Actress Jennifer Carpenter is perhaps best known for her role as Debra Morgan, Miami homicide detective and adoptive sister of serial killer Dexter Morgan in the titular Showtime series. Given Carpenter’s penchant for playing seasoned and badass officers of the law, it’s no surprise that she was cast to voice Sonya Blade in the Mortal Kombat Legends animated movies.
The actress reprises the Earthrealm fighter in the new animated film Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms and The Beat had the chance to chat with her. Carpenter discussed the appeal of Sonya Blade, how her Juilliard training came in handy for this project, and even dishes on returning to the world of Dexter for the upcoming Dexter: New Blood miniseries.
Taimur Dar: You’ve been doing a lot of voiceover work for the last few years like Selina Kyle/Catwoman in the Batman: Gotham by Gaslight animated adaptation where you also worked with Mortal Kombat Legends voice director Wes Gleason. Obviously, Dexter fan are well aware that playing a tough female officer of the law is within your wheelhouse. So did Gleason think of you for the role of Sonya Blade and offer it to you directly?
Jennifer Carpenter: Yeah. I hope he thought of me. I hope he thinks of me for everything he does. He’s incredible at what he does and makes it look so easy. It’s a great time to work with him. Basically anytime he asks me to do anything I say, “Yes,” and do the research later. [Laughs].
Dar: A lot of the other voice actors previously worked in the Mortal Kombat franchise. I’m not a huge video game player myself, but I have a cursory knowledge of the property. What familiarity, if any, did you have going into these animated films?
Carpenter: If I’m perfectly honest, the title was familiar but I didn’t know anything about [Sonya] joining forces to protect Earthrealm or the tournament. All of that fun information came later. Besides working with Wes, the other thing that also helped me was reading that Sonya was [one of] the first female fighting characters back in ’92. It’s a dream to stake any claim having been part of the Catwoman trajectory and same with Sonya Blade. The fact that she was fashioned after a real martial artist [Cynthia Rothrock] was pretty exciting. It added an element of authenticity to the whole venture for me.
Dar: The vast majority of voiceover is done solo in the recording booth, so you can’t play directly off someone like Joel McHale and his brilliant performance as Johnny Cage. You probably knew that McHale was going to voice Johnny but did you get to listen to any of his lines since the Johnny Cage/Sonya Blade relationship is such an integral part of the story?
Carpenter: I did know he was [cast as Johnny] and I felt like my cool factor just skyrocketed after I got to tell people that he was in it. [Laughs]. I think he recorded with some people in the booth but I wasn’t one of them. I did get to hear him and a lot of his choices that he made. It was like him handing me GPS directions to a better choice. Scott Derrickson who directed [me in] The Exorcism of Emily Rose was best friends with Joel McHale back in the day. I got to meet him then and I thought he was such a hilarious guy. I think he’s an agile thinker and a great entertainer. I was just so excited to play off of him.
Dar: That’s funny, when I was doing my research on McHale I saw he also was in the film Deliver Us from Evil that was also directed by Scott Derrickson, so now that makes sense!
Sonya isn’t a character who wears her heart on her sleeves but I think she does feel emotions very deeply. In the previous film, Scorpion’s Revenge, we see her vulnerability on display as she witnesses with tears in her eyes her friend and mentor Jax being tortured in the fight against Goro. Was there any opportunity in Battle of the Realms to once again tap into that vulnerability?
Carpenter: Absolutely. Sonya is seasoned, physically fit, and robust. You would look at someone like her and think that she’s sort of stormproof. But a tiny opening can let the tiniest bit of chink in and it can spread and have an effect. I think that’s what Joel played so beautifully. He makes a fool of himself and that puts a crack in her armor. Maybe his ridiculousness and the way that he makes audiences laugh acted like an alarm clock to her and maybe woke her up. That kind of stuff is always fun to play especially with all the noise and blood. When the stakes are as high as they are, you can either fall on one of them or into the arms of someone who wants to be there for you.
Dar: Something like Mortal Kombat entails a lot of screaming and physicality. The veteran voice actors are well experienced in how to use their body so they don’t inadvertently hurt themselves. Was that something you were able to prepare for?
Carpenter: I went to Juilliard way back in the day, so we spent the better part of 13-hours a day doing voice exercises and how to protect your instrument. Wes also did a really good job of structuring the day around doing the simpler parts at the top of the day [so] I could pace myself towards the end of the day. Another great thing about Wes with the action sequences, he and I have come up with a system that works just for the two of us. Maybe he’s done it with other actors but there’s a lot of audio to lay in with these action sequences. You can go one by one but that’s pretty exhausting and I think it breaks up the energy. So he’d play a sequence for a good minute and I’ll make the sounds alongside of it. I think it helps maintain the realism and energy. It also saves time and strain on your voice.
Dar: Mortal Kombat fans are well aware that the Johnny Cage/Sonya Blade romance continues and they eventually have a daughter. Is that something you’d possibly like to explore with the character?
Carpenter: 100%. I really, really enjoyed this work. I really enjoyed the people that put it together. It’s such a fun and unique experience. Obviously, these characters and this story have immense staying power because people connect to them. While it lives in the fantasy realm, there’s something deeply satisfying about it all. We were just talking about the realism between the characters and the way they exercise this intention between each other with these awesome sequences of physical force. It’s just chock-full of feeling, especially as the world feels grittier and grittier. It’s a great way to escape it all.
Dar: Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Dexter. You’re returning as Debra Morgan in the upcoming Dexter: New Blood miniseries on Showtime. What was the experience coming back to the franchise? Was it surreal in any way?
Carpenter: In every way it was surreal. I kept comparing it to finding a thread in The Matrix. It was just odd to be in a room with these familiar faces day after day. The story was familiar enough but not at all the same. Deb was a very visceral character. I came into it ready to return in that way. I don’t think that’s what the prescription called for. I think the meat of the story is worlds away from whatever Debra existed in this inception. I felt like every day I didn’t have to know what was going on in the storyline or what had happened in the scene before or where it was heading. I just needed to take the temperature of where Dexter was emotionally. That became my playground and that was all I needed and wanted to know.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is available now on Digital, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD