Voice actor Matthew Mercer proudly wears his pop culture fandom on his sleeve. As a lifelong fan of the Mortal Kombat franchise, he checked off a major item off his bucket list when he voiced the character Kurtis Stryker in the 2011 Mortal Kombat game that served as a soft reboot of the franchise. Little did Mercer know that less than a decade later he would be given the opportunity not only to reprise Stryker but also voice the aptly named ninja Smoke in the new Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms animated film from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment.
First introduced in the Mortal Kombat 3 video game, Stryker is a notoriously divisive character among Mortal Kombat fans with many despising his original design and every man quality. Mercer is very aware of the fan hate for Stryker and discussed how he overcame that challenge during an interview with The Beat. Plus Mercer promises Critical Role fans that their patience for the upcoming Legend of Vox Machina animated series is well worth the wait.
Taimur Dar: When I interviewed you for Justice Society: World War II a few months back, you mentioned that voice director Wes Gleason had you in mind for the role of Hourman and offered you the part directly. For Battle of the Realms, I’m curious if Gleason not only offered the roles of Stryker and Smoke to you directly but if he was aware that you voiced Stryker previously in the video games?
Matthew Mercer: The offer for Stryker came to me directly. I assumed it was because I played him previously. I don’t think I actually confirmed with him if it was just luck or knowledge of the previous work. For me the intent was to pick up where I left off. The sound print for Stryker felt natural and it was a character that I had a great affinity for having grown up a huge Mortal Kombat fan. It was taking the voice print I had already established and bringing it into a new medium and story.
Dar: I have a casual familiarity of the Mortal Kombat franchise but I wasn’t aware of the mixed reception fans have towards Stryker. Stryker is very much like Yamcha in the Dragon Ball anime franchise, in that both are somewhat punching bags among the fandom. I actually liked Yamcha and didn’t become aware of how he’s become a running joke until the last few years when I saw all the memes. What’s your view on this perception of Stryker among the Mortal Kombat fandom?
Mercer: Totally! First off, poor Yamcha! I’m a proud owner of the “Dead Yamcha” Pop and that fella has gotten a rough go through the years. [Laughs]. As far as Stryker goes, when you look at the spread of Mortal Kombat characters in Mortal Kombat 3 when he first arrived on the scene, it was just an awkward visual. You had all these incredible ninjas and cyborgs and then you have a dude with his hat on backwards and used guns. It was a tough sell at the get-go. And he had a little bit of a paunch to him. It was a very humorous inconsistency in design for those of us who grew up with Mortal Kombat to be like, “Who the hell is this guy?”
There have been a lot of iterations to make him fit more in the universe. When I had the chance to play him that was the big challenge I put upon myself, “How do I, knowing full well [he] has a very unique position of opinion within the Mortal Kombat community, make him more relatable? Making him a character who’s a bit cooler and more interesting?” That was a big thing when I had the chance to first play him. For the most part, a lot of people seem to like this version than previous iterations. He’s a little ridiculous. He’s kind of the self-insert for the Mortal Kombat universe. He’s the person you relate to. The normal guy thrown into a world of demons and ninjas and dangerous other world dimensional beings and magic. He’s like, “I have no idea what’s going on. I just want to survive.” That’s the reliability I wanted to bring to it. This animated film is no different. Bring that realism but also that bit of snark of a person who’s worked in law enforcement and seen some shit and is like, “Well, not much we can do except roll with the punches and fight this creature with a million teeth.” [Laughs].
Dar: As I told the other filmmakers, it occurred to me that Mortal Kombat is very similar to James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad film in that they’re both properties predicated on characters being killed. There are definitely certain characters in both as soon as they show up, you can pretty much tell they’re cannon fodder and not going to make it to the end. So how does it feel to have Stryker’s story come to a close in Battle of the Realms?
Mercer: Hilariously, it’s not the first time his story has come to a close. In the Mortal Kombat game where I played him he also got horribly murdered! It’s part of the fun of the Mortal Kombat franchise. Surviving is fine but having a glorious death is its own reward too. This animated film is certainly no different. Of all the magnificent fight scenes I’ve had the pleasure to voice and character deaths I’ve had the chance to interpret, this one is particular is probably the most memorable. It is one of those choreographed ends to a character’s story that you can’t help but sit back and laugh and go, “That is fucking cool!” [Laughs].
Dar: While we’re discussing that memorable death scene, did you get to see it while doing Additional Dialogue Replacement (ADR) work or after the film was completed? More importantly, what was your reaction to Stryker’s iconic death?
Mercer: We got to do that in ADR. A lot of the fight scenes we have to wait until ADR to really match it properly. I was recording at home in my both, pandemic recording process, and watching the playback of the sequence. And it just kept escalating and escalating. And when it finally happened I just screamed, “Oh my God! What the heck!” And then [I] started laughing. I think they actually still have the audio and video file of my reaction laughing and punching my face. [It’s] very Riki-Oh, that era of hyperviolent martial arts films in which the deaths are just so over-the-top. I couldn’t help but love it. [Laughs].
Dar: You also voice the ninja Smoke in the film. Your performance reminded me a lot of actors with naturally gravelly voices like Miguel Ferrer, whose chain-smoking tragically led to his passing from throat cancer but also likely gave him that voice. I’m curious if giving Smoke a voice similar to a chain-smoker was part of your thought process but also if it was difficult for you to perform?
Mercer: Smoke is just such a cool character. He’s a mysterious ninja character with a cheesy moves set back in the day that I enjoyed making my friends angry with. That already lends itself to a [Smoke voice] deeper gravelly sense to it. Plus I wanted to make sure the voice print sounded unique enough against other ninja characters and the other character I play, Stryker. We played with it in the recording booth to get to a place that felt right for the character and went forward with that. As far as being difficult, thankfully [it was] not. I’m used to doing characters with a deep gravelly aspect. It’s when you have to do that voice very loudly for extended periods of time that it becomes challenging. A lot of video games definitely require that. With this and a lot of animated stuff it’s a lot more metered and gradual. But I didn’t find any difficulty this time which I’m really appreciative for.
Dar: I know Critical Role fans are eagerly but patiently waiting for the upcoming The Legend of Vox Machina animated series to premiere on Amazon that you’ve been teasing for the last few months. Anything you can share?
Mercer: Certainly! We’re hoping to have announcements very soon around the corner to let people know release dates and more information about who’s involved in the series. What I can say is that it’s turning out really good. There are projects I’ve worked on in the past where you start seeing it come to fruition and you’re like, “This didn’t quite turn out how I hoped.” And you start feeling a little nervous how people will feel about it. Like Mortal Kombat, this just continued to elevate beyond our initial expectations. I just cannot wait for people to check it out. The people we’ve got involved to voice a number of the characters aside from us as the main cast are stellar talent and people we’ve been fans of for a long time. The studio does an incredible job with the animation in capturing the balance of high fantasy and the ridiculous “slapdickery” that a Dungeons & Dragons campaign is like at the table on occasion. It strikes the perfect balance. I’m super proud of it and can’t wait for people to get the opportunity to check it out.
Dar: Finally, I know recording studios are opening back up and so voice actors can record in-person instead of remotely. Have you been doing any voice recordings in-person in studio or are you still recording primarily from home?
Mercer: That’s a good question. A little bit of both. It depends on the studio and the conscious steps they’re taking to ensure that everything is safe. If it’s a studio that’s relatively close by and they’re ensuring that the booth is wiped and cleared between sessions and all the protocols are taken very seriously then I’m more than happy to step into the booth. But if there’s any sort of question there or it’s really out of way, then I have my home recording set up. That’s been its own Godsend through this pandemic.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Battle of the Realms is available now on Digital, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD