Although Lewis Tan was born in England, his father, Philip, took their family all around the world as he worked as an actor and stunt coordinator on movies such as Batman and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. “When I was young, he put me in a couple of films, and they’d just pay me with toys,” Tan remembers. “I thought it was cool to see the movie sets and props. That interest has not just stayed with me, but grown.” Tan’s father also shared his passion for martial arts, starting when the boy was 10 years old. “He’s been teaching me ever since,” Tan says.
Initially, Tan wanted to pursue dramatic acting, but he realized that being able to do his own stunts gave him an edge getting roles in action films and TV series such as Deadpool 2 and Iron Fist. The flipside, as with many Asian actors, is that he often feels typecast, and that he has to work harder to get parts. “Even Bruce Lee, he pitched his own show, and they gave it to David Carradine, a white guy who didn’t do martial arts,” Tan says. “And it really hasn’t changed very much. It was a long road to get here, but it’s not even close to being over.”
Joining the Fight
This month, Tan stars in Warner Bros.’ Mortal Kombat (April 16 in theaters and on HBO Max), the long-awaited third film based on the infamously gory ’90s video game. “We were adamant about showing some of the fatalities and characters that people love, while also adding some new flavor to it,” says Tan, who plays a new lead character, Cole Young. The actor’s history with the game runs deep: “My brothers and I would play for hours, but we weren’t allowed to have it. We’d have to hide it and play it when our parents left.” He laughs. “So what do you think about that now, Mom? ”
Tan was excited to fly his parents out to the set of Mortal Kombat so they could watch the shoot of the film’s big finale. “It was a really emotional, surreal moment, because my father started with Warner Bros. Studios – that’s how he got his break,” he says. “And now I’m starring in their biggest action franchise in years.” He’s now in Thailand shooting a film based on his Netflix series, Wu Assassins. As for the future, he has his eyes set on a galaxy far, far away: “I’ve been doing sword work for years, and I think if I had a lightsaber I could really do some damage.”