With the upcoming release of Mortal Kombat, one actor that you absolutely have to keep your eye on is breakout star Lewis Tan. The devastatingly handsome actor is finally ready for his biggest role yet after years of smaller roles and stuntwork. Find out more about Tan’s history in show business and the road that led to his breakthrough role.
Who Is Lewis Tan?
Lewis Singwha Tan is a British actor who was born in Manchester, England. His mother, Joanne Cassidy, is a retired English fashion model; his father, Philip Tan, is a former national Taekwondo champion and professional stunt coordinator.
Tan identifies as half-Asian, half-English. However, he moved to Los Angeles at age 2, when his father was hired as a fight coordinator for major motion pictures. Growing up, he divided his time between studying acting and martial arts. He never imagined he could combine both pursuits into one career.
“Martial arts was something that I was doing as a hobby and to bond and spend time with my father, but I was acting since I was a kid,” Tan told Flaunt in August 2019. “I was really young in commercials and different stuff. I think I did my first role when I was five years old. I was focused on doing that and then the worlds just collided later on.”
Tan, 34, has seen success in multiple fields. Early in his acting career, he scored parts in popular TV shows like CSI: NY and Hawaii 5-0, along with films such as Pirates of the Caribbean 3. As a model, he’s starred in campaigns and commercials for major brands featuring Diesel, Dolce & Gabbana, Levi’s, and more. As a martial artist, he’s fought on the amateur circuit, training in Muay Thai, kickboxing, Kung Fu, and jiu-jitsu.
Find out how all three gifts—acting, looks, and combat sports—have helped make him a hot commodity in Hollywood.
Lewis Tan Excelled Early On His Career With Action And Stunt Roles
Tan was exposed to the film industry at an early age. His father choreographed fight scenes for hit films and A-list actors including the original installment of Batman (Michael Keaton), Demolition Man (Sylvester Stallone), and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Harrison Ford).
By age 15, he began his own training with stuntman Chad Stahelski (who would later become the director of the John Wick series). He maintained a relationship with his mentor into adulthood, which earned him a spot as Shatterstar in Deadpool 2.
If you think the pressure of learning lines for a huge production is stressful, try adding a demanding physical component. Tan is proud to say he does all of his own stunts for his roles.
“Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,” Tan told Harper’s Bazaar in 2018. “I train daily so I am always prepared. Sometimes, I have to learn a specific style for a film or show in which case I will have to prepare differently, but having a foundation in martial arts helps me to adapt quickly. For Deadpool 2, Shatterstar uses a futuristic version of a Japanese katana. I have been training with a katana for a few years with Caitlin Dechelle, who is a 7-time world champion and one of the stunt doubles for Wonder Woman, so I was in good hands.”
Aside from Deadpool 2, you may also recognize Tan for his roles on AMC’s Into the Badlands and the Netflix series Wu Assassins. But even though he’s proven his versatility and talent, the actor has had to face devastating rejection before finally being cast in a breakthrough role.
Lewis Tan Almost Landed The Role Of ‘Iron Fist’
In 2014, the website Nerds of Color published an essay titled, “Marvel, Please Cast an Asian American Iron Fist.” Writer Keith Chow made an appeal for Marvel Studios to consider an Asian actor for the lead part in its future Netflix adaptation of the popular comic book series.
The plea gained traction and three years later, Tan revealed that he was a serious contender for the role.
“I had a lot to offer here, but I knew that the character is white in the comic book, so I was concerned,” Tan told Vulture. “But I thought at least I had a shot… So I was excited. And then I read for Danny and they liked me a lot. I read again and again and again, and it was a long process, and it got to the point where they were talking about my availability and my dates. That’s always a good sign, you know?”
Marvel ultimately cast Game of Thrones‘ Finn Jones for the part. To say Tan was disappointed would be an understatement.
“It is a missed opportunity. That’s exactly how I feel about it, word for word,” he said. “It would’ve been a brave thing to do, for sure, for Marvel. I can see how that was difficult to make that decision. I think, personally, it would’ve paid off… I see why they stuck to the source material because it’s very risky to move away from that, but… we’ve seen many times when they’ve taken Asian characters and made him white.”
However, Tan still earned a part as the character Zhou Cheng. Even though he wasn’t the star of the production, his performance boosted his resume and led to bigger opportunities.
Lewis Tan Finally Landed The Gig Of His Life In ‘Mortal Kombat’
On April 16, 2021, Tan will star in Simon McQuoid’s Mortal Kombat. He will play the film’s protagonist Cole Young—an MMA fighter who must defend the Earth by surviving a bloody combat tournament.
“One hundred percent of these fights in this movie is me. One hundred percent,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “It’s imperative that, especially with an action movie, that the actor who is doing the [action] is actually performing. Just like dancing, you can tell a story.”
The role is tailor-made for Tan, but he confesses that he’s nervous. How will audiences receive a new character? And will the film make up for the 1997 flop Mortal Kombat: Annihilation?
“You don’t want to f— it up because it’s so iconic,” he says. “You want to bring something new to the table that people haven’t seen before, but at the same time really respect and pay homage to these legendary worlds that were already created.”
We sense that the film will be a major breakthrough for Tan. The actor already has his eye on future projects and hopes that the role won’t lead to typecasting down the road.
“I want to do all sorts of different roles. Some roles have nothing to do with me being Asian. I want those roles, too,” he told Mochi magazine. “Because at the end of the day, we’re artists. I don’t want to be defined as an Asian actor. It’s limiting. Why would I want to embrace that? I’m proud of my roots and where I come from, but that doesn’t mean it defines me.”