Voice actor Artt Butler has been involved in quite a few high-profile properties over the course of his career, perhaps most notably as a young Captain Ackbar in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Last year he became part of yet another beloved franchise when he voiced the villainous immortal sorcerer Shang Tsung in the smash-hit Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge.
Butler reprises the Shang Tsung in the new sequel Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms, and The Beat had the chance to chat with him about his experience working on the film and much more!
Taimur Dar: Based on previous interviews, it seems you didn’t have a great familiarity with the Mortal Kombat franchise before this project. Do you think perhaps not having that attachment aided you in your performance?
Artt Butler: When I first got the audition for Shang Tsung, usually if I get something that is part of a property that has had other versions I do a little research. This one was weird because I knew it was a giant property but I didn’t really think to check into the character before I did the audition. It almost slipped my mind. I just did it. Going forward, I was sort of reluctant. But I did a little bit of research to familiarize myself now that I’m part of a giant property. Now it’s like, “Wow, this guy’s awesome!” I got to relish the achievement after I achieved it. This is an amazing thing to be part of.
Dar: As you probably discovered, Shang Tsung is depicted as both a young and old man depending on the storyline. Did the filmmakers show you any designs of the character before auditioning or did they just describe how the character would look like?
Butler: It’s funny, I think it was pretty much the version we see in the movies. There was an unfinished artwork picture [they showed me] and they mentioned he was older. I didn’t even realize that there was a young version or that he could shapeshift. They did a brief synopsis of who he is. It’d be fun to play a younger, different version of him. Once I saw the picture and the script it was, “OK, this is what I think he sounds like.” Apparently, they thought he sounded like that too.
Dar: The creators of the Mortal Kombat franchise have mentioned how classic martial arts films influenced the video game. Shang Tsung definitely falls into the “Chinese sorcerer” archetype like David Lo Pan played by the great James Wong in Big Trouble in Little China. I’m curious what inspired the voice for Shang Tsung?
Butler: I think it was really just the picture and the description. There’s an Asian-esque accent to him. Whenever you encounter the Asian accent it’s Japanese or Chinese or something in between. I tried other different versions. It’s not fully blown Asian, Chinese, or something. I think it was the combination of the picture and description that inspired what came out. It seems more tied to his personality than the voice.
Dar: I know you’ve done voiceover work in video games. How does voiceover in video games compare to animation and do you have a preference?
Butler: Video games are trippy because there so many different kinds of video games. There are the story-driven [games] where your scripts look like a movie shooting script. And there are others where it’s just like an excel spreadsheet with just random lines. For me, I enjoy animation because of the story aspect and the dialogue, and knowing what the other characters are saying. Video games take a whole other skill set to give life to seemingly random lines without a whole lot of context and have it all come together. Animation is a little more straightforward but they both have their fun.
Dar: Battle of the Realms is released the same week as Shang-Chi, and both works showcase Hollywood’s efforts for better Asian representation in media. From your perspective how has Asian representation progressed or changed since you began in the industry?
Butler: I’d say within the last five years, I like that I’m getting a lot of Asian-specific auditions. Pretty much every character type thing I’ve gotten in the last 2-3 years has been Asian. I’m “Jap-xican.” I’m Japanese and Mexican. I get a lot of the Hispanic roles too. I like that they’re looking to match the ethnicities of the characters that exist and that there are more ethnic characters out there because of it. I like where the world is turning in that department.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is available now on Digital, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD