Mortal Kombat star Josh Lawson puts his spin on Kano for 2021 reboot

Mortal Kombat is being reborn on HBO Max and in theaters this Friday, and the 2021 film is giving us the franchise as we’ve never quite seen it before. Enter Josh Lawson as Kano, the villain with an unhealthy obsession with Sonya Blade.

Chances are you loved Josh from his more comedic role as Doug on Showtime’s House of Lies and didn’t expect him to be portraying a ruthless criminal in the middle of a multi-dimensional fight for humankind. But he’s definitely shattering perceptions with this part, and joined Hidden Remote to discuss how he’s making Kano his own as Mortal Kombat finally returns to the big screen.

Learn more in our interview with Josh Lawson below before you check out Mortal Kombat on April 23. The film will be in select movie theaters and also available to stream on HBO Max for no extra charge to subscribers.

Hidden Remote: To American audiences who know you mostly from comedy, this role will seem like a departure. How did you get involved with Mortal Kombat?

Josh Lawson: I auditioned like anyone else. And it was just one audition. I was in Los Angeles and then many, many months later, I was doing a project in Australia and got the call and they said, “Hey, do you remember that Mortal Kombat audition?” And I was like, “Oh, vaguely. It was like four months ago.” And they’re like, “Yeah. Well, buckle up.” And that was it, really.

Kano does have an element of comedy to him, I suppose, in the movie. He definitely sees the Mortal Kombat universe from a slightly unique perspective within the film. So maybe the comedy helps, I don’t know, but it certainly was a departure from the things that I normally do.

HR: Where was the hook for you to audition? Were you a fan of the game franchise or of the original 1995 film?

JL: I certainly was a fan of the game as a kid. I hadn’t kept playing it as I got older, but I used to play it on the arcade when I was a kid. I was really familiar with it. And for sure, I had watched the original film and liked it. I wouldn’t say I was a total fanboy of the film or anything. But I guess I would say that who wouldn’t want to be a part of a film like this? This is sort of a dream come true for a kid who never in a million years thought he’d be in an action film or anything like that.

I was really, really thrilled to do it, partly because I’d never done it before. I felt like that the creative team was really strong and they had a really cool vision for it. And I felt like I could do a good job, or at least provide a certain type of acting that maybe no one else had in the film, so hopefully help to balance it out. I was just thrilled to do something that I’d really never done before.

HR: Kano is a pretty bad guy. Mortal Kombat fans know there’s no grey area to him, there’s no redeeming qualities. So what did you find to connect with, to make him more than some kind of caricature?

JL: You’re absolutely right. He’s pretty cut and dry. He is villainous and he’s a bad dude. And I guess the fun of it was that there is no gray area in that so, in a way, you know his function. As an actor, you’re like, “Cool. I know exactly the kind of person he is, or at least the function that he plays in this film.” That makes it a little bit easier. But you don’t want to hate the character you play, so, you’ve got to find parts of him that you can relate to.

Greed, I guess. We’re all greedy in a certain way. Maybe not as venal as Kano is, but you tap into the parts of you that go, “Okay, I can relate to being greedy at times in my life or opportunistic.” And you say, “Yeah, sure. I’ve been opportunistic.” There are human qualities that he has that are just amplified in Kano—that make him reprehensible, but they are inherently human qualities for the most part. You dial it up to 11 and then you put your foot on the accelerator and go for it.

HR: One of the best parts of the 1995 Mortal Kombat film was the dynamic between Kano and Sonya. What can you say about their relationship in the 2021 movie?

JL: For sure, the relationship between Sonya and Kano is explored in the film. In the sense that they have an ongoing feud, and I would say that they are each other’s main antagonists in the film.

HR: Did you have a particular part of this film that popped for you? What will you remember about your Mortal Kombat experience?

JL: I think one of the things as a creative that I was really psyched about was that Simon McQuoid, the director, was really specific about trying to do as much in-camera stuff as possible. He didn’t really want to lean on CGI so much, so there is a real grittiness to the film that does feel like there’s a practical effect quality to it. I feel like you really feel the viscera of some of the effects more so than you would with CG. The blood and the dirt, and all of that stuff—we really played in that stuff.

The prosthetics people, and the makeup, and the props department, they really, really went all out so that we could actually hold in our hands and look at certain things, as opposed to talking to a tennis ball on a stick and stuff. There’s a lot more practical effects than you might find in other films of this genre today. That’s what I’m excited about. I think it looks and feels different. I think it feels grittier than a lot of other action films today. I would look out for that.

HR: This film is going to open people’s eyes to a broader range of your talents. After they’ve seen Mortal Kombat, what’s the next Josh Lawson project they should watch to keep getting that bigger picture?

JL: I would say the stuff that I have written and directed. That, to me, may be the most surprising for people who think that I’m just Kano, or just Doug Guggenheim from House of Lies, or whatever else. Check out the stuff that I’ve written and directed, because that’s awesome. In my opinion, that’s the stuff I’m really proud of, but you may not expect it. The Little Death and then more recently Long Story Short, and then The 11 O’Clock, the short film that I wrote and produced. I would go down that rabbit hole after this.

Mortal Kombat premieres Friday, April 23 in movie theaters and on HBO Max.