The up-and-coming actor talks stunts, video games, and bringing the character of Kabal to life.
Mortal Kombat is a series that needs no introduction. If you didn’t grow up in an endless playground debate about Sub-Zero vs Scorpion, or testing out fatalities against your helpless younger sibling, then you no doubt know someone who did. In the 30 years since the original was released, the Mortal Kombat series has spawned 18 video games, three live action films, multiple television series (both animated and live action), novels, comics, and even a stage show. With the rebooted Mortal Kombat being released in cinemas on April 22nd, I sat down with Daniel Nelson, the actor in charge of bringing cult favourite Kabal to the screen for the first time.
So Dan, for those who are unfamiliar with the character, can you tell us a little bit about Kabal and who he is?
Kabal is a many number of things. He’s a warrior, he’s a survivor… He’s a badass. He’s horribly burnt and disfigured, and he needs to wear this heavy-duty mask to breathe. That’s probably a good thing though, he’s not that pretty to look at. I know in the games, he’s a bit of a grey character, but in this film, he’s all bad, and he’s coming to kick the good guys’ arses.
You’re originally from a stunt background, so getting a role like this must be very exciting. How were approached for the role?
No one ever talks about this, but stunts are a great way for an actor to work their way into Hollywood. A lot of my earlier roles came about because I was working on set already, either as a stunt man, or something else. You get to know people. In fact, it was a stunt coordinator that I had worked for previously that recommended me. The director reached out to that coordinator and described the type of actor and frame they wanted for Kabal, and the coordinator gave them my number. The rest is history.
Wow, so this role came out of the blue? How did you feel when you got that call?
When you start out in the film industry, you know deep down that there is a very slim chance of ever making it, so to get that call for the role of Kabal after slugging away for over 10 years was a huge achievement for me, obviously. To be honest, I thought it was too good to be true and kept thinking something would go wrong before we started filming that would stop it from happening. I didn’t want to get too excited until I was actually on set and they called action.
The first Mortal Kombat game was released in 1992, so you would’ve been fairly young when the original came out, but were you a fan of the series growing up?
This will probably upset people, but no. I wouldn’t say I was a fan, but I had played the games in my youth, I think everyone my age had. I knew who the characters were. I don’t believe I ever chose to play as Kabal though. I was more of a Sub-Zero guy [he laughs].
The character of Kabal obviously has a big fanbase; what sort of reaction have you had from die-hard fans of the character?
The fans’ reaction was very positive. They loved Kabal’s look. A few comments said he looked like he had been ripped straight out of the game. It can be very easy to get this sort of thing wrong, especially when it comes to big Hollywood productions. There’s a lot of superhero films that change a character’s appearance to make it seem more realistic or grounded, and it ends up upsetting the fans. But I think we did it right here, and people seem very excited. I think they’re just happy to finally see their favourite character shown on the big screen.
I was actually surprised that this was the first time the character has been seen on screen. What was it like to bring that character to life?
Bringing Kabal to life for the first time in live action did come with a bit of weight and responsibility. We wanted to make sure we got it right, and that he wasn’t entirely one note. I think it’s easy to make a character like this just be the menacing attack dog, but that’s boring. Luckily, we had a lot of freedom as there was nothing for people to compare it against outside of what we see in the game. Ultimately, I wanted to do good by the fans. I did a lot of research before starting, and I think they’ll be happy with the portrayal.
What has been the most intense part of playing Kabal?
The Kabal costume was fairly elaborate and intense. You’re doing all of these stunts and fights, trying to keep in character and bring that character to life, and you’re doing it while wearing this heavy costume and mask and wielding these giant hooks. There’s a lot you have to think about with a character like Kabal: usually I’m an actor or a stunt man, but here I’m doing both, and I had to make sure I was giving it my best all the time
What’s next for Kabal? Can we hope to see a Kabal spin-off, or some sort of prequel?
[Dan smirks] We will just have to wait and see. I’m very open to throwing the mask back on, and my phone’s always on to take the call. I’d love to see a Kabal origin story, and I’m sure the fans want to know how Kabal got his mask in the first place.
If you could play any other video game character, who would it be?
One of my all-time favourite games is Uncharted and Nathan Drake would be very fun to play. I think that up and comer Tom Holland probably has it covered though. Otherwise, maybe Kratos from God of War. I’ve always wanted to shave my head for a role, and my girlfriend won’t let me shave it otherwise.
Catch Mortal Kombat at Event Cinema’s from 22nd of April.