Inspired by the worldwide video game sensation now celebrating its 30th anniversary, Mortal Kombat Legends: Snow Blind finds vicious, power-mad Kano determined to take over Earthrealm, one soul at a time. Assisted by a trio of cold Black Dragon mercenaries, he embarks on a brutal assault from town to defenceless town. The choice is simple: Kneel or be annihilated.
But when the cocky and talented but undisciplined Kenshi doesn’t take a knee, Kano and his clan destroy the young warrior, taking his eyesight and his confidence. Under the tutelage of reluctant, retired Kuai Liang, the only one powerful enough to challenge the malevolent Kano, Kenshi finds renewed hope and a clear path to redemption. But will it be enough to stop Kano from decimating all of Earthrealm?
We recently had the opportunity to talk with some of Mortal Kombat Legends: Snow Blind's cast, and had an absolute blast learning more about Keith Silverstein's approach to the formidable Kabal.
A violent, ruthless, and relentless villain in the movie, he serves Kano, but very much has a mind of his own. During our conversation, the actor took us through how he played the masked baddie, what he enjoys about characters like this one, and his creative process when it came to joining this Mortal Kombat franchise.
We also get some insights into this specific portrayal of Kabal, learn more about the movie's ultra-violence, and what it's like performing those demanding fight scenes in the recording booth...
You’ve lent your voice to so many iconic properties over the years, what did it mean to you at this stage in your career to have finally been able to join the Mortal Kombat franchise?
You know, it felt like an itch that I always had and always needed to scratch. Years ago, when they recast the series, I somehow slipped through the cracks with auditioning. Had I auditioned, that’s no guarantee I would have been booked as anyone, but nobody contacted me and it was a straight-up accident. I found that out later, so I never got into that one. It’s really nice to be a small part of this universe and the franchise now. It felt like it was a long time coming and I appreciate it.
Kabal is a big, badass character; what do you enjoy most about stepping into the shoes of someone like this?
It’s pretty far from who I am. I like to consider myself a very friendly guy and I think most people would back that up. Kabal is practically looking for a fight. I don’t think there are a lot of challengers out there who scare him at all or have any reason for him to be friendly in this version. It’s fun to play that much of a badass and have no worries and lots of attitude. It’s a fun way to go and, as an actor, when you get to play someone totally different or even slightly different to yourself, it can be a lot of fun. It’s like an alternate universe version of myself [Laughs] if I were that talented a fighter, that large, and was good at the hook swords.
In many of Kabal’s scenes, he is behind a mask, so does that have any bearing whatsoever on how you approach your vocal performance?
The effect, they put in during post. That was interesting because the first time I heard it was in watching it this week. It was very cool to hear it done with all the processing. When we recorded it, I think we just went a little bigger to simplify it with the character. He didn’t have much subtlety because we had to break through the mask. We pushed on how badass he is by making louder, bigger, and more attitude-y. Not a subtle badass who is kind of quiet and won’t come through the effects as well. I think it served Kabal nicely. He sounded great. I liked what they did with it in the end.
He also makes it clear that he’s not bothered about what Kano thinks; do you believe that’s just all talk or is he really that confident in his own abilities?
I think he has that attitude because he’s looking for something for himself. If he gets the opportunity where he could be the big boss, I think this character and incarnation would go for it. He’d have to be smart and that means he can’t just be a big brute with no intelligence because that would have to make sense. I think he thinks that highly of himself where, if the right opportunity did come, he’d be the one in charge. I like that ambition in him. It’s fun to play a thug who follows, but it’s not as interesting, so I like that there’s that element to his personality.
No spoilers, but just a few minutes into the movie, we see Kabal literally crush someone’s head; fans love the ultra-violence in this series, but what did you make of that when you watched it for the first time?
It’s funny because I haven’t played a Mortal Kombat game in some time. So, when I first started watching, there was a lot of gore and blood. I sat back for a moment, realised where I was, and got very into it. That’s one of the core elements. I should say gore elements. It always has been. To see these Fatalities and deaths…it’s one of the main things that separates it from all the other fighting games in the first place. I think it’s fair for them to honour that and you know what you’re getting into if you watch a Mortal Kombat movie. It’s not for the squeamish and not one of those things where I’ll go, ‘Mom! I play this great character. You’ve got to check it out!’ because she’s going to hate it as it’s not for her [Laughs]. You know if it’s for you and there’s a huge fanbase that loves it and eats it up. They stay to that and I liked it as soon as I remembered. It was a big chunk of the fun.
Do you think Kabal is someone who is fully irredeemable and, if so, what about that is the most fun to explore as an actor?
I don’t think that he lacks the possibility of redemption. If I remember his history in the games correctly, which may not be what they were going for in this, I think he’s been on both sides to some degree. I think he’s not beyond redemption. I don’t know that we see any signs of that here; I think he’s on that dark path and stays on it. As a character, I know there’s more to him and only so much time we’ve got to dive into Kabal specifically. There are other characters and more to the storyline to explore, but I like to think that he’s not beyond redemption. We just don’t get too much into his past or why he is where he is now in this particular movie.
I know you mentioned you haven’t played one of the games for a while, but when you joined the project, did you find it necessary to go and research this character or was the script enough for you to figure out who he is?
A lot of times in voiceover, you only sometimes get the scripts ahead of time. A little bit of research goes a long way and I did do some. It’s not usually wise to set your heart on, ‘This is how he’s going to sound. This is who he’s going to be. And I’m going to go with this past.’ Even when you do your research, they change his past and the storyline a bit. It doesn’t all stay on the exact same timeline and, as soon as you get with a director, in this case, Wes Gleason, and we start working, he has his own idea of how it’s going to be. You have to incorporate that too and be flexible. They don’t hire me to come in and go, ‘No, no, no, we can’t do it that way!’ [Laughs] I can share my opinion if I have an idea, but in the end, it’s a collaborative experience. You don’t want to be too set in your ways, so a little research I find is good so you have a basis and know what you’re stepping into, but too much can be just that. Too much!
Talking of Wes Gleason, his name often comes up in these interviews and he’s obviously very important to these movies. What is your process of working with him like?
Well, it’s kind of just being open and ready for anything. I don’t know that it’s any different than with any other director. I do enjoy working with Wes and it had been a little while so it was nice. He’s just got a fun personality. There are certain directors you looking forward to working with, and he’s one of those, for sure. He’s very creative, he’s got good ideas, he gives you a good amount of freedom, and puts you in a safe space where you can throw around your own ideas. He knows what he wants too. Otherwise, there would be a billion options you could get lost in and you don’t want that. You want to pinpoint it early on and work off that.
Depending on the project, are you someone who does like to bring your own ideas to the table and improvise a little in the booth?
Very much! The worst thing for me would be a director who wanted one take of everything [Laughs]. That would be the worst. I don’t need to do 100 takes, but to do three or two takes, and it depends on what you’re working on, to explore the idea and the way you could be feeling the different emotions…there are so many ways you could go with any line, and once you understand the scene, that narrows it down a bit. There’s still so much to explore, so I always like giving a few options and letting them figure out what will work best with everything else that’s in play. I don’t necessarily hear the other actors. We didn’t record this together as it was a pandemic-style recording. I recorded in my booth at home with everyone in my headphone, but none of the other actors. I recorded solo, but Wes knows what the scene is, who I’m reacting to, and how that line is going to be read or has been read, and what the tone is. It’s important to know that so I’m not yelling at a character who is speaking very nicely to me [Laughs]. It’s a very important piece of this puzzle.
When it comes to the fight scenes, are you someone who gets very physical in the recording booth?
Oh no, I move around as much as you can! Obviously, you need to keep your head stationary as much as staying on mic, but I like to move around. If I’m hurt, I like to decide where I’m hurt and physically hold that part of my body while recording. Definitely, if it’s attacks or struggles, I don’t know…I know you technically don’t have to move to do it, but I don’t understand why actors would choose to not move [Laughs]. It just feels so much more real and natural to me. I’m not saying their performance doesn’t sound as real because you don’t have to move at all and you could provide the same effect. It just seems like a weird choice. I’ll always get some movement in there so I sound tired. You can get sweaty in the booth and you’d be surprised how tired you can get, walking out covered in sweat from a game or movie session if there’s enough action. It’s very common!
Mortal Kombat Legends: Snow Blind will be released on Digital platforms and Blu-ray on October 11.