PHOTOGRAPHED BY KAT HOLT
ACTION STAR LEWIS TAN TALKS FAMILY, REPRESENTATION AND DIVERSIFYING HIS MANY TALENTS.
Lewis Tan is ready for his close-up. Best known for his role as the lead in WB’s Mortal Kombat and as Lu Xin Lee on the Netflix series Wu Assassins, Tan—who’s known for performing his own action sequences—has the fighting and acting chops to take on Hollywood.
“My father was a national champion martial artist. He’s also a fight choreographer and stunt coordinator for a lot of big movies. He used to work for Steven Spielberg and a lot of Christopher Nolan’s films and that was kind of like my introduction into cinema,” Tan says of being on set at the age of 2 with his famous action director father Philip Tan.
Lewis, who at the time of interview was filming a secret project in Budapest, saw film sets as his “playground” and later began training in martial arts with his dad and different senseis. Before drama school, he was fighting competitively, but always knew he’d eventually return to those beloved film sets. “I realized I could get my foot in the door with my martial arts ability, and then I can win over the casting and producers with my theatrical talents,” he says.
For his turn in Wu Assassins and Mortal Kombat—which he admits he’d play the video game with his brothers as a child and had to hide it from their Packing a Punch parents—he got to train with some of the best trainers in the world, including Bruce Lee’s former trainer. For the action sequences, he looks up to his father, Jackie Chan and Tom Cruise, heroes, as he calls them, who did their own stunts. Though the irony is Tan’s father now wants him to get a stunt double. “I feel like you should be able to tell the emotional arc of the character through the movements, through the fighting,” he says. “And if I’m fighting for half the movie, [and if] it’s not me, then how much of that performance did you miss?”
He’s taking a quick break from the action for a different kind of action, starring in a romantic comedy, About Fate, opposite Emma Roberts. “I didn’t want to do the typical kind of slapsticky thing. … I love old romantic comedies and I think that there’s a sensibility about them that is missing nowadays,” says Tan. “Then this film came along with Emma Roberts [attached to it] and she’s such a classy [person]—she has that in her DNA.”
Tan, who is half Chinese Singaporean and half British, is also an advocate for representation for the larger Asian American community. When asked why he thinks it’s taken so long to see the needle move more toward diversity, he points to the industry being founded by white men, and “from then, it’s just perpetuated that perspective for a really long time.” Even though he is seeing a shift, Tan believes it’s about doing the work. “It’s about doing good work and showing people, proving, that we deserve this—that it’s not just a diversity checklist,” he says. “Let me earn it as well, but give us a shot. A lot of really talented people are not being given a chance, but if you gave them a chance you’d see that they deserve [it].”
PHOTOGRAPHED BY KAT HOLT
Tan, who grew up between London and Los Angeles, plans to be in L.A. for Lunar New Year. He explains that the men in his family—particularly his father—are good chefs. “I’m never home so it’s crazy for me to be there,” he says of his plans. “My younger brothers, my mom, my dad, all the dogs... we have a big dim sum [dinner]—we eat a lot until we can’t move,” he says.
As for his multi-hyphenated father who now also holds the title of chef, Tan says he can still fight too. “He’s still a fast man. He’s got it. He’s still really agile, really fast. He can still throw backflips and, wow, yeah, he’s in amazing shape.”
The busy actor—who reprises his role in the Wu Assassins stand-alone film Fistful of Vengeance—also signed on to star and co-executive produce The Quantum Spy, an adaptation of David Ignatius’ novel. “It’s about an American spy who is dealing with a situation in China and the U.S. at the same time. It’s a very interesting story in a way that we kind of have to be careful with these types of politics nowadays in Hollywood,” he says. The message is one of unity, and that we’re not so different from other countries after all. For Tan, it’s a dream role. “I’ve always wanted to play a spy all my life,” he says, admitting that his other bucket-list character is playing a vampire.
PHOTOGRAPHED BY KAT HOLT
But projects he’s most excited about have him at the helm. “I would like to direct one of my first feature films [this year],” Tan says. “I’ve been working on two different projects. One of them is my father’s life story growing up in Asia and then moving to London when he was young and dealing with racism while competing for a championship,” he says of the project he’s developing with Nina Yang Bongiovi, and the other is an action film. “My goal is to be acting and producing in 2022.”
“I think once we have that type of power, you can really kind of tell the original stories that you want to tell,” Tan says of directing and producing. “Telling your own stories is the way to have the biggest influence because it’s straight from the mouth of the individual. You can let somebody live in that perspective for two hours, and hopefully by the time they watch your film, they have grown in their perspective of the world, and they’ve lived a little bit in your shoes,” he says. “That is what’s gonna keep us united and keep us moving forward. That’s the natural progression for me as a storyteller that wants to make an impact.”
"“TELLING YOUR OWN STORY IS THE WAY TO HAVE THE BIGGEST INFLUENCE BECAUSE IT’S STRAIGHT FROM THE MOUTH OF THE INDIVIDUAL.” –LEWIS TAN