Snake Eyes star Andrew Koji is so much more than Hollywood's Warrior
Andrew Koji found a unique way to cope with the grueling shoot on Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins. The way he remembers it, the cast was filming a particularly tough sequence in the "freezing cold rain." For the most part, Koji, the star of the Bruce Lee-inspired Warrior series, likes to remain in character while working through multiple takes, but when it came to the action, he sought to have more fun. One take, he mentions, was him "going crazy." He turned to the camera at the end of it, raised his middle fingers, and shouted, "Wubba lubba dub dub!" the catchphrase of Justin Roiland's Rick Sanchez in the adult animated comedy Rick and Morty.
Koji discovered the show while filming Snake Eyes. "I think I'm a bit of a Rick. He was my role model for a little bit," he jokes while sitting on the couch in his London apartment, surrounded by posters for movies like Taxi Driver and Akira, and a framed photo of Lee. While some of his costars would do vocal warmups in the makeup chair, he would do his own version, which entailed shouting "Wubba lubba dub dub." In most cases, it didn't ruffle feathers, but at this rain-drenched moment on set, the young son of director Robert Schwentke happened to be watching the scene play out from the production's video village. Suffice it to say, Koji was a little red in the face. "That's my Rick and Morty story for you," he says in a fit of laughter.
Koji is a bit of a geek in that way. He wasn't the kind of kid to play with G.I. Joe action figures. Instead, Sonic was his guy. He even named his blue Hyundai Coupe after the speedster hedgehog. These days, his gaming focus has been on Ratchet and Clank, His Playstation 5 isn't far out of frame in a Zoom session. It's why he fits right in with the stunt community, which he says is filled with geeks. "It's so funny," he remarks. "There are these badass stunt guys and they're just geeks. There's so many geeks in the film industry."
The actor finds camaraderie with stunt performers and coordinators, partly because the last few projects he's been working on have all been action heavy. He calls them "unsung heroes." In the crime drama Warrior, based on an original concept by Lee, he plays Ah Sahm, a martial artist who becomes engulfed in the gangster scene of San Francisco, having traveled there in search of his sister. It's a physically demanding role that required him to cozy up to the stunt performers. "Because it's hand-to-hand [combat], it's very easy to see if it's a double. So, for Warrior, yeah, most of it you end up doing yourself," he explains.
In Snake Eyes, he stars as Tommy, a.k.a. Storm Shadow, a familiar figure from the world of G.I. Joe. Here, Koji trades close-corner brawls with katana swordplay opposite Henry Golding as the titular character. As for his next film, the star-studded Bullet Train, which he shot during the pandemic for John Wick director David Leitch, he can't talk much about it, but the concept of "assassins on a train" speaks for itself. "The one thing that I can say, you're going to see Brad Pitt do something, a kind of performance, that I've never seen him do," he teases. "I just remember going, 'Wow! He's done it. I had no idea he was going to do that with this and take it in that way.'"
Over the course of an hourlong conversation, Koji reflects on these opportunities and the place he finds himself now in his career. It's funny to him to think about how he's fallen into this rhythm of action movies, something he's grateful for but hopes won't pigeonhole him too much in the future. "Everything I was doing before has always just been the idiot," he says. Koji's credits span television, film, and stage, but those hail from his time as a struggling actor. He catches himself mid-discussion because he genuinely can't believe some times that he's talking to journalists about his work because, a couple years ago, he thought his career was over.
Koji recalls a time when he was trying to find his next paycheck and he got wrangled into performing stunt work for Fast & Furious 6 as a double for actor Sung Kang, who played Han in that film. He clarifies that he wasn't technically a stuntman, which would require accreditation in specific disciplines. He was just an actor who needed some cash. A friend called him up one day with the offer but didn't specify what movie it would be for. Koji then drove up to Shepperton Studios in the U.K. (in Sonic) where he saw a banner for Fast & Furious 6.
"Back in the day, I was training [in martial arts]," he recalls. "I wanted to make films; direct, produce. And then most of the people that look like me in cinema" — Koji is half-Japanese — "were doing all the action stuff. So, I thought maybe that's how you do good roles."
The gig, which lasted for a couple weeks, mainly required Koji to jump from car to car as the vehicles were moving along at about 35 miles per hour. He had heard stories about stunt performers losing jobs if they showed up to set without being able to pull off certain feats. "Let's do it, I need the money," he thought at the time. "Luckily, I didn't have to do anything too technical, just to have a fight scene in the car and then jump from car to car. That was just fun, man, for me at the time. The younger 20-, 22-, 23-[something] was like, 'Yeah! I can do it.'"
The experience gave him an appreciation for stunts and the people who can pull them off. He never wants to take credit away from them, even if he performs some of his own stunts in Warrior and Snake Eyes. "My doubles, honestly, have inspired me," he says. "They have supported and helped me, and gave me so much advice."
Koji's career didn't turn around until the opportunity to take the lead of Warrior came along, though action was something he never wanted to pursue. He just wanted to act, which was why he had some uncertainties about what Warrior would be. "I wanted to make sure that it was an interesting character, and the performance didn't stop when an action scene happened," he remembers of that time. "It's part of the character expression." Now that action seems to be all he's up for these days, he's taken that dogma and applied it to his other roles in Snake Eyes and Bullet Train. He strives for the kind of physical performance in films such as Oldboy (the original Korean version) and Mad Max: Fury Road.
"I'd probably prefer a lovely career where I don't have to do action," he says. "I do enjoy it, but I want to do all sorts. I want to produce, direct. I want to do comedy. I just thought, if I'm going to do [action], this is where I'm at, I want to just make sure that the performance is there."
Koji is still navigating the space that he's currently in. His friend circle has naturally changed as he becomes more successful in the industry. Schedules don't line up or lifestyles change. "Then there are other people who are just becoming friends with you 'cause they think you're this upcoming thing," he notes. "What's a real connection and what's not?" The pandemic changed his relationships even more, though there are those he still makes short films with. One he helped produce with a pal in Los Angeles as an homage to London gangster films.
Career wise, he's in a kind of holding pattern at the moment. The Snake Eyes film leaves the door open for more sequels, and Koji certainly has his own ideas about how they should progress. ("You've got a Snake Eyes film, then you've got a Storm Shadow film. Then maybe further down the line, you can do different things with me, and then you finish it off with the trinity and it's like a Snake Eyes vs. Storm Shadow film. That's how I would do it, but I got no idea where they want to go.") He surmises the studio wants to wait and see how this first one performs. The same goes for the industry in general. "I've heard that [studios] wait to see how [a film] does and how you do, as well, before other [offers] come," he says. "I've been in a lucky position where I've managed to turn a few things down. It's gotta be right."
A couple things are already certain. He'll appear in a small role in On the Creation of Earthquakes, directed by his Snake Eyes director and starring John Malkovitch. It's "an independent, really edgy dark comedy," he says. And, since HBO Max saved Warrior from cancelation, Koji is hearing that he'll return to film a third season late spring or summer of 2022. He had lost hope for the show after its original home, Cinemax, gave it the axe in January. He moved on mentally, going so far as to get tattoos to commemorate his experience, one being a Tibetan mark (that he keeps forgetting the name of) combined with the image of a Japanese god, reminding him to "eradicate the ego," he says, something he's constantly thinking about as he gains more notoriety in the industry. Then Koji got a call while in L.A. during production of Bullet Train about the surprise renewal.
"I thought some of it was my fault," he mentions of the cancelation. "I'm not a social media guy. I thought maybe I didn't promote it enough." (Koji believes too much social media isn't "good for our brains." Maybe he's onto something there.) So, when the news came that the crew will live to fight another day, he was in disbelief.
If there's anything Koji is sure of, it's the unpredictability of Hollywood. It's why he's trying to take advantage of this moment now with the attention that comes from Warrior, Snake Eyes, and Bullet Train. Before he returns to the series next year, he's hoping to get more leeway on a passion project, something he's wary to speak too much about at the risk of jinxing it. "I started developing a TV show that I really want to make. I kind of want to do what Idris Elba did with Luther but for the Asian community in England," he says. It's the kind of story where the lead is Asian but it's not about race, and surrounding him is "a whole melting pot of characters." Koji has now presumptions about how this process is going to go. He recognizes the whole thing could fall apart at any moment. It's happened to just about everyone who's pitched a project in Hollywood. But he's learned that success can help move things along.
"I'm going to try. I'm going to at least try," he says with hope. "Maybe if I talk to you next time I'll be like, 'It didn't happen,' and you'll see me in that... Hard Death Kickass Avengers 17." For those who haven't watched Interdimensional Cable, that's another allusion to Rick and Morty.