Comix Asylum’s Peter Van Horne sat down with Aramis Knight to discuss Into the Badlands, now airing on Sundays on AMC.
PVH: First of all, congratulations on the success of the show.
AK: Oh, thank you so much.
PVH: You are very welcome. Now, you have a big role on the show as M.K., and he is a guy who has a mysterious power that’s hidden inside of him. Do you see any parallels between M.K. and what it’s like to be a teenager filled with potential but unaware of their true abilities?
AK: Yes, completely, actually. You hit it right on the head. I use so many things that make me angry; as a child actor you are not being taken seriously most of the time, and it always made me very angry and I was able to use that when I was going into dark chi mode. I really wanted to think of things that made me mad, and I was definitely able to think of a lot of things, you know, the everyday sixteen-year old boy stuff, things that piss you off and I definitely used them in the show.
PVH: And the fact that you are sixteen makes a vital difference. Too often we don’t see age-appropriate actors; sometimes there are actors in their twenties playing eighteen and nineteen year olds.
PVH: Now for some things that’s understandable, but in your case how would you describe the experience. How important is it for you to be age appropriate playing a character of the same age?
AK: The experience was unlike anything I’ve ever done before, and definitely the most pressure I’ve had on me when it comes to being in a project and performing in a project because I’ve never had this big of a role in anything else. I went from supporting to a junior lead, so it very much was a new thing for me but I always perform well when I put a lot of pressure on myself and I definitely feel I performed not only with the martial arts but with the acting.
PVH: Right and you had solid preparation for this role having been in The Dark Knight Rises and Ender’s Game. How did something like that help prepare you for a larger presence in a TV show?
AK: I’ve been in the business eleven years, so I’ve spent a lot of time on set and was able to use all of that but specifically with Ender’s Game I was very much able to relate it, use it as a real life substitution for the way M.K. is feeling. With Ender’s Game I was twelve years old and everyone else was between sixteen and eighteen. The other boys were there with me the whole time, and I was forced to find my place within them and go out of my comfort zone to solidify my spot within the group. I grew a lot, and I was searching for my place in the world at the time because I was only twelve amongst all these older boys and forced to grow up just as M.K. was. He is very much forced to find his place in the world and forced to grow up and be an adult because of a lack of his mother and father and being an orphan takes its toll on him. It didn’t take a toll on me, but I was definitely able to use it.
PVH: And that is part of the craft, isn’t it? Being able to make everything available to you to hone your craft and portray a character that has weight and depth to it.
AK: Yeah, definitely. I think it’s less substituting from real life to more identifying.
PVH: What’s it like working with Daniel Wu? Your characters are developing almost in a Batman and Robin type of partnership, except that M.K. tends to disobey Sunny quite a bit.
AK: Yes. Me and Danny developed a very special relationship through fight camp. We went though a six week martial arts boot camp where they taught us different skills, but also we got stronger, more flexible, more agile, and Daniel trained me a lot of it just so we could develop a relationship that is natural on screen. I mean, we definitely developed a Mister Miyagi-Karate Kid type of relationship, or a father-son relationship, and as you said, we’re sort of the Batman and Robin, or Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen of this series. We’re really a dynamic duo, and we needed to have real life chemistry, and we definitely did. Even the banter between Sunny and M.K. that a lot of times is so funny, because I am so defiant and I am much smaller than he is, I will always stand up for what I believe in. It’s definitely something that we did in real life; we bantered a lot on set.
PVH: That’s pretty cool. Did you have any prior martial arts or fight training before you attended the boot camp?
AK: None at all, actually. I came in completely rookie to this. I played basketball my whole life, so I’ve always been athletic and I’m very used to running quickly, and jumping high, sort of the power that comes behind martial arts, but the thing I wasn’t used to was the technique and grace of it, because it’s definitely more of a dance than it is a fight.
PVH: The show does have a large action component to it and four episodes in are you doing the majority of your own stunts or is there a stunt person who works with you?
AK: I had a stunt double but they let me do the majority of my own stunts. The stunts that you’ve seen so far I’ve pretty much done all of them. And it was something that I really wanted to do because I really like the physicality of the show; that’s something I haven’t experienced with anything else, that raw physicality and grittiness that comes with the show and filming in New Orleans, Louisiana. I really wanted to be involved in the physical aspect of the show.
PVH: Stephen Fung choreographs a lot of the fight scenes. How long does it take to shoot a typical fight sequence?
AK: It really ranges. A long fight scene in either the first or second episode between Sunny and the Widow took I think a week to film. A lot of the fights took a long time to film, and I understand now why a martial arts TV show hasn’t been around for so long because it really is difficult and we need the perfect team behind it to be able to pull it off. And actually Stephen was our fight director, he was not our choreographer; Dee Dee Ku (Huan-Chiu Ku) was our choreographer, who was responsible for the martial arts in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the Kill Bill films. Stephen Fung was more of what looked good on camera, and he left it up to Dee Dee to figure out the moves.
PVH: Got it. With M.K., there’s an interesting dynamic forming between M.K. and Tilda (Ally Ioannides). It’s almost like they’re beginning to establish a love hate relationship with each other. What do you think they see in each other that keeps drawing them together?
AK: I think more than anything, M.K. hasn’t seen many girls in his life and I don’t think Tilda has seen many boys in her life. So this is sort of new for us (the characters), we’re not used to meeting outside. Although M.K. meets characters like Bale and Ajax, he meets them in the fort in a very inorganic way but he meets Tilda in a very organic way, sort of how teens meet today. I definitely think they see peace within being friends with each other and it develops a lot more throughout the next couple of episodes.
PVH: Right, and following up on that, there seem to be parallels between Sunny’s relationship with M.K. and that of Tilda and the Widow. Even though Into the Badlands is set in a post apocalyptic future, do you think that the manner in which adults and guardians interact with their wards will always be something that resonates with an audience?
AK: Yes, definitely. Although the show is a dystopian future and is post-apocalyptic, it really is just a realistic reflection of society today in a lot of ways. You still see a lot of the downfall of humanity; with Quinn and the Widow searching for power, people are searching for power today, with M.K. and Tilda feeling like the Romeo and Juliet of the series, sort of two forbidden lovers the way a lot of teens feel in this day and age and feeling inner conflict. I think that’s why people like the show so much because although it is so different and gets your imagination moving, you can also relate to it, and apply your life to it and choose how you would survive The Badlands.
Into the Badlands airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on AMC.