I was born in 1987, and while most five-year-olds were watching Tale Spin... scratch that, I watched my fair share of Disney Afternoon too, but outside of the main mouse's impeccable programming, there was one thing that occupied most of my evenings.
The game was Mortal Kombat, and I was obsessed. I was totally the kid that instead of learning how to ride a bike, spent weekends perfecting fatalities and hunting the ever elusive Reptile. My Dad's friends wouldn't even play me in public. I was THAT good. Looking back, I remember anticipating every trip to the arcade as well as every new MK release.
It was only a matter of time before a film would be released, and while Johnny wasn't my favorite player IN the game, my fragile Duke Nukem lovin' mind was quickly infatuated with his one liners. The time between trailers and the release of the film are somewhat of a blur, but I CAN recall the pure joy of sitting back and seeing giant versions of Raiden, Scorpion, and Johnny battle on the large screen as I tapped my little L.A. gears on the sticky theater floor with glee.
Mortal Kombat is still one of my favorite films, and Johnny Cage is one of my all-time favorite characters. So, needless to say, I was thrilled to speak to THE Johnny Cage, Linden Ashby, about his new film Beta Test as well as ask all of the Kombat questions that have been lingering since my youth. Enjoy!
Jessie Hobson: Thank you so much for calling. I really, really appreciate it.
Linden Ashby: Oh, my pleasure.
JH: Alright, so before we jump right into Beta Test, I have to ask you some Mortal Kombat questions if that’s alright?
JH: Okay, great. So, right off the bat, were you a fan of the video game before being cast as Johnny Cage?
LA: You know what? I’d never played the video game. To be brutally honest I had no idea what it was all about. Once I had done the movie I played it a few times, but I was never a huge gamer.
JH: Gotcha. So, what was that casting process like? I know you were, you replaced Brandon Lee, correct?
LA: Ya know, I don’t know if that’s actually true or if that’s urban myth. I need to ask Paul Anderson about that. But, I’ve heard that, and like I say, I don’t really know if it’s true or not.
JH: Okay, what was requested of you to get the gig? Like, did you have to have the background in karate or it just happened to work out that way?
LA: Ya know, I had a background, I had a little bit of karate and a lot of boxing, and was pretty physically fit at that point in my life, and could move pretty well. And, I mean that certainly helped, but you know, they didn’t like audition my crazy karate skills. We did, yes and no, I think it was appreciated that I had those skills, but it wasn’t part of the casting process.
JH: Speaking of like conflicting reasons, or conflicting… I guess, urban legends, online when I was doing some research on you, I’ve heard varying things as to why you didn’t come back for the second one. Was it because of the script being bad or was it because of like, I’ve read other things as far as like maybe you read that they were gonna kill off Johnny Cage in the beginning and that’s what led you to not coming back for that role?
LA: Well, first of all, they weren’t gonna honor my sequel deal. I had a deal in place, they weren’t gonna honor it. Secondly, the script was pretty bad. Thirdly, I was in the middle of shooting a series, and ya know, I would have done it, but they went all over the place and it just was not anything that was gonna work out. And it was, ya know, it was, you’re part of this thing that worked really well, and they didn’t want me back. What I’m assuming is that they didn’t want me back. They didn’t want Bridgette back. They didn’t want Christopher Lambert back. And they thought that, that the chemistry, what we brought to that movie was not important. They thought the title was important, and that’s it. And, it just proved that they were wrong.
JH: Yeah, I could totally agree with that.
LA: Everyone forgets that there was, ya know, they always think that… well, Mortal Kombat was, it was a huge game and that’s why it was successful. We were the first video game to movie that ever worked. And there has been Street Fighter, huge title. Double Dragon, huge title. Super Mario Brothers, huge title. None of those movies worked. Our movie worked for some reason, whatever reason it was, but it was… good. And, Larry Kasanoff, ya know… look I’ll be brutally honest, he thinks that, he thought he was really smart. He thought that he was somehow, ya know, the reason that movie was successful. And, ya know, I’m sure he played a part, of course, ya know? Everybody played a part, but he negated, he minimized everybody else’s contribution, and thought his huge, and I honest to God think that he and his assistant wrote that next script… and it was a piece of shit. And it was dumb. And the movie opened up and I love Robin Shou. I mean, we’re still very good friends, and Robin was bummed out, ya know? But it was a… it opened number one and then dropped off the face of the earth. And, ya know, the first movie we were number one for three weeks straight, and it fills. I just think that it was dumb. It was, he just took a… this is Larry Kasanoff, and he actually called me on the anniversary like, hey man… you’re like saying mean things about me, ya know? Ya know? I… this and that and the other, and I’m like… what? I’m not saying anything except for what’s true. I think that he took and incredibly valuable franchise and absolutely squatted it.
JH: Totally. I mean, word of mouth is priceless, and I can definitely say I went and saw the first one in theaters. Like, as a younger guy, I went and saw it maybe three times total because I had such a good time and I was always dragging someone else to go see it.
LA: And people loved that film.
JH: It’s still showing at like Drafthouse today.
LA: Nice. But the second one you didn’t feel the same way about?
JH: No, I mean, well, you weren’t in it. So, you were kinda like the ultimate Johnny Cage, for me, because that scene with you and Scorpion…
JH: Something about that scene just really worked for me. I don’t know, maybe it was the way the trailer was cut, and I was just looking forward to planets to align in the second one and it just didn’t happen.
LA: There was no magic in the second one. Ya know, I… we caught lightening in a bottle on that first movie, and it worked. And, that’s what I’m saying, you don’t fuck with the chemistry of something that works. If it ain’t don’t fix it, and ya know, Christopher Lambert was so funny and so charming and so great… ya know? And I loved, everyone right? And he’s a great actor, but his charm and his life-ness are not really his forte. Ya know, he didn’t mind, but why do you mess with it? Ya know, you go, I don’t wanna pay these guys… and look, I’m here to tell you, my sequel deal was not outrageous by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t know what Christopher’s was, I don’t know Bridgette’s was… but why… I dunno. It was just dumb. It was dumb. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. And you probably shoulda got Paul to direct it again.
JH: Exactly, yeah.
LA: Pay the money and get it right instead of going, hey… we… basically, we could do anything we feel like and the audience is gonna come anyway, and that’s not just true.
JH: Well, the audience is definitely gonna come more than once, and then they’re also not going to tell the people that are on the fence to go see it. Cause, I mean, at most, I mean, people that go see video game movies are casual fans. I mean, not every video game fan is going to see a video game movie because it’s not that type of audience. I don’t know.
LA: Well, and that was the other thing is that Larry did not ever get… I don’t think. A movie is very different from a video game. In the second movie he tried to really adhere to the video game. And, you know the first movie had very little to do with the video game. I mean, what was the story of the video game?
JH: It’s really off the wall.
LA: Yeah, so, in the second one he really tried to incorporate all of these new characters and you could do that if you had your core of old characters, but the video game’s just not that interesting. It’s not that great of story-telling. And, there was fun. There was joy in that first movie. It just worked, ya know? We made you laugh. It was great for the time. It was great fighting, great effects. It just… adapted. It was a great ride. People loved it, and the second one was just shit.
LA: That’s the honest answer.
JH: That’s exactly what I wanted so thank you for that. I know you probably get a lot of Mortal Kombat questions, but it’s definitely a dream come true. So, I really appreciate you answering those for me.
LA: Ah, you’re welcome. You know, it’s so funny, I was walking back up to the beach and this friend of mine, who’s an actor, and he’s got a friend over, ya know, and the guy just freaks pretty much. I was walking the dog with Kyle, he’s my neighbor, he goes, hey my buddy’s like, forewarning, he’s just like having a fanboy moment. He’s just totally geeking out that you’re Johnny Cage. And this like a thirty… almost forty-year-old guy. It was, ya know, people still have a really fond place in their hearts for that film. And I love being a part of something like that.
JH: Excellent. So, on to Beta Test. What was it about this project that interested you? And, how did you get involved with the project?
LA: Well, they offered me the part, and I talked to Nick Gyeney, Chris Gyeney, who’s the director and writer and Nick, his idea, his concept on this was that he didn’t want to make a B action film. What he wanted to do was sort of an homage to sort of 1990s action films with a very 2016 twist to it. And I thought, alright, look I have a soft spot in my heart for 90s action films and let’s see what he’s all about, and we talked about it. And, he came at it, and you know you’re gonna be working with a limited budget with this film, and he approached it in such a smart way… to do these action sequences by building a game in… you’re actually, it’s not animation, it’s an actual video game engine that they constructed for the film. You’re seeing a video game for these sequences that’s really cost prohibitive to shoot as live action… and probably change your rating the graphic nature of the violence that takes place. And, he really approached it from an intelligent point of view on how to make this movie work. I love the fact that, ya know, at first I was so, like, jarred by the graphic design, ya know, the logo for the company. The game consoles and the whole thing. And then you go, it’s supposed to be, it’s a throwback. And it looks like a 1990s logo. It’s sort of cheesy. And the thing on the back of his neck is full on 90s. And, once you go for that ride, it’s great! Then you throw in the entire issue of what we’re talking about in the film, gun control and where we are as a country right now, ya know, corporate control and gun control and corporate control of political issues… and it becomes a much more interesting story. And I just kinda liked it, I went for… I was like… I’m in, I’m in. I’m gonna go for the ride. And I guess, might know, he was like I don’t want any stunt doubles, I want it to be you. And I’m like… (laughs) Jesus Christ man, I’m not Johnny Cage anymore. He’s like yes you are. So, yeah, I trained up and threw some kicks and punches, a little sword work and I had a great time doing it. And know, I like to be honest about these things. I’m not one of those actors that’s like I didn’t have any stunt doubles. I had a stunt guy that went through a window for me. I wasn’t real keen on doing that. So, but other than that, it’s all me and moving… in my fifty? What was I, fifty-five when I did that movie? Yeah, my fifty-five-year-old ass throwing some kicks and punches and I had some fun doing it.
JH: I'm gonna be honest with ya man, I wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did. It was definitely a pleasant surprise to see you playing that role, but overall, the movie, the final product, of what I saw, it was kinda like you said, a lot of fun. It was definitely a throwback, but I got invested pretty early on and it was easy to stick with it all the way through because I felt like…
LA: I love that. I love that.
JH: I’ve heard you say that you bring a little bit of yourself to every character you play.
LA: Yeah, I don’t think, I don’t see how you can’t.
JH: But with Kincaid, I mean, he's kinda a dick, where were you in playing him?
LA: Well, I think that, I mean, do you think that people who are crazy. He was a crazy dick, I guess. Ya know, they probably don’t seem themselves in that way. He thought that, he thinks he’s a patriot. He thinks he’s saving his country. He thinks he’s saving humanity. He thinks he’s a righteous dude. He’s that fucking shit crazy! In his mind, he is absolutely justified to everything that he is doing. So, I think that if you approach like this, on a certain level you know you’re wrong, but in that moment you can’t let it go and you dig yourself deeper and deeper and deeper hole. And then there’s just a part of you, oh my god, why can’t shut up, why can’t I just shut up and walk away? And you just dig in, and you’re like I know I’m a fucking idiot, but fuck you! (laughs) Ya know?
JH: I think everyone has been in that situation before, but what I haven’t been in is a rooftop battle between you and Manu.
LA: (laughs) Yeah.
JH: Without giving too much away, what was it like going one on one with Deathstroke? It was like Johnny Cage; it was almost like a Mortal Kombat fanboy’s dream… in reality.
LA: Nice! I think, well, first of all, Manu is a… he’s a really physical guy. And, that’s good and bad because he, I don’t really mind a little bit of contact in a fight. I think that he needed to sell stuff, but when it comes to sword work, I’m not real keen on contact. (laughs) And he wasn’t either. So, those are situations when you really have to trust each other, so we worked together, and neither one of us wanted to kill the other one. So it was, and I trust him. He’s a hell of a good athlete. And he’s a, he did all work. And that’s what it takes in those situations, his trust. Ya know, we trust each other and we came out with both eyes, our heads, and all our limbs intact, no puncture holes.
JH: (laughs) That particular scene, it took place downtown Seattle, did you guys got a lot of attention whenever you were filming?
LA: Ah, man. People were hanging out of the windows, ya know, around us. And there was like, just, a sea of cell phones pointed at us. It was pretty funny.
JH: Gotcha. I was wondering. There’s a particular scene, it’s early on, when Max is getting prepared to jump into the game. He rubs a Nintendo 64 that’s holding a copy of Mortal Kombat, do you know if that was an intentional nod from the director or do you think maybe it just happened to be…
LA: I don’t think there’s any accidents.
JH: Gotcha, that’s most excellent! Alright, let’s see, I think that’s all I have for ya man, unless there’s anything else you wanna throw out there. Are you working on anything?
LA: No. We’re working on Teen Wolf still, finishing up the sixth season and that will start airing in October I believe, and I just kinda digging life. And, no real complaints, and, kinda happy that this little movie that I was in, that I thought was kinda smart and cool and different has found a life.
JH: Yeah, it’s getting some heat man, every time I check on it… it’s always going up on the hits on IMDB, I definitely think it deserves it. For what it’s worth man, I really appreciate you being a part of it because it’s definitely, I think, something that needs to kinda come back. We need to push those indie thrillers or indie action flicks because not a lot of Jean-Claude Van Damme movies happening anymore, and ultimately this one just kinda worked which I can definitely appreciate.
LA: Ah, I’m so happy to hear that. I’m really happy you liked it.
JH: Excellent, man. One more thing before I let you go; do you ever appear at any conventions or have you ever thought about that? I mean, you have a pretty extensive career with like Wyatt Earp and Teen Wolf, I’m pretty sure you’d have a pretty big line. Is that something that might be coming up for you?
LA: I’d like to do that at some point. I’ve done some Teen Wolf conventions like at the Comic-Con a couple times, like, with the show. I don’t think I’m gonna go down there this week. I’ve got something else kinda planned, I’d definitely do that in the future, and it’s a, I actually really enjoy interacting with fans and the people who like the stuff that I’ve done. Ya know, there’s some actors who just really don’t want to do that, I really enjoy people, and I kinda admit through social media or networking, ya know, I kind of, actually got to be friends with people I feel like. I mean, yeah, I could see that in my future. I’ve never really thought about it. I think Robin Shou and I should go and do a convention, ya know, go to a convention.
JH: Yeah, that would be really cool to have like photo with the two of you guys together or, at least, have your booths next to each other that way you kinda play off each other and…
LA: Nah! We’re together.
JH: Even better.
LA: We’re cheap!
JH: (laughs) That works. You mentioned your Twitter handle, where can people follow you at?
JH: Oh, easy! So, excellent man. Again, I really appreciate the time and, I mean, it’s been a blessing to talk to the real deal Johnny Cage, to me. Thank you so much, man. I’ll tag you in this, and I’ll follow you on Twitter and we can talk so more.
LA: I love it, thanks a lot, man!
Who would have honestly thought that Johnny Cage cursed more than me? I'm practically a sailor, so I guess that makes Linden... my captain? O Captain! My Captain!
Moving on, if you're a fan of old school 90s cheesefests, do yourself a favor and check out Beta Test! It's a lot of fun and one of the two places you can find MK royalty getting in on the DC universe. We don't talk about the other.
Lastly, if you haven't seen the masterpiece that is Mortal Kombat... what the fuck (thanks Linden) is wrong with you? Snag a copy HERE before one of us shadow kicks ya!