Kelly Hu on Playing Ashrah

ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with Mortal Kombat Legends: Cage Match star Kelly Hu about the animated action movie. Hu discussed the movie’s ’80s influence and her many characters, including Ashrah, in the Mortal Kombat franchise. The movie is set to release on Blu-ray and 4K UHD on Tuesday, October 17.

“Action superstar Johnny Cage squares off against a sinister secret society that’s plotting a nefarious scheme,” reads the movie‘s synopsis. “However, the brutal fight against the bloodthirsty warriors of the Netherrealm is just the beginning.”

Spencer Legacy: Ashrah is thrown into this ’80s action world in this movie. What’s it like to play a character who’s definitely a bit out of place in that very distinct and very wild time period?

Kelly Hu: Well, I remember the eighties very well. [Laugh]. But she was a fun character to play. She’s very serious, very logical, doesn’t make a lot of sarcastic jokes, but when she does, it’s played very, very straight compared to Johnny, who’s just out there and full of sarcasm. She’s a fun character because she’s the straight person. I compare her to Data from Star Trek or something — you’re not sure if she gets it sometimes. [Laugh].

Speaking of that contrast, do you enjoy being the foil to Cage’s crazy arrogance and smartass quips? Ashrah’s very composed and serious, in comparison.

I do. I wish that I was in the room with him more because it would’ve been so much fun to be able to bounce off of. But then I think it would’ve made my job just a lot harder because he’s so funny. He does it so well. It would’ve been so much harder to keep a straight face. [Laughs].

Another thing with Ashrah is she has this whole backstory of being a demon who’s working on being more human. How much backstory were you given before you started doing the voicework, and how did you use that in your performance?

I know absolutely nothing of any of these characters before I get the role because I don’t play video games at all. So I rely really heavily on the director to be able to sort of describe the character and the history and the situation and what’s going on in the scene — all of it. I don’t even get an idea about what it looks like until I get to do the ADR and see the character in motion. So yeah, I have to rely a lot on the description [from] the director to help guide me and put me in the right place for this character.

Even outside of Cage Match, you’re no stranger to Mortal Kombat, as you’ve played quite a few characters across it. What is it about the series that keeps you interested and keeps you coming back to the franchise?

Like you were saying, this franchise has gone on for such a long time that I don’t even remember all of the characters that I’ve played. It’s fun to be able to look back and say, “Oh wait, I’ve played like six people in this series already.” [Laughs]. I didn’t even remember!

You also voiced Lee Mei in Mortal Kombat 1. Do you approach a video game role in this universe different from the movie role?

I think as an actor, you sort of approach it the same way, because you want make both characters as believable and interesting as possible. I think the only difference is that the time that it takes for a video game to come out is usually so much longer than one of these animated films that, as an actor, you have to sort of play them similarly. They’re both acting roles and just because it’s in a video game, I don’t think you give one or the other any sort of difference. Or maybe I should, I don’t know. [Laughs].

Between these two recent roles in the Mortal Kombat universe, did you find either Ashrah or Lee Mei more challenging, or did you find them to be pretty similar?

I guess Ashrah was a little bit more challenging because she’s so straight. She’s so serious and logical and robotic, in a way. You have little bits of sarcasm that peek through because she’s learning how to be human. I think that was a little bit more difficult to play than Lee Mei.

When you first saw Ashrah’s design in this movie — she has the big shoulder pads, it’s very ’80s — what were your first thoughts?

I loved it. I loved it. I went to Burning Man this year and I didn’t realize until I saw the movie last night for the first time that I wore a hat that was very similar to the character! [Laughs]. I was like, “Wait a minute, was I inspired by that and I didn’t even realize?”

Acting alongside you in this movie are similarly great talents like Joel McHale, Jennifer Grey, and the late Gilbert Gottfried . What’s it like to be in a production with so many legends and talented people like yourself?

It’s such an honor, and Jennifer was absolutely amazing. I wish I had got to be in the room with these people. As an animation actor, you’re often just in there by yourself with the director and stuff — especially post-Covid. So yeah, it was truly an honor to be on the same screen, even though I didn’t get to act with them in any of the scenes.

Of all the people you’ve played in Mortal Kombat, do you have a personal favorite over out of any of them?

You know, I love D’Vorah a lot because she’s just so mean and evil, and getting to do this bug lady and coming up with her cadence and rhythm and the way she talks and stuff was a really fun exercise, to be able to do that.

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