With a career-defining role as British boxer "Twister" in the 2010 Hong Kong hit, Ip Man 2, Darren Shahlavi confirmed his status as the ultimate martial arts baddie you'll love to hate! A familiar face of film and television, the breakout fighting role made him a natural choice when Kevin Tancharoen was given license to bring MK back to live-action with the anthology webseries, Mortal Kombat: Legacy.
Appearing in three of the nine episodes; Darren Shahlavi will be remembered by Mortal Kombat fans as Kano -- the Black Dragon crook famous for killing Sonya Blade's partner and igniting one of the series' longest running blood feuds. Starring opposite Jeri Ryan (Sonya) and Michael Jai White (Jax); Shahlavi plays key to bringing the classic plot to life, injecting MK's original rogue with a fresh brand of delicious contemptibility.
The role proved to be Shahlavi's second brush with MK, one of the interesting facts he shared in this special interview with Mortal Kombat Online. With a Blu-Ray release coming November, MKO probed the actor for further insight into the role, the work, his history, the future, and which character he'd love to beat the snot out of.
[MKO]: How did you get involved with MK Legacy?
[Darren Shahlavi]: I got a message from Larnell Stoval, the fight choreographer, a few months earlier, saying he may want to get me in on something. Later, I heard they were doing Mortal Kombat as a web series, I asked my agent to look out for it, I also contacted Larnell, who knew about me. Kevin [Tancharoen; series Director] had seen Ip Man 2, where I play a rather brash British boxer, and they both thought I'd fit as Kano.
What is your background in martial arts and acting?
I started Judo when I was seven years old, and once I saw Bruce Lee, I was hooked on martial arts and films. I trained in everything and studied all the movies, too. I was most impressed with the Hong Kong films and when I was a teenager I took part in film fighting seminars, including one that [Ip Man star] Donnie Yen was doing in London, England. That gave me the confidence I could work in Asia as a bad guy, and by the time I was twenty, I was out there, working in film.
What was your impression of Mortal Kombat before Legacy?
I was very familiar with MK, mainly the movie and the soundtrack. I loved it. I trained to the music all the time. I didn't play the game much at all.
The first movie I ever did was a Hong Kong movie that starred Robin Shou a few years before he was Liu Kang. We met each other again in Hong Kong in a bar and he told me all about the filming of Mortal Kombat and showed me pics from the shoot in Thailand. I also visited him on the set of Annihilation in London. He said he could get me a small part in it, but at the time I'd just got a lead role in a martial arts movie called Bloodmoon, where I fought Hakim Alston, the guy who Robin fights with bo staff in MK1.
Kano's background has been connected to Japan, the United States, and finally Australia. You yourself have an interesting heritage. Is that something important to you as an actor?
Of course my background is very important to me. It is who I am. Born and raised in England, I grew up in Hong Kong and live in North America. I've worked on movies all over the world. As an actor, I'm sure it helps me that my roots may not be too deep, but wide spread.
Did you have a particular place in mind when you played Kano?
Good question, but the short answer is no. I didn't give us a location.
How would you describe your Kano, in general?
Seriously enjoyable, loves to be bad! He wants to be feared rather than loved, without a clue, that will change in time.
Did you feel a specific sense of character or attitude was important for the role?
Absolutely. Untouchable, domineering, masculine yet proud arrogance. A pretty petty little gangster with dreams to be bigger than his dream.
The late Trevor Goddard made a real impression playing Kano in the 1995 film. You share some of his iconic dialogue. Did you take inspiration from his portrayal, or feel any pressure?
When I was younger my best mate Jawaz and I didn't see much of each other, as we lived far apart. We would greet each other with the line, "Hello, baby. Did you miss me?"
I loved what Trevor Goddard did with Kano and decided to play him more internally. I added "I'm gonna miss you, baby" [in Legacy Ep. 1] as a nod to Trevor's Kano. You don't try to top a great performance. Only to differ.
A lot of people are going to recognize you from other recent work -- I personally loved Ip Man 2. How does Kano stack up against another classic bad guy role Twister" Milos?
Kano is Twister's little cousin. Can you imagine going out drinking with them both? It would be a riot. Someone asked how I prepared to play Kano, I said by playing Twister and having so much fun. The audiences everywhere loved to hate Twister, so I knew who Kano was right away -- Twister's little cousin. An ignorant, arrogant, small timer with big dreams, misguided, but going places because of big balls and a bigger mouth.
Your fight with Jax (Michael Jai White) set the tone for Legacy's action. What did you think of the style of action and choreography?
Larnell called me the Sunday before we went to camera and said, "Where are you?" I said, "At home watching a movie with a cup of tea." He said they were rehearsing the fight and waiting for me!
Somebody from production forgot to contact me and tell [me] about the rehearsal, so by the time I got there I was playing catch-up and didn't get any chance to add anything I wanted to the choreography. When we came to shoot it, they had been shooting other stuff all day and we had two hours to rush through the fight. Believe me, at the rate of speed we were going, Kevin, Larnell, our DP Kim [Miles] and the crew, and Mike and I, we did good. We had to skip some of the stuff and normally I would have been saying I need to do some kicks here, etc, but there was no time. Larnell did a great job. I just saw Sektor and Cyrax; the fight was magic. Kevin has a wonderful vision and is prepared to the brim. He has an infectious enthusiasm, with experience and conviction way beyond his years.
If you could have any fight with another character or member of the cast, who would it be?
I want to fight Goro. I want Kano to kick the shit out of Goro, up and down and all around. Big, fast, powerful, well placed kicks, like Hwang Jang Lee against Andre the Giant!
So, what was it like having your eye punched out by another man? Was that something that attracted you to the role, or was it just a little extra bonus?
That's the strangest question anyone has asked me in a while! Never crossed my mind.
How cool is it having a cybernetic eye? How was that special effect achieved and was it as awesome as it looks?
It was uncomfortable. Modifications will need to be made, but I thought it looked wonderful. It actually had an LED and a battery behind my head, so the light did glow. All the crew wanted pictures with Kano that day!
Kano really bookends Legacy, appearing in the first and last episodes. He's a stalwart of the games. Is this a character you would like to do more with?
I'd love to play Kano again, a number of times.
There is a lot that one can do with a young fresh bad guy like that. We've only just begun.
What do you think might be in store for the future?
No idea. Nobody has officially mentioned anything to me.
Legacy feels like a hot girl you got to shag once, and you hope to run into her again soon and really get to know, explore, and play around. Have some fun and maybe get serious.
Mortal Kombat Online must thank Darren Shahlavi for his time and candor! Episodes of Mortal Kombat: Legacy are still available free to stream via Machinima, with digital copies also available on iTunes, Xbox Live and PlayStation Network [full details]. Legacy comes to Blu-Ray with unedited episodes and behind-the-scenes extras November 8 [full story].
If you enjoyed this interview, find more like it in the MKO News Archive, including our discussion with Legacy star, Shane Warren Jones. Merge with the realm of MKO via Twitter (@MK_Online) and Facebook for competitions and updates!