After Mortal Kombat‘s opening weekend victory at the domestic box office, Sub-Zero actor Joe Taslim can’t help but imagine future (and past) stories involving his character. The Indonesian actor and renowned martial artist was offered the role of Bi-Han/Sub-Zero out of the blue, fulfilling a childhood dream in the process. And even though the assassin met his demise in Simon McQuoid’s franchise relaunch, no one’s ever really gone in the Mortal Kombat universe as the video game franchise resurrected Sub-Zero into Noob Saibot.
“Yes, that’s the next transformation of the character,” Taslim tells The Hollywood Reporter. “If the fans want this franchise to continue, then there’s a strong chance that the next step for Bi-Han is to play Noob Saibot. Fingers crossed, but I hope it happens because I definitely want to play that character.”
As much as Taslim wants a proper sequel to Mortal Kombat, a Sub-Zero prequel is his utmost preference since he’d be able to explore Bi-Han’s tragic past.
“The most interesting path, in my opinion, is to do a prequel,” Taslim shares. “It would be a story about Bi-Han and his training in the Lin Kuei. When he got abducted by the Lin Kuei, his parents were killed. So it would be the process of him and his brother becoming assassins.… We would get to see two future Sub-Zeros in one movie, and that would be intriguing.”
In a recent conversation with THR from his home in Jakarta, Taslim also discusses the toll that Sub-Zero’s costume took on him, and why he wants to shed the label of “action actor.”
So I read that you got a call out of the blue, offering you the role of Sub-Zero. Did you have a hard time believing it at first?
Well, it took me a while, but the little kid inside of me was jumping around when they told me they wanted me to play Sub-Zero. I grew up playing Mortal Kombat, and Sub-Zero was my hero, especially Bi-Han, who’s going to turn into Noob Saibot. Noob Saibot is my favorite character in MK11. So I asked about the script because I needed to know what I was getting into, and when they sent me the script, the first 10 pages hooked me straight away. That turned out to be my favorite 10 minutes — the first 10 minutes — of the movie.
Was your son pretty impressed?
Yeah, my son is 10-years-old, and I asked him, “Which character do you think fits me in Mortal Kombat?” And his first answer, straight away, was Sub-Zero. So I was like, “OK, it’s meant to be. It’s meant to be.” I love Sub-Zero. My son loves Sub-Zero. The character in the movie, and in the script, is written beautifully. So, yeah, it was a dream come true, I’ve got to say.
What was the evolution of the costume?
It took them a while because the first fitting was very stiff and super heavy. And then they asked for my opinion because I was going to be the one wearing it and flying around in the movie. (Laughs.) So there weren’t a lot, but there were some adjustments throughout the process. We also had two costumes. One is the real one, which is super heavy. And then the other one is the fight version, which is a bit lighter and easier to move in. But both are heavy, I’ve got to say. (Laughs.) And we tried a couple of masks. They were so thoughtful because they said, “You’re going to do a lot of exhausting stuff, and we don’t want to fit the mask straight on to your skin because you need to breathe.” That’s why they made the mask a bit bigger on purpose. A lot of people have mentioned and questioned the mask, saying, “The mask is too big.” But because I know the story, it’s for safety purposes, it’s for me to perform better, and it’s so I can breathe. So, yeah, it was worth it. It’s a bit big, but it helped me a lot. I had plenty of room to breathe during the action stuff.
How long did it take for you to get used to fighting in the lighter costume?
Well, the original one was maybe 70 percent metal, and then the fight version was a thick rubber. So it was impossible to move in the metal version. With the thick rubber version — even though it looks the same as the metal one — it’s flexible so you can fight. Let’s say you extend your elbow or do a high-kick, it’ll follow; the metal one didn’t follow. (Laughs.) So the thick rubber took me a while to adjust to because it’s still heavy. There’s also two layers because I have another layer inside. The second layer was for the look and to make my body fit the armor. Still, it was quite a struggle. So it took me three weeks to really adjust to the costume and to think of the costume not as an extension, but as a part of me. So three weeks after wearing the costume, I felt, “OK, this is Sub-Zero and it’s a part of me.” The process is very important.
I know you rerecorded most of your lines during ADR sessions, but on the day, could the other actors still hear your dialogue through the mask?
It was actually me who couldn’t hear them because the rubber helmet kind of covered everything. So, sometimes, I’d just yell, “What? Can you say it again?” And then the AD would run and whisper dialogue in my ear. So it was quite weird to be in that void world where you can’t really hear anything, but you’ve got to do everything, including all the hard stuff. So that was quite a challenge for me, along with the heavy costume. In the action movies that I did previously, I didn’t have to wear helmets, masks, or heavy costumes. So this movie was quite challenging for me, but I’m glad that the crew was so helpful.
In the opening scene, Bi-Han and Hanzo (Hiroyuki Sanada) spoke in different languages to each other. Did the script translate Hanzo’s Japanese dialogue for you, or was there a translator on set?
In the script, it’s written in two languages — the English version and the Japanese version. For my character as well, there’s an English version and a Chinese version. So everybody understood each other’s lines. And I’m also quite fortunate; I don’t speak Japanese, but I trained in judo in Japan. So the language is familiar to me, and it wasn’t a stranger. So I quickly adjusted because I also have Japanese lines, and I understood 30 percent of Hanzo’s Japanese lines. So I was quite lucky that I had some experience in knowing those languages.
When Sub-Zero would use his ice powers, I know they added CG later, but did they use any fake ice on set?
No. (Laughs.) All the swords are imaginary. In the beginning of the movie where I play with the ice power, everything was imaginary. Actually, it was quite beautiful because they didn’t know what I was going to do. Once I got into character, they didn’t know what I was going to do with the ice. It was a beautiful collaboration where I somehow pictured everything in my mind that I was going to do. And then I would say to the director, “I’m going to do this, Simon. I don’t know how the VFX are going to make it, but my mind has to be this way.” So we discussed it first, but most of the scenes with the ice power were done with my imagination. That’s the most powerful thing in this world, I think.
Since you’re a martial artist, did you contribute to some of the fight choreography?
No. The first time they invited me to watch the previs, I fell in love straight away with the choreography. I thought it was beautiful. But they asked me, “Do you want to do anything? Do you want to add anything?” But I was there to work, and I really respect the choreographers, coming from a martial arts background. I believe they’re the best people, and they did an amazing job with the choreography. When I was there during the training and the shooting, I was just there to dance to their music. I think that’s probably the easiest way to say it. It’s their music, and I try to sing to it and dance to it as best I can. I then put my soul and my character into the choreography. So I give them all of the credit.
Which fight did you enjoy the most?
The beginning. (Laughs.) I enjoyed the first scene the most because it’s beautiful. I talked to Simon about it and said, “Simon, the fight with Bi-Han and Hanzo Hasashi, it’s better that I don’t use the ice power.” It’s a warrior against another warrior, to show who is the best clan between Lin Kuei and Shirai Ryu. Bi-Han could have just used a lot of powers in the fight, but he didn’t out of respect for Hanzo Hasashi. It’s very raw, it’s very real, and I think that’s a beautiful approach. If they put special powers, or ice power, in that fight, it wouldn’t have felt the same. So I’m glad they didn’t because that’s my favorite. (Laughs.)
How long did you shoot the final fights against Cole (Lewis Tan) and Scorpion?
Well, I think it took us five days to a week, if I’m not mistaken. I have to fight Cole first, one on one, and then I have to fight Scorpion one on one. Actually, it probably took seven days because I also fought both of them. (Laughs.) They mostly just jumped on me. (Laughs.)
Did they save the final fight for the end of production?
Yes, the final fight shot toward the end. I think it was the third quarter of shooting, which was great. The first fight they shot with me was Sub-Zero versus Jax [Mehcad Brooks]. That was my first fight scene.
Did they keep the gym set extra cold in order to capture what the characters were feeling in that final fight?
It was quite hot, to be honest. (Laughs.) It was hot because it was almost summer in Australia. December to February, in Australia, is their summer. So it was super hot. That’s also why I was struggling with the costume. Of course, we had air conditioning, but it was definitely not cold. They helped us by putting air conditioning units in every corner. So I just ran to the machine after we finished each shot. (Laughs.)
I presume you did all of your own fighting, but did they use a double for the actual stunts?
For the dangerous stuff where I have to fall really hard, they didn’t ask me to do it. So that was very generous because I could just focus on the fights. And yes, I did all of the fights.
With the movie opening at number one this past weekend, you just might get your wish to play Noob Saibot in a sequel.
Yes, that’s the next transformation of the character, but of course, we don’t know yet. If the fans want this franchise to continue, then there’s a strong chance that the next step for Bi-Han is to play Noob Saibot. Fingers crossed, but I hope it happens because I definitely want to play that character. But to be honest, the most interesting path, in my opinion, is to do a prequel. It would be a story about Bi-Han and his training in the Lin Kuei. When he got abducted by the Lin Kuei, his parents were killed. So it would be the process of him and his brother becoming assassins, and I think that’s quite interesting as well.
If a sequel follows the video game storyline and Bi-Han becomes Noob Saibot, then his brother, Kuai Liang, would presumably take on the mantle of Sub-Zero.
Yeah, I like that idea. If they do a sequel, then we are probably going to see Noob Saibot. If they do a prequel, then we would get to see two future Sub-Zeros in one movie, and that would be intriguing. (Laughs.)
What’s your next dream that you want to fulfill in this business?
I have a dream to be in a movie that has a great balance of action and drama. I need to find a gem — a beautiful script that not only has good action, but a good story, most importantly. A lot of people think action is just for the sake of fun, and people beating and killing each other. They don’t think about the story, but I want to change that. A lot of people know me as an action actor, but I’ve always considered myself an actor. A musical actor, an action actor, a comedy actor, they’re just labels. So if I see a script that has the perfect balance of story and action, then I want to try to change this perception that “action is less artistic” compared to other genres. That’s my dream.
Mortal Kombat is currently available in theaters nationwide, as well as on HBO Max. This interview was edited for length and clarity.