Warrior Star Andrew Koji on Nearly Giving Up on Acting, Larger Than Life Fight Scenes, and More

Warrior is barreling forward in its debut season on Cinemax, entering the half-way point with tonight's episode. With a second season ordered the premium cable network, things are looking up for the cast and crew, including lead man Andrew Koji, the actor behind Ah Sahm.

ComicBook.com spoke with Koji to discuss the show to date and a second season or two. Here's what Koji had to saw about all things Warrior:

andrew-koji-warrior
(Photo: Cinemax)

ComicBook.com: We might as well get this out of the way right out of the gates — congratulations on a second season!

Oh, yeah. Thank you man, thank you. Yeah, we're I think just past halfway [of season one] so it's like the last mountain to climb or whatever you call it. The last half kind of amps up, action wise.

First things first, obviously, you just mentioned season two but I believe I think I saw somewhere that prior to Warrior, you had actually considered a bit of a career change. Can you tell us a little bit about the casting process behind Warrior and what it's meant to you so far?

It wasn't a career change, it was giving up. I don't know what I'm going to do because I really didn't know what I could do outside of film and acting and all that stuff. I got the audition on the way back from driving to my mum's. I was like "Okay, I'm going to turn 30 soon enough, I gotta really reconsider a lot of things in my life."

Then I was literally on the drive back to see mum and got the call for this audition and got told the brief. I didn't think much of it. I didn't think I was right for it and all those things. Then I guess mum was the one who said, "Oh, you should just try it. It sounds fun. Let's have fun and we'll do a self-tape."

And then, she helped me film the self-tape in the garage with some makeshift lights and a camera that was balancing on a ladder as if it were like a tripod. After that, I sent it off and then my agent got back to me and said, "This seems really good, there's some good energy behind this."

Then a few days later, I got the call to fly out to Los Angeles and then I didn't think anything of it. I thought, "Cool, this is at least going to be a cool story that I get flown to LA for a screen test," which a lot of my friends had done but I hadn't done by that point.

Once I got cast, I had to just really kinda go "Wow, I was about to leave this." I was about to leave this world of acting behind. I guess it wasn't my time, something like that. I felt like some force, something was out there driving me. I've gotta pick it back up properly and okay, let's do this. It's not just me as an actor, but many actors normally kind of think their current gig could be your their gig.

To be honest, before doing Warrior, I hadn't heard of Cinemax before. Obviously, I've heard of HBO, but I hadn't seen Jonathan Tropper's previous work. I didn't know what it was going to be. I've had so many TV shows that get picked up with a pilot and nothing comes out of it or the show just kind of drifts off or gets canceled halfway through shooting. I've heard so many stories like that.

I didn't really think of it at the time. I was thinking okay, let's just see. I'll just do my best each and every day. Inside, it just completely changed. I had to go "This happened for a reason. I guess I'm not supposed to give up, I gotta keep doing it."

And then I think what I learned from that is how much work you can do, how much I could push myself more and how capable someone is once you're in that position.

Beforehand, I know when I spoke with Jonathan [Tropper], he mentioned he wanted an actor first and foremost. Had you been involved in the martial arts prior to being cast?

Yeah, I mean I did it quite a lot from 10 until 20. Around 20, I got quite a big injury in a tae kwon do tournament.

I did kung fu, tae kwon do, I did the acrobatic stuff. But yeah, I got the injury and that just made everything a lot more difficult. Also, the more I entered the world of martial arts and action cinema at the time — about 10 years ago — I was looking around at the martial arts films that were being made and also the people that were making them.

And I didn't want to be part of that. I moved to Thailand when I was 19 and then I went to Japan for a couple of years and then came back. For some reason, action stuff didn't speak to me. I thought I wanted to just be an actor. So, I just completely pushed it away. I lived a completely different life. The typical kind of rebellious whatever, party, actor-y life to try and rebel against every sort of thing that would be about the martial arts at the time. Yeah, I just had to pick it back up again.

A lot of things were muscle memory and were still there after a bit of training, but it's a completely different body ten years later, you're picking up this old motor. It's like it's all very, very rusty.

You said you picked up training before the show. Warrior is from the mind of Bruce Lee. Did you think of that fact as a hurdle or a challenge or were you pressured at any time? Did you ever feel like the shoes were almost too big to fill?

Yeah. I mean, I did the whole process of doing myself and when I went to audition for it, I was just doing my interpretation of Ah Sam and I think Bruce Lee's main quote that always struck with me is "Always express yourself, be faithful to yourself, do not go out and find a successful person and duplicate it".

I've had that quote in me for a while even though I didn't grow up with Bruce Lee. I've had to study him and learn more about him and gained ridiculous amounts of respect for who he was beyond the martial arts star and movie star. I think I guess I started to feel that pressure in the early stages like the pilot. I think the pilot script was quite heavily... It was almost like Ah Sam was Bruce Lee. There was Bruce Lee-isms here and there.

I always, I just always felt that because Bruce Lee, even though I hadn't grown up with him, I just knew him in popular culture and the icon that he was. I don't know, I'm going to try and find a metaphor here or a simile. Just because Laurence Olivier has played Macbeth before doesn't mean that I'm stepping into Laurence Olivier's shoes. I'm going to bring my interpretation, my own humanity. I thought from that quote that Bruce Lee said, I have to just completely, as much as I can, bring my version of what this character is to the table.

The pressure mainly, the physical aspect like the training, that was very difficult, I found. It was challenging, but it was kinda like well, this role has come to me for a certain reason. For me, it felt like the universe was saying okay, you need to be in good physical condition, to be taking care of yourself, because I wasn't before. You need to be healthy, fit. You have to be all these things. I was like okay, then I've gotta do it if this has come to me for a reason.

I mean, Bruce Lee's the epitome of peak human condition in martial arts and all that stuff. I think the pressure was alleviated a bit because I knew Ah Sam wasn't a warrior. He's not a warrior yet. For me, in a way, he's like the Bruce Lee beater version. He's a draft version, you know?

He hasn't quite learned those lessons yet. He's not quite the perfect martial artist yet and he's like a young, hotheaded, earlier version of what we know to be Bruce Lee. The pressure is kind of taken off a bit because of that. The physical pressure was there for sure.

And then once the show started coming out or the buzz started to be going around, then I started feeling a different kind of pressure. Will they be comparing me to Bruce Lee? Will they be thinking that I am playing Bruce Lee when I'm not? There's been lots of challenges along the way.

The show does center around these massive set pieces and fight sequences. As a lead in the show, what does that entire process look like? Obviously, you get the script and it's spelled out in the script and then you involved all the stunt coordinators and such. Can you take us behind the process from page to on screen?

The second season's been a bit different this time but so far, the general thing is we'll get the script and then at some point, we'll discuss it with Jonathan and the writers. They plan everything far out character wise and I think if any input comes from the actors, maybe dialog tweaks or maybe things here and there, we will end up just doing a few rehearsals.

By far, this project out of anything I've done in the past ten years has been the most collaborative and respectful environment I've ever worked in and that's given me so much faith because I really thought for a while, being a struggling actor in London, growing up for all these years and doing shitty theater jobs; You feel like you don't have a voice and you feel like you're just hitting your mark or you feel not important or just whatever.

Here, it feels like the most collaborative project ever. They'll hear you out, they'll hear your ideas out. You can even try it out on the day like any other acting thing where you just read the script and obviously come up on the day and you'll discuss it with the director. At some point, you might go, "I've got this idea, I've got this idea. How about we try this? How about we try that?" And yeah, they'll hear it out. We'll try it out, we'll do things, we'll try and explore it. That's kinda how season one was how much of the Bruce Lee-isms we put in and finding the characters. The collaboration in this project has been quite special and the cast has become a family. We'll talk amongst each other, people might go have an eye out for this character arc and we'll discuss it.

From script to screen, in terms of the acting parts, it's relatively simple, straight forward, and collaborative and then from script to screen for the fighting, Jonathan will obviously write out the fight scenes which captures the essence of the fight scene but obviously not every single move or gesture or what have you. And then at the rehearsal, Brett Chang who does an amazing job doing all these fights, he'll get the essence of that and then we come in, the actors come into the mix later and just maybe refining it from that.

And then, we'll end up being on the day shooting it which will change even more because you gotta adjust to having 20 crew members dancing around you trying to avoid stunt men going in and out of the room and getting kicked and all that stuff.

There's more of a big transition from script to screen in the fight scenes than there is acting, really, but there's always adapting.

*****

Warrior airs Friday nights on Cinemax starting at 10/9 p.m. Central.

Have you been watching Warrior in its debut season? What have been your thoughts so far? Let us know in the comments below or by hitting me up on Twitter at @AdamBarnhardt!

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