an amazing revelation to me, and I think that comes with age. Age has allowed me to let go of all that nonsense. I’d never go back to my 20s I’m so much happier nearly 40. As Miles Davis said, ‘It takes a long time to learn to play like yourself.’ That’s true for me.