Actor Josh Lawson talks role in new action-adventure film ‘Mortal Kombat’

josh lawson
Photos by Oliver Begg

Australian actor Josh Lawson is playing out his childhood dreams in the new film “Mortal Kombat.”

Boron and raised in Brisbane, Lawson started acting when he was a kid. He got his first agent when he was nine years old and started to take acting more seriously.

“I think I was just a precocious little kid who wanted to be the center of attention, I suppose,” Lawson said with a laugh. “I looked at the movies and thought, ‘I want to do that!’  I think my dreams were bigger than the little town I was from, I just dreamed of all of the adventures I had seen that looked like everyone was having on-screen. But I think my mother assumed it was a phase that I would grow out of. 30 years later, I’m still doing it.”

As Lawson got older, he realized more that he loved the storytelling aspect of the entertainment industry. After finishing high school, Lawson enrolled at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, where he really started to find his people and fall more in love with the industry.

“It was the moment where I felt like I found my band of misfits,” said Lawson. “I was a speech, drama and music kid in high school and suddenly I was in a place where everyone was that kid. Everyone was the drama nerd, it wasn’t just me! I definitely felt like I found my people — I met the people that I wanted to be around for the rest of my career.”

Lawson feels incredibly blessed to have been able to make a career for himself as an actor, citing that if just one piece of his puzzle had not happened, he could have had a completely different life ahead of him.

“I really do think it takes a small moment to send you flying off in one direction or the other. I think there are amazing actors out there that we’ll never know because they chose a different path,” said Lawson. “I was lucky enough to have parents who supported my bizarre dream and then to have gotten into the school which at the time was very difficult to get into, all of these planets aligned and eventually the universe just sort of told me that I had to do it. If any one of those things didn’t happen, my life could have been very different.”

Lawson will soon grace screens in theaters and at home in the new film “Mortal Kombat,” which is set to premiere in movie theaters and on HBO Max this week. Directed by Simon McQuaid and produced by James Wan (“Aquaman”), “Mortal Kombat” follows Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a young MMA fighter who embarks on a journey to unlock his supernatural abilities to save his family and stop the evil powers of the Outworld and teams up with other fighters along his quest.

Lawson plays Kano, who Lawson describes as a mercenary that is ultimately out to help himself. He says that Kano adds a little comic levity to the film, but Lawson hopes that the character is one that viewers will love to hate.

“He’s greedy, he’s ruthless, he’s dastardly in a sense. His role in the film is to provide a bit more of a human perspective in this heightened world. He’s excited about the idea of getting superpowers,” said Lawson. “He walks into this world where there is a lot of mysticism and spirituality and he undercuts that all the time by taking the piss out of it and is just trying to figure out how to steal the nearest piece of gold or getting his superpower the fastest.”

Though he was a fan of the original “Mortal Kombat” video game franchise, being in this kind of film was not immediately on Lawson’s radar. As an actor, Lawson never thought that he would be in a martial arts style of film, but loved to be able to learn a new skill set while making “Mortal Kombat.” 

“You pray for challenges, all you want is to do a bunch of different projects that are going to stretch you, demand things from you that you’ve never had to exhibit before, so this was a great challenge. I dove in as best as I could given the time that I had,” said Lawson.

He was initially drawn to the project because he loved the game as a kid, but as Lawson got deeper into making the film, he was impressed by the level of substance the film had.

“What drew me to the movie was the opportunity, the little kid in me was more excited initially, like holy sh-t I get to be in one of the games i used to play,” said Lawson. “But then when I got the job and started talking to Simon McQuaid, watching all of the pieces come together I started realizing this was something with more substance than what I originally thought it had. I realized it was a martial arts movie more than an action movie, so I think the deeper I got into the film was when I got more and more excited about it.”

What surprised Lawson the most was that the actors that were cast were not huge household names, including himself.

“It was a film that didn’t have the biggest stars in it. If that had been the case, there was no way I would have been in it, I am not a big enough name,” said Lawson. “It’s unusual for a movie for the budget and the franchise potential that it has to cast relatively unknown actors. A lot of lucky things went my way, and I am grateful for how it unfolded.”

Lawson says that those who go to see “Mortal Kombat” can expect an R-rated movie that does not skimp on the violence, but you can also expect the movie to stay true to its source material.

“It’s really keeping up with what the video game established, it’s true to what the fans come to expect and love,” said Lawson. “But even if you don’t know much about the video game at all, you’ll find a story that at its heart is about good vs bad, overcoming all odds, just to topple Goliath. It’s got elements that anyone can latch on to and find something in.”

“Mortal Kombat” opens in theaters and on HBO Max on April 23. Check out the trailer for “Mortal Kombat” below. You can follow Lawson on Instagram @thatjoshlawson.