Sam Jo Mortal Kombat: Legacy Season 1 Interview

With any role it’s tough to find the perfect person to portray a character, let alone one that happens to be from a popular video game along with being of the female variety. But with Mortal Kombat: Legacy we’ve seen some brilliant casting with veteran actress Jeri Ryan assuming the role of the tough as nails Sonya Blade. But as awesome as Jeri is, I think we’re on the cusp of seeing the potential breakout star and possible top leading lady of Mortal Kombat: Legacy with actress/martial artist Sam Tjhia

We may not have seen her in action quite yet, but I think next week Sam Tjhia will be a name widely known in the circle of video game fans.  The reason for Sam’s impending stardom is because she was lucky enough to land the role of Princess Kitana in Mortal Kombat: Legacy.  Sam may not be a recognizable name compared to the rest of the cast in Mortal Kombat: Legacy like Tahmoh Penikett or fellow leading lady Jeri Ryan, but being an accomplished martial artist and stunt performer, Sam definitely has the skills required to become the Princess of Edenia who just so happens to be one of the fiercest combatants in Mortal Kombat.

I was able to chat with Sam a bit to talk about her career as a stunt performer and what it was like to have Mortal Kombat: Legacy as her first major acting role.

 

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Ian Fisher: You’re a young but very up and coming performer in the world of martial arts and now acting thanks to your role in Mortal Kombat: Legacy.  So how exactly did you jump into the world of martial arts and then make the transition to film as a stunt performer and subsequently make the leap to become a full-fledged actor in Mortal Kombat: Legacy?

Sam Tjhia: Well to jump into Martial Arts was easy. My mom was a black belt in jiu jitsu so both of my brothers and myself were in it as soon as we each turned 4. I did jiu jitsu up until I was about 12 but then itched for something new and exciting. “Wushu,” Chinese Martial Arts, caught my eye and took me to another level and brought me to the biggest challenge of my life at the 2008 Olympics. To get into stunts kind of flowed naturally after Olympics since my coach was also a stuntman as well as several other mentors of mine. Though I took several acting classes for the experience, I didn’t really move to L.A with the purpose of pursuing acting. I go where life takes me and where I can challenge and better myself. I met the director and fight choreographer of MK: Legacy at a gym while I was training and things just happened! I just love performing as a whole so if life continues to transition me into acting I would welcome the opportunities.

 

Ian: Based on the videos I’ve seen of you performing your martial arts, you have some amazing skills with a variety of weapons like staffs and swords.  Is there one weapon in particular that you like performing with a lot or is a specialty of yours?

Sam: Definitely. There is a weapon called the “Nan Dao” in Wushu that I used to compete in. It was by far the most exciting weapon I’ve trained, and the one I felt the most powerful with. It’s basically a Giant sword haha. HOWEVER, I am a big fan of the fans 😉 I have never competed with them but I have trained them to an extent and just love the grace, flow, and strength to it.

 

Ian: With your background as a martial artist and stunt performer do you have any role models in the industry that you admire or hope to eventually work with at some point down the road?

Sam: Well considering my background in martial arts I would be thrilled to work with the obvious Jet Li (he’s why I began Wushu in the first place), Jackie Chan (childhood hero!), and Donnie Yen (extremely talented). They’ve played a huge role in bringing martial arts to the forefront, which is why I admire them so much. I would love to be able to do that from a female perspective. My role models are people I know well and have amazing qualities that I could learn from. My Wushu coach Alan Tang is just one of the best people in the world. Huge heart and so much to give… he’s my role model.

 

Ian: So far you’ve done some work as a stunt performer in some major genre films such as Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Sucker Punch.  As a whole what was it like to be a part of those films, both of which obviously have heavy action elements?  Was stepping on the set of something like Sucker Punch a bit of a system shock for you since it’s a massive production or was it exciting to be part of something so big, even if you may have a small yet crucial role in the film?

Sam: I think I was more prepared than I thought stepping onto a big set for the first time. I feel like my discipline and training really grounded me and my extensive competition background got me used to being under pressure to perform well. Can’t waste productions time and can’t waste your 8 years of training for mistake. Similar type of butterflies in the stomach 😛

 

Ian: Obviously in the future you want to continue to do projects in which you’re front and center acting instead of taking a massive hit or fall and having to cover your face.  So with that being said what has it been like to try to make the leap to acting from the world of stunts?  Are things a bit difficult at times since some people may look at you as only being a stunt performer and do you hope your work in Mortal Kombat: Legacy will help you branch out a bit and take more leading roles?

Sam: I’ve never really given thought to doing one OR the other. My main goal in my career is to challenge myself to give an amazing performance. Acting definitely has its fair share of emotional challenges and is a world I would love to further explore! But I’ve always been a super physical person too. There really is no feeling like the one after killing yourself in some workout/exercise. You just feel… strong, and I love that! All in all I had a really great time with the challenge of playing the iconic role of Kitana, and so I’m open to any performing whether it be stunts, acting, dancing, singing… bring it!

 

Ian: In general moving forward with your career what sort of projects do you want to tackle? Are you looking to take on projects that allow you to both act and perform some nice action or are you keener on taking roles where your martial arts skills take a back seat to an effect?

Sam: I really have no preference at the moment. If the script had some great action scenes I would for sure be extremely excited to get into that… however if the script had some really enticing scenes where I’d have to expand myself as a performer, there’s no doubt I’d take interest. I don’t think I’m at a place in career that’s stuck in one place. I feel like I’ve just gotten to that place so I’m in no hurry to move on quite yet 😉

 

Ian: What was it like stepping onto the set of Mortal Kombat: Legacy and assuming the role of Kitana?  Did you have a certain level of nervousness since Mortal Kombat is such a huge franchise and because you’re playing a pivotal character, or were you nothing but excited for the opportunity to show off your skills and do your first major starring role?

Sam: A whole lotta both! Being a Kitana fan myself, I was EXTREMELY nervous about being able to do her justice! I made sure to do my research and really take into consideration the fact that people already KNOW Kitana and her backstory and so there’s a very specific persona I’m trying to bring to life. At the same time I WAS stoked about being able to perform my martial arts and especially in a story BASED on martial arts that already has a fan base. I’m so grateful for the opportunity… as a female martial artist that will be one of the highlights of my martial arts career.

 

Ian: Prior to jumping into Mortal Kombat: Legacy were you at all familiar with the Mortal Kombat games or only knew about them in passing?  And did you do any research on Kitana and the general Mortal Kombat lore involving her to get ready for your role or did you jump into things wanting to take a fresh perspective with the character?

Sam: Although I love to put my own creative twist on things and really get to use my artists mind… I did do my research and know that Kitana has a pretty specific backstory already. And it’s been on ongoing story for so long now that you can’t just all of a sudden make her some punk rock rebel child. I watched several cinematics, read everything there is to her, and read forum discussions to get on the same page with her fans to see how they perceive her. Also, of course I was familiar with the MK Games. Familiar with kicking my brother’s Goro butt with my Kitana fans in the first couple games.

 

Ian: With Kitana being a strong warrior and you being an amazing martial artist, what sort of tone did you want to present with your performance as Kitana?  In the MK video games Kitana can be a fierce warrior yet has this slight level of decadence to her.  Obviously things may be different in MK: Legacy due to the more grounded tone of the series so what things were pivotal for you as an actor to bring to Kitana as a character?

Sam: Obviously I’m not a princess, but I don’t feel too far off from Kitana’s character. I love martial arts and being fierce and strong… but I love to wear dresses and be in tune with my femininity at the same time. The biggest hurdle for me was to understand the sibling rivalry and betrayal that Kitana faced in her past, and how it deeply affected the character she is now. What does she carry with her that she may hide from us? I feel lucky to have a loving, honest, supportive…just amazing family and so this was a bit of a challenge.

 

Jolene Tran (Mileena) and Sam Tjhia (Princess Kitana).

 

Ian: Can you talk about what it was like to work with your Mortal Kombat: Legacy co-star and fellow martial artist Jolene Tran?  In general what was the dynamic like between the two of you since you’re both accomplished performers yet thematically from what we’ve seen in the MK: Legacy trailer it seems like you’re at each other’s throats for most of the time in the episode?

Sam: Well of course working with Jolene was an absolute delight. To have someone so physically capable really helps as an actor and performer because when the physical part of the scene already feels so natural to both of us… it’s so much easier to concentrate on the mental feats. I guess one of the fun parts of acting is that you can be someone else and feel other things… take out the anger and rip at each other’s throats, and then come back to yourself. So I felt like Jolene and I worked very well together and got along great.

 

Ian: I don’t know if this question is going in spoiler territory, but is there one moment in particular that really stood out for your during your time filming Mortal Kombat: Legacy, whether it be a cool moment during a scene filming a fight or a narrative element in your episode that you were fond of or enjoyed performing an as actor?

Sam: It’s a grey area so I’ll answer it about the filming experience in general. The location was just soooooo breathtaking. It looked like a backdrop, which is horrible because it’s sooooo much better than anything you could ever draw or paint and imagine. We filmed our fight scene up in the mountains in Vancouver Canada, with iced mountain caps in the distance, rolling green valleys in between…. and our little stage in the midst of it all.

 

Ian: What was it like to jump into the fight scenes of Mortal Kombat: Legacy in terms of the choreography by Larnell Stovall and how different, if any, it was to perform compared to your previous projects?

Sam: Well, for each film I’ve worked on, the choreography has always been very different. What I loved about this fight in particular was that our characters are already supposed to know martial arts! It’s really awesome that you don’t have to make anything look “raw” and uncalculated. The fight is a martial arts battle not a bar brawl or catfight.

 

Ian: Besides your scenes with Jolene Tran and Aleks Paunovic, were there any other actors in Mortal Kombat: Legacy that you wished you had the chance to work with but didn’t due to the anthology style nature of the series?

Sam: Well Scorpion and Sub Zero were a big part of my childhood as well as two other characters that my brothers and I would duel with… so to work with them would have been so great.

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As always I would like to extend a huge thanks for Sam for taking the time out to participate in the interview and giving us some terrific insight on things.  I think next week we’ll all see just how awesome and faithful Sam’s performance is to the core of Kitana as a character and I personally can’t wait to see what roles Sam tackles down the road.

Stay tuned next week for yet another MK: Legacy interview that should be a bit of a crowd pleaser.

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Article originally posted on May 3, 2011

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