Interview with Mike Moh (Ryu)
Dual Pixels: Hey how are you doing Mike?
Mike Moh: Good, thanks how are you?
DP: Good. I guess we will start this off with what was your inspiration to start acting?
MM: To start acting, I would say it was Jackie Chan. I remember watching Rumble in the Bronx and that was kind of like a mind blowing experience for me. My dad and I would watch those films. Also, I was really into pop culture so Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Street Fighter, all of those games and all those cartoon series really got me amped up on the whole ninja series as well.
DP: So when did you start training in American Taekwondo?
MM: I started training when I was 12 years old, so from that moment on it was just nonstop. You know, just kind of a passion, it just became right away. Six to seven days a week I was training at a young age.
DP: You’re a fourth degree black belt?
MM: Yes I am.
DP: How do you use your skills in that to help your choreography, especially in something like Street Fighter?
MM: I think just, not only my martial arts training, Taekwondo, but also my six to seven years of training with the top martial artists you know. I think it was just a natural progression for me to go from martial arts to film fighting, and something I really enjoyed even as a kid was basically making movies with my friends.
DP: How did you hear about this role of playing Ryu? Were you a fan of the series, or did you hear about it by chance?
MM: I was a fan of Street Fighter, for sure. I played the games when I was younger. And I wasn’t aware that they were doing a live action series that Joey (Ansah) was producing. But, I did happen to watch the Street Fighter Legacy series they did a couple years prior, so it kind of hit me out of the blue the first time I ever heard that they were making it. Joey messaged me on Facebook. I had never met him before, but he told me they were looking for a new Ryu, and that had started the conversations. So, that was the first time that I had heard of it.
DP: How does it feel to be kind of the new kid on the block because Joey (Ansah) and Christian (Howard) were already part of the other one (Street Fighter Legacy), so how does it feel to be the new guy coming in?
MM: Well they were really welcoming, so I never felt like an outsider. You know, it was fun. I fit into the team really well, and there are a lot of new cast members that weren’t on the Legacy team. So we all came together really quickly, and we all bonded very fast. We all came in the first time and got to work
DP: He (Joey Ansah) contacted you to play Ryu?
MM: What happened was he sent me a Facebook message. He was in London and I was in LA (Los Angeles) at the time. He sent me a Facebook message, and I was like, “Whoa, this is out of nowhere.” He was going to be in town for some meetings and wanted to meet up with me, and so, I met up with him at a random coffee bean and Jackie the producer, Jackie Quella, actually tagged along too. So I was kind of nervous sitting there, and they came in. I realized that this was kind of a huge thing for me, so I was nervous. But, I impressed them or I didn’t embarrass myself, so over the next couple of days Joey and I trained together. He took me through his bases, and I guess he was sizing me up to see if it was possible for me to bulk up for the role and my skills were up to par. Luckily, I passed his informal test. I submitted my video audition to him for a couple of series only a couple of weeks later, but I got the role.
DP: When you train, is it more Taekwondo, or is it a mix of the martial arts because I believe he (Joey Ansah) is a practitioner of Ninjutsu?
MM: Yeah, Joey is a melting pot of the martial arts; and although my style is strictly Taekwondo for my formal training, like I said I spent a lot of time in LA with a bunch of different martial artists with various backgrounds. So although I’m only taking classes formally for Taekwondo, I’ve been training in a lot of mushu, a lot of kick boxing, muay tai, jujitsu and a lot of different styles, so I was able to adapt pretty quickly. Being a fan of Street Fighter, especially the character of Ryu, I knew his moves. Even when I was a kid, I was pretending to throw hadokens, tatsumaki, and shoryukens, all that stuff it was like role playing for me.
DP: So you said you were a huge fan of the series. Do you remember what street fighter you started out with like on what system?
MM: Yeah i started out with snes with street fighter two. I don’t think I’ve played the Turbo Editions editions or anything past that, but I remember just wearing out my original Vanilla street fighter two copy and as I got older I didn’t really keep up with it. I do remember when the original street fighter IV came out I bought that too. After I got the role though, I started playing every game to get my head back into it.
DP: When you play (the Street Fighter game), do you actually play as Ryu and imagine yourself in the game?
MM: I do. That’s part of my training. I mean, after I knew I had the role, I would sit in training mode, and I would hit every single combination. I made sure that I was able to do every single move so it looked like it in the game. Life’s not too shabby to have to play games for your role.
DP: So it was a really useful training tool for you?
MM: Yeah, absolutely.
DP: If you could bring any move from the street fighter series to real life what move would it be?
MM: Of Ryu’s or anybody’s?
MM: Well I guess I’ve already crossed off all of Ryu’s moves. I pretty much did every single move he does in the series. I don’t know. I think I would have to say Chun Li’s lightning fast kicks. A kick like that then I would be a handful for my opponent’s for sure.
DP: You said you don’t play the games as much as you used to as a kid right?
MM: Yeah, I mean, I used to play the games all the time when I was 12-13 years old, but now unfortunately I don’t have that much time. I am looking forward to picking up Ultimate Street Fighter when that comes out in June.
DP: If you played against any of the cast who would win in a tournament?
MM: It’s definitely not me, Joey and Chris are very very good at the game, I think I would probably come in, if there was a cast of like 10 of us, I would probably come in like third, behind those guys.
DP: Oh Ok
MM: Those guys are on a different level, yeah, they are that good.
DP: I believe it’s safe to assume you have watched the other Street Fighter movies like the one with Jean Claude Van Damme?
MM: Yeah I have, the original Street Fighter which, you know. It’s not a great film, but it is so bad that it is good to watch. I don’t even consider that a Street Fighter movie
DP: When you accepted the role, were you kind of apprehensive because the Street Fighter series has such loyal fans that you didn’t want to, I don’t want to say mess it up, but alter it?
MM: No, I mean I don’t think you could have screwed it up any worse than it has already been screwed up, you know, like I said I thought that Christian (Howard) and Joey’s (Ansah) work on Legacy, I remember thinking that, it was so badass. I was just so stoked to get a chance to be a part of that because the series is in good hands with those guys.
DP: The filming has wrapped right?
MM: Yeah we spent six, well actually I was there for eight weeks and it was actually last Summer, we wrapped up at the end of last Summer so we’ve just been doing all the post production and we’ve been in and out doing voice overs and just doing little press things. So yeah, it’s been finished and it’s just ready to be released next Friday
DP: So, how is it going to feel to be cemented in such strong history that is Street Fighter, so when people think of Street Fighter, they will think of you now?
MM: It’s pretty humbling in being cemented into a lineage of people like that. I am excited about it and I am really looking forward to the fans reaction
DP: So since it’s wrapped and everything, are you just taking a vacation or you have anything on the books or what?
MM: I don’t have anything on the books right now but obviously as an actor you just kind of want to prepare for anything and hopefully, if all goes well, maybe we will get to do more Street Fighter. If that’s the case, you know I have been in the gym trying to keep up my physique, trying to keep building on it. It takes a long time to build that kind of a physique that they’ll be looking for. It’s an older Ryu so i’m still working on that and keeping up with my Martial Arts Skills and I am hoping for the best of everything as usual.
DP: Alright well, I think that is it so I just want to thank you for giving me this interview.
MM: Cool Joey, I look forward to seeing you guys watch the series and hopefully you guys enjoy it.
Interview with Joey Ansah (Akuma)
Dual Pixels: Hey Joey, How are you doing?
Joey Ansah: Yeah I’m good, I’m good. Destiny has brought the namesakes together, in the form of this interview
DP: So I guess we will start off. How did you get into acting in general, before you even started, what brought you to want to act?
JA: I used to act. I was one of those kids that did a lot of drama at school, all the way from primary school up into secondary school. So I got my first taste I guess in staged based stuff back then. But I think a lot of kids at that stage you don’t really appreciate, the majesty of performance art; it’s just like, ah this is boring you have to wait for your turn and stuff, it is ironic that I would then return to that later. So then let’s fast forward a decade or so, I have become obsessed with Martial Arts and stunts, motorbikes and all that stuff. And I kind of stopped acting. And then, I grew up in London. When I was 9 and then I moved to Ghana, West Africa where my father is from, and I lived there for five years. And that’s when my martial arts training went into overdrive, and then I moved back in the UK. So then I started thinking, it got to a point where I had been doing Ninjutsu for years, and I was pretty good martial arts wise. And I thought, maybe, it’s not such a crazy idea doing movies, doing something with my action. I think like a lot of people, you ignorantly have the view that the stunt man and the action actor or action star are one in the same thing. Now, that may have
been the case in the 80’s where if you had splits, a good six pack and a bit of charisma, you could make it as a star and be given a significant role in a film. But, that era came into an end with the advent of The Matrix, and stuff like that where you’re getting established dramatic actors that could be trained to look really convincing in that era. So then, I remember Ray Park, Ray Park who played Darth Maul. He, I’ve heard, no whether this is true, this could be another myth, I heard originally he was going to be the stunt double for the actor playing Darth Maul. When George Lucas actually saw how good he was and how he just embodied the characters, he was like, you are now Darth Maul. Forget this other guy, he’s gone. you are Darth Maul. So it was suddenly, Ray Park was from London, he trained Wushu just up the road from where I lived and used to teach gymnastics at the same place I trained gymnastics, and you know, act. So, everyone was like “wow Ray Park was the stunt guy and was just given the role.” So I start training for the stunt register, and my first major role on film doing stunts was Batman Begins. I was one of the ninjas in the League of Shadows up in the mountains where Bruce Wayne trains. And that was suddenly the turning point for me, I know this is a long answer, but it’s a good one. Because, you stand around for hours and occasionally there’s an explosion, and you get to fly back or you get to do a bit of basic martial arts stuff. It was, watching Christian Bale doing that scene with Liam Neeson where he is being forced to execute that prisoner to show his allegiance. Just hearing that dialogue and seeing it play out, the hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. This is what I want to do, I got it wrong, I want to be an actor who can do his own actions, not a stunt guy. So I instantly stopped training for the register and focused on becoming a professional serious dramatic actor. And so, I never lost passion for that action. I always kept on training the action, and then The Bourne Ultimatum was my big break. Playing the role of Desh is where I got to do both, where I got to inhabit this character that had to be believable because that’s the scary thing. Everyone wants that break, “Oh Joey you are so lucky you got that role in Bourne,” and it’s like, listen when you get that role, Universal Studios and Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Ultimatum director) are expecting you to rival Matt Damon’s on-screen charisma, to be a worthy rival of one of the most badass protagonists we’ve seen in an action film in a long time. And you know the Bourne films are so far from cheesy; they’re very emotionally true, the acting performances are very grounded in reality. So, that’s massive pressure; yes, I get to do a cool fight and ride a bike and blow stuff up. I have got to absolutely be convincing in that role, and a lot of young up and comers who want to break into the action industry don’t appreciate the pressure on acting performance. If you are not good enough, they will just fire you because the hero is only good as their villain or their nemesis, so that was kind of a baptism by fire. It was such a big responsible role and so much screen time, that 20 minute Morocco section. But it was great, so that’s it in a long winded way, that is my root into acting. And kind of starting out a good bit of stigma, something else that added, when you’re an action guy and you can do incredible stuff, you can run up walls and do flips and do all these crazy kicks and stuff. People, then, don’t take you seriously as an actor. They’re like, “you’re a stunt guy who maybe dabbles a bit in action, you can’t possibly be a serious actor if you spend all this time doing physical stuff.” So, from the beginning I was like, I don’t want action roles, I want straight drama roles because the more of these I stack up, you’ll get to a tipping point where people are like, “You are a serious actor.” Although, you also have this bonus physical skill, so I have to down play physically what I can do in the beginning to ensure that my reputation amongst casting directors and directors in the industry as a serious actor who can do drama, that can do emotion. The funny thing is, when I got Bourne, they didn’t know I could do action. When I auditioned, it was largely obtained on my acting performance. It was only afterwards that I went to LA (Los Angeles) to train for it. The fight scene people had done their research, and they were like ok we know you got some game, so let’s see everything you can do. And then collaborating we put something really good in which I could do all my own stunts. I wasn’t doubled for a single frame in that movie.
DP: Yeah that’s great. It makes it more believable when it’s the same actor and not a double because you can kind of tell you know?
JA: Exactly, and typically, the rule is if you can’t see the characters face, it’s most likely not them. It just means, emotionally, you can free flow through the fight and to be honest coming from that strong action background. I mean Bourne, that fight revolutionized cinema as we know it and has gone down in history as one of the fights because it was emotionally so true. I explain to people that when you, you must have experienced this yourself. When you see a fight break out outside of a bar or outside a nightclub, you may be standing on the other side of the road. But, you get butterflies in your stomach just watching it, even though they are 10 meters away because what is emotionally being release from that combat. There’s panic, there’s desperation, there’s fear, there’s chaos, there’s rage. People’s faces become these kind of distorted masks of primal released from this combat, like animal masks. And it’s kind of like, that is real violence; when you see that, there is no mistaking what the sensation of witnessing or being involved in real violence is. And, how many films do you see that you get that emotional response from, almost none. So, the Bourne fight, it was just, we put emotional content into it, it’s very believable because the emotions are very believable and that desperation and there are a lot of real hits. When I got that book smashed into my throat, or when I took a full on elbow from Matt Damon in the head for real, the blood was for real. That’s him I throw into the bathroom; it’s all real. So when you’re doing it, and there’s that genuine sense of danger and that degree of pain, you’re not really acting. In the same way that method actors want all their sense memories to be true and want to try to truly inhabit. If the character is cold, I want to be cold, you know what I mean? I believe the same for action is true. You have to simulate as close to possible what it’s like emotinally as well as physically, and then I think it read very powerfully on screen. And ever since doing Bourne and all the fights I choreographed, I work a lot as fight choreographer and action director. I try and really inject that in and on Street Fighter. I hope it is kind of the sum total of all my creative jobs as director, writer, actor, choreographer action director or whatever. I hope you get that, even though, it’s something fantasy based, and you know there will eventually be hadokens flying, I hope you feel that emotion in the fights in Street Fighter.
DP: So how did you come to do Street Fighter? Have you been a Street Fighter fan your entire life, or is it something recent?
JA: No, from my whole life. I would have no business making this series and saying the shit I say if I wasn’t a kind of life long Street Fighter fan since the late 80’s: Street Fighter 2 the arcade, then it came out for Super Nintendo. Then Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition came out on the Sega Genesis. And the six button pad came out, and that was a whole big deal, on and on and on. Street Fighter Alpha Two, the Marvel vs Capcom Two was probably my favorite ever Street Fighter game. And all the animes the Udon comic book series, you name it I have seen it. It’s the same with Christian Howard, who plays Ken Masters, who co-wrote the series with me, we’re both big die-hard fans. So together, we felt there’s no one that has knowledge that we don’t have on this thing. The irony is Capcom USA has seen it; I screened Capcom Assassin’s Fist to them just before Christmas. And those guys who have been working at Capcom for a decade, even they were like we have learned stuff about our own brand that we didn’t know from this series. Even people at Capcom are like, this has taught us some shit about our own properties.
DP: So when you first had the idea to create the first film, Street Fighter: Legacy, was their any apprehension because of how loyal the fanbase with Street Fighter is?
JA: I don’t know about fear. I can’t honestly say I remember being scared, will people like this or not, because, it’s been done so wrong all of it. The comparisons, it’s not like, ok there’s a really good attempt last time. The difference is the Mortal Kombat first movie I still think is a pretty damn good adaptation of the game. The way Sub Zero looks, the way Scorpion looks, that Johnny Cage versus Scorpion fights, there were some great moments in that. That you’re like, “This is getting me and ticking every box I could ever hope for.” The Liu Kang versus Sub Zero fight was great. So in them doing Mortal Kombat Legacy, they’ve already got quite a tough yardstick to measure themselves against. Where as in Street Fighter, I don’t think in anyone’s eyes was done close, it was very much a derivative adaptation of the source material. So, and let me see I just thought, “Look, I have been working in the film business a long time. I know what I am doing when it comes to putting together action and details.” So, you know, Legacy was like a dress rehearsal essentially, and the rest of the team was proud of what we pulled off with the time we had. And you saw the response; it really did get good numbers.
DP: Yep, it was overwhelmingly positive. So, you playing Akuma, was that the role you wanted, or did you kind of just fit into it best?
I guess it’s a mixture of both. So, Christian Howard, it was a no brainer that he was meant to be Ken. I mean, you’ve got to understand that people would come up to him and say, “does anyone ever tell you you look like Ken?” Of all the things to pick, he is that much like it, that people would pick a fictional video game character to say you look like this person. Movement wise, skillswise, he is Ken. So I was thinking of course I want be in this, but who could I play. I am mixed-race, half white and half black; I thought “Hm okay what black characters are there?” There’s DJ and Balrog. I am too fair to play either of them, and I think there are better candidates for both of those roles. So I am not going to put myself in the roles just as an ego boost when I think, since I am directing the series, that there is actually someone better out there to pull it off. Akuma ended up being the best fit, and I think the right fit because facially he is warped by the Hatsui No Hado. So, his face becomes disfigured, so he ceases to really look like any specific ethnicity or race, if you look at images of him. Also, he’s got this super dark reddish brown skin tone, deep color, much deeper than most Asians you would find. If you look at the average kind of Asian actors’ colorization, Akuma is a different kind of tone. I didn’t want to have to be spray painting some actor. So, I just thought, “Look, Akuma needs to be, all these characters are hard to cast, he needs to be someone who is massive in stature, with those huge bulked on arms.” I got to 101.8 kilos, so we are looking at 225 pounds, which is big, and I could do all the acrobatics. I don’t know any actors that would be vaguely right, looks wise for Akuma, who can flip and do all the acrobatics and do all the high-end necessary martial arts skills and weigh that much and look right. And also, you’ll see facially when I got the brown prosthetics, I would be quite a dead ringer for Akuma. I think you’ll be quite surprised. We’ve only shown one image so far, the poster that came out, but wait until you see me in motion or separate things. And I speak Japanese, so I knew I could commit. Because I had been developing the series for years, Akuma speaks 100% almost Archaic Japanese. Togo Igawa, who plays Gotetsu, was the Japanese language voice coach, so it’s something I’ve been building up to for a long time. And it’s a level of commitment that I don’t see any other action actor doing at this stage. So for me, at this stage, I can honestly say that if I didn’t play Akuma, I would struggle to find someone; or I would have to find an actor and a separate stunt double to do all of his action, and it would be a very piece meal thing. The great thing about this is that I don’t have any doubles. Christian doesn’t have any doubles for Ken. There’s no double for Ryu. There was no double for Gaku (Space) playing young Goki. Young Goken had a tiny bit of doubling. Kaiketsui had a little bit of doubling, but what will make this stand out is that everyone is the real deal. They have the acting performance down, and they have the physical skills to create a character that you truly believe. I hope that after a while, after 3 or 4 episodes, you’re like I’m just watching Ryu and Ken now; I’m no longer seeing the actors portraying them. I feel like I’m now with the actual characters. Is that how you felt? Did you watch the first five episodes?
DP: Yeah, I watched the first five, and immediately, it really did feel like it was actually the characters. It just seemed more real than per say the first street fighter because they had a lot of cutaways. So you knew it was fake, where here, there is not as much post processing effects. So, it was much more believable that if you walked outside you could see this happening.
JA: Exactly, and that way you can see, we went to great lengths. I didn’t want to use any studio (in 2008) interiors at all. Those dojos we built are genuine fully working dojos. All those interiors you see are the actual interiors of those sets, which how rare is that. How often do you see that? Someone actually will build on a mountainside a traditional japanese dojo and fully deck it out and just leave it like that for the duration of the shoot. That’s a real dojo, it really is. it was beautiful for myself and the actors filming because everyday we go to work on a mountainside. And, there’s a full on dojo with a shrine to Kaiketsui hanging up there, the sword and all this stuff and it became real. We didn’t spend a single day in the studio, and there’s almost no green screen. Later, you’ll see the Akuma aura, in one shot, we needed green screen backing for that effect. Literally, it is so real. And, you’ll see some hadokens later that are actual fireballs zipping along high tensile wires on set.
DP: That definitely comes through when you watch it that everything is real.
JA: So, just as a quick departure what stood out for you in the episodes you saw so far, that surprised you or you liked or disliked in particular?
DP: I really liked, because it is always easy to compare to the other street fighter that is out there, that the acting seems so fluid. And, I think it is because some of you knew each other already. Nothing seemed stiff. It didn’t seem like acting. It just seemed like the real deal. It wasn’t like any weird lines that would catch you off guard like, “Wait, he wouldn’t say that.” It all seemed very, genuine is probably the best word for it.
JA: Well, that’s great. Hearing that means I’ve done my job right as a writer and director. I need it to feel real, and you haven’t even gotten halfway through the series. It’s one gradual escalation. You probably got a sense that things are starting to build especially episode five, which is pretty intense. So, imagine that feeling you’re getting now, it just gets to kind of level hype 9 million by the end of it, intense. You care about the characters.
DP: It seems like movies always go the opposite way where instead of making it more real, they need to make it more imaginative and use more green screens and make everything ultra realistic instead of making everything real for the real world.
JA: You’re right, but even the style of acting, I think, particularly the reason I feel that British directors are doing so well in Hollywood is that the British sensibility, when it comes to art and entertainment, is much more delicate and less bombastic. If you look at (Christopher) Nolan’s treatment of Batman, you buy into those characters because the dialogue isn’t hammy. Sometimes when Americans, I have a lot of American friends who I love, but sometimes I’m like are you familiar with the concepts of being corny. I think it is utterly lost, some Americans are unable to see irony. From the British perspective, Americans are super patriotic and super positive. They’re like “yeah go get it, get it man!” That’s the kind of “America” ethos, so everything, even the entertainment and the acting style, everything is super positive affirmation. And people aren’t necessarily like that in the real world. We live in a cynical world, in a layered world, and I think British directors, the way they write as well and come up with dialogue, it just feels more real rather than this ultra real fantasy post card offscreen.
DP: I just have one last question. If you were to play Street Fighter in a tournament against the other cast members who would win?
JA: It’s down literally between me and Christian Howard. It’s funny, there was a Capcom Ultra Street Fighter 4 preview event that we were special guests at a couple of weeks ago. And we did in front of all the press and audience, two lots of best out of three. I won the first one, and he won the second one. It’s so neck and neck. There’s not much in it between me and Chris, so that would be your answer.
DP: Thank you for doing this interview.
JA: Yeah my pleasure.