Ludi Lin plays Captain Murk in the upcoming DCEU blockbuster Aquaman. Comix Asylum recently had the pleasure of chatting with Ludi about his character Murk, being directed by James Wan and his experiences on the set of the latest big screen instalment of the DC Extended Universe.
SB: First off congratulations on your role as Captain Murk and being in Aquaman. It looks like it’s going to be quite a ride.
LL: Yeah it was quite a ride personally for me and the film will be quite a ride for the audience as well.
SB: Tell us a little bit about Captain Murk.
LL: You’re very astute in pointing out that he’s Captain Murk because this is essentially his origin story. In the comic cannon he’s General Murk of the Atlantean army but here he starts out as the captain of a very elite killing squad in Atlantis. There are two aspects to him that our director James Wan pointed out to us right away and that he’s strong and loyal and in the film he’s that all the way through.
SB: Aquaman boasts an impressive cast. What was it like working with so may talented actors?
LL: Aquaman does have a pretty impressive list of A-Listers. I think these are household names all around and even for me growing up as a kid back in China I remember watching Rocky 4 and Dolph Lundgren is on screen. I didn’t even know what his name was back then, but I did know that he was almost from a different species if you know what I mean. The surprising thing is when you get on set with these actors you realize that you’re a part of it now. They’re just your co-workers and they are such down to earth and real people. It was a pleasure working with people like Willem Defoe who has been acting on film and in the theatre for decades and he’s just the most open and honorable person. So is everyone else. They bring their own energy to it and it humbles and inspires you to be working with them.
SB: Jason Momoa seems to be totally enjoying himself whenever he’s promoting the film. Was that kind of energy also present with the cast while you were on the set?
LL: Listen being actors, at least for myself I’m not at that level where I’m jaded yet and I can’t imagine myself being jaded – ever. I’m addicted to this work and I know that I’m working towards something that matters to me as an Asian actor both culturally and for self satisfaction. So, you’ll never see a happier person driving into the parking lot of a studio than myself. It’s just amazing.
SB: It’s like childhood dreams that you get to extend into adult life.
LL: That’s right. That’s exactly right.
SB: Now obviously Aquaman takes place under water and I’m sure you weren’t under water all of the time if at all, what was it like filming those scenes, particularly the action sequences?
LL: Action scenes are always very gruelling and there’s a huge process in filming them. The first studio film I did was Power Rangers and that was the first time that I actually put on a super hero suit. Back then I thought the Power Rangers suit was uncomfortable, but I’ve got to tell you that the merc suit is ten times the discomfort. It’s so heavy (laughs) and unwieldly but you know what, after a while when you hear action none of that matters because it fades into the background and you just do what you have to do. When the show is wrapped for that day you start feeling the soreness but then the next day you’re just as good as usual.
SB: Did any of your previous training, I think its Olympic wrestling or something along those lines come into play to help you with the action sequences and to deal with the merc suit?
LL: It’s interesting that the Olympic wrestling has come up a few times. I did do some Olympic lifting but with Olympic wrestling, the closest I’ve got to that is to design some of the action scenes for the Black Ranger because I wanted to add some of those moves in. But I think the thing that prepared me the most was actually just toughness, the times I’d gotten myself hurt in the past and surgeries and stuff like that. The more pain I’ve suffered in the past, the easier it is to deal with difficulties that come up in either the shoot or in life so that’s what prepared me the most actually.
SB: Aquaman tends to get less love than his fellow Justice Leaguers, particularly the big three (Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman). This film however looks like it’s going to unleash the full potential of what his character is capable of. Do you agree?
LL: I guess it remains to be seen in North America but certainly in Asia and other parts of the world it seems that way. Aquaman has been embraced.
SB: I think I saw that the film has reached $250 million overseas already, so it’s doing quite well.
LL: Yes, it’s reached at least that.
SB: Was there any pressure going into this film considering the mixed results the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) has produced so far with some of their earlier efforts?
LL: I wouldn’t say on me so much. I’m not sure what it was like for James because it was such a daunting task. I wouldn’t imagine that it’s pressure from the DCEU but maybe it’s the pressure of the massive film he was to take on. I mean he was just relentless on set preparing for all of the special effects shots and telling a proper story with such a complicated way of filming, like you said dry for wet and all that stuff. But for myself and most of the actors we were pretty relaxed and there to enjoy the ride. I think that most of the burden was taken off us by how organized and meticulous James Wan was.
SB: What was it like working with him? Is he a director that gives actors a lot of direction or wants multiple takes? Does he give you guys ample opportunity to play scenes several ways?
LL: Oh God there’s lots of takes on this film mainly because of how complicated it was. You have to imagine piecing together a hundred jigsaw pieces for a shot that lasts a few seconds. Everything has to be perfect in terms of the special effects, the movements of the gear we are using to simulate being underwater while we are propped up in midair by these forks that are supposed to rotate 360 degrees around. People have to push these things into place when we move because we can’t really fly in midair. Then there’s the special effects, the acting, the lighting – everything has to be perfect and unless we get that perfection, we need to do it again. It was like almost 40 takes for every single shot.
SB: And in that merc suit, and I guess this would have been an extension of wirework, it must have made for some pretty tiring days for you guys.
LL: (Laughs) Oh we were gassed. (Laughs) I mean it wasn’t just me and I have to give a lot of credit to all of the stunt guys and trainers on this shoot because people were gassed man! But we just had to go through it you know? We just had to do it. You could be tired afterwards but while you’re doing it you don’t really feel anything. That’s the beauty of movie magic when action is called it’s like you’re in the battlefield. Maybe it’s the fight or flight instinct but you’re completely engaged, and you don’t feel anything at all.
SB: And you’ve got so many people in it with you that you’re just pulling together.
LL: That’s kind of it! Maybe it’s like the group fitness mentality (laughs). Maybe you’re onto something man and this will be a new fitness fad making a film, wearing really heavy superhero suits.
SB: So, considering how involved the stunts were, how much of it was you guys and how much of it was the stunt crew? Was it an equitable split regarding what they let you guys do and what the stunt crew did?
LL: For this this film particularly, there was even more stunt work than on Power Rangers. It was just not feasible to complete all of it by ourselves. I think at one point we had four units shooting at the same time just to get everything done and everything had to be approved by James. We were down there for quite a long time for like five or six months in Australia shooting this thing and still it’s down to the wire and this is with multiple units shooting. I think with every single director and with most actors we’d prefer to do these things ourselves because it’s our role and we’d like to take ownership of it. But mostly it has to do with time, insurance and the dangers of the thing that we just can’t complete it ourselves. Luckily, we had world class stunt actors on this project, so we were able to get it done.
SB: So, was there a bootcamp that you guys had to go through before you began principle photography?
LL: There’s always a lot of training involved and that’s fortunate because there is a lot of gear, and a lot of the equipment we used on this movie has never been used before. It was designed specifically for this film.
SB: That’s interesting. It’s almost as though this film was a prototype in a way.
LL: A lot of the equipment were prototypes made for completing this film and as you’ll see a lot of it, you’ll never be able to see anywhere else.
SB: Well with what I’ve seen through the trailers it’s visually stunning.
LL: Yeah that’s true.
SB: I don’t know how much greenscreen you were dealing with when you were on set, but for a person that likes comic book art Aquaman looks like a comic book fan’s visual feast.
LL: Yeah really it is. For the 2 plus hours you’re in the theater, if you’re a fan of visual effects and how things come across to the eye, there are so many distinctive aspects of the art and some of the homages to things in the comics or things that have a comic book feel to it that it’s really something to behold.
SB: Getting back to your character Captain Murk, because we know what his eventual arc is in the comics did you have any input into what you wanted to inject into the role?
LL: We definitely discussed it at length about Murk. That’s what’s really fun about working with James because he’s really open but he’s really clear as to the core aspects of the character he wants in the film. Then he just lets things evolve. Murk starts out as a strong character who has been through some battles and has this massive, ugly scar on his face. I had one scar on my face and then we saw Jason Momoa and we thought that Murk needs to be able to beat up Aquaman at some point so he’s going to need some freakish power on top of his usual experience. I was reading into things like genetic mutation and modification and things that maybe would hint at a source of that power and somehow that grew into albinism. A lot of people don’t even recognize me in the film. A lot of fans from China that have seen the film go we saw your credit but were you actually in the film? And that’s completely fine with me because I just want to serve the character. It’s kind of nice to not portray yourself in a lot of ways because Murk is quite different from me.
SB: I’m assuming you went under quite a bit of makeup from the production stills that I saw.
LL: Oh yeah…there was a lot of makeup.
SB: (Laughs) So what’s more uncomfortable, getting fitted for a superhero suit like the Black Ranger or the merc suit or sitting in the makeup chair?
LL: I would probably have to say the makeup chair just because it’s an endurance race for my butt sitting in that chair especially that early in the morning. Our makeup artist was amazing, she’s got an Oscar for a previous film and she really puts personality into every single scar. She’ll be like this is an angry scar and this is a sad scar. This scar was recent so it’s kind of innocent and naïve. It’s pretty funny.
SB: You mentioned earlier that you’re well travelled. Having been born in China and spending time in Canada, Australia, Thailand and the US while growing up, have your diverse experiences contributed to your acting career and what you want to do moving forward?
LL: Well I think that each piece of my experience contributes to my person and I use myself in my acting. Also, for what I want to do with my career the feedback that I get from the diverse people that I meet and myself interpreting what they give me and giving it back is how I know myself as a person. Once I travelled out of China, I hadn’t seen a lot of people that looked like me on screen. One of the things that I really want to display is that Asians aren’t just a caricature. We are complete people with complete dreams and personalities.
SB: I think that’s one of the things that I like about the Atlanteans. They aren’t homogenic and are quite diverse.
LL: Oh yes, it’s a complete world out there. Even in this first Aquaman you see the different species of Atlantean but their history, as how James described it to me, is a very full and complex history and hopefully that will come across in some other comics, backgrounds of the film or even fan-fiction. Who knows?
SB: Especially with the way representation is reaching the big and small screens as well as the printed page it’s nice to see it being reflected in the modern mythology as we are rebooting it and bringing it to a new audience.
LL: It’s really cool. The cast is very diverse. Jason Momoa is a Pacific islander, myself I’m Chinese, Randall Park is in there and then James Wan is captain of the ship, so totally. And my friend Yahya, ah he’s great.
SB: You’re also fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese correct?
LL: Yes, I was born in mainland China where I learned Mandarin and I went to Hong Kong and learned Cantonese while I was there.
SB: If I’m not mistaken your first feature was the Chinese/Hong Kong production called Monster Hunt.
LL: I guess it was my first big Chinese movie, but I’d done a few things before that and they were also in Mandarin.
SB: So how would you compare working on Monster Hunt in the Chinese system versus the big screen adaptation of Power Rangers and now Aquaman? Are there any differences in the filming or process that might also be connected to the cultural differences between North America and China?
LL: Oh yeah totally. On a western set you eat western food and on a Chinese set you eat Chinese food (laughs). Of course, there are differences, but I think there are more commonalities where everyone is just out to tell a good story. But then working in China its not as concrete of a system. Then again working on a western set, say comparing Power Rangers to Aquaman they felt different just in terms of how the set is run. Actually, how the set is run is quite systematic, but your experience depends on your role and the process you go into to prepare for it. On a Chinese set sometimes the system isn’t as set in place so there is more fun chaos. Sometimes through that chaos movie magic comes up and that’s why I love working in my home country so much. You sort of have this chaotic freedom to create.
SB: I totally understand. It’s almost though it’s not as scripted. What I mean by that is when working on a film like Aquaman there are certain things you have to hit.
LL: Right. Right.
SB: But with a film like Monster Hunt it’s a little more liberal for lack of a better word in terms of where you can take things and try things.
LL: Yeah, exactly. If you’re getting into acting that’s the big difference between a studio film and some indies. On indie films there is so much freedom to experiment and everyone is trying out different things to make things work. You get really close to the crew and sometimes that stuff is magical.
SB: What can your fans look forward to next?
LL: Actually, around the time that Aquaman comes out you might get another surprise but it’s being kept under wraps right now. I’m a huge comic book fan and a big Anime geek so there are a couple of things that I’m keeping near and dear to my heart. If you guys can throw some good wishes my way, I’d appreciate it.