This may sound cliché but this is what happens when you work hard for something that you believe in and the commitment pays off. When the first teaser for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” dropped, people noticed that Bruce Lee was one of the characters in the movie. The next question comes in, who is the actor who plays the part? That’s where Mike Moh comes in.
He started his career as a martial artist, he has a fifth degree Taekwondo black belt when he was just 14 years old. At 2006, he got a phone call that Jackie Chan was looking for an Asian-American martial artist to work on a movie. Long story short, two weeks later Moh was on a plane to Hong Kong to join Chan’s stunt crew for “Rob-B-hood.” That short experience was it for Moh, he got himself an agent, did some commercial and took acting classes after that.
He become known when he landed the role as Ryu in the web series “Street Fighter: Ressurection,” based on the video of the same name. And his TV profile significantly increased when he played the role of Steve Cho in Fox’s hit drama “Empire” and Triton in Marvel’s “Inhumans”. Spring last year was a big turning point for him. When his manager got off the phone with Quentin Tarantino’s casting director, he bought a ticket and flew to California the next day.
DAMAN: Congratulations on landing the role of Bruce Lee in “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood”! Knowing that you’re a big fan of Bruce Lee, how do you feel about it?
Mike Moh: Thank you! Bruce has been a hero of mine since I was a little kid. To have the opportunity to portray Bruce is an actual dream come true. The fact that it’s in a Quentin Tarantino movie is beyond what I thought was possible.
DA: How was the casting process for the role? Did you know from the start that you’d be cast as Bruce Lee?
MM: I knew from the beginning of the auditioning process that it was for the role of Bruce Lee, but I definitely had to fight hard to secure the role. I went through four rounds of auditions before winning the role. The casting process took almost two months, probably the longest two months of my life!
DA: Is there any special preparation before filming this?
MM: Absolutely. Anytime you take on a true-to-life character there’s a bit of added pressure as the audience already has a certain idea of how that person should be portrayed. The fact that the person is a legendary figure like Bruce Lee, adds to that pressure two-fold. I spent countless hours studying Bruce’s voice, mannerisms, his movements and what his mentality was as both a person and an artist in the 60’s before he had achieved superstar status. I relied on not only his filmography but also the few interviews that are available to channel Bruce. There have been many portrayals of Bruce but my goal was to provide the definitive portrayal of Bruce Lee.
DA: Tell us how is working in a star-filled film like “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” like?
MM: I’m so humbled and honored to be a part of this cast. I still get a kick out of seeing my name next to names like Al Pacino! As you may have seen from the first trailer, I was lucky enough to work with Brad Pitt. He is such a professional and a joy to work with.
DA: Who is the person that you admire the most among the cast?
MM: Brad, simply because I was able to see how much effort and time he put into his character. He spent hours mastering his character’s fighting style and he’s so savvy when it comes to character development. It’s no wonder why he’s had so much success as a producer and actor. On top of that, he’s extremely down-to-earth, a self-less performer and a team player.
DA: Are there any behind-the-screen funny moments you can share?
MM: Quentin’s sets are always entertaining and upbeat. You can tell that there’s nowhere else anybody on that set would rather be because everyone is not only great at what they do but they have a real passion for making films. Many times between takes Quentin would tell these interesting stories or joke around with the crew. Never a dull moment, that’s for sure!
DA: You were a martial artist first and foremost. What made you decide on becoming an actor?
MM: I knew from the beginning of my acting journey that I would have to become a solid actor in order to achieve my goal of starring in action films. As my ability grew, I started to really fall in love with the craft of acting and I then made it a personal mission to become good enough to win acting roles that did not require my martial arts talents. Now I am proud to be an actor – not just an action actor.
DA: Specifically, what do you enjoy most about acting?
MM: Craft services! Kidding aside, I love working with creative and talented people. I love the energy of being on a set with a group of artists.
DA: Which one do you prefer doing more, series or films? And why?
MM: Actually I don’t have a special preference, but the idea of developing and growing with a character through the course of multiple seasons on a show appeals to me.
DA: You do a lot of fighting scenes, what’s your favorite fight scene that you’ve done so far?
MM: I did a project called “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist” where I played Ryu. I grew up playing as Ryu in the video game “Street Fighter 2” so when I had the chance to film a fight scene as Ryu it was a full-circle moment for me. Plus, throwing a fireball is as awesome as it sounds.
DA: What would you say has been the biggest challenge that you’ve had to overcome to get where you are today?
MM: An artist life is full of ups and downs. As an acting coach once preached to me: “It’s never what I think it is, and anything can happen.” The greatest challenge is to maintain a positive mindset despite the setbacks and disappointments that are inevitable in this industry.
DA: What motivates you and how do you keep a positive mindset each day?
MM: I am motivated by my desire to leave a lasting legacy as a father, husband, actor, and martial artist. I just want my family to be proud of me, you know? Gratitude is my personal key to keeping a positive mindset. There are so many things I want to accomplish and it can be easy to get caught up in chasing those things. I try to start each day by being thankful for all the great things I have in my life already.
DA: How do you feel about racial diversity in Hollywood these days?
MM: I feel like the content that is being produced is starting to reflect the real world more than ever. I do think we have ways to go but the last 5 years have produced more positive change for diversity than in the previous 50 years in my opinion. I think it will only continue to get better because more and more kids are starting to see that their dreams of acting on screen can come true. This is why representation is so powerful and important.
DA: Looking forward, which path will you probably devote more time to?
MM: I started martial arts at age 12 and since then it has been one of my dreams to have my own martial arts school. Now that my school is thriving and in good hands with my students, I am looking forward to reaching my full potential as an actor.
DA: Between being a family man, running martial arts studio and acting, how do you balance everything?
MM: I don’t! I have a lot of help! My wife, Richelle, in particular.
DA: What is your favorite quote from Bruce Lee and why?
MM: “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” It is such a powerful statement and so simple. This applies in martial arts but especially to life. If I am going to be successful and happy, I must live my life authentically as myself and not as a copy of others.
DA: What is the best advise anyone has ever given you?
MM: My first martial arts teacher, Dave Niska, instilled in me this phrase: “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” We are human therefore we’ll never be perfect, but greatness happens in your pursuit of perfection!
DA: In the future, which actor or director you most like to work with?
MM: I would love to work with Quentin Tarantino again. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alive than I did when I was under his direction. Other than QT, the 5 directors I would love to work with are: Hiro Murai, Jon Chu, David Leitch, C0had Stahelski, and Alex Garland. As far as actors go I would love to work with Keanu Reeves, Gemma Chan, Michael B. Jordan, and Tom Hardy.
DA: What is your next target, in terms of your acting career?
MM: Now that I’ve portrayed both Ryu and Bruce Lee, I would love to take on another iconic character. Bring it on universe, I’m ready for my next challenge!
Photography Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Styling Lucas Kingston
Grooming Stephanie Hobgood
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