Joe Taslim talks ego taming and playing Sub-zero
The film industry has been constantly evolving. However, the most significant change in recent years would be the presence of a diverse mesh of characters, all represented by a vast network of individuals with varying ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. That being said, such worldly vision is only possible if driven by the artistic ideas behind individual participants. And one such individual is actor Joe Taslim.
An Indonesian actor known for his roles in action films such as Gareth Evans’ slugfest The Raid or Timo Tjahjanto’s action-thriller The Night Comes for Us, Joe’s core interest is actually in martial arts. Growing up, Joe studied Taekwondo, Wushu and eventually landed on Judo, where he represented the national team from 1997 to 2009. Since retiring from the sport, he got his modeling career off the ground and was frequently seen in advertisements in his home country, Indonesia. Prior to his debut, the Palembang-born actor has proved that he has more to offer aside from his athletic talent, landing him roles in international productions, such as Fast & Furious 6, Star Trek Beyond, and Warrior. Coming up next, Joe will be playing the primary video game character of the decade: Sub-Zero, in Mortal Kombat.
Growing up, there’s always a discussion about the right sport to introduce to a young child. How did martial art come into your life, and who introduced you to your first class?
When I was ten years old, my dad introduced me to martial arts for the first time—I kept changing between Taekwondo, Wushu, and then to Judo. I joined the Indonesia Judo National Team when I was 16. I remember my coach said I was too skinny for a Judoka. But my dad told me, “Nothing is impossible. You are skinny, but you have more flexibility. They are bulky and stiff.” That’s actually an advantage if you find the right techniques that fit your posture. So yeah, I think for training in martial arts, the only thing that matters is that you can train yourself to the max, and spend more time on the Tatami than on your opponent.
We read that you are a huge fan of Mortal Kombat ever since its first launch in 1992. Do you remember your first impression of the game? What made you fall in love with it as a child?
Back then, I remember Mortal Kombat was an exceptionally violent game, but it was so fun, so I was totally geeking out over it along with the other kids. Back then, it was hot stuff. Really, it was quite the breakthrough. Everyone just talked about it. The “Fatality, Friendship, and Babality” I think are the coolest parts of the game.
Simon McQuoid’s decision to pursue a cast that authentically represents the characters of Mortal Kombat was inspiring. It gives hope and courage to the minorities and ethnicities out there—to believe that justice exists. On your part, did you approach your character differently to ensure that justice is given to the game?
Yes, I personally grew up playing Mortal Kombat. Sub-Zero is my favorite character. I’m really grateful, and I really respect Simon for being real and authentic. From what I know, Bi-Han’s mother is apparently Asian-American, and his dad is Edenian, which is from a different world. From that, I presume his mother gave Bi-Han his Chinese name, with hopes that he will always remember his identity as an earth-realmer and as a Chinese descendent. So playing the Sub-Zero character, to me, is very important in representing race, since I am a Chinese descendent myself. To be truthful, I researched a lot about Bi-Han, Lin Kuei and Cryomancer, and I have to give justice to the character’s background for the fans.
Speaking of which, can you recall how it felt to be on the set of Mortal Kombat for the first time with all the cast?
It was exhilarating. The costumes, the vibes… You know, in the movie, it might seem like we were coming for each other’s necks, but in between takes, everybody was just admiring each other on how cool we all look in our costumes, honestly.
It was expressed that Hiroyuki Sanada is someone you respect highly in the industry. Were your expectations met?
I am a huge fan of him and grew up watching his movies. I was expecting, since he’s older than me, that he was going to be this strict kind of guy. But actually, he turned out to be a very goofy and fun person. Yet, at the same time, you don’t want to mess with him! (Laughs) I love him!
Which is your favorite fighting scene in the film and why?
That would be the fight scene in the forest, right at the beginning of the movie. It was just the two of us, Bi-Han and Hanzo (with no superpowers)—just a man-to-man fight. So it felt more real and personal. Most of the people who have seen the movie felt the same and loved that scene.
Who else would you hope to fight with, on screen, in the future?
I would love to fight The Rock someday!
If you are a supervillain in real life, what is your backstory and superpower be?
My backstory would be a person who lost everything and lost faith in humanity. My superpower would be the ability to erase people’s memory. So that they can restart their life from zero.
What is the most common misconception people have regarding martial art and martial artist?
Definitely to be badass and to fight people. But really, it’s the other way around. To me, you learn martial arts to have more control over yourself, and to only use it when you really have no other choice. Martial arts tames your ego and overall just makes you a better person in terms of emotions, personality and work ethic.
You have been part of several stellar action movies in the past decade. So do share with us, in your opinion, what makes an action movie great!
Action scenes and fighting choreographies can only be great when there is good acting. The actor delivering and performing needs to convey the story correctly. Some people just care about the fighting, when actually that’s not the case. The emotions are very important and should never be left out.
As an Indonesian actor who has already worked on international projects, how are you contributing to the local scene to help support the younger generation?
I think right now, I’m the actor that the majority of my younger fellow Indonesian actors and actresses look up to. I need to be the role model they need, by working hard and always giving 110 percent in every movie I am in. And keep being human, not letting the sparks around the art take over my focus. My future plan I have in mind is that someday I want to open an action studio just to share my experiences and knowledge. I want to help the younger generation and pay it forward so that when I die, the action genre keeps evolving and growing beautifully.
Your love for martial art and knowledge of multiple disciplines have taken you for an adventurous ride, from winning gold medals for Indonesia to being one of the handfuls of non-Americans cast in Hollywood films. At this point right now, what is the word you would use to summarize your life, and why?
At this point of my life, it’s believe.. That’s the word. Ever since I was a kid, I knew what I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. I actually believed and visualized that I am capable and will end up where I wanted to be. So to me, the word “believe” is very powerful. It held me up.
As a father of three, did you try to introduce your love for martial arts to your children at an early age? Or did you let them discover what they love themselves?
I did gave them the knowledge and introduced them to the basics, but I think they need to discover their art themselves. I can only advise them from my perspective. But I just know it’s more beautiful to find your art in your own way.
What is written in your next chapter in life? Where do you hope to be at?
To produce and direct, whenever and wherever I see my ideas can flow.
Mortal Kombat Now in theaters and Streaming on HBO MAX April 23rd 2021
Watch the first 7-minutes below: