Picking up shortly after the explosive finale of Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion's Revenge, Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms follows a team of heroes who are besieged by the enemy forces of Shao Kahn. Raiden and his group of warriors are forced into a deal to compete in a final Mortal Kombat that will determine the fate of the realms; Scorpion, meanwhile, must find the ancient Kamidogu before it's used to resurrect the One Being to avert the destruction of all things.
The movie boasts an insanely good cast of actors, but Joel McHale (Community) is definitely one of its biggest stars. We were fortunate enough to catch up with the Stargirl actor for a chat recently and took the opportunity to find out how he managed to balance Johnny Cage's wise-cracking, smartass persona with his legit badass fighting style.
Joel also sheds some light on how it feels to be part of this Mortal Kombat franchise, what it was like to step into the recording booth to bring Johnny to life, and getting the freedom to improvise.
We even touch on his first big screen role in Spider-Man 2 and where this character's story could go next. Something tells us you'll laugh a lot reading this one, so check out the full interview below!
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is available now on 4K/Blu-ray & Digital!
You’ve done a lot of awesome projects since Community, but did you ever expect your career would take you to a place where you’re playing a video game icon like Johnny Cage and a DC superhero with Starman?
Well, God bless you for bringing up other parts of my career. I played a tonne of Mortal Kombat in college in the early 90s. I’m an old man. I pumped all the quarters I had into it, and if you had said to me, ‘Oh dude, you’re going to play one of the characters from this video game!’ I would have said, ‘Holy shit, it worked! I did something right.’ For real, I would have just been like, ‘Oh good, I did something right in my career that I got to this point.’ So, yeah, I’m thrilled. Believe me, when Geoff Johns from Stargirl said, ‘Hey, wanna play Starman? You get to wear a supersuit and have a cosmic staff and blow shit up.’ Again, I’m saying, ‘How did I get to this point in my career? How did it happen? I don’t know why I’m so lucky, but I’m not going to ask any more questions and I’m just thrilled.’ What I’m saying is that if you’d told a young Joel, ‘It f**ing worked. Congrats, Joel,’ I’d have been blown away.
Johnny is a cocky, very funny guy, but when he fights, he’s a legit badass too; as an actor, how much fun - or challenging - is it to balance those two sides of a character like this?
I go back to...I don’t know if you ever saw The Foot Fist Way with Danny McBride where he plays a super funny, arrogant guy who can also back it up. I think the typical thing to do is have them be losers when it comes to fighting, so I think it’s pretty great and unique. I think it happens in real life where boxers are arrogant and they’ve got to back it up. You rarely hear a boxer go, ‘I hope I kick this guy’s ass, but if I don’t, you know...he’s probably better than me.’ In storytelling, it’s always someone who is quiet and then they kick everybody’s ass and you say, ‘Hey, I didn’t know he could do that!’ With Johnny Cage, I loved the fact he goes, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna kick your ass because I’m really great at this,' and then he is really great at it! I love that.
You have such incredible chemistry with Jennifer Carpenter’s Sonya Blade in the movie, but did the two of you ever get the opportunity to work together in the recording booth?
We recorded every day together...kidding! I think I met her once, and that was ten years ago in person! So, we were never in the same room. They played a bunch of stuff for me from her, and obviously, she’s a tremendous, world-class actor, so with the way how well it was written, it wasn’t hard to access that. Knowing Johnny Cage is fully in love with her - and they directed it really well - but those moments where Johnny can be a little more open, a little more vulnerable...I don’t want to make him just an asshole the whole time. Those moments where he’s like, ‘I know I’m a dick, but I really like you’ and he’s not joking was really fun to play.
When you’re in the recording booth, do you get much room for improvisation and, if so, were there any lines you reeled off that were perhaps too R-Rated even for a movie like this one?
That’s a good question! They let me improvise a lot which was really nice of them within the parameters of, ‘You know, we don’t have two minutes for your diatribe here, asshole.’ I’m trying to think...there was nothing we did where they were like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, dude, that’s too far!’ I dropped a lot of F-bombs and all sorts of other bombs as far as cursing and they were pretty much okay with it because it’s an R-Rated movie. That gave me the chance to do nearly anything I wanted and then they’d be like, ‘That wasn’t funny,’ and I’d say, ‘You’re right, let’s try something else.’ They let me improvise a lot and waste a lot of recording time.
Johnny is such a beloved character in this Mortal Kombat mythos, so did you still feel any pressure heading into this second movie knowing that those expectations from fans are going to be there?
Oh, yeah! I always put unnecessary pressure on myself. Or necessary. I can’t even tell anymore. I definitely tried. I know you’re like, ‘Wow, look at you trying. What a nice thing!’ I know how much Mortal Kombat is loved and I love it too, and I want to serve it and be the steward of the legend of this franchise. If I ever stroll into a thing and go, ‘I’ve got this guys!’ then I’m in real trouble because that would be terrible to phoney anything in. It’s already tenuous enough and I’m trying hard. I always feel the pressure and you can ask any of the engineers because I will redo lines until they rip the headphones off of me and scream, ‘Move on!’
What’s it been like to portray that physicality when you’re recording as some of the other cast I’ve spoken to have talked about losing their voice, sweating, and all sorts?
I think it took three or four days to do the whole thing. My voice was gone each day. Easily gone. I always wait to do all the fighting at the end of the day because I can’t blow my voice and then go back and start doing the dialogue because my voice gets insanely deep and husky, so I found my voice getting all Robert Stack from Untold Mysteries from the 80s. I don’t want to mess my voice up, so I always wait until the end of the day when my voice is trashed to do all the screaming. It’s really fun, but I’m sweating, I’m gripping the mic stand, the stand with my script on it...if you just looked into the booth, it would look like a guy fighting an evil spirit or something because it’s just this lone person jumping up and down and screaming. It must be really weird...
That live-action Mortal Kombat movie came out earlier this year and teased Johnny Cage showing up in the sequel; how would you feel about playing this guy in live-action?
[Laughs] Well, they haven’t called yet, but sure. I’m sure that’s going to go to some young super handsome actor who will be super good and have lots of abs. I can’t imagine they would ask me, but hey, I’m available! I’m only going to ask for 30 million dollars upfront.
I know you’re busy with the DC Universe in Stargirl, but having worked with the Russos on Community, are you still waiting for that call to potentially join the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
Yeah, what the hell, Russo Brothers? I have already come up with my own superhero. His name is Gangly Gary and Gary is...you know, he’s a badass, he has a lot of superpowers, and can use his gangliness to fight people. I’m waiting, Russos. Yeah, come on guys. Step up! I was in Spider-Man 2 with a very small part, but that was pre-Marvel Studios. That was a long time ago. 2005.
Talking of Spider-Man 2, Tobey Maguire is rumoured to be coming back for the next Spider-Man movie, so it feels like your bank teller could at least show up for a cameo there [Laughs].
Oh yeah, it’s about my character. The whole movie is. A lot of people are talking about it like, ‘Is Mr. Jacks the Bank Manager going to reprise his role?’ Absolutely! Hold on to your hat. It is big time, guys. I’m all over the trailer.
In terms of potentially coming back for another of these animated movies, have you had any thoughts on where you’d like to see Johnny’s story go next?
Yeah, I would like an eight-picture deal where we explore Johnny’s ancestors and then we go way into the future and, yeah, eight more of these and I’ll be happy. Josh, I can’t pretend to direct where these stories are going because I’d be a terrible story director, but believe me, if they call, I’m there in a New York minute.
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