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.
Veteran voice actor Matthew Mercer (Batman: Bad Blood) takes on two roles in the movie: Stryker and Smoke. Both are fan-favourite characters in this iconic, storied franchise, and the former offered the actor the opportunity to reprise a role he first took on in 2011's Mortal Kombat 9.
Over the course of this interview, we get some in-depth insights into how Matthew approached this project, his love of the video game franchise, and what it was like to record a brutal Fatality.
He also opens up on what sort of impact COVID has had on his career and what it's been like to see the response to his take on Hourman in Justice Society: World War II (which was released earlier this year). There's a lot to delve into here, and we're sure you'll find plenty of fascinating insights into both the world of Mortal Kombat and both the challenges and fun voice actors get to have.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is available now on 4K/Blu-ray & Digital!
It’s great to speak to you again, especially about this movie. It must have been a fun one to get involved with?
Oh, tremendously. I grew up on Mortal Kombat. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to step into that universe again, so it was an absolute pleasure to get the chance to come back, reprise one character, and step into the shoes of another that I have long had an appreciation for.
On that note, where did your fandom of this franchise start; are you a longtime gamer who grew up with them or was it a little later in life?
I’m a longtime gamer. I remember when the machines first dropped in my local Circle K. That was probably fifth or sixth grade for me and being a very young boy who was a hardcore gamer and seeing a game where it was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s blood in it? You can tear someone’s head off?’ It suited the fascination of a young teenage boy, especially at that time. Since then, I’ve played them all. My wife is actually a bigger Mortal Kombat fan than I was. She was a hardcore player, but I’ve been a fan pretty much most of my years of adult life.
You’re racking up some awesome credits as an actor, but what does it mean to you when the call comes in to play not one, but two characters from this Mortal Kombat Universe?
[Laughs] It’s freaking cool! Stryker I had the chance to perform back in the early 2010s with the Mortal Kombat return. The character hadn’t returned for a while, so being able to step back in and bring him back to the franchise was a cool full-circle moment. Then, when they said, ‘Oh, by the way, would you mind playing Smoke?’ I remembered working hard to unlock him in the older games. The process of even being able to fight as him was great as he had one of the cheapest and coolest movesets and was a favourite of mine to use. It was a cool, full-circle moment for my young, nerdier self.
You got to voice Stryker in the Mortal Kombat video game, but nearly a decade on, would you say your approach to the character differed or was it like revisiting an old friend?
Kind of a little bit of both. I wanted to definitely still bring the same essence and heart to the character I did when I first had the opportunity to play him, but being a different story and how the franchise itself has shifted in its own unique way, there was the chance to bring a little more spice to him and make it even more my own. With this iteration, there are a lot of fun action scenes, and in particular, one fantastic combat that I got to voice some aspects of that I’d never had the chance to do before. So, it was a lot of fun [Laughs].
What is the biggest way you would say your approach to voicing Stryker and Smoke differed?
Stryker, unlike a lot of the other characters, very much represents the out of place, out of time, ‘What the hell is going on?’ kind of modern-day insert into the story. Johnny Cage kind of plays that part, but he’s also very sure of himself and has that half-cocked, wise-cracking attitude to the ridiculousness of this violent other world elements he’s been pulled into. Stryker very much represents the ‘I have no idea what’s happening’ persona within this hyper-violent and magic, demon-infested reality. For me, getting to lean into that sense of wonder and also confusion, fear, and self-preservation as he tries to figure things out with what information he’s receiving while trying to stay alive was how I approached him. It was also about being confident in his abilities and trying to piece things together as he goes. Smoke was a different ball game altogether. That was a much cooler, controlled, more intense persona in that mysterious ninja persona. For me, beyond just the voice texture, there were definitely a lot of different intentions between the two characters. Underlying it all is just me being a huge nerd and loving all of it.
Smoke undergoes some big changes as the story progresses, so I’m guessing that factored into your performance in a big way as well?
Definitely. Yeah, they brought in some of the transitional elements that a lot of the Mortal Kombat characters and ninjas have undergone through those different iterations. Being able to come from a point of, for lack of a better phrase, the classic trained and honed martial artist and then being thrown into the position of, I don’t want to say corrupted, but forcibly transitioned into the more cyborg aspect was a fun arc to play with the character. It brought it down to the darker, and I like to think, subtly conflicted place. I like to think that kind of post-human cyborg realm still has a shred of humanity in there and get to play with it is fun.
Stryker has a lot of fans and I feel like they’ll have a lot to say about the way his story plays out; how did you feel about the, let’s say, brutal places this movie takes him?
I mean, it’s always fun to step into it...I mean, part of the fun of getting to do anything Mortal Kombat is going to those brutal places. It’s what the franchise is known for. It’s not just the spectacle of the hyper-violence, but to a certain extent as a voice actor, getting to really exercise the range of your vocal capabilities when it comes to combat noises. It’s fun to get into the story, the character interactions, and the dark beats, but no franchise really gives you the full plethora of pain sounds quite like Mortal Kombat [Laughs].
You get to see a lot of action in this movie; what are some of your favourite memories from recording those fight scenes?
I do! I’m afraid it might be a spoiler [Laughs]. I will say that there is one fight scene that crescendos to a very incredibly climactic endpoint. The vocal performance involved in the ever-building spectacle of this battle was an absolute joy. When it finished, me and the rest of the recording crew couldn’t help but laugh and go, ‘That was delightfully perfect and ridiculous for a Mortal Kombat battle completion.’
In terms of what you decided to bring to the table as these characters, how heavily influenced were you by the games and previous portrayals of them both?
I was focused on my own performance, if only because...for a lack of a better way of putting it, I was able to establish my interpretation of Stryker a decade ago. I was a much younger performer at the time and my career was only just kicking off and continuing to build. Being a kid who grew up playing Mortal Kombat, that role meant a lot to me as did being part of the franchise. It was a return to something that meant a lot to me when I had the opportunity, so I wanted to build more on what I was able to establish at the time rather than trying to live up to pre-existing media. As an actor, I didn’t want to be carrying that heavy weight and, I’ll be honest, not all of that early media has the same level of quality and respect as the more modern takes in the cartoons and games are given. I think we’re all happy to sit more where all media is now.
I know you’re no stranger to working on video games, but are there any of those franchises you think would similarly benefit from an animated feature like this one?
Oh, man. I mean, I’ve always been a fighting game fanatic. I’ve always been a fan of the Guilty Gear franchise. I think that could really also lean into - while it wouldn’t be quite as serious and deliciously violent as Mortal Kombat can be - it’s definitely over the top, larger than life, and I think it would be fun to see someone take that franchise into a series of animated features.
This is a movie with a massive cast, but were there any moments with Stryker or Smoke you recorded that didn’t make it into the finished product?
It’s a little hard to remember because it was a long time ago, but as far as I can recall, most of the sequences we recorded made it in there one way or the other. If anything was edited, it would have been to such a small degree like snipping off a part of a line. So, I feel like everything I recorded ended up making it into the final project. I feel pretty confident with what made it in.
You mentioned recording the lines a while ago, and it does take such a long time for these animated projects to come to fruition, is it quite similar to video games where you do all this work and the payoff is really far down the line?
[Laughs] You’re absolutely right. It’s an odd exercise in patience when it comes to the gratification of the work you’ve done. You just kind of get used to it. It’s almost like you do the work in the room and then you have to forget about it because the anticipation would kill you otherwise if you were just waiting and waiting and waiting for it to come out and never quite knowing when! I’ve had video games I’ve recorded on that didn’t come out for four years or more. It would be unhealthy waiting by the phone for any information, so you just do the work, you let it go, and move on to the next thing. When it does begin to arrive, and you start getting emails for promotional stuff and an eventual release date, then all of sudden the excitement mounts back up and you return to where you were when you finished the project and excitedly wait for it to drop.
Not getting to work with your fellow actors in the recording booth must mean it’s pretty interesting to see what they do in the film and how your performance ends up bouncing off them?
Oh, yeah. That’s one of the coolest things about animation, video games, and really just the voiceover world in general. If you’re lucky, you have the opportunity one some projects to record in the booth with multiple performers and you can play off each other’s performances which is a delight. However, the schedules don’t always allow for that, so a lot of the time, it ends up being a solitary experience and you try to do the best you can inside the voice booth by yourself. That’s where the skillset of really good voice actors comes into play: to bring honesty and vulnerability and a genuine sense of who the character is and the performance they give without anybody else to play off. When you finally hear it all come together in the final product, that’s when you really, really get excited and are thankful we have so many talented people directing, producing, and editing the projects because it’s seamless. If it’s a good project, you watch it all come together and wouldn’t know otherwise. That’s a huge thrill for me as an actor to see it all woven together and be taken aback because even I’m like, ‘Gosh, we recorded separately, but even I can’t tell!
I spoke to Ikè Amadi earlier about playing Jax and he mentioned that the COVID protocols forced him to record a lot of his dialogue from home. Are you finding you’re also doing more remotely and have you missed that experience of being in the traditional recording booth?
For one thing, I do very much miss the opportunity to record with the other actors when those arise. There’s nothing quite like that. It’s just a joy to be in the same space as the people you’re working with and build a rapport off that. I do miss that aspect and having the engineer take care, in a very professional way, of all the technical bits of the recording session. The challenge of recording from home, while it’s definitely more convenient when it comes to your personal schedule and not having to drive for half an hour or an hour to record, you do have to make sure you’re doing all the recordings on your own audio software. You have to make sure you have a set up and it’s soundproofed enough to where it’s usable audio. You also have to make sure you’re adjusting the volume levels on the audio interface inputs so you’re not blowing out the microphone or doing so little that it’s unusable. So, on top of having to concentrate on your performance quality, you’re also having to handle and juggle all the technical aspects of the recording. It’s convenient in some ways, but in many others, I very much miss being in the studio [Laughs].
There are a lot of Mortal Kombat characters yet to join this animated universe, so are there any you’d like to bring to life if we were to get another movie?
That’s a good question. They’d kind of hit all my favourites. Reptile has always been a longtime favourite of mine since the very beginning. He was like the first pseudo hidden character when you think about it, so I’d be happy to see anything that brings him in. I’m still getting used to the more lizard aspects to it because as an old-school gamer, I prefer the more humanoid version I grew up with, but I’m loving the variations on it. I don’t think there are any characters I’m excited about they haven’t already done from where I’m sitting right now. I’m more excited to see what newer characters end up showing up in future iterations of the franchise. I’m always down to see what kind of interesting, creative, weird designs are going to continue to flesh out the Mortal Kombat Universe.
On another note, the last time we spoke was for Justice Society: World War II. I asked you at the time about potentially coming back as Hourman, but since you’ve seen the fan response, has that got you amped up for another shot at the hero?
It means a tremendous amount to me. Whenever you have the opportunity to bring a character to life that 1) has a beloved history and 2) hasn’t previously been given life in that medium...to see people appreciate what you’ve done and resonate and connect with it is thrilling. It’s one of the favourite feelings I can think of as a performer and actor. I was happy people enjoyed it thoroughly, and if the opportunity were to arise in the future to reprise the character, much like Stryker in this, I would be happy to step back in.
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