Mortal Kombat star Mehcad Brooks on getting to know Jax and looking back on James Olsen
Mortal Kombat (2021 movie)
Mehcad Brooks has always loved Mortal Kombat.
Staying up all night playing the games as a kid with his brothers is a memory Brooks looks back on fondly. "I've been living with this game my whole life," he shares. So, it's fitting he would go on to land the role of Jax in the new Mortal Kombat film. Armed with his powerful metal arms, Major Jackson "Jax" Briggs is a warrior dedicated to protecting the Earth realm. As Cole Young's (Lewis Tan) confidant, Jax, who has the same mysterious mark on his body as Cole, is the entry point into the imaginative world of Mortal Kombat for him and the viewers.
Jax made his first franchise appearance in the 1993 video game Mortal Kombat II and often seen working with his partner Sonya Blade. His signature metallic arms became part of his character in Mortal Kombat 3. Gregory McKinney, Carl Weathers, and Michael Jai White are some of the actors to voice or play Jax before Brooks.
Brooks is excited for fans to see this version of Jax. As shown in the trailer, Sub-Zero is the one who takes Jax's arms, and Brooks shares we will get to see Major Briggs' life before and after his encounter with Sub-Zero. The monster-hunting major's journey taps into a bigger question about unforeseen challenges from Brooks' perspective. Jax's body goes through something significant, but it doesn't affect his heart. "It's a wonderful metaphor for everybody who's been through something physically challenging or unforeseen," he explains.
Speaking of challenges, Brooks called preparing for the role "the hardest thing" he's ever done for a project. Going to the gym most days, sometimes twice a day, and the constant fight choreography was grueling as he gained 45 pounds of muscle. The work to become Jax wasn't only physical. "I took him to therapy," Brooks explains. He kept a journal as Jax where he explored how Jax makes choices, how much of a monster he becomes to defeat these creatures, and where he is on the journey of forgiving himself. To supplement his training, he studied footage of boxers, including Joe Fraizer and Mike Tyson. "It's the most difficult thing I've ever done, but also the most fun thing I've ever done. And, when you can blend those two things, I think you're on the right path," he adds.
A piece of information he wasn't given is the jaw pain that comes from chewing all that food while bulking up. "No one, nobody tells you that," he jokes.
Another part of Jax's story we'll see in Mortal Kombat is his dynamic with Sonya Blade. "You'll see the love and respect that Jax and Sonya have for each other in [Mortal Kombat]," Brooks says, pointing to a moment in the film where Sonya is by his side when Jax wakes up from a coma with temporary arms. As Jax works himself back into fighting shape, she stands by him, then he will be "a literal" rock for her later in the film. "I look forward to that relationship expanding within the universe," he adds.
As a fan of the franchise for most of his life, Brooks says fans are in for a great time. "I'm a fan, and I'm please beyond what my expectations were, and I was there," he explains. Praising director Simon McQuoid's work, Brooks is impressed by the humanity in the film and how the cinematic bar was raised by its director, who he believes is simply the right person for the job.
"I really believe Simon McQuoid raised Mortal Kombat to the fans feel like the characters deserve, and feel like world deserves," Brooks shares, "Simon McQuoid raised that cinematic level so high." He compares the film to Stars Wars and The Hunger Games. And while he remains tight-lipped about the highly anticipated inclusion of fatalities, Brooks shares that you will recognize some of the fatal signature moves if you have played the games.
Video game enthusiasts may be watching and waiting to see how this Mortal Kombat unfurls onscreen, but Brooks notes the film's already a winner on one important front. "We need more diverse coming-of-age stories. We need more diverse heroes," Brooks says, and the Mortal Kombat cast is a prime example of that. He hopes people can see themselves in him, Lewis Tan, Sis Stringer, Ludi Lin, and the reboot's cast. "As long as Hollywood can lead in creative avenues for diverse heroes, I think that can affect the conversation in America itself," he explains.
"Hollywood has helped America launder its bigotry," Brooks states. When referencing exotification and otherization of characters from marginalized communities and the number of times characters representing marginalized people end up being caricatures, Brooks sees there's work to be done.
The impact of diversifying heroes is something Brooks saw firsthand on Supergirl. When he was cast as James Olsen, Brooks broke barriers. First, he was cast as the character who is white in DC Comics, then his version of the character Jack Kirby created in 1940 became the superhero, Guardian. Looking back on the experience, Brooks remembers how supportive people were and recalls when fans of the show or comics sent him death threats. "There was something kind of eye-opening about that, but also there was something really bold and restorative about how Warner Bros. handled it," he explains.
"If you were to create Jimmy Olsen in 2010, he might be Asian, Black, or Latino because we know we know that we're much more alike than we are different, so I really enjoyed that part of it," he adds.
Brooks makes it clear that he had a great time on Supergirl before he decided to exit. "I had a wonderful job on Supergirl, and it was just time for me to go," he says. (As for if the character will make a final-season appearance, he teases, "anything's possible.") To make room for his own voice, Brooks' James left National City to develop his own projects and other creative endeavors. One of those goals was to be an action star, Brooks saw room for himself in the space, and with Mortal Kombat, he is making it happen.
"I just want to say, in closing, I think that this is the greatest video game adaptation of all time, and I'm saying that as a fan."
Mortal Kombat hits theaters and HBO Max on Friday.