Since a young age, Lewis Tan has been no stranger to the limelight. His father is the acclaimed stunt coordinator, Philip Tan, and his mother is a retired fashion model. Tan would followed in his father’s footstep as a stunt performer before transitioning into roles as Zhou Cheng in Iron Fist; Gaius Chau in Into the Badlands and Lu Xin Lee in Wu Assassins. Tan is also starring in the upcoming Mortal Kombat reboot in an undisclosed role.
But Tan is more than just a action star, he contains multitudes: he has theatre training; he is a social activist; he runs his own production company. As an Asian-English actor, who encompasses the best of both worlds, he is also beset by the world’s lack of imagination in accommodating someone who is a minority. In this particular "In Conversation" episode, Tan reveals a different side not often seen in interviews we've seen him in. Here are the highlights from said talk with Lewis Tan.
Growing up mixed
As a person of mixed heritage, Tan finds it hard to meander a world that wasn't conveniently build for people like him. "It's a weird thing to process as a human [being] and as an actor," Tan explains. As an actor, Tan is offered roles that are stereotypes. It took time for casting agents to understand who Tan was as an actor and what he can bring to the scene; it took years for the entertainment industry to produce roles that wasn't a stereotype, ones that Tan could even fit for.
As a human being, given his Pan-Asian looks, he's seen as an outsider. It took a while to grasp how the world looked at him as oppose to how he feels about himself.
Taking cues from Jackie Chan's Drunken Master
When Tan starred in Iron Fist, his character showcased the 'zui quan' (Mandarin for 'Drunken Fists') style when he fought against the titular Iron Fist (played by Finn Jones). "I was studying Drunken Master," Tan says. "That's the best drunken form performance of all time."
Tan also sits at the knee of Jackie Chan's film career; studying the movements, how they organically interact with the space of the room, how some of the moves are inspired by Buster Keaton's antics.
Like many stunt people, Tan isn't a stranger to accidents during a stunt. Take his retelling of an incident when filming Into the Badlands: the swords used for the fights are made of a piece of steel in the middle, while its surrounded by a thick rubber silicone. "Most of the time, when you're swinging the swords at full speed… the actor might hit your knuckles or fingers and that really hurts.
And Tan knows his limitations when it comes to certain stunt work. He performs his own fights. But when it comes to a stunt, he'll assess the situation, asking himself two questions: one, whether he's confident enough to pull it off and two, is it going to be worth it?
While he's not able to remember the first play he was in (Tan half-remembers that it could be in a church), Tan knew the importance of theatre school. He rattles off the number of theatre productions he has been in (Orpheus Descending; A Steady Rain; The Big Funk) and expresses fondness in acting opposite Chrissy Metz, who would later be in This is Us.
Tan sees theatre as the most exhilarating and most rewarding thing to do. "I only had this feeling a handful of times when I was acting in film and TV. Where I completely lost myself [into the role]. But when I'm performing on stage, you're not in your body anymore; you're the character and you're not breaking for however long the play is."
His passion project
The idea of making a film about his father's life came about when he was in a sensory deprivation tank. Moved by the idea, Tan worked on the story about his father's childhood. "He had a very abusive, traumatic childhood when he was in Singapore, he was abandoned in the streets."
And what was Philip Tan's reaction to his son trying to make a movie on his life? "My father said this exactly: 'why are you making a story about me? It's not a good story."
Dude's a Blink
By his admission, Tan isn't the sort that would put anyone or anything on a pedestal. "But all of a sudden, I got obsessed [with BLACKPINK]. I don't know what to say, man. I got hit with the bug. I think they are really talented." Tan relates to them because of how much hard work the group put into their careers, how much they had to hustle to get to where they are.
Tan recounts a time where he was wearing a BLACKPINK t-shirt and two women came up to him. "I thought they were gonna ask for my autograph. And they were like, hey… we like BLACKPINK too!"
(If any Blinks are watching the video and think we're making fun of them, we are not. We stan BLACKPINK. #BLACKPINK4lyfe)
We also discover that Tan's family used to own and operate their own restaurants along Orchard Road in the '60s. When they moved to London, they opened up a restaurant called Singapore Garden, which serves up authentic Singaporean fare.
Head over to Esquire Neighbourhood for more highlights.