The Straits Times/Asia News Network
Cast member Iko Uwais jumps as he poses at the premiere for 'Mile 22' in Los Angeles, California, US, August 9, 2018. (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)
Indonesian actor and martial arts star Iko Uwais rose to fame in thrillers that featured realistic, bloody action.
The movies Merantau ( 2009 ), The Raid ( 2011 ) and its sequel The Raid 2 ( 2014 ) developed a cult following, which landed him a small part in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: The Force Awakens ( 2015 ).
In spy thriller Mile 22, now showing at cinemas nationwide, the Jakarta-born-and-raised silat master has found his biggest Hollywood role yet.
He plays double agent Li, from the fictional Asian nation of Indocarr. He gets as much screen time as co-stars Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan and mixed-martial arts fighter and actress Ronda Rousey.
Uwais, 35, says that when he took the role, he was happy to learn that director Peter Berg and he shared the belief that fight scenes had to look authentic.
“I don’t like fake fighting and Peter and I share the same vision … He wanted the style of fighting I did in The Raid and other films. He wanted it to be natural and real,” he says in halting English, with help from a translator.
Uwais, who used to drive a telecoms van before Jakarta-based British expat director Gareth Evans put him in Merantau and The Raid, is grateful that Berg made Li such an important character and cast him for the part.
“It is the most screen time I have had in a Hollywood movie,” he says.
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When he worked with Evans in Jakarta, it was not unusual for him to spend a week or more on a fight sequence in rehearsals and filming.
In Hollywood, however, because of the costs, “we work long days, around 12 hours a day, and spend two days on one scene”, he says.
He hopes that Mile 22 will be the film that makes him a bankable name outside of martial arts circles, but adds that he will be glad for any success the film might achieve.
“It’s not easy to break out … I just want to make good, quality movies. Becoming more well known internationally will be a bonus for me,” he says.
His star is already looking to be on the rise.
The father of two children with Indonesian jazz singer Audy Item will be in two more American action flicks, Stuber and Triple Threat, out next year, as well as the Netflix fantasy-martial arts series Wu Assassins, also due next year.
He is excited to be in the Netflix show as it will be his biggest showcase yet.
“I’m in a leading role, the biggest for me so far, and it’s a big production and I have my team from Indonesia to help with the fight choreography,” he says.
To be filmed in Vancouver, Canada, the series will pit the silat master against his toughest opponent to date – many lines of dialogue in a language he is still trying to master.
“I will have to practice my English a lot. A lot,” he says.