His first major role in a feature film Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins was on the horizon, as well as the 2nd season of the Bruce Lee inspired Warrior where plays the lead. But then, Cinemax announced that they were no longer commissioning original shows to make way for the new streaming platform, HBO Max. The fate of Warrior remains unknown. And soon after that the pandemic hit, postponing Snake Eyes until 2021.
But then in September, Andrew got some great news. He was cast alongside Brad Pitt in a new David Leitch film called Bullet Train. Cinemax released Warrior Season 2 on schedule and new episodes will arrive through November when Bruce Lee would have been celebrating his 80th birthday. Koji spoke with Den of Geek about Warrior, Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins, and much more.
Den of Geek: What was your favorite Bruce Lee movie?
Andrew Koji: Enter The Dragon is an obvious one. To be honest, I’m going to go with Game of Death. I know he didn’t finish it, but there was something about it. They did a 40-something-minute cut of the original of what they did and think there’s something really interesting there. I think that could make a great film nowadays. If you haven’t got Bruce Lee, it’s just not going to work. I’m going to go for that one just to be a bit different.
Oh, very good. No one’s ever answered that one. Interesting.
Can you tell us a little bit about your martial arts background?
Yeah. I started martial arts growing up from around 10 to 20. I did Taekwondo…and my dad used to study Kyokoshin Karate. In the garden, he used to hold these sofa pillow kind of things for pads, and I used to kick them and he used to teach me those things. Then I got injured with Taekwondo, tore my ass in half – my gluteus maximus, minimus and all that – and then had to stop and change.
I went to Kung Fu because it had less kicks, because I found it hard to walk. And did some acrobatics on the side – not exactly what they call ‘tricking’ but kind of around that. Then I stopped around 20 and just dabbled with Jujistu and stuff, which I still want to go back to and study properly. But today’s circumstances don’t really cater towards rolling around with people.
For Warrior, I picked up Wing Chun, which I did a bit of that actually when I was younger, and then I studied lots of Taekwondo for Season 2.
When you were first approached to do Warrior were you tentative about being stereotyped as a Bruce Lee clone?
Oh, yeah. Totally. I moved away from martial arts almost because of that. I remember at the time, when I was about 18 or so, the only Asians that I saw on TV or film were all doing martial arts, you know?
So, I wanted to rebel against that and not do anything to do with it. I was like, ‘Screw that. Screw everything else I’ve been learning.’ I just want to become an actor. I just want to Daniel Day-Lewis the hell out of stuff, or maybe Joaquin Phoenix a bit more. I was definitely scared because of that aspect of that. I know I’ll probably get boxed in doing action things for a little bit, but I think I’ll be able to break out of it.
But also I think with Warrior, because that’s just an element of it, there’s so much story and the characters are so well done, I’m not too scared of it because of that, because they’ve done such a good job. If it was just a trashy, glossy, superficial martial arts show, then I’d be worried. But because it’s got a good story, interesting characters, it needs us to give good performances for it. I wasn’t too worried after that.
One of the things I really love about this show is the chemistry between Ah Sahm and Young Jun. Can you talk a little bit about how you and Jason Tobin bonded for that?
Yeah. Me and Jason, I think from the beginning, Season 1, we got on straight away because both of us have got strange stories, up until that point. I was ready to give up acting. Even though he’s playing Young Jun, he’s a bit older than me. He’s got a family with three kids so he was in a similar place, and he was just as grateful for the job, as I was, if not more so because he’s been in this game far longer than I have.
Better Luck Tomorrow, his first big film, was years ago. Jason, he’s a real artist. He’s got this independent film called Jasmine, which you’ve got to see, man. He made that himself. It’s phenomenal. Because he’s an interesting dude and he’s got an artist’s heart, we just got on really well. Hopefully, we’ll do a film together someday.
Now, you’re adding Chen Tong for Hong into the cast. I really love the trio of you guys.
He brought a lot lightness. After Bolo [Rich Ting] unfortunately died, and Young Jun’s going through stuff in Season 2, Jonathan [Tropper] was like, “We need a bit of lightness to this,” and Chen Tang, he bought that. He was great casting for that.
How’s your body holding up with all the stunts and fighting?
Now, it’s doing all right because I’m in lockdown. The six pack’s gone or the definition of Season 2 of it has gone. It definitely takes a toll as you’re getting older. I’m 32 now and I’m going to be 33 in November, and, to be honest, it’s probably in better condition than it was before I started in Warrior, because I was living a reckless life back then. I was drinking a lot. I was eating whatever I wanted and now it feels all right actually, in comparison.
What’s been your favorite fight scene so far?
We’ll, I’ve got to give a shout out to Mike Bisping because he took that kick like the absolute man, multiple times, to his face and there was no ego about it. He knew that he was part of helping Bruce Lee’s story come to life. I’ve got the utmost respect for someone like him who can put himself in the room and literally put his life on line. The character of Ah Sahm, he would tear into shreds. I’d let him do so because I’ve got respect for the guy. Doing that just on a man-to-man level, to be able to have the experience of kicking a British UFC champion in the face multiple times… I don’t think many people would be able to say they kicked a UFC champion in the face and lived. So, that was the highlight. He’s a great dude and a really interesting guy.
Filming-wise, things started to really ramp up towards the end of season. The highlights we used for the Episode 10 fight, which was a very, very tough scene to shoot, but was absolutely magic. I almost collapsed at one point filming that, but then the next day came back, dig deep, and we managed to make the day and managed to get everything we need to do on schedule. I think we managed to capture some the magic that we felt and the energy. That was literally a life-experience highlight shoot, that fight scene. It was such a team effort.
How does it feel being the lead actor in a series that’s predominately an Asian tale?
It’s an honor, in a way, to help bring this story to life. I think the best actors don’t think of themselves just as lead actors. Their vessel might be who they are, the lead, but the lead doesn’t work if the other performances aren’t there and if everyone else is falling apart.
I’m just saying this, but I’m an actor and I’m very picky with my acting. I can’t help but watch a film or a performance and not pick it apart. Probably 90% of the time I’m like, “That was a bad moment. That was a weird one. That was whatever.” There’s obviously very few shows, personally, that I look at and go, “Wow, everyone’s really on point and this is really good.”
When I see Warrior Season 2 and I see these great actors; Kieran [Bew], Tom [Weston-Jones], Hoon [Lee], Joe [Taslim], et cetera, et cetera, I’m more honored that I’m amongst this cast. When I see their performances I’m like, “Whoa, these guys are good, because they’re nothing like this in real life.” It’s more that it’s an honor to be able to work alongside these people who are just so good at what they’re doing.
Warrior is so much of an immigrant tale, and here in America, of course, immigration’s become a big issue, and in the UK as well, how do you feel about the current politics of that and how that plays into Warrior being shown now?
There’s a lot of coincidental parallels to certain things; the climate of the world and certain people’s attitudes towards certain people. That wasn’t the intention of Jonathan or the writers at the time. I know that definitely immigration issues happen all the time, but I think it makes the show more eerily relevant, and it wasn’t even its intention. They were literally just trying to tell the story of what happened roughly at the time, make the best show that they could and use bits of history.
It’s eerie because in certain aspects it’s clear that we have not grown as humans and we have not learned certain things. Those are real things that happened back in the day in 1817 or around that time of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Real things. It’s eerie to the point of being a bit like, “Wow. We need to learn. We need to grow. We need to get better.” History’s going to repeat itself until we just get over certain things, I think.
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins got delayed to 2021. How do you feel about that? You’re all in the can for that one, right?
Yeah. I think there’s more reasons too. I’m fine with that. I think we did the best that we could on that one. I’m hoping that I brought the most layered Storm Shadow and realistic kind of Storm Shadow to screen, even though there’s only one guy before me. I think it’s the current climate. I think the film industry’s suffering quite a bit, I’m hearing. If it’s best for the film, for the audience, for people… I don’t think many people want to go to the cinema right now. So don’t release the film. It wouldn’t be a good idea.
I got to ask you about Bullet Train. Brad Pitt and David Leitch, that’s awesome. Congratulations on that.
Oh. Thanks, man. That’s surreal, that one. I never thought I’d be working with Brad Pitt, ever in a million years. He was a distant legend, an icon. He’s someone who’s inspired me on my journey with films. There’s been countless films that have inspired me, and he’s produced them as well. This guy – he’s going to go down in history as this huge Hollywood figure.
Also, bear in mind, the fame and all that that he’s got, as a man, how he’s composed himself – I mean I don’t know him personally. I haven’t met him yet either. But he hasn’t let it get to his head, it doesn’t seem. It seems he’s a cool, chill dude and he’s not about himself. As a man, I think that’s quite admirable. It’s really admirable to be in that position of power and not become an absolute douche and abuse power, which most people do. I respect that dude, absolutely.
To get to work with him and then David Leitch who I know he’s made those million films before. Atomic Blonde, I liked, and Deadpool 2, I thought, was shot really amazingly. I’ve got a feeling he’s going to become something. Whether it’s this film or not, he’s going to do a masterpiece. He’s on his way to doing that, I think. Besides the box office billion-dollar film thing, besides from the business aspect that he’s done well with, I know he’s going to do something, or he will, or he’s doing something really good. He seems really cool so far. Warrior has helped me to be in this position to do this job, so I’m just bringing every skill that it taught me, and I’m bringing it to these ones in the future.
Man, Brad Pitt. I’m freaking out a bit. But, yeah. Brad Pitt, come on. I saw the article the other day. I was like, “What’s my face doing next to Brad Pitt’s? Nah. Nah. What’s going on?”
So, are you going to be ready for Season 3 of Warrior, if it comes around?
Yeah. Well, obviously, with the current climate it’s a lot less certain. All we know is if the fans make enough noise and help us by making that noise, it is in so many of our intentions to wrap this show up as I think it should. Not only for the show, the story, for the fans, but for that legend Bruce Lee. I think it deserves a conclusive ending.
It might be a story of Deadwood. It might be a story where it gets picked up, because it’s not like there’s someone up there going, “No, no. I don’t want you to make that.” It’s so many circumstances that come together that have led to the potential of not being Season 3. I think we all want to do it. We all feel like it needs to be done and it’s going to be in a bunch of our objectives to do that and to conclude it properly and fully when the time’s right.
Warrior Season 2 can be seen exclusively on CINEMAX.