For almost three decades, the Mortal Kombat franchise has been reinventing the fighting game genre. From injecting buckets of blood and guts into their Fatalities and overall gameplay to finding new ways to tell the stories between the fights, the franchise has grown and mutated with the times. With that has come a variety of movie projects, hoping to retell the tale of the deadliest battle across the galaxy. In 2021, Warner Bros. is back doing it all again, this time keeping the blood and Fatalities intact, hoping to recreate the video game franchise’s magic in its own silver screen saga.
One crucial part of this film’s story is that of Major Jackson “Jax” Briggs, who is on a mission to help save the Earth with the help of equally skilled fighters. Most recently seen in The CW’s Supergirl, Mehcad Brooks dons Jax’s bionic arms in Mortal Kombat, diving headfirst into the franchise’s intense fight scenes. “I made the horrible mistake of watching a movie called The Raid the night before I fought Joe Taslim,” Brooks explains, describing his work with Taslim, who plays Sub-Zero. “I don’t recommend watching The Raid before you fight Joe Taslim.”
Brooks survived that battle and lived to talk about it, though. During a recent conversation with Complex, Brooks talks his history with the fighting game franchise, becoming Jax, living up to the Mortal Kombat hype, and what he wants to do next with his career.
Were you playing Mortal Kombat back in the day?
I was. I was. I remember my first night that we got the game for the home console, I was with my brothers and we were eating pizza on the floor. I played from like 8:00 p.m. to like, 10 o’clock in the morning. I remember my mom was like, she came down for Saturday morning cartoons and to cook us breakfast and all that kind of stuff. I’m walking out like a zombie. She’s like, “Did you sleep?” And I’m saying lines from the video game. She’s like, “Are you OK?” I’m like, “Finish him.” She’s like, “What does this even … What are you talking about? Finish who? “Finish your pancakes.”
Was it daunting to step into the role of Jax?
No. It’s interesting, right? Because like for 27, 28 years, Jax and the characters of Mortal Kombat have been an extension of people’s nervous systems. It’s been an extension of their motor skills, right? The characters move how you want them to move. You think and then they respond, right? So, I think everybody has an image of what that character would be like and their interpretation of them. And there’s pressure with that, for sure. But the pressure either busts pipes or creates diamonds. I think that what we did as a cast was we created diamonds. You can transmute the pressure into fuel. You can transmute the pressure into making sure that Jax comes off as realistic. Jax comes off as a savage, as brutal as he is in the game.
I watched and I played the game a lot, and I made sure that if you play the game a lot, you’re going to see him in how I move. You’re going to see him in how I move and how I operate. You’re going to see the honor in him, but you’re also going to see the monster in him. Because you got to be a monster to catch monsters. So I watched a ton of Joe Frazier, I watched a ton of Mike Tyson, and then I mixed in the physicality of Jax from the game as well.
How was the intensity of the training? You’re beating up and getting beat up a lot in this film.
I think the biggest challenge for me was I gained 45 pounds of muscle, right? That in and of itself changes how you move. It changes how you approach situations, what you wear. It just changes your physicality, right? And in that, I think I was like working out six days a week, twice a day sometimes. Even if we’re shooting, I was doing boxing training five days a week. I was doing the fight choreography five days a week, even on set. So by the time you get to set, there’s this beautiful dance that you have happening. I made the horrible mistake of watching a movie called The Raid the night before I fought Joe Taslim. I don’t recommend watching The Raid before you fight Joe Taslim.
No, not at all. [Laughs]
I should have watched it weeks in advance. Actually, it was helpful in a way because it’s like I got to set the next day, and I was like, “Yo, I saw The Raid last night.” He was like, “You OK?” I was like, “Yeah, I’m good. I’m all right. I’m all right.” But when you’re doing 57-step choreography, that kind of stuff, it’s a dance. Joe Taslim is a hell of a dancer. He’s a hell of a dance partner. It’s almost like watching Michael Jackson in his prime.
I’ll give you a short story. There are two people in cinematic history that the cameras have asked to slow down so they can catch everything they’re doing. The first person is Bruce Lee. The second one, I fought him. His name is Joe Taslim.
I remember hearing stories of Michael B. Jordan famously catching hits while working on Creed. Did things like that happen while working on Mortal Kombat?
That happened all the time in training. We got hit in training, or you hit somebody in training. That happens. But when you have on hard costumes and… Joe is such a consonant professional. I would get hit, but he pulled them at the right time, right? If I got hit it’s because I leaned in too much. It was me. There was another fight that I had where the guy is damn near 7 feet tall, damn near like, 380 pounds or something like that. I’m not going to say what he had because that would give it away. But his weapon was very heavy. So, sometimes he couldn’t pull it the way I would have liked him to, so, you had to take that hit.
Are you happy with how the film turned out, with the game’s blood and gore and fatalities being intact?
It was always going to be something that was going to be loyal to the fandom, but not playing to the lowest common denominator. The script is fantastic. The story’s fantastic. The arcs are great. These are very grounded characters who are grounded in physics but in a very fantastic, imaginative, adventurous universe.
What are you working on outside of Mortal Kombat?
You know what? I want to do more action. Right now, I’m writing and producing and developing. I’ve got some things in the fire that are coming down the pipeline. I’m really happy to move into storytelling. I think we need more people of color helping create these stories. We need more people of color who are in the leads of these stories. And it’s time. It’s time. I think Hollywood has … We have to make an effort in Hollywood, because I think that for decades we’ve helped America launder it’s bigotry. And sometimes we’d even whitewashed characters who were in real life people of color. And that has to stop. That’s ridiculous. And I think Mortal Kombat is a fantastic entry point in normalizing the diversity of heroism in cinema. And I’m going to take that baton and help expand that for sure.