AMC’s high flying martial arts drama Into the Badlands returns Sunday, April 22 for its third season. Joining the cast is actor, stunt performer and former model Lewis Tan in the role of Gaius Chau. I recently had the chance to speak with Lewis about joining the series, his character, the show’s diversity and Into the Badlands’ awesome fight sequences.
SB: So how is Ireland right now?
LT: It’s been the harshest winter they’ve had in 50 years. We’ve been in the rain, the snow and in the cold and it’s been a battle let me tell you.
SB: Is that where you guys are filming Into the Badlands?
LT: Yeah we’re filming in Ireland and it’s beautiful here. It’s absolutely unreal. The type of sets they’ve made and the exteriors are breath taking but it’s been a battle for sure.
SB: I can imagine that with the complexity of the fight scenes that you’d have to adjust because of the weather.
LT: There’s no adjusting to it and I’m still not adjusted. It’s physically and mentally exhausting and it’s been a challenging experience but extremely rewarding.
SB: Into the Badlands is one of the prettiest shows on television. It’s a visual feast as well as a great narrative experience.
LT: Absolutely! I’m smiling so big right now because I can’t wait for you to see what’s going to happen in Season 3. It’s visually stunning and I think they’ve taken it up another notch. I think it’s going to be the best season yet.
SB: I’ve had a chance to look at the first two episodes and it has got me really stoked to see how it develops. They’ve taken all of the things that you expect, thrown it into a hat and shaken it up to reset what you’ve known from the previous seasons. I can’t wait for your character to debut.
LT: That’s 100 percent what they did. They’ve taken the action sequences to a whole new level, they’ve made the story very clear and precise and man, some of the sets they have here and the places we’ve been able to shoot, it’s been ridiculous. I show up on set and I’m like are you kidding me? Yeah, it’s going to be breathtaking.
SB: You’re joining the cast of Into the Badlands as Gaius Chau. Can you tell us a little bit about your character?
LT: Gaius Chau is part of the Chau family and is Baron Chau’s brother. You’re going to see a lot more of the family’s backstory this season, which I think is really cool. He comes from a very abusive, tyrannical background but Gaius has a good heart. He was caught freeing cogs and has been in jail for a long time. His sister is holding him captive in their beautiful mansion somewhere in a basement so that’s where Gaius has been. Someone from the Badlands has to come and recruit him for a mission and that’s when you first meet him and he’s set free.
SB: Your adversarial relationship with your sister will no doubt be the cause of conflict throughout the season.
LT: He’s a huge part of the story and he mixes with all of the characters. The relationship dynamics are going to be really interesting and I don’t want to give away too much but people are going to be really excited.
SB: The show is famous for its fantastic martial arts set pieces. Considering your background in the martial arts can you describe what it was like participating in the fight scenes?
LT: Well, it was a lot of pressure because I highly respect the guys that I’m working with – Master Dee Dee, Andy Cheng, Stephen Fung, Daniel (Wu) and I’ve wanted to work with them for quite some time. I’ve worked with Andy before and he’s kind of like family to me. When I’m on set I call him Uncle and he’s very close to my father (martial artist and stunt/fight coordinator, Philip Tan) and I. To get to work with some of the legends of the martial arts cinema world was a dream to me. I wanted to do the best performance possible.
Once I got there I got a feel of how they set up and design the choreography and I think that Daniel once said in an interview that it’s much like jazz. And it is like jazz because it’s improvised. We don’t rehearse very long and sometimes I have 15 minutes to learn 10 or 15 moves in a sequence that will be one shot. It’s very tiring. You have to be very focused and fluid being able to change consistently. They create on the spot and improvise once they see the set. They creatively design it (the fight scene) and basically throw you in there (laughs). Luckily it’s such a strong team and they have it down to a science so you can really trust what they are doing. You wish you had more time to rehearse but you can trust these guys because they’ve been doing it forever. They sleep this.
SB: It comes out on screen because the fight scenes are like another character and you’re just waiting for them to show up. The first one that you see in the pre-credits sequence between Moon and the Widow in the premiere…wow. That’s all I can say.
LT: That’s an incredible fight. Sherman Augustus (Nathaniel Moon) he’s also a martial artist. In fact my father is the one that got him into martial arts and told him that he should pursue it and now he’s a black belt. He stands out so much on screen and is a great guy to work with. The fight scenes are like a character and if you’re doing a series that has martial arts in it, if you watch a lot of the old movies from Hong Kong and China, they aren’t just there to excite people. The action itself is supposed to tell a story. The physicality of the characters is part of the emotion of the character. It’s like dance, it’s like a form of expression and if you don’t understand that you’re doing a disservice to your show. Into the Badlands gets that more than any other show that I’ve worked on. They understand that this is going to push the story forward with emotion. They do that really, really well and you’ll see that times ten in the upcoming season.
SB: It’s interesting that you mentioned that Daniel says it’s like jazz and you said it’s a dance because in my reviews I refer to a lot of the action sequences as a ballet. It’s that kind of a performance where you have fluid motion with bodies moving together but also telling a story as the characters confront each other.
LT: Absolutely! If you watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers or any of these legendary martial arts films that’s what they do. They tell the story through the action. A lot of people think the action is supposed to be this exciting piece where you get to the fight scene and move on but it’s a huge part of the story. You can express dialogue without saying anything with just the martial arts looks and movements in the body. You can express so much from that and ballet is a great example of that. You can watch a ballet and be in tears by the end of it. Why? Because the movements have effected you so much and martial arts should be the same way.
SB: What else can fans of Into the Badlands expect to see this season?
LT: I think in Season 1 they were getting their footing. In Season 2 they got their footing and started to sprint and in Season 3 it’s everything you’ve seen in Seasons 1 and 2 but on steroids. As you’ve seen in the first and second episodes already and they haven’t given away much in the trailer, there is so much more coming. The action scenes are huge, and it’s hands down the best martial arts action drama on television. It even competes with a lot of the big films nowadays.
SB: You’re an advocate for Asian-American representation in Hollywood. With that in mind can you speak about that as well as share your thoughts on joining Into the Badlands, which has such a diverse cast?
LT: There’s nothing like it. If you think about it it’s one of the leaders of this movement. Season 3 is even more diverse and I’m honored to be a part of a show that has the balls to hire two leading Asian-American men in their series. That’s unheard of. Usually two is one too many. You see these movies and they have one Asian guy but that’s enough. They would never have two but they have guys like Daniel and I in their series as well as Babou Ceesay, Sherman, Lorraine (Toussant) and Aramis (Knight). If anything there are very few Caucasian actors on the show. It’s kind of funny that Al Gough, the show runner talks about that. I’m honored to be a part of the family and they are doing something revolutionary, not just with martial arts but with diversity as well. In my career I want to be part of that movement, I want to be a leader in that movement and so I’m blessed and honored to be a part of the show.
SB: Do you see things improving where people of color are concerned behind and in front of the camera?
LT: I definitely see an improvement and I like to think positively anyway. I’ve had that outlook for a long time even before I was really committed and my father was doing it. I’ve just picked up where he left off and kept running with it. You have to have a positive outlook on it even if you don’t see the change. The change will come with hard work, with people speaking out and now movies like Black Panther that has opened up a lot of doors. Also the failures of a lot of movies that have whitewashed films have brought about change. So this whole formula has created a snowball effect and I have a positive outlook on the future. We all just want a voice. It’s nothing to do with race as much as it is just people. There are a lot of voices out there that aren’t being heard and cinema is such a beautiful art form to express all of those different stories and viewpoints. It’s just going to make it more colorful and won’t take anything away from anyone or hurt another group. We want to be represented like everyone else.
SB: I think you touch on a great point there because the representation, at least in my opinion, doesn’t mean that you have to negate anything else. It’s just bringing more into the fold. So I can, as a Black man relate to your character, I can relate to the Widow, or Sunny’s character or Moon because the outer shell is just what you come with but deep down we all come with motivations that are the same. It’s just that we come from different areas so we bring something different to it.
LT: That’s a great point and I’ve learned that from travelling. I travel so much because of my job that I’ve caught myself stereotyping people and putting them in boxes and really there are no boxes. You can’t even have that idea because you’ll meet someone that will change your mind. At the core of it we’re all the same. It’s really just about opening more levels and more dynamics to the human experience. That’s all it is and I’m happy to be here in this time while it’s happening. I think timing is very important in a person’s career and I’m happy that mine is flourishing where doors are opening and the glass ceiling is breaking. I’ve been preparing for this for a long time so I’m looking forward to diving in.
SB: You have a very diverse skill set. You’re an actor, model and martial artist. Have any of your disciplines influenced how you approach the others?
LT: Well as far as acting is concerned, absolutely 100%. I mean martial arts is just expression and so is acting. I think it was Stella Adler that said acting is everything but the words. Acting is in the choices. That’s interesting because we get so locked down on dialogue and words when really it’s about emotions, everything that’s said in between and the physicality. When you get to do a martial arts drama you get to fully embrace everything you do with the form of expression. You get to embrace it in the physicality, in the moves and in the emotion and dialogue. It’s really influenced me in training as well as how I act on set. Even when I do a show without martial arts in it like Sacrifice that was produced by Forrest Whittaker, I used meditation, stretched in the morning and engaged my entire body before I preformed. It’s not just a vocal thing. With modeling you just stand there and look good (laughs).
SB: (Laughs) And I guess that’s just winning the genetic lottery.
LT: (Laughs) I quit modeling a few years ago and it’s funny because I’ve been in more magazines since I quit than when I was doing it. Not to bash on the modeling world but it wasn’t fulfilling for me. This is what I’m here to do so I’m focusing all of my energy on it.
SB: Sometimes where you start isn’t where you’re supposed to end up.
LT: Exactly. The first thing I ever did was an acting role when I was four or five years old. If people don’t know my father’s been in the business a long time and I grew up on Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton sets. My father has done a lot of films and I would get thrown a role here or there and even do some stunt work. I was just getting my feet wet and figuring out where I fit in the mix. In the meantime I was making some money modeling and I was getting to travel, have my own financial freedom and help support my family. I would say though that in the last five or six years I sat down and had a revelation of what I want to do and say in the business.
SB: You play Shatterstar in Deadpool 2, which hits theatres next month. What was it like being a part of that production?
LT: Well I can’t say much because these Marvel people will kill me.
— Lewis Tan (@TheLewisTan) March 24, 2018
SB: I don’t want that. Your safety is paramount.
LT: Yes (laughs). Safety is paramount. I’m a good fighter but I mean Marvel has eyes and ears everywhere. All I can say is that I had one of the most amazing experiences on any film I’ve ever had. I think that Ryan Reynolds is not only a gentleman but he’s extremely creative and welcoming. Obviously as you’ve seen in the trailer I got to work with Terry (Crews), Bill Skarsgård and Zazie (Beetz). It was an overwhelming experience but surprisingly enough it was a comfortable and extremely fun environment.
— Lewis Tan (@TheLewisTan) April 16, 2018
SB: As with Into the Badlands it looks like the fun you’re having translates on screen.
LT: Absolutely! I mean we’re like family. I’ve been here for 7 1/2 months and some of the other actors have been here for 9 months and we are battling this thing to the end. We have two weeks left and everybody is injured and worn down but we all hang out all the time. We hang out on set and we hang out off set and everyone is very dedicated. It feels like a family. It has been a great experience and I don’t think I could have gotten through it without the support that the cast and crew have for each other.
SB: I think that’s very important because you’re a team. That kind of camaraderie and affection for each other makes what you’re doing that much more special.
LT: That’s why I love what you said about the ballet. It feels very much like that. If one of us is off the whole thing feels off. Every actor that comes on set is very committed and they get the feeling that we are in it to win it. They take on that energy, whether they are on for an episode or a few episodes, they can see the camaraderie between us and they want do their best work because everyone else is. That’s why I think it’s the best martial arts series on television.
Into the Badlands returns for its Season 3 premiere April 22, at 10:00 pm EST on AMC.