In a year of superheroes that began with Black Panther and ends with Aquaman, audiences are enjoying an embarrassment of riches not just in terms of the variety of stories they're seeing, but a diversity in the types of characters, actors playing those characters, and filmmakers telling their stories.
The latter film's multiracial cast starts with Malaysian-born Australian director James Wan, who enlisted Native Hawaiian (and returning Justice League star) Jason Momoa for the title role, and additionally cast actors from across the globe to fill in the supporting cast. Among the highest profile international casting choices was Chinese-Canadian actor and model Ludi Lin, tackling the role of Murk, a formidable warrior whose fierce loyalty to the throne of Atlantis puts him at odds with Aquaman after the half-man, half-Atlantean challenges King Orm for the crown.
SYFY WIRE recently sat down with Lin in Los Angeles for a conversation about his role in the film, which is inspired by an incarnation from the comics but updated to suit not only modern audiences but the look and design of the film's Atlantean aesthetics. In addition to talking about his first impressions of the character, Lin, who previously played the Black Ranger in 2017's Power Rangers, revealed the challenges that he faced in adapting to James Wan's "dry for wet" technique for bringing an undersea world to life, and reflected on the conceptual and philosophical ideas that drove the character.
Talk about your first impressions of Murk when they offered you the role.
At the beginning of the audition process, I knew almost nothing about him. I knew his name was Murk and the sides that we were given was completely different — they had nothing to do with the story at all. And then when I spoke to James Wan after I found out I got cast, he gave the details of the character in the world to me in such intricate detail that it just completely captured my imagination — his vision for the character, his vision for the world from the physics of the world to how the different species of Atlantis evolved over time and what this entire universe really is supposed to look like and is supposed to function.
Does James lead with, you're going to be wearing like this amazing suit? Or you're going to be fighting? What was the first thing that you learned about Murk or what you might be doing?
He started with the core of the character. Murk is a conduit to the throne, and he is always loyal to the throne. He's not a villainous character nor is he a good character. He is just a loyal soldier. And this is his origin story — he eventually becomes the general. But at this stage, he's the captain of an elite squad that needs to prove themselves to the king, whoever the king may be.
So that's where it starts and that's the core of the character. The other piece of the character is that Murk has to be powerful to stand up to the Aquaman, and that's how Murk's features evolved over time and how he has this otherworldly feel to him. And from there, we just constructed the whole thing.
Was there anything that took a minute to kind of wrap your brain around that changed or enhanced your performance?
There were lots of questions for me at the beginning to work out how everything's supposed to work, like how voices communicate underwater, or whether or not we could breathe without water and how that's going to work and you could get into so many details. I'm such a nerd myself that I want to figure things out and want to make it work. But sometimes on a movie set you have other things to consider and can't work every physical detail in terms of quantum mechanics or whatever. So a lot of times it's just let's not worry about that for now, we can sort it out later. Just stay calm and carry on and it'll work out in the end.
What particular source material if any did you draw upon for the character?
Murk was in the comic book, but it was hard to access because I was in Beijing at the time and there's no western comic shops in all of China except for one which was in Beijing, and they got in touch and they hooked me up with all the books on Murk that they could find. So that's one source. And then just talking to James, because I'm Asian, so from Murk and his handling of the knife and stuff, it was kind of like a Samurai-style to begin with. And then from there we just added in other creative inspirations from his imagination and from mine.
What was the steepest learning curve for you on the film — shooting dry for wet? Or fight choreography? Or just wearing the costume?
It was the whole shebang because it was a whole new ballgame. Shooting dry for wet? I'd never done that before, but I'm glad, because I hate being wet. On Power Rangers we were wet all of the time. It's the worst. But dry for wet was great. And we get to handle all these toys, like being on a massive [rig] we called the tuning fork, that simulates swimming because it gives us 360-degree freedom once we know how to use it. We just lean our weight and kind of turn in the air on this fork that feels like being in space.
But the most challenging part was the suit, probably. It was even harder to move and more inflexible than the Power Rangers armor. It was heavier too, like a hundred something pounds — it was so heavy. And just working with the stunt teams, I would always just be completely exhausted and flabbergasted by the end of the day. We were soaked not in water but in our sweat.
The tone of this is obviously a little bit different than Power Rangers. Did that previous experience give you an advantage or disadvantage when you started playing this character?
Probably the only advantage is to expect the unexpected because going into Rangers, that was my first big studio film. It was completely new to me. And going into this thing, although it's another studio film, the budget is huge, it's very complex, and I had no idea what to expect. I don't think a lot of people knew what to expect because a lot of things were done for the first time in this movie, like the tuning fork that was used shooting dry for wet in so many scenes. And the revamped Aquaman, the whole style of the character and how the story is going to be told, like this huge adventure that's an Indiana Jones and Star Wars type of thing. It's interesting.
How challenging was the fight choreography?
There's a couple of big ones, a big one with Amber [Heard], initial ones with Aquaman and then just engaging stuff with Manta, being allied with him. But the challenging part was actually just moving around in the armor and endurance involved and how to make it look really cool. It was over 100 pounds, so it was pretty heavy.
How does that change the physicality of just your performance?
When you're wearing something like that, it only feels heavy when you're not performing in the scene. It's like any athlete — once the game starts, all your injuries, your pain and aches kind of fade away until after the game. When action is called you don't remember anything, you don't even feel the armor on, you just have to do what you got to do and then afterwards you go, oh man, that was tough. Let's go for a massage.
How do you find the humanity in a character when so much of the way that your character is communicating himself on screen is so physical?
There's not too much real estate in the script to put a lot into expressing a lot of things. So sometimes I can't worry too much about it. But in the personal enjoyment of it, because we were down there for such a long time, it's nice to be able to use your imagination to fill in the character. Whether it comes across on screen or not, I believe it does, but the more you fill them in for yourself, the more people can feel that when they're watching him. Some people will get him, some people won't, but for him it's just his love for Orm and his absolute devotion to the throne. And then it's how I imagine that might translate in the future whether Aquaman becomes the new king or Ocean Master and so on.